“There is no ‘ugly’ side,” says Sugar Percussion master craftsman Jefferson Schallenberger on the company’s website, in reference to the keen attention to detail he maintains with every square inch of the drums he produces. “When you swap heads, you should be just as impressed with the inside as with the outside. Everywhere should feel equally tended to, and as such, the drum will perform and appear as well as it absolutely can.”
We’ve tested a bunch of Sugar Percussion snares in the past few years (July 2015 and March 2018) and can attest to the fact that Schallenberger doesn’t trade in hype; those drums were simply flawless both visually and sonically. So we were super excited to get our hands on a full Sugar Percussion drumset to review, a bebop-sized setup made with stave shells crafted from a single tree of premium-grade mahogany.
The Juicy Details
Our review kit included a shallow 13×18 bass drum and similarly short toms (7×12 and 13×14). The snare was 6×14. All four drums were constructed from the same mahogany tree. The shells, which were made with vertical staves of wood, were graduated in thickness from 3/8″ on the rack tom to 1/2″ on the kick. These thicknesses were a bit thinner than what Sugar Percussion typically uses, with the purpose of increasing resonance. Additionally, the hand-sanded bearing edges were shaped to a slightly sharper-than-usual apex to enhance sustain. The shells had a hand-applied polyurethane finish that protected the mahogany without obscuring its naturally elegant appearance.
The snare and toms were outfitted with Remo Ambassador Coated batter heads, Ambassador Clear resonants, and triple-flanged steel hoops. The bass drum had a Powerstroke 3 Clear batter and a PS3 Fiberskyn front head. The snare featured a Sugar Percussion-branded Trick GS007 three-point throw-off, Puresound wires, and the company’s sleek, single-point round lugs. The bass drum and toms had separate lugs for top and bottom heads, and the bass drum featured built-in mounting hardware bolted directly to the hoop. Having the mounting hardware permanently affixed to the bass drum wood hoops not only enhances the minimalist look of the kit by removing the need for large metal claws, but it also makes head changes much quicker and easier and ensures that the tension rods align perfectly with the lugs during tuning.
Lost in Sound
Out of the boxes, the toms and snare were tensioned medium high while the bass drum was set medium low. The front kick head and resonant tom heads were tuned about a half step higher than the batters. Without any fine-tuning, the kit sounded musical, full, and cohesive from the snare down to the bass drum. All of the drums had a crisp, woody attack, a big, deep tone, and a quick but perfectly smooth decay. None of the drums required any muffling; there were no squirrely overtones or excessive ringing to rein in, yet the drums sang with an open, warm, and rich voice. Thinking back on my thirty-plus years of drumming, I don’t think I’ve come across another drumset that produced this much tone while having such a controlled decay. When working on the demo recording of this kit, I used considerably less EQ—almost none, in fact—and the kick and toms had very little sympathetic hum, which often requires editing or gating to keep from muddying up the mix.
This kit could be tuned super tight for a very melodic and dynamic hard bop sound, à la jazz great Tony Williams circa 1965. It could also be tuned very low to produce deep, fat, punchy sounds that retain a full, open, and musical note. Despite its diminutive size, this is a very versatile drumset capable of satisfying drummers and engineers alike, and it was incredibly inspiring to play. Each time I sat down at it, I found myself exploring ideas I’d never tried before. And no matter what I went for, be it a dense solo comprising a million notes or a single rimshot fill, the drums delivered above and beyond my expectations.
A four-piece, single-tree drumkit like the one we reviewed costs $6,000 and can be ordered directly at sugarpercussion.com/purchase.