Special Edition Series Drumset
Custom-shop quality at production-level prices? Sold!
Back in 1987, when Long Islanders Rob Mazzella and Tony Gallino joined forces to create the GMS Drum Co., there weren’t many companies offering custom drumsets that didn’t need some type of “doctoring” (bearing-edge work, hardware upgrades, etc.) in order to perform at a professional level. The first thing the duo created was the Grand Master series lug, which features a long brass tube connecting the top and bottom lugs to alleviate stress on the shell. These lugs are still offered on Grand Master series drums, but in 1997 GMS created the Special Edition lug, for the Special Edition line, which provides the same stress-free benefits without the brass tube.
In 2004, GMS teamed up with a small factory in Taiwan to produce the CL series, which was a more affordable drumset built to Mazzella and Gallino’s exact specifications. After a bit of rebranding in 2014, the company decided to drop the CL line and focused on developing a professional series, built in Taiwan, that would be of comparable quality to the drums GMS is building in New York but at nearly half the price. To differentiate the U.S.- and Asian-made lines, the drums crafted stateside are now known as USA Custom Shop Special Edition, while the ones coming out of Taiwan are simply Special Edition.
What’s the Difference?
The differences between the U.S.- and Asian-made Special Edition series are in the options and hardware. USA SE kits are available in thirty-nine standard finishes, including four wraps and various shades of different lacquer types (sparkle, satin, and high gloss), plus unlimited custom choices. SE kits are offered only in seven lacquers. SE Custom drums are available in any size you want, while SE drums come in four shell packs: Kit 1 (five-piece), Kit 2 (four-piece), Kit 3 (six-piece), and the City Jazz four-piece bebop setup. With regard to shell makeup, SE Custom models are 8-ply maple and have graduated 45-degree bearing edges that get thicker as the diameter of the drum increases. SE shells are 7-ply with the same 45-degree bearing edge on all drums. The shell thicknesses between the two series are identical, however, because the maple veneers used for SE drums are slightly thicker than those in SE Custom models.
The other big difference between the two SE lines is the hardware. SE Custom snares come with the company’s hand-tooled brass Grand Master throw-off, while SE drums feature a more generic chrome version made in Taiwan. SE Custom lugs are machined in the United States and feature a swiveling tension-rod insert to ensure perfect alignment, while the lugs on SE drums are solid-cast (but they do swivel). The cast lugs on the Special Edition series have the same proprietary design to alleviate shell tension as the machined ones included on SE Customs. Both series come with top-quality Evans drumheads (G1 Coated snare batter, G2 Coated tom batters, and EQ4 Clear kick batter), suspension rack tom mounts, and 2.3 mm triple-flange hoops. We were delivered a Kit 2 SE shell pack for review, featuring an 8×12 rack tom, 16×16 floor tom, 18×22 bass drum, and 5.5×14 snare, in arctic white finish.
High, Medium, or Low
We tested the SE kit at three tunings—high, medium, and low—and it sounded completely comfortable at each. The tight tension, which had the rack tom set to C, the floor tom at F, and the snare at A, produced a strong, cutting attack, but the sustain rang free for a pure, full tone. The snare had a satisfying Steve Jordan–like bark, and the bass drum had a clean “point” and a focused yet beefy low end. For a fusion/contemporary R&B situation that requires clarity and tone, the tightly tuned SE kit sounded as good as any.
For the medium tuning, we took the rack tom down to A, the floor tom to D, and the snare to F#. This gave us a great all-purpose sound that would excel live or in the studio. The toms again had a big, open, and pure tone with solid attack, the kick was a bit punchier, and the snare sounded warmer and more resonant while maintaining great articulation and sensitivity. I happened to have the kit in my studio when I needed to track drums on a modern country tune with a dense mix featuring multiple guitars, drum loops, and percussion, and the medium-tuned SE kit was the perfect choice. Its ultra-clear, punchy, and open tones sat in the track in all the right places and required very little EQ or muffling.
At the bottom of its tuning range (rack tom at F#, floor tom at B, and snare at D#), the SE kit continued to perform effortlessly. The rack tom had a big and dramatic tone, the floor tom became very punchy while maintaining a clear pitch, and the snare produced a strong “smack” with a very satisfying pitch dip, almost like what you get from a detuned aluminum-shell drum. Microphones really loved the SE kit tuned low. Heck, microphones loved the SE series, period.
I wasn’t aware that SE drums are now being made in Taiwan until after we concluded our testing. I have played a lot of GMS USA drums over the years, so I had certain expectations of these going in (effortless tuning, versatile tones, huge tom sounds). Aside from the cast lugs and throw-off, you’d be hard-pressed to notice the difference. And sonically the SE series was downright flawless. The list price for the Kit 2 Special Edition configuration is $2,850.
by Michael Dawson