6×14 Titanium, 7×13 Stainless Steel, and 8×14 Aluminum Snare Drums
by Michael Dawson
Spawning from one of the metallurgy capitals of the world, these precision-built drums are built to blast.
Van Kleef Custom Drums is owned and operated by Alan van Kleef, a UK-based musician-turned-builder who started his career in the ’90s as a live drum & bass performer and studio owner. His workshop is in Sheffield, which is the industrial city in South Yorkshire, England, where in 1912 metallurgist Harry Brearly invented stainless steel. Not surprisingly, Van Kleef uses stainless steel as the primary material for his hoops, lugs, and throw-offs. He also makes shells out of stainless steel, as well as copper, maple, birch, aluminum, titanium, and other materials. We got our hands on three VK metal snares to review: a 6×14 1.5mm grade 1 titanium ($1,050), a 7×13 1.5mm stainless steel ($980), and an 8×14 2mm aluminum “Dre Energy” signature model ($1,050).
All VK snares come with Sheffield-made stainless steel VK straight hoops, solid stainless steel lugs with brushed sides and mirrored faces, a stainless steel throw-off with an integrated drum key, a stainless steel butt plate, Remo drumheads, and Puresound Custom Pro twenty-strand wires. Badges are either separate pieces (as on the steel drum), or they are laser cut directly into the shell, like on the aluminum and titanium models shown here. You can also special-order drums with custom laser-cut logos.
This is a ten-lug drum with a straight 1.5mm titanium shell (no edge flanges). The VK stainless steel throw-off, which appears on each of the review drums, hinges out to the side and rests perpendicular to the shell. It operates firmly but smoothly. The snare tension knob locks into place every quarter turn, which prevents it from loosening during play.
The integrated drum key, which hides on the backside of the throw-off arm, is a really nice touch. It reminds you that these are drums made by a drummer who understands how stressful it can be when you need to make a tuning or hardware adjustment on the fly but can’t find a key.
The VK straight hoops are super-strong and sturdy, which made tuning the drums super-easy, and the hoops held tension very well. The hoops also provide loud and cutting rimshots and rimclicks while not hindering the resonance of the shell.
The 6×14 titanium VK is a powerful drum with a dense, bright tone and super-clean resonance. It really shines at tighter tunings, where it can bark and chop its way through dense mixes without assaulting your ears with too much high-end “ping.” Medium and lower tunings elicit a great chest-thumping “smack,” and snare sensitivity is excellent across the board. I never felt the need to muffle this drum, even when close-miking it in the recording studio. Of the three VK snares we reviewed, this would be my choice when looking for the most versatile and powerful sound.
7×13 Stainless Steel
This hefty 7×13 eight-lug 1.5mm steel drum also features a straight shell without flanged edges. It’s as sensitive and powerful as the titanium model, but it has a more explosive voice with longer and more pronounced overtones. It still sounded great when played wide open with no muffling, especially at very high tunings, where rimshots had an incredible metallic bite that recalled the infamous industrial-sounding snare tone of modern-rock master John Stanier on Helmet’s classic album Meantime.
This 7×13 stainless steel drum also does lower tunings very well, producing a punchy attack and very musical overtones with a touch of pitch dip. While the titanium VK wins for versatility, the stainless steel is my pick for having the most personality.
8×14 “Dre Energy” Aluminum
The final VK snare in our review is a mammoth 8×14 ten-lug 2mm aluminum model built for Cirque du Soleil drummer Andre “Dre Energy” Boyd. This drum showcases VK’s ability to offer customized laser-cut logos, as Boyd’s signature is prominently featured alongside the company’s logo at the center of the shell.
While not as bright sounding as the stainless steel and not as clean and dense as the titanium, the aluminum model had a broader voice with more spraying overtones. That gave it a more vintage sound and feel, especially at medium and low tunings. As with the other two VK drums, no muffling was needed, even when the batter head was detuned nearly all the way. I was blown away with the sensitivity of this deep drum, and it really shines at medium and medium-low tunings. In that range the shell opens up very nicely and provides a huge bed of plush, rich overtones. If you like big, fat snare tones, this is the one. It’s a gentle giant.
Location: Sheffield, England
Shells: rolled 1.5mm titanium, 1.5mm stainless steel, and 2mm aluminum
Hoops: straight stainless steel
Wires: Puresound Custom Pro
Heads: Remo Coated Ambassador batters and Ambassador Hazy bottoms