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RBH Drums

Americana Jump Kit

Impossibly big and rich tones from a tiny grab-and-go setup.

Virginia Beach–based RBH Drums has been quietly but steadily building steam as one of the preeminent custom shops, forgoing flashy, over-the-top concoctions for more refined,
classy single-ply snares (Prestige series) and vintage-style 3-ply ahogany/poplar/mahogany kits and snares (Monarch series). While Monarch drums are offered à la carte in the most common sizes, including 10″ to 18″ toms, 16″ to 24″ bass drums, and 13″ and 14″ snares, owner/master craftsman Bruce Hagwood recently developed a unique and super-compact cocktail-style setup, dubbed the Americana Jump Kit.

The basic Americana Jump Kit setup—street price: $1,750—comprises a 3-ply 13×16 bass drum (on a Lift riser), a matching 5×13 snare, an Axis snare basket (not pictured), and a custom case. Add-on toms include a 7×10 ($550) and a 13×13 ($780). Our review kit, which did not include toms, was covered in a striking peacock pearl, but more natural finishes, like maple, mahogany, and burgundy stain, as well as custom inlay options, are also available.

Hagwood named this tiny setup after the gear that EMS and fire department first responders grab when jumping from their trucks after arriving at the scene. (Bruce is a retired firefighter.) The Americana Jump Kit is designed to be small enough to carry in one trip into and out of gigs, and it takes up very little space on stage. The bass drum has a universal mount on the shell to hold a snare basket (for stand-up playing, à la the Stray Cats’ Slim Jim Phantom), or you can use the mount to accommodate a tom holder, should you decide to expand the kit to three or four pieces.

The bass drum has sturdy medium-duty spurs that are contoured to fold in closely to the shell so they don’t have to be removed when packed up. The Lift is a molded-plastic device that sits under the shell, just past the batter-side hoop, raising the drum a couple of inches for better beater positioning. It includes a ledge for connecting the pedal, so nothing is attached directly to the hoop. The Lift not only prevents hoop damage but also does wonders to increase sustain and low end from the bass drum, since the shell is not resting directly on the floor. The Axis snare basket is appropriate for this kit because it’s very light but ultra-sturdy, and the basket separates from the post with the turn of a thumbscrew, so it can remain attached to the bottom hoop for even quicker setup and teardown.

For a gig with my Johnny Cash tribute band, the Americana Jump Kit fit like a well-worn leather glove. The 13″ snare had incredible warmth plus super-crisp snare response, so buzz-stroke-laden swing patterns and chugging train beats with brushes sounded rich and articulate. The 16″ bass drum, on the other hand, sounded much deeper and fluffier than its size would suggest. Tuned just above the wrinkle point, this little guy packed a fat punch followed by a warm, balanced boom that was super-satisfying to the ear. My bandmates and I were completely blown away by how big this kick drum sounded.

When I took the Americana Jump Kit to my studio, I set it up traditionally, with the snare in a regular stand, so I could test it sitting down, and I inserted a cymbal arm into the tom mount to hold a 19″ ride. I tuned both drums up as high as they would go, recorded a Steve Jordan–type swing-funk beat like what he tracked on the John Mayer song “Waiting on the World to Change,” and then repeated the process with the drums tuned a little lower each time. You can check out the results in the video demo we’ve posted to, but the range of useful, versatile tones these two drums emitted was stunning.

The tighter tunings would sit well in a bebop situation or as a sped-up breakbeat option when you want to go for quick drum ’n’ bass textures. Even with both heads cranked all the way, there was still enough tone to carry some weight in the mix. Then, as I gradually backed off the tension, the sounds got fatter and richer. Even with the heads slack, there was still some useful sustain and body. The Americana Jump Kit also sounded great when recorded with just room mics, which falls right in line with its intended rootsy, old-school aesthetic.

Michael Dawson