A more contemporary 5-ply mahogany/poplar shell from one of the premier vintage-style manufacturers.

RBH Drums is a boutique manufacturer in Virginia Beach, Virginia, that specializes in handcrafting classic-style drumkits and snares. Since being founded in 1998 by college-trained percussionist and master woodworker Bruce Hagwood, RBH has focused primarily on reviving and updating for modern-day players the thin mahogany/poplar plywood and steambent shell configurations utilized by top American companies in the mid-twentieth century.

The original RBH lineup comprised two offerings: steam-bent, single-ply Prestige snares and 3-ply mahogany/poplar/mahogany Monarch kits and snares. All Prestige and Monarch drums come with steam-bent maple reinforcement rings, so to mix things up in 2017, RBH developed a more contemporary 5-ply shell layup with no reinforcement rings that features two plies of mahogany on the inside, two plies of mahogany on the outside, and a center ply of poplar. These new drums are called Westwood in tribute to the street on which Hagwood grew up and where his love for drumming began in the late 1960s. In addition to a new shell configuration, Westwood kits are offered at a slightly lower price point than the Monarch series while still providing the deep, rich, and musical tones that define the RBH sound.

The Same But Different

All RBH drum shells are handmade by Hagwood at the RBH shop in Virginia Beach, so there’s no difference in quality or craftsmanship between the Monarch and Westwood series. In other words, the same grade of high-quality mahogany and poplar that goes into a Monarch 3-ply drum shell also goes into a Westwood 5-ply. The savings are largely in production time, hardware appointments, and size options. While the Monarch series boasts six 13″ and seven 14″ snares, nine bass drums, nine rack toms, and six floor toms, Westwood drums are only available in two shell packs (8×12, 14×14, and 14×20 or 9×13, 16×16, and 14×22). Finishes are limited to four classic wraps: champagne sparkle, ruby sparkle, dark blue sparkle, and white marine pearl. We received the smaller setup in champagne sparkle finish, which sells for $1,875. (A similar Monarch configuration would cost $2,600.)

Westwood 5-ply shells are 3/16″ thick—the same thickness as the classic Jasper shell used by Gretsch, Fibes, and others beginning in the late ’50s. The bearing edges on the Westwoods are also cut to a Gretsch-like 30-degree angle with a slightly rounded outer cut. Hardware includes single-point solid-brass lugs, 2.3 mm chrome hoops, and vintage-style gullwing bass drum spurs, which provide less height adjustment flexibility than the telescoping spurs found on Monarch kicks but help keep down the cost and weight. Westwood rack toms do not include the Gauger RIMS suspension mounts offered on Monarch toms, so you’ll need to employ an extra snare stand or add your own mounting hardware.

Drumheads supplied on Westwood models are consistent with all RBH offerings: Remo Ambassador Coated snare and tom batters, an Ambassador Hazy snare side, Ambassador Clear tom resonants, and a Powerstroke P3 Clear bass drum batter and Ambassador Fiberskyn front head.

Deep Tones With a Soft Touch

The first comment I usually hear from drummers when they play an RBH kit for the first time is in reference to the drums’ super-satisfying, buttery feel. Whereas some modern-style kits boast a lively rebound and snappy attack that can leave you flinching with each strike, RBH drums have a much softer response that entices you to employ more relaxed strokes to match the big, warm tones that these pristine mahogany/poplar shells produce.

Even when I had the 12″ and 14″ Westwood toms cranked as high as they could go, they still sang out with a deep, rich fundamental note. The attack was clean and articulate without any brittleness. The tone was full and round, and the decay was rapid but not choked. Medium tunings elicited similar results but with additional depth, punch, and sustain. Where I found the Westwood drums excelled, however, was at lower tunings. Even with the drumheads tensioned slightly above finger-tight, the drums continued to produce a beefy, pure sound with a punchy, guttural attack and warm tone. None of the Westwood drums—including the kick—required muffling to minimize sympathetic resonance, shorten the decay, or tamp down troubling overtones. Microphones loved the warm, dark sound of this modern leaning/vintage-style Westwood series drumkit almost as much as my ears did.