British Drum Company Merlin Snare Drums review

BDC passes a significant milestone. Introducing the Palladium lug…

  • £625

MusicRadar Verdict

The British Drum Company enters a new phase with this Merlin snare drum featuring the much- anticipated Palladium lug. The 20-ply maple-birch shells are flawless resulting in a versatile professional sound.


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    Superb build.


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As the British Drum Company (BDC) picks up pace, the introduction of its own-design Palladium lug is a major factor in establishing brand identity. 

The shells have never been in doubt, but having to use generic lugs inevitably sets boutique builders apart from the big boys. Continuing BDC’s adoption of evocative UK names, this time the (Rolls Royce) Merlin is chosen for these top class professional snares which, as well as introducing the new lug, have a load of other great features. 


The Palladium lug draws on design elements from the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne design movements of the 1930-1950s. This accords with the vintage lug designs of Ludwig, Slingerland, Premier and other pioneers of the modern drum kit. The Palladium is most reminiscent of Ludwig’s Imperial lug, sharing the familiar triple-ridges, but is more aggressively pointy. 

Our two Merlin review drums are 14"x5.5" and 14"x6.5", although 13", 12" and even 10" versions are available too. Hoops are 2.3mm triple-flanged steel, and while the new Palladium lug is the most newsworthy feature, there’s the new Palladium Strainer 1 throw-off as well. 

This is also a unique BDC design that draws inspiration from the classics, this time in its resemblance to Gretsch’s shapely Lightning strainer. BDC’s design is chunkier, a solid casting with a comfortably rounded pull-away lever. Monogrammed black tapes thread through the solid cast butt-plate clamps, securing the 20-strand snares of stainless steel. 

Supporting all this hardware is the 10.5mm-thick 20-ply shell, made up evenly of premium grade maple and birch, the innermost ply being horizontally-laid birch. The grains are staggered so that vertical (V) and horizontal (H) maple/birch plies are evenly distributed. Thus from the outside moving inwards you have five lots of H (maple) V (birch) / V (maple) H birch), totalling 20 plies. 

Finishing off the shell is a decorative face veneer of black tulip wood with hand-inlaid maple pinstripes. Four coats of BDC’s own blended oils are applied to produce a beautiful, silky surface. This is the only finish offered by BDC with the company reasoning that a black snare will fit in with just about any other colour of drumset. 

Edges are 45°, hand-cut, polished then wax sealed. And there are barely perceptible 1.8mm deep hand-cut snare beds. The shells are perfectly round, superbly constructed and presented. 

BDC’s Keith Keough explains that the company’s ‘cold-pressed’ moulding, although taking longer, is superior to the heat moulding which the big companies use for expediency. “Any woodworker will tell you that the best thing you can do to wood is to let it settle and acclimatise before working on it. The worst thing you can do is to heat it up and cool it down. This makes the timber unstable and prone to warping.” 

Hands on

Hands on has never been more apt, as getting your hands on these elegant instruments is a tactile joy. The quality of all the components and the refined build are reassuring before you even start tapping and tinkering. Tuning feels silky, the tension rods turn easily, allowing sharp attacking or fat slappy-deep beats with equal aplomb. 

Everything falls into place - the Palladium 1 strainer feels strong. Combined with the sizzling stainless steel wires, which are pulled up to lie perfectly flat, the response is precise and clean with a minimum of rattle and buzz. 

Blending maple with birch - the two most popular woods used in drum construction - should give the best of both worlds, as maple provides more mids, warmth and body while birch gives a darker edge and focus

Blending maple with birch - the two most popular woods used in drum construction - should give the best of both worlds, as maple provides more mids, warmth and body while birch gives a darker edge and focus. Added to this there’s the medium thick 10.5mm shell, which is pretty heavy and has truly precise 45° edges. This brightens the tone and results in a drum that is ideally suited as a versatile all-rounder. 

Both of the drums on review here generate considerable ring and sustain. It’s funny how wood shells often seem to ring more than metal, which is sort of counter intuitive. But then the shells are quite thick, hard and dense. The shallower drum is suited to this inherent sharpness, but it is equally possible to tune the deeper drum right up high, almost like a military drum. 

There is always a woody depth to enjoy and even tuned to its lowest and sludgiest, when the shell starts to wail almost uncontrollably, the enunciation is truly amazing. Those bearing edges and those stainless steel wires work to give you crystal clear ghost notes and rolls.