Carl Gavins has been building Animal Custom Drums in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, for the past five years. He works full-time, aided by three other drummers who help out on a part-time basis.
Animal builds four lines of drums, all with the same quality construction, but varying in the type of lug and finish. The lines are LT (Light), Core, Elite and Exotic.
Our kit is an Elite, but slightly confusingly it's fitted with what Animal calls its Core lug. This is a single-fixing swivel lug, whereas Animal says most Elite customers go for mini-tube lugs.
You can specify your preference of lug and hardware. Lugs are made in Taiwan, and aren't exclusive to Animal; we found some of them a bit stiff and had to be careful to avoid cross-threading.
Our review kit has a 12"x8" rack tom with resonance mounting bracket, a 16"x13.5" floor tom with legs and a 20"x18" bass drum with heavy duty spurs and die-cast claws. Shells are 6mm, 12-ply Finnish birch. This is Animal's standard construction, but if you order a Core series kit you can get a birch core with a more exotic laminate.
All shells are accurately fabricated in Animal's own moulds and have vertical inner plies. "People talk about vibrations travelling faster up and down the shell," Carl says, "but to be honest, it's easier for us with how the moulds are set up and how the ply bends."
Inside, the shells are treated with a satin oil, rendering them silky to the touch.
The butt join on the innermost bass drum ply had a touch of filler, and there was another small line of filler further round the shell. This makes no difference to the performance.
The bass drum was circular to within an eighth of an inch, while both toms were near-perfect - which is exceptional. Bearing edges of 45 degrees were cleanly cut and level.
Regarding our review kit's finish, Carl says: "I wanted to do something like the Gibson guitar sunburst but a bit lighter. So this is sunburst stain with satin oil finish and Ginger Glass glitter inlays."
The sunburst is applied smoothly, although there's little grain pattern in the birch to get excited about.
There's also matching Ginger Glass on all of the hoops. This complicated finish makes the kit more expensive, since inlaying the wrap into the shell is more time-consuming.
Strips of wrap have been cut into the outer plies of each shell - creating a slight dip - so they're not quite flush.
The wooden bass drum hoops are also covered in the Ginger Glass, which is overlapped twice on the bottom of each hoop, leaving a little bulge. The exposed edges of the wrap are quite sharp, too.
It would perhaps have been better if the wrap was inlaid in the classic style.
Completing the look, there's an attractive, lightweight new Animal script badge, which is laser-cut from stainless steel.
Finnish birch is the traditional European drum-building wood. Carl points out that, "I always say to customers who ask which is better, maple or birch, that unless you particularly want maple you won't hear the difference in a live situation. And I can do birch cheaper for you."
We'd agree with this - there's precious little discernible difference in tone between the two woods. What do make a difference, however, are the thin, resonant shells, the shell dimensions and the supplied heads. The latter are Evans, with Clear G2 batters on the toms and Clear Genera Resonants beneath.
Starting with the traditionally dimensioned 12"x8", you get a classic, punchy and reverberant tone. It's versatile, retaining good definition over a healthy tuning range.
The unusually-sized 16"x13.5" yields a slightly more unique sound, in that the shallow depth makes for a more aggressive floor tom. It really cuts, and at first we thought that this might give it a rather stark tone. But the beauty here is you can tune it that little bit deeper and dirtier for warmth, while still retaining a good level of clarity. Tuned higher, you get the deep pitch benefit of the large diameter, but with the fast response of the shallow depth.
Warmth is not in question with the more standard-sized 20"x18" bass drum. This is particularly the case if you use the foam rings on the Evans EMAD-2 batter, which progressively cut out the highs and leave you with a darker, tighter sound. When playing this punchy kit, you really start to appreciate how the bass drum grounds everything with its fat bottom end.
And once again the bass drum responds well to higher tuning, with the definition and bounce needed for your best double-kick flurries.
Animal is one more British name in a growing list of established UK custom-builders who provide bespoke services at prices that don't make your eyes water. A quick look at Animal's website reveals that Rick McMurray of Ash and Paul McManus of Gun are both fans.