This brace of striking snares is the first result of a collaboration between Yorkshire’s Highwood Drums and Edinburgh’s eDrum distribution. The former is previously associated with fine handmade wooden drums, while the latter is also the company behind Dream cymbals. Highwood distribution is to be handled by eDrum henceforth, leaving the Highwood boys more time to get on with what they do best: making cracking drums.
The snares are standard sizes, 14"x5½" and 14"x6½", with shells made from cold-rolled, 1mm sheet steel. They have a vertical weld and the seam is then ground – so well, in fact, that we couldn’t find the join. The 45-degree bearing edges are folded by machine, and the 6½" drum also has double convex beads for strengthening.
Both drums are hand-hammered – the smaller one fully, the deeper one partially – between the double beading. Finish is black nickel plate on the outside with a black coating inside, and the hammered portions of each shell have a copper-like sheen, although the shells are most definitely steel.
That’s the shells then; everything else is kitted out in the uncluttered Highwood style. The 10 lugs each have a single fixingpoint and combine the stability and lightness of tube lugs with the ﬂexibility of swivel nut inserts. They’re beautiful in their grace and functionality. The steel tension rods have both metal and plastic washers and are lightly lubricated. Hoops are standard 2.3mm chrome-plated steel – a nice contrast, but you can specify matching black nickel or lacquered brass for a small price lift.
The strainer/throw-off is the generic pro option offered by Highwood. It’s a simple lever-lift design and, apart from the snob appeal of a designer model, this is a smart choice. It’s solid and quiet, comfortable with its ergonomic rubberised grip. In other words, not too fancy-pants to cause problems. Since Highwood is a custom company, you could always request a posher strainer if you must.
The actual snares are Highwood’s own first-rate 42-strand brass wires. Lugs, throw-off and butt plate are all bolted on with stainless steel fasteners and rubber gaskets.
Steel-shell snares may sometimes be viewed as less musical than wood, brass or aluminium yet, if that’s so, how come great drummers, from Jimmy Chamberlin to Steve Gadd to Ian Paice, have signature snares with steel shells?
We suspect the prejudice stems from the fact that many of us have nightmare memories of our beginner steel snares with gruesome overtones. So a well-made steel snare like these two can be a revelation. You get all the good stuff – the volume, the bright attack, the fast response – but you also get a clean, full tone. The drums are designed to maximise the plus points and subdue the potentially hazardous ones. The hammering brings out the darker tones and cuts back on the over-ring, and both the outer plating and the inner black coating conspire to control the sound a fraction more.
Overall, we were struck by the way both snares were so well behaved. There’s still the shrill, trebly tone of steel, and at mid tuning rim shots have an electrifying timbale-like clank. But there was no question of applying damping however they were tuned. In fact, both drums seemed to work best at mid tunings with medium-tensioned snares. With slacker tuning the drums can get quite dark and sludgy, while at high tunings there is the danger of becoming too shrill and metallic.
Edge sensitivity was good if not spectacular, and cross-sticks on the 2.3mm triple-ﬂanged hoops were nicely rounded and un-choked.
We enjoyed the 6½" slightly more than the 5½". It seemed to have a fraction more personality. Comparing it with a classic Ludwig aluminium 402, the 6½" Hammer is more of a barker, while the 402 is a little drier, poppier, hollower. The Ludwig seems more open, while the Hammer has a thicker, more complex, spreadier sound.
Of course the 42-strand wires increase the fat sibilance of both Hammers. You’re probably thinking, ‘I bet they have problems with sympathetic snare buzz’, but no – in conjunction with a standard three-tom kit we could barely get the snares to buzz whatever we tried. It helps that they are quality brass, laid ﬂat and square in a smooth shallow snare bed.
Highwood supplies Evans Power Center Reverse Dot coated (single ply) batters, and Evans Hazy 300 medium-weight snare sides. This is a solid combination: the minimally damped batter has a defined, warmish tone, while being strong enough for firm playing black nickel plating and 42-strand brass wires all add up to a superior package.