Black Wenge Segment-Shell Drumset
Rare African hardwood meets Eastern European ruggedness.
Angel is a Hungarian company that prides itself on taking no shortcuts and making no compromises when it comes to the quality of its drums. It’s very careful with its selection of responsibly harvested timber, which includes European maple, oak, ash, acacia, and walnut, as well as hard-to-obtain exotic species from around the globe, like red oak, rosewood, meranti, and black wenge, which is what was used to create the kit we have for review.
Before we dig deeper into the build and sound of the black wenge shells, let’s take a look at the hardware, which Angel makes as well. The tube lugs (mini versions for the toms and bass drum and full-size for the snare) are hand-machined from high-quality brass, which the company says results in improved tone and durability.
The simple cylindrical snare strainer is hand-machined from solid bronze and features two locking points that allow for tight or looser wires without adjusting the snare-tension thumbscrew. The throw-off operated smoothly and held tension very well, thanks to the small nubs protruding from the bottom of the thumbscrew to lock it into place. That feature is great for preventing the loss of tension, but it also makes it nearly impossible to adjust the snare wires while the throw-off is engaged. It’s a minor point of concern for those of you who often fiddle with the snares in the middle of a song, but trading split-second adjustability for supreme stability is more than worth it. Plus the two locking points offer enough flexibility for most situations.
Angel also makes its own floor tom brackets, which fall in line with the strong, sturdy, and simple aesthetic of the rest of the kit. They comprise two large, round machined pieces, and the top knurled portion rotates to lock the legs into place. The brackets were super-sturdy but also super-heavy, so they added quite a bit of weight to the already hefty 14″ floor tom. But I doubt they’ll ever wear out or strip, which I can’t say is the case with the majority of the thumbscrew-operated leg brackets I’ve used over the years. Again, the trade-off in weight is made up for with a lifetime of durability.
The centerpiece of the company’s hardware design is the hand-rolled 303 stainless steel straight Angel hoop, which is used on the toms and snare and features welded “ears” for the tension rods. The hoops were polished to a nice shine, but they retained a rugged, industrial vibe that suggested strength and stability.
The World’s First
Wenge is a tropical African timber that’s dark in color with a distinctive grain pattern. It’s a very dense hardwood, with a 1,630 rating on the Janka hardness scale, putting it above the most common drum-shell timbers (maple, birch, oak, cherry, walnut, and mahogany are listed under 1,500) and closer to other exotics, like rosewood (1,780), purpleheart (1,860), and bubinga (1,980). (For a point of reference, basswood, which is often used in entry-level drumsets, has a rating of 100, and ebony, one of the hardest woods used in drum making, is 3,220.) Drums have been made from different types of wenge before, but Angel is the first company to create a solid-shell kit made entirely from the type known as black wenge.
Our review kit came in bebop sizes: 16×18 bass drum, 14×14 floor tom, 8×12 rack tom, and 5.5×14 snare. The shells are made from blocks of wenge, 1 centimeter thick, as opposed to other popular “solid” constructions that use steam-bent single plies or vertical staves. The blocks are staggered for greater stability, and because they’re sanded into round, rather than being bent into shape, the drums produce a pure, true representation of the wenge. The interior surface of the shells is left rough and raw, which helps to break up the higher overtones. The outer surface is sanded smooth and lightly finished with an oil/gloss mixture to protect the wood without masking any of its beautiful grain structure and dark, rich color.
Each shell, with the exception of the bass drum, has small pinpoint vents drilled just below each lug, rather than a single larger vent, which Angel claims facilitates rapid air movement for improved response and power. We can confirm that statement, as the kit proved to be incredibly responsive at any tuning, from super-tight to completely slack, and at any dynamic level.
Some drums sound great under microphones but are lackluster when played acoustically, while others can cut like a knife in unmiked situations but don’t play nice in the studio. This black wenge kit from Angel thrived in both situations, producing clean, dense, rich tones with remarkable cut and pre-EQ’ed clarity, whether miked or not. When recorded with just two microphones (a large-diaphragm condenser overhead and a bass drum mic placed a few inches from the front head), you could hear so much nuance, from the sharp transient of the attack to the round, fat note of the sustain, that you’d swear every piece was close-miked.
I assumed that drums made from such dense, thick shells would have a limited range that favored higher tunings, but I was able to get some huge, powerful low tones from them with little coaxing. They sounded tremendous cranked up as well, never choking out or losing power. Check out a video demo of this kit at moderndrummer.com to hear the unique combination of crystal clarity, powerful presence, and rich fatness that these super-rare Angel black wenge drums possess.