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Sun & Stars Collection Snare Drums

One-of-a-kind hand-cut finishes and classic maple tones…with a twist.

Gaai Drums is a two-person operation based in Los Angeles, with Gaai Nakamura handling design and construction and his partner, Tomo, handling business and marketing endeavors. The company started in 2008, with a mission to produce meticulously handcrafted drums from the finest North American maple shells, often with painstakingly detailed custom-cut veneer finishes.

The three snares we have for review are from the one-off Sun & Stars collection, featuring playful designs created from contrasting wrap materials and veneer sheets. The trio comprises the 6.5×14 Five Stars model with a zebrawood/walnut/mahogany/maple hand-cut veneer and matching wood hoops, the deep 8×14 Golden Beam with a mirror gold/ginger glass spiral finish, and the specialty 9×10 Poppin’ Chiiko Blue with a blue/turquoise/white glass spiral finish. All of the drums feature 8-ply Keller maple shells.

Five Stars

This 10-lug beauty is the centerpiece of the collection and epitomizes what Gaai Drums is all about. The shell inlays were gorgeously designed and perfectly executed, to the point where you’d easily believe it’s a paint job. The wood hoops also feature star inlays, which makes the transition from shell to hoop seamless and cohesive. The drum came with twenty- strand snare wires and a Remo Coated Ambassador batter head.

Despite its one-of-a-kind appearance, the Five Stars had a great jack-of-all-trades sound. It could be cranked super-high for a Steve Jordan–like “ping,” with the wood hoops providing a thicker, chunkier attack than standard steel hoops would. Or it could be tuned medium for a great open tone that blended well in the mix while retaining some strong snap and crack. Then, if you need to go super-low for a fat but tight drum-machine sound, simply detune the batter just above wrinkling, throw on a wallet for muffling, tighten up the wires, and there you have it! I don’t think you could get a sample to sound better than what this drum put out naturally.

Golden Beam

This mammoth 8×14 drum offers some serious bling, sporting a bright and shiny spiral finish cut with surgical precision and careful attention to detail. It has ten lugs and gold-finish hardware (including the tension rods and twenty-strand snare wires, plus a special gold-color Remo Smooth Ambassador batter head).

Like the Five Stars, the Golden Beam was a versatile drum cloaked in a specialized appearance. What was most impressive was how sensitive and responsive the snares were, given the 8″ depth. Tune it tight, and you’d swear you were playing a shallow 5×15 aluminum snare from a James Brown record. Loosening it to a medium or medium- low tension, you’ll get a power “smack” followed by singing overtones that cry out for your best John Bonham impression. Again, this drum was most impressive in the low range, where it emitted a larger-than-life, deep punch that would make famed Def Leppard producer Mutt Lange proud.

Poppin’ Chiiko Blue

This nearly square 9×10 snare has a striking spiral hand-cut finish, sixteen-strand snare wires, six lugs, and a Remo CS Coated batter. The opposite of versatile, the unique drum is designed to produce specialty tones that range from the sped-up/tuned-up coffee-can-like ping of drum ’n’ bass snares to the tight splat heard on countless hip-hop records via classic drum machines. It was more sensitive than expected, and the deeper shell kept it from bottoming out when played at higher volumes. If your gigs demand that you reproduce loops and samples for breakdown sections and intros of songs, then this drum would come in handy as an auxiliary option. Just be aware that you’ll need a stand that can go lower than normal, or consider using a clip-on tom mount, in order to get the drum into a comfortable playing position.

Michael Dawson