What should you look for when buying lacquer or wrapped drum shells?
By Tim Kane
STURBRIDGE, MA – What happens when your sound guy misses the tom clip and drops a mic right atop your nicely lacquered kick drum shell? How about when you leave your wrapped drums in a 100-plus degree car for several days?
It usually means bad things for both types of drum shell finishes.
Lacquer and satin finishes on outer drum shells certainly look great, especially if they accentuate the inner wood grain well, but can get chipped and damaged more easily than plastic drum wrap. Wraps, on the other hand, are more durable, but purists argue they conceal the true inner sound of a shell.
Some dings on a lacquer/satin oil kit can damage not only the finish but also the actual drum, making the argument that if you are an active gigging drummer, a wrap kit will better protect the drum and last longer.
My opinion is so long as you take care of your drum set equipment, it takes care of you. Like a guitar, use cases and care when handling and moving drums. Any drum set can get dinged and scratched whether sitting in your practice spot or on stage. Yes, a lacquer finish is more fragile and easier to dent, but wraps scratch and are more prone to temperature swings affecting the plastic’s glue bond with wooden shell.
A recent IIRC study states that wraps reduce resonance by 4.7 percent. Perhaps that is what you want for sound and in exchange for the nice visual textures, you are willing to sacrifice that percentage. I tend to disagree, as wrap by its very essence, if glued properly, adds another ply layer of thickness to your overall drum shell. The thicker your shell ply, the bigger the sound.
So what should you look for when buying lacquer or wrapped shells?
On lacquer shells, the overall appearance of wood is first and foremost. Does the lacquer show off the outer shell’s knots, curvatures, and grain textures enough, or are you going for a smoky look? Does there appear to be enough clear sealant coat atop the lacquer finish for added protection? How does the finish appear under bright lights versus dark corners? Will they blend well with your other drums?
As for plastic drum wrap, there are nearly endless varieties of colors including solid, swirl, sparkle and pearl patterns to choose from. If you visit a music store, don’t just go with the available floor models. Ask what’s available for textures online or from their distributors.
Remember, a lacquer or satin finish produces a more “open” sounding drum allowing the shell to resonate more freely than is possible with a plastic wrapped finish. However, a wrapped finish can be more durable as well as less expensive.
Everyone has his or her own opinion about what looks and sounds good for shell finishes. Some say my bright green pearl wrap Rodgers kit should only be played at Christmas parties, and that my cherry red lacquer finish Gretsch kit should be in a Marlboro cigarette commercial.
But I sure like the look – and sound – of both, and that is all that matters.
– Tim Kane is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years living in Massachusetts. http://www.kaneschoolofdrums.com