Boutique-style drums with the working drummer in mind.

Barton is a relatively new California-based company that, according to its website, makes “real, honest drums that you can keep for a lifetime.” In order to keep its prices within the working drummer’s budget, Barton limits its product range to a handful of finishes, configurations, and shell types, and it keeps the designs as simple and streamlined as possible. All Barton drums are handcrafted in Asia.

Shell packs are currently available in a bubinga/kapur hybrid, European beech, a poplar/African mahogany blend, and American maple. We were sent the Vintage Beech setup ($1,049) with an old-school brown/black/orange Tiger Bartex striped wrap on 8×12 and 14×14 toms and a 14×20 bass drum. A matching 6.5×14 snare ($299) was also included.

The Specs

The Vintage Beech shells are made from 100-percent European beech. The toms have 7-ply shells, while the snare and bass drum are 9-ply. The lugs are the classic beavertail shape, and the bass drum comes with lightweight vintage-style gull spurs with rubber feet and spiked tips. All of the metal parts are insulated from the shells with plastic gaskets, and the bass drum features natural maple hoops with Tiger Bartex inlays.

The toms have standard triple-flange hoops. The rack tom does not come with any mounting hardware, so it needs to be seated in a snare basket, or you can add your suspension system of choice.

The supplied drumheads included Barton-branded Aquarian models (Textured Coated over Classic Clear on the toms, Texture Coated with Power Dot snare batter, and a Super Kick II system on the bass drum with a white-coated Regulator front). The side-action snare throw-off is simple and serviceable, and the floor tom leg brackets are bolted directly to the shell and come with well-fitting memory locks. While they echo the simple look and vibe of various American and imprint Asian drumsets of the 1960s, the Barton Vintage Beech kit felt more structurally sound and stable—as if it was a vintage kit that’s been reinforced at all the necessary points to withstand the rigors of modern-day applications.

The Sound

European beech is a harder timber than American beech; it has a Janka Hardness Scale rating of 1,450, which is on par with sugar maple and sweet birch. (For reference, American beech rates at 1,300, which is closer in hardness to white ash and red oak.) I felt that this Vintage Beech kit shared more sonic traits with birch. It was punchy, short, focused, and articulate, and it felt most at home in the middle and higher tuning ranges. At higher tunings, the 20″ bass drum had a thumpy and round 808-type tone that wasn’t overly boomy. The toms were super punchy, with a very short sustain and rapid decay. The snare had a nice, cracking attack and dense tone with minimal overtone. To my ears, the thick attack and controlled tone of this kit at higher tunings would work best for playing classic Motown-type R&B gigs or modern fusion situations where articulation is of the utmost importance.

As I backed off the tension, the attack remained dense and punchy, but the drums started to sustain a bit longer and had a fuller and rounder voice while remaining tight and focused. At lower tunings, the toms took on a more rubbery feel, and the sound became punchier and less tuneful. By contrast, the bass drum could go quite low and still produce a nice thump. For a reference, check out the contained yet fluffy bass drum tones Steve Jordan got on the songs “Waiting on the World to Change,” “Vultures,” and “Belief” from the John Mayer album Continuum. That’s pretty much the vibe.

If you were looking to capitalize on the punchy, focused tone of a beech kit at lower pitches, I would probably go with the larger 13″, 16″, 22″ configuration and keep the tuning in the middle register. But if you want a quick, dense-sounding, and snappy kit that has a touch of vintage flavor with a more contemporary thwack, this smaller Vintage Beech kit could be just the ticket. Visit bartondrums.com for more information.