Scott James Ciprari formed the SJC custom drum company in 2000 with his brother Mike. Scott had started making drum kits as a teenager in his grandmother's basement in Massachusetts. Now the company employs 16 and SJC are played by drummers with name artists from Kanye West, The Ramones, Jimmy Eat World and Placebo to Macy Gray.
Mike Ciprari says, "We take enormous pride in our craft and service, and strive to offer the best experience for drummers to get the kit of their dreams built by people they can call friends. Without the support of our family of drummers around the world, or the people at SJC, we wouldn't be able to keep doing what we love, and we are very grateful for the opportunity we've been given."
As a custom company SJC can offer just about any type and size of shell and finish you can think of. We're talking shells from 8" to 30" diameter in maple, birch, or mahogany with maple re-rings, acrylic, carbon fibre, or even hybrids of the above. Then there's copper, steel, brass, aluminium, titanium and so on.
"This is a youthful company that really knows its market. If you don't crave an outrageous kit when you're 20 you never will"
Where SJC scores is in the unbridled imagination of its finishes. A visit to the website galleries reveals SJC's propensity for garish kits with unique artwork, customised badges, wood burn effects, engraving, stripes, inlays, stains, veneers and wraps. This is a youthful company that really knows its market.
If you don't crave an outrageous kit when you're 20 you never will. You can leave SJC to come up with something amazing - a 'Wild Card' kit - and hope you like it. Or you can work with recommended visual artists to produce your ultimate dream set. This will be expensive, but SJC also makes off-the-peg kits, of the same build quality, that are considerably more affordable (check UK distributor Sound Attak's website).
Which brings us to our review kit, which is a special one-off, hence the hefty price tag. It comprises a 22"x20" bass drum, 12"x7" tom with no mount and 16"x16" floor tom with legs. The shells are a composite of 10-ply American maple and 1⁄4"-thick clear acrylic in equal thirds, with the acrylic slotted into specially routed ledges within the maple shell.
The wood is finished in Custom Black Satin Stain and has 12-ply maple hoops all around with a Turquoise Glitter inlay. In common with many US (and some UK) custom drum companies, SJC does not make its own shells or hardware. It's easy to get a bit sniffy about this, but even the most fastidious of companies buys in its plastic wrap finishes, etc - the point being no one is entirely self-sufficient.
So where do you draw the line? Generic hardware is of such good quality now that it makes little functional difference, except that some of it looks overly familiar.
Here the hardware is brass plated over steel. The lugs are two-point mount mini-tubes with claw hooks over the hoops. They are offset all round, which looks cool and spreads the tension. On the small tom this means the lugs are secured on the acrylic part of the shell while on the large tom and bass drum they are attached to the maple.
Tension bolts have steel and black nylon washers but the claws have no isolating gaskets. The raised gold-over-black SJC badge is in engraved aluminium. Bass drum spurs and floor tom legs are enormous and do their job well.
Bought-in shells from a specialist manufacturer are often of a better, more consistent quality than a small company can knock up themselves. What really matters is how good a job the custom company does on the raw blanks it buys. This is where we became SJC fans.
We always take review drums apart, measure the shell diameters and examine the bearing edges. Whoever made these shells (we suspect Keller), they are by our measurements perfectly round. This is unusual, as even expensive drums are often out by a 16th of an inch or so.
On top of this the bearing edges, which SJC has applied, are the best - silky smooth, gorgeous to the touch. So much effort has gone into getting these edges perfect, if the same attention's been lavished on everything else then we are onto a winner.
"The drums arrived beautifully tuned and sounded terrific straight away"
The drums arrived beautifully tuned and sounded terrific straight away. The bass drum had an Evans EMAD batter with foam ring damper and a Remo Fibreskyn full frontal. An interesting pairing which worked a treat. The EMAD reined in any awkward overtones and brought out the depth while the Fibreskyn resonant added warmth and body.
The result was a dark and controlled, mic/studio-ready thump which you could struggle for years to obtain. Compact and punchy, yet big- sounding. We still had Ludwig's (recently reviewed) Atlas double pedal at home so we clamped this on and went for it and the bass drum's tight tone just swallowed up the beats so they came out clear and hard.
We don't like the clip-over claws on the toms as you can easily catch your sticks on them. And if you occasionally play tom rim-shots your aim is restricted. But what of the sound? We sat the 12"x7" tom loosely on a snare stand, dwarfed by the bass drum. There's a huge pitch jump between the small, quite shallow tom and the massive, deep bass drum.
We were expecting the tom, with its softening wood hoops to be a little lame, but we couldn't have been more wrong. With clear Emperor top and Ambassador bottom - again carefully tuned to go by Sound Attak - the drum gave a great account of itself. It fairly leapt out, fast and toppy but with enough after-depth of tone not to sound completely estranged from the kick.
Not so much the 16"x16" floor tom though. Although providing a well-spaced middle pitch between the exaggeratedly high tom and deep bass, it seemed to lack the balls of the small tom. We found we had to tune it down a bit more than I wanted in order to get the full blast out of it.
So what's the effect of the maple-acrylic hybrid? Maple is traditionally bright yet warm; acrylic, in our experience a little deeper, harder, even muted when it comes to toms. The wooden hoops add to the warmth, but I didn't feel any lessening of attack on the small tom, while the bass drum seemed to benefit all round.