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Tapered Snares

Conical stave-shell drums for lively, diverse tones.

Massachusetts-based craftsman David Cheney has developed a unique conical snare drum shell with function as its focus. The shell is created using solid wood staves and features a 14″ batter side that tapers down to a 13″ resonant end.

Stave shells are thought to increase the wood’s natural resonance because they require less glue and allow the wood grain to run in the same direction. Cheney believes the conical shape channels the energy more efficiently to create a livelier sound. Thus, the design is thought to combine the most appealing attributes of 13″ and 14″ snare drums. The smaller resonant end is supposed to offer the desirable crack and pop of a 13″ snare, while the 14″ batter provides a wider tuning range and a better overall feel.

To further enhance the shell’s sonic properties, the interior receives several coatings of natural tung oil, while the exteriors get enough coats of lacquer to protect the shell without choking its resonance.

Solid Maple

First up is an 8x14x13 solid maple drum with a velvet-blue stain finish from Castle’s Powder Keg series. The drum has eight tube lugs and is outfitted with a Dunnett strainer, an Evans Level 360 G1 Coated batter, and a clear 300 series resonant head. The resonant head was set at a medium tension (78 on a DrumDial), and we ran the batter through the tuning spectrum.

With the batter head at a medium tension (84), the drum had a wonderfully fat tone with a present crack that hovered over a robust decay. The overtones and decay were pleasant. Keeping the snare tension loose gave a swaggering flex to the response without any annoying buzz. Tightening the snares dried up the overtones just enough to increase clarity for more defined articulation.

Tightening each tension rod about a half turn (up to 90 on the DrumDial) gave us a sound that still had lush depth, but the top-end bite and crack were enhanced. If you really want a firecracker response, take the batter up another quarter turn (92). There, the 8″ depth allowed the drum to maintain some girth underneath an incredibly powerful, dry crack.

In the lower ranges, the drum was equally impressive. At medium-low (80), it had a fat indie-rock sound, with the overtones hanging more in the midrange frequencies. Going very low (74 to 76) killed the overtones almost completely, as though we were adding external muffling, but the head was not wrinkled and offered a nice “thwack.”

Solid Bubinga

The second model is from the Keystone series and features a 6x14x13 solid bubinga stave shell with a clear finish. The drum has eight tube lugs and is outfitted with an RCK strainer, an Evans Level 360 G1 Coated batter, and a clear 300 series resonant head. We cranked the resonant head a bit higher for this drum (83) and again took the batter through its range.

Starting at a medium tension (85), the bubinga’s naturally darker tonality and intense focus resulted in a breathy, open tone with
a firm top-end crack and a full-bodied decay. Cranking the batter up to 90 resulted in a stellar, arid crack with slightly lingering high-end frequencies.

On the lower spectrum, tensioned at 80, the Keystone had an open sound with ample presence, due to the slightly drier tonality of the bubinga. As with the Powder Keg, lower tunings resulted in minimal overtones, and although the batter head felt quite slack, it still produced a usable fat, deep sound. The Keystone had more appeal and life in the higher range—88 on the DrumDial was where my ear liked it most. That tuning also produced a great feel, stellar response, and just the right blend of crack and fullness.

Summing Up

Both Castle snares have some mojo going on, especially the 8″ Powder Keg. They boast impressive tuning ranges and offer full tones. The bearing edges and snare beds are well done, and the overall aesthetics are easy on the eyes. The drums recorded quite well, and their conical shape does seem to beef up the presence when compared with other 13″ and 14″ snares in my arsenal.

by David Ciauro