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Noble & Cooley

SS Classic, Horizon, and Walnut Snare Drums

150-plus years in business, and the historic American company continues to build some of the finest drums around.

Noble & Cooley’s history goes all the way back to 1854, when Silas Noble and James P. Cooley made their first marching snare drum in the kitchen of Cooley’s Massachusetts farmhouse. After moving production into a small factory, Noble & Cooley began supplying drums to the Union army during the Civil War. By 1873, the company was building 100,000 drums a year.

Noble & Cooley has been building made-to-order drumsets and snares since the 1980s, and thus it’s highly regarded as one of the forefathers of the custom-shop movement. N&C’s high-end and highly musical drums are still being made in Granville, Massachusetts, and the company is currently helmed by sixth-generation owner Jay Jones and his son Nick. We were sent three new N&C snares to review: a 7×14 Solid Shell Classic made from tulipwood, a 6.5×14 maple/mahogany Horizon model, and a 6.5×14 walnut drum. Let’s check them out.

7×14 Solid Shell Classic Tulipwood

Tulipwood is a member of the poplar species and is the same timber Noble & Cooley used to make drums for the Union army during the Civil War. The wood is harvested locally near the company’s factory in Massachusetts, and for the 7×14 snare we reviewed, is steam-bent into a solid shell. Tulipwood has a drier and breathier tone than maple or birch but is still capable of producing a lot of high-end crack. Our review drum came in a natural gloss finish, which allows the gorgeous and unique yellow/green color of the timber to be on full display.

Solid Shell Classic drums have .25″-thick shells and N&C’s patented Nodal Point lug mounting, which places the brass tube lugs at a point on the shell that has the least amount of impact on the vibration of the shell. The bearing edges are hand-cut and fine-tuned to ensure maximum resonance and projection. The brass throw-off is simply designed to provide the smoothest action possible.

Noble & Cooley is one of the first companies of the modern era to steam-bend shells, and they’ve been a longtime favorite by top session drummers. Our review drum had exceptional sensitivity and great midrange “honk,” with clean, pure overtones and a quick decay. There’s a touch of the dry, throaty tone associated with vintage marching drums, but this drum had plenty of presence and projection to cut through in contemporary drumset applications. Its tuning range is extensive—it doesn’t choke out under high tension, and it doesn’t lose clarity when tuned loosely. And muffling isn’t required unless a controlled, dense tone is desired. It’s no wonder N&C’s solid-shell snares are so popular in the studio—they’re true classics.

6.5×14 Horizon Maple/Mahogany

The Horizon series was originally introduced in the 1980s as a full drumkit made with unique shells that have an inner ply of mahogany sandwiched between horizontal-oriented plies of maple. The softer mahogany is used to give the drums a darker, vintage-type tonality to complement the high-fidelity sound associated with North American maple. N&C says the horizontally oriented shell construction allows the wood to resonate more uniformly, which translates into a vibrant drum sound with incredible clarity. Horizon series drums are designed to have the strong attack of a solid-shell but with a slightly shorter decay.

The 6.5×14 Horizon snare we reviewed had a natural maple finish, but these drums can be ordered in a variety of gloss, sparkle, and matte finishes. Rather than a single larger vent, Noble & Cooley employs a symmetrical venting system that places smaller holes near several of the bottom lugs, tucked neatly behind the connecting tube. This venting system is said to improve the sound and feel of the drum. While we didn’t have an identical snare with a single vent to compare it to, the Horizon we tested had incredible sensitivity and dynamic response and a soft, buttery feel at all tunings.

I felt the Horizon sounded best at a medium tuning, where I could articulate quick ghost notes and smooth buzz rolls effortlessly, and rimshots elicited just the right amount of midrange overtones. Tighter tunings were great for ultra-light symphonic-style playing and in note-dense genres like jazz, fusion, and funk. You can coax a nice fat punch at low tunings, but I’d reserve that vibe for the drum we’re checking out next.

6.5×14 Walnut

Noble & Cooley decided to add a walnut-ply snare drum after purchasing the Witt Drum Company in 2015. Witt had developed a unique all-walnut shell with a pure horizontal ply layup, which falls right in line with the concepts employed by Noble & Cooley in its Horizon series. N&C is now making the walnut shells at its own factory, and the drums come with the same symmetrical venting, snare mechanism, and solid-brass tube lugs as are on the Horizon series.

Walnut drums are known for having a big, warm, dry tone with pronounced low-end frequencies. Our review drum came with black-nickel-plated hoops and lugs. It had eight lugs, as opposed to the ten that were on the Horizon and SS Classic. Like the other two drums, the walnut snare had amazing sensitivity and clarity, a soft player-friendly feel, and super-smooth, balanced overtones. It has a significantly drier and darker sound than the others, but it is equally versatile. It has a satisfying bite without excessive high-end ring at medium and higher tunings, and you can tune it super-low for an awesomely deep, dry “thud.” Since the walnut snare was released last year, it’s become one of Noble & Cooley’s most popular orders. Not only does it look gorgeous, but it can also cover a wide range of sonic bases with aplomb.

Michael Dawson