Tee Drums Review
A few weeks ago I realised the bearing edges on a couple of my vintage drums were in a bit of a state and needed re-cutting. After asking around I was pleased to find out that not far away from me in Stroud was Tee Drums, ran by drummer and drum builder Alan Tocknell. A quick phone call and a fleet footed visit later, I met a passionate and knowledgeable drum maker surrounded by the fruits of his own labour. A week later I popped up to take his bop set and several snare drums for a test drive.
The first thing I was struck by when looking at the kit was the similarity to Slingerland lugs on the drums. This wasn’t a deliberate attempt to copy but I liked it as it fitted its delicious retro look. The kit was made with birch shells with a satin oil natural oak outer ply. The sizes were 18x14, 12x8, and 14x14 with a matching finish snare of 14x5. Head wise, the toms had Evans G2 top heads and clear resonant heads, the bass drum had a coated Evans EQ4 front and a white Reso EQ3 back with a small hole. There was no dampening inside.
Alan makes the shells with vertical grain rather than the industry standard horizontal grain. The effect that vertical grain has is to make the drums incredibly fast in response and I have to say that the toms in particular were incredibly fast, even with double ply Evans G2 heads. The tone was very even and consistent - I tuned the drums high and low and they really jumped out at you whatever the tuning. This makes the drums very flexible for those drummers who play a mixture of styles. My personal preference was to have the drums at a classic jazz tuning where I felt they sounded perfect. I admit to liking toms that really sing but I acknowledge that some jazz drummers more used to the more focused sound of a Gretsch kit, might not like the speed or resonant nature of the toms.
What I liked most about the toms was the clear focus they seemed to have at any tuning, the note was clear and didn’t seem to be hampered by different tensions. In many ways they reminded me of the thin Ludwig and Slingerland shells of the 50’s and 60’s, and even 1970’s Rogers, which offer wide open and clear tuning (well until the Rogers nut boxes or hardware broke!).
With toms that sing so much, I was at first worried that the bass drum was a bit lost in the mix so I had Alan play them for me whilst I listened out front. In fact the bass is far more focused and compliments the toms really well, sitting below them in the mix. Slacker tunings felt a little underwhelming and didn’t get the best out of the drum, which suited a tighter tuning where it was punchy and at it’s most responsive.
The kit came with a matching birch 14x5 snare. Like the bass drum the snare was considerably more focused than the toms, which I admit surprised me as birch can sometimes (to my ears) have too much ring. My preference was for a medium tight tuning which didn’t choke the drum; this ensured it still had some ring that worked with the overall sound and ensured it cut through the kit. A classic and easy to use snare throw off made tensioning the snare a doddle and it was pretty sensitive, giving a good response to brush work as well as the softest of ghost strokes. A good workman-like snare that could be used for many different applications, without having to resort to time consuming and careful tuning. To my mind a custom made kit at this price, and at this quality, offers exceptional value.
Alan really knows his wood, having been a yacht restorer for many years before turning to drum making, and has made drum shells for many drum companies before going solo. Using his years of experience in working with real wood veneers, and understanding what makes them tick, enables Alan to book match (join veneers together) them, before forming the drum in precision engineered formers. Three core materials are used make Tee drums; Birch, Maple, and African Mahogany (or any combination of those materials).
I took the opportunity to play several of his snares whilst I was there and while I didn’t get a chance to play around with them to a great degree I discovered enough to feel it worth letting you know that if there is a sound you are looking for, then Tee drums has probably got a snare for you. I played a whole manner of snares, fat maple snares with gold hoops (perfect sounding for funk I thought), a birch piccolo with a massive rim-shot, a walnut and birch snare that I had to stop myself from running away with (it had just the right amount of ‘snap’ and ‘air’), and a HUGE looking wood hooped ‘recording’ snare. All of the snares were made to Alan’s high standards, quality and consistency are his watchwords, and it really does show.
Everything is considered in these snares, from the hoops to the snare mechanism to the hardware. To go with that mantra was some fabulous finishes, Tee has one of the largest outer ply selections available and are also able to offer glaze and satin oil finishes. So on top of the snare sound you’ve always been looking for you can get exactly the look you’re after too.
I have to say I liked a lot about Alan and Tee drums. The jazz kit was an absolute dream to play, and the snares offered a whole world of backbeats to choose from. The care that Alan has for his craft and his instruments is complimented by a knowledge and humility that can only help him and Tee go a long way in a healthy UK custom drum market.
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