When talking about tattoos in a musical context, the first things that usually spring to mind are either the Cold stream Guards at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo or that Chinese symbol on the small of the guitarist's girlfriend's back.
It's usually the musicians that are adorned with the impressive body art, but looking more suited to a biker bar than a rehearsal studio, the Ludwig Element SE is a limited-edition collaboration between the Ludwig drum company and Corey Miller, stateside tattoo artist to the stars.
"No mere transfers, the art is part of the wrap, so won't fade with time, and features Corey's signature motifs"
Miller, for those who don't know, is the star of a reality TV show called LA Ink, which follows the fortunes of a West Hollywood tattoo parlour.
The Element SE (Special Edition) is Ludwig's answer to arch rival Gretsch's Catalina Mod kits. Priced at the mid-range market and incorporating design features previously found only on expensive custom kits, the SE aims squarely at the upgrading beginner looking for some extra style, but at a price that won't break the bank.
The SE's most obvious feature is the tattoo-inspired art that adorns the vintage White Marine Pearl wrap. No mere transfers these, the art is part of the wrap so won't fade with time, and features Corey's signature motifs.
In a quality touch, the designs on each drum are different, again reinforcing that would-be custom image. The 12" rack tom, for example, features twin demonic Pagliacci masks and a heart, pierced by an arrow, draped with a Ludwig banner (as above).
The massive 22"x22" bass drum is undrilled, and like the rest of the kit features black powder-coated versions of Ludwig's take on its own classic Keystone lug. The bass drum features a black un-ported Remo front head and wooden counter hoops with matching wrap inlays.
The black theme continues with the two toms – the aforementioned 12"x8" and a 16"x14" floor tom. The 12" has a black RIMS-style suspension mount and the floor has black legs–both have black triple-flanged rims, as does the matching 14"x7" snare.
The toms and snare come complete with Chinese Remo UT Ludwig-branded single-ply heads, and the bass drum features UT Powerstroke 3 equivalents.
This is a uniquely-styled kit and, in keeping with its uncompromising character, the first problem we had was transporting the huge bass drum – to get it through the doors, we had to remove one of the heads!
Unfortunately, the bass drum problems didn't end there. With both heads tuned low, the cannon-like depth meant that the drum simply didn't want to respond, each hit getting lost between batter and reso. Tensioning both heads above medium tension roused the sleeping beast, but having such a large bass drum tuned high rather defeats the object – it would certainly benefit from a port in the front head.
The rack tom, being standard depth, was much easier to tune, although the thin heads offered up some harsh overtones. The 14" depth of the floor tom meant that it also responded quickly, but the single-ply heads meant tuning was more trouble than it should have been.
The snare could be cranked to produce a pleasing rimshot, great for those West Coast punk covers, but again the thin heads conspired to produce unpleasant overtones. A judicious application of gaffer tape later, though, and we were away.
When using the kit live, once we were through the venue door and had the kit arranged to our liking, it certainly fulfilled its main brief - to attract attention! It looked great on stage, and a couple of audience members came over for a closer look.
Unfortunately, when playing with the band our fears about the bass drum proved right - tuned down it was lost in the mix, however with the heads tightened right up it managed to punch through.