Back in the '70s all the major drum companies produced a see-through kit. The Ludwig Vistalite was the most successful, helped by the fact John Bonham played one. Recently, there's been a resurgence of interest in old Vistalites, which prompted Ludwig into a reissue, with others following suit.
You could be forgiven for thinking the RCI Starlite pictured here is a Ludwig. The Vistalite-style Tequila Sunrise pattern and Ludwig-copy lugs are obviously meant to tempt Vistalite fans. In fact, the kit is made by long-time Vistalite nut Romano Cotone. Years of practical research has culminated in this 21st Century acrylic vision, hand built in RCI's Connecticut factory.
The problem with the '70s Vistalites was the shells. The seams were iffy and cracks not uncommon. Ludwig's reissued Vistalite tackles this weakness with shells glued and strengthened at the seams by a thin Plexiglas strip. Cotone's Starlite Super Duty shells are welded rather than glued.
According to UK Starlite distributor Dave Kirby, "The shell material is a hardened polymer. The review kit has three-part shells with no support tabs or glue involved. The acrylic is geometrically cut at a precise angle and then welded. You can drill through the welds and they won't come apart. The shells are air and watertight. RCI has tried filling other acrylic shells with smoke and watched the smoke seep through, but it doesn't with these."
They certainly feel solid, although the welds do leave tiny, bubble-like blemishes along the angled joins (look closely to spot them). RCI claim that because the shells are welded rather than glued this gives them an acoustic advantage, which it calls 'true continuous vibration'. If you take off the head and tap the shell (à la DW) you get a resonant pitch which seems to point up the solid nature of the construction, like a single-ply wood shell.
A great attraction of acrylic drums is the scope for rainbow colours and patterns. RCI have added to the original Ludwig choices with everything you can imagine. These custom-built kits come in Amber, Yellow, Red, Smoke, Blue, Navy Blue, Coke Bottle Green, Emerald Green, Purple and solid Black or White, plus four fluorescent: Orange, Red, Green and Yellow.
Any of these can be used in the various shell patterns, such as the review kit which is a Pattern A, three-colour rainbow. Pattern B is a five-colour rainbow. Pattern C is spiral with two to five bands, Pattern D a three-band swirl, Pattern E a two-band swirl and Pattern F, three-colour vertical bars.
Aside from 'standard' choices, visit www.rcistarlite.com to find flames, fiecks and complicated graphics incorporated into the shell. Prices rise according to the complexity of the finish.
Tommy Lee's big one
Standard tom sizes range from 8" to 20", while kicks go from 14" to 26". However, Tommy Lee did get a 32" bass drum for the Red Starlite kit (with DW fittings) he used on the reality TV show, Supernova. Patrick Keeler (The Raconteurs), Mike Heaton (Embrace) and Fab Moretti (The Strokes) are also Starlite fans.
RCI has its own Ludwig-style die-cast lug as featured on the review kit, but there's the option of vintage tube lugs. Triple-flanged steel rims are fitted as standard and all fittings come in normal chrome, black chrome or gold plate.
The review kit has a 22"x18" kick, 12"x10" and 13"x11" rack toms with Rims mounts, 16"x16" floor tom and 14"x6½" snare. Each shell is individually handcrafted using 7mm thick acrylic.
We were hard pushed to hear much difference between these shells and good quality wood shells. The sound is louder and the sharp 45º bearing edges add to the clean projection. It's tempting to say the sound is harder with fewer overtones, and the timbre not quite so complex. The glassy flnish possibly colours perception.
The sound is definitely fat and barely less warm than wood.
Alongside the kit, RCI sent a couple of extra snare drums which give a small idea of the breadth of the range. All three snares are 14"x6½", two with normal ¼" thick shells, the other with a massive ½" thick shell. RCI actually offers 14" clear shell snare drums in ¾" and even one-inch thick acrylic as special orders. How do they bend one-inch acrylic?
The kit snare drum is in matching Tequila, while the other ½" shell is a Pattern C, two band blue-and-clear spiral. All the drums have chrome tube lugs and triple flanged rims. Die cast 13" or 14" rims are a further option on snares.
The two ¼" drums have generic, though perfectly adequate, strainers. The ½" drum has the superb Trick Percussion strainer and 24-strand Puresound snare wires. Trick strainers can be supplied in silver or black. RCI's intention is to use top quality fittings like these. It puts the price up but is commensurate with the drums' quality.
The ½" drum also has offset mini-tube lugs rather than the full length versions.
Argent/Kinks drummer Bob Henrit took the kit on the road with no damping (and no mics). Bob's verdict: "The sound was so good I didn't notice I was playing an acrylic drum. I've owned several acrylic snares over the years but never really liked the sound of them. This one made me change my mind."
You can't say fairer than that.