Aristocrat Acacia Drumset

Another five-star offering from one of the industry’s most outspoken perfectionists.


The original incarnation of the legendary Geo. H. Way Drum Company went dormant when founder George Harrison Way passed away in 1969. In 2006, modern percussion product designer Ronn Dunnett acquired the rights to the brand and set out to revive the company by building and expanding upon the innovations that Way created many years ago. The result is a perfect amalgam of flawless modern manufacturing with elegant, vintage aesthetics. The most recent addition to the Way catalog is the Aristocrat line of snares and kits, which debut a new version of the single-ended art deco–style lug George designed in 1953. We were sent a gorgeous Aristocrat kit with 4-ply acacia shells featuring 8×12 and 14×14 toms, a 14×20 bass drum, and a 5.5×14 snare.

The Specs
Aristocrat drums are available with acacia, walnut, or a blend of maple and poplar shells. The bass drum and tom shells are 4-ply with 4-ply reinforcement rings. Snares in walnut or maple/ poplar are 4-ply with 4-ply reinforcement rings, while acacia snares come with 2-ply shells with 2-ply rings. Tom diameters range from 10″ to 18″ (all in traditional depths), bass drums are offered from 18″ to 26″, and snares are available in 5.5×14, 6.5×14, or 8×14 sizes. Our acacia kit featured a lustrous high-gloss finish that added a glassy shine without distracting from the deep, rich brown/tan/ black grain structure of the acacia.

In addition to the newly reworked rounded art deco lugs, Aristocrat drums come with George Way’s innovative double-edge/double-flange steel hoops, die-cast bass drum claws, rounded throwback-style T-handles, and vintage-style Waybest arch spurs. All of the hardware features AAA chrome plating and is manufactured to impeccable standards. Every tension rod, T-handle, and thumbscrew operated with velvety smoothness while also retaining tension under extended, heavy playing.

Our Aristocrat toms were outfitted with Dunnett’s Remo-made single-ply Resotone heads, which are uncoated and have a smooth, opaque white color. The bass drum came with a Resotone batter head and a Resotone Felt Tone front, which has a felt strip that floats between the drumhead and an additional layer of Mylar on the underside. The snare featured a Remo Ambassador Coated batter and Ambassador Hazy snare bottom, plus twenty-strand snappy wires and a minimalistic beer tap–style throw-off.

The Sound
There haven’t been many drumsets that have passed through my studio that I can honestly say had zero manufacturing failings or sonic shortcomings. This Aristocrat Acacia is one. Not only was it perfectly built and aesthetically gorgeous, but it was also one of the most musically inspiring modern kits I’ve ever played. I had so much fun grooving and improvising on this Way drumset that by the end of the review I was seriously considering selling off my beloved vintage 1968 Ludwig Downbeat outfit and getting one. At all tunings, it produced a warm, pure tone that echoed my Downbeats, but it had a more authoritative smack and a much broader dynamic range that extended from whisper-quiet ghost notes to swinging-for-the-fences accents. I quite literally couldn’t make these drums sound bad, and they had no dead zones in the tuning range, which extended from deep and fat finger-tight funkiness to maximum-torque Max Roach–style melodicism. I could even coax convincing Bonham-like bombast from this 20″ bass drum by simply tuning both heads as low as they would go and letting the beater bounce off the head with each stroke.

If your ears are most inspired by classic, vintage tones but your playing demands require utmost durability, versatility, and reliability, check out what Dunnett is doing with the George Way Drum Company. As cliché as it might sound, the new Aristocrat Acacia proved to be the textbook example of a “modern vintage” drumset.