Let’s start by saying that the woods used are many, especially since many artisans entered the market and like to experiment with new timbres/finishes in addition to the most famous woods.
For those like me who were musically born in the mid-90s, the most widely used wood for making batteries is maple.
Everyone wanted to sell us the maple and all the magazines in the sector praised the sound qualities of this wood. Even today the maple is considered the most versatile wood, indicated for Jazz, Pop, and Rock. Birch is also very common, it too sounds good and is quite versatile.
MAPLE OR BIRCH?
Ever since Gretsch introduced Canadian maple, challenging the market that saw mahogany as the undisputed leader since then this wood has been growing. I challenge anyone of us who has read some industry forums not to have been overwhelmed by Keller’s Canadian maple post, supplier of the old (and for some unreachable) DW, the first Drum Sounds and many other emblazoned brands.
The sound of the maple is characterized by a very wide sound range, with a prevalence of low and warm tones, a good presence of mids which makes it very balanced and few high … Maple batteries usually strike for sound richness and warmth sound and power.
Buying maple is almost always synonymous with excellent sound output, even if prices are often higher than other woods.
The birch is probably the most common type of shell currently on the market, these trees are very common which also allows keeping very competitive prices, slightly lower maple.
It is a wood known for its tonal qualities and many companies call it “naturally equalized”. This would be enough to give you an idea of its main feature, in fact, the sound of the drums made with this wood is more ringing, with more pronounced high and low frequencies.
The use for which the birch is particularly suitable is the one in the recording studio, but also live is an excellent instrument, especially enhanced in situations where the battery is not miked.
The birch, already famous, was made famous by Steve Gadd with his signature to some companies like Yamaha has built the fortune of many series (Recording Custom).
Ultimately the birch has a clear and distinct attack and is suitable for genres such as the Funky, the Fusion, but it is widely used by those who make rock in general, creating endless discussions with maple supporters.
Another wood to dwell on is the mahogany. Considered for a long time as the only wood (or almost) with which to build the batteries, with the advent of new woods it has been relegated to cheaper buildings.
However, the sound qualities remain very interesting and this is demonstrated by the great success of some series such as Pearl’s Export, which still uses it in some productions. To get an idea, try hearing an MHX or Reference, also from the Pearl.
wood battery: Mahogany
Sound characteristics of mahogany
Like other woods, mahogany is very different depending on the “type” and origin. Filipino mahogany ( luan ) today is widely used in the cheaper series, while the African one is considered of great value and therefore used in the construction of many instruments, not just batteries.
Very hard and therefore difficult to work, it has unique sound characteristics, with a very high power thanks to the exaltation of the bass. So be very careful when talking about Mahogany and find out what type it is.
We can no longer speak of other woods such as oak. It is not common to find batteries with this wood, given the difficult processing.
We speak of course of Japanese Oak and not of the common oak.
Yamaha has bet on this wood for some series, even if lately the production turns out to be a bit discontinuous, probably due to the scarce popularity it is getting.
The sound is still very interesting, very clear and powerful with very pronounced bass. Given the particularity, it is not easy to find batteries made of Japanese Oak and in case you find them, they often have a fairly important price.
Another wood that is now easy to find is beech (Beech). You can consider it as an alternative to maple or birch. It is a very dense wood and the batteries are often very heavy.
Speaking of sound, it covers the gap between maple and birch (to which it is most similar), with less bass than birch and higher than maple. It is a common wood, easy to process, which makes it cheaper than oak.
It is a great alternative if you are looking for something different from the “great classics”.
Finally, a quote deserves another wood: Bubinga. Lately, it is spreading a lot. I got to play a Tama Starclassic made with this African wood, but it’s not the only one to use it.
These batteries have a darker sound with a lot of sustain and a powerful attack. It does not appear to be among the cheapest but it is certainly worth giving it a chance and trying it. It could be the sound for you if you are looking for something different from the usual woods.
The current productions, however, are made with many types of wood and in addition to the already mentioned you could easily bump into linden, oak (similar to maple but with a little more bass), poplar, padouk, iroko (usually used for the percussion, today someone makes us snare drums), walnut, cherry and olive (also this especially for snare drums).
BUT WHAT DID JOHN BONHAM USE?
Of course, there is not only wood in the world of batteries. The famous Ludwig Vistalite (John Bonham above all) is made of plexiglass. Today, many companies have resumed this type of construction and find virtually all prices.
The very cheap batteries are often made with a wood called Basswood. Its quality is much lower than the aforementioned woods, but this does not prevent a good acoustic rendering with some precautions (skins, tuning, scordatura), and it is often a good start for those who are entering this world for the first time and have a limited budget.
Multilayer batteries (with different woods) have recently become very popular. The sonic and aesthetic characteristics are exploited to build the barrel at will, varying the arrangement and even using the different cuts of wood and taking advantage of the grain orientation.
To keep costs down, some manufacturers often use cheap woods in the inner layers (basswood, etc …) externally coated with a wood that guarantees more pleasant veining and internally with a valuable layer. Often a layer of maple is inserted, which unlike the lauan has a denser and more uniform sound. Of course, this trunk will never sound like one made entirely with maple but still manages to have acceptable sonorities at reduced costs.
“Cheap wood does not always mean ugly sound”
A fundamental variant that significantly influences the sound is the use of the glues used.
There are various methods of drum construction. Excluding, for now, the drums made with a single piece of “excavated” wood or the stems obtained by bending a single layer, we can say that 95% of the batteries are made by superimposing very thin layers of wood, glued together and suitably folded.
The discussion on the glues/resins used in this process and how they influence the sound of the trunk in a more or less decisive manner is still a matter of great discussion.
Suffice it to say that it is clear that the sound is influenced by whatever makes up the “drum”, but we leave it to the experts in the field to explain in what percentage.
For the same reason, how the mechanics are attached to the shaft will also play an important role in the sound yield, influencing or not the vibration and therefore the resonance.
Finally, much is also discussed about the coatings. The cheaper batteries, for the reasons listed above, are coated and this varies the type of sound. The same goes for the “wrap” that we often apply to our barrels.
However, the discussion remains open and it is not certain that the sound always gets worse, but according to some it is simply different.
The last mention is for the metal, which is widely used for snare drums (see post on snare drums), but as far as the drums of the set are concerned, it is used in some productions which remain niche, as well as for carbon.
“The choice of wood types is important, but there are many factors that affect the sound of the drum “
The sound output is also strongly influenced by the way the drums are assembled and finished. How many layers? Board treatment? We talked about it in this post.
Hoping that this brief and illustrative explanation on the materials used for the construction of drums for batteries may have been helpful, our advice always remains to try before buying.
Do not fix yourself with the brand, genre, classifications, and reviews, but try, play and change often. What for someone is beautiful for others is not, the needs of each of us are fortunately different, as is the way of hitting a drum, of tuning it.
Furthermore, the enormous variety of skins and their different sound characteristics mean that the same drum set with different skins and played by different people may not seem the same.
Take time to learn and try to make an informed choice.