THE SPIRIT SOLID SHELL DRUMKIT

The wizards of Oz are back in a big way.

By Chap Ostrander

Photos by Jim Esposito

Hits -Unique wood type and construction method for kit. Powerful yet controlled sound. Ultra sensitive snare drum.

Misses-Very Heavy and Tuning can be tricky

Last summer Rick Van Horn reviewed an unusual line of snares coming out of Australia. I really can't improve on what Rick said so I'll repeat it here: "Spirit Drums of Australia has taken the concept of a solid wood shell to its simplest form. Their shells begin as solid segments cut from tree trunks. Each segment is already in roughly cylindrical form, and the drum shell is formed by lathing away the inside and outside of the cylinder until the desire dimensions of diameter and thickness are achieved. The resulting shell is a single, seamless piece of wood, absolutely unchanged from the way it existed within the living tree." The Spirit story actually starts several years ago, with drummer/craftsmen Matt Bowden and Jim hall. Initially they were making hand percussion instruments like frame drums, djembes, and congas A local drummer suggested that they make solid-shell snares. They experimented with various woods, but were never quite satisfied with the results.

What they really wanted to use was Cooktown ironwood, a very hard-to-work wood found in Far North Queensland, in Australia. Ironwood's low moisture content gives it great stability - and makes it very hard. In fact, it's twice as hard as maple and nearly 50% harder than jarrah, making it among the densest woods known. (If I worked the density figures correctly, the wood weights more than ninety pounds per cubic foot. This stuff even sinks in water!).

Wood Shop Was Never Like This

In order to work with ironwood, Matt and Jim first had to purchase a lathe capable of dealing with its hardness. The acquisition of a World War II - era three-ton metal lathe gave them the ability to turn the ultra-hard timber. The first ironwood snare they made went to a local drummer who was blown away by the sound. The density and interlocking grain of ironwood gave it resonating qualities that have made Spirit snare drums famous in a relatively short period of time. After succeeding with snare drums, Matt and Jim figured no one else in the world had the means or opportunity to make full kits out of this unique material. Of course, operating a custom drum facility in the bush in Northern Australia is slightly different from the way large drum companies work. When an order comes in for a kit, the first thing Matt and Jim do is check on their stock of logs. If they don't have the shell material on hand - and it's not typhoon season - they get in the truck for a five-hour ride to a rendezvous with timber cutters for a new stock of logs. Matt stresses that they are environmentally conscious and that all their timber comes from a small cutter who operates in an area about the size of Texas. The inner segments of each log are carefully inspected to make sure that the wood is in the best condition, with no gumlines or termite damage.

 
 
 

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