Ford Corian snare drums - Earthtones gold-plated snare
Ford Corian snare drums - Seafoam green and white snare
These two remarkable-looking snare drums come from the workshops of US drum-builder Ford. Named after its founder Jimmy Ford, a big band drummer who spent six years playing with vibes legend Lionel Hampton, Ford has been in business for a decade.
The company makes drums on a custom basis with a wide choice of woods, shell configurations and bespoke finishes. As well as drums, Ford also manufactures Smart Ass thrones and Drumvee soft cases.
These two snare drums are true one-off instruments that carry eye-watering prices but promise a performance to match.
The Ford Corian-Koenig Horizontal Stave snares, to give them their full names, are made from Corian, a compound of acrylic resin and minerals that was invented by DuPont in 1967.
Ford is not alone in building drums from Corian, though the construction method of these two snares is different from other examples we've encountered. Rather than taking sheets of Corian and bending it into cylinders, the shells are instead built from a series of staves.
Usually a shell created in this manner consists of vertical staves (not unlike a barrel). Here the Ford drums differ again as the staves run horizontally. Most of them are actually full circles cut from sheets of Corian, with the occasional layer being made of two joined semi-circles. Each stave/layer is 9mm thick and 12mm deep.
The finished drums - which are bonded without any heating or manipulating of the Corian - feel solid and weighty. Bearing edges are cut to 45° with a gentle rounding-over. Outside, the shells are sealed and then polished while the interiors are smoothed off but otherwise left untreated. All of this is accomplished by hand and can take up to two weeks per drum.
There are no fixed colour schemes for Ford's Corian drums. Instead they are built from whichever sheets of Corian are obtainable at any one time, thereby guaranteeing uniqueness.
Of the two review models, the 14x6-inch Seafoam Green and White drum is the more understated; its delicate bands of colour give it an unusually attractive appearance. In contrast, the 14x6½-inch Earthtones drum, which sports 24-carat gold-plated hardware over layers of textured brown Corian, resembles a footballer's bathroom.
Every single piece of hardware on the Earthtones snare has been gold-plated - lugs, hoops, tension rods, snare release and butt end - so the effect is consistent. The Dunnett snare release was chosen for this drum as it takes better to gold plating than the Trick release fitted to the Seafoam snare.
Another example of the attention to detail is found in the lugs. Ford's proprietary design, they are machined from solid aircraft aluminium and have a unit cost that is over 20 times that of the average mass-produced cast lug.
The airholes are also individual, mirroring the rounded arrowhead shape of the lugs and featuring a clear Perspex mounted 'f' mid-hole.
So what do such exotic, well-appointed and outrageously expensive drums like these sound like? In a word, amazing - it's as though every facet of their sound has been intensified.
Yes they are loud, but there is more to them than sheer volume. It's a frequency thing - they're warmer, brighter, deeper, and just more snare-like than you'd think was possible.
Of the two drums, the 14x6-inch model is the sharper-sounding. We gigged it and got nothing but compliments from other band members and a few people in the audience.
Hit dead centre it gives the sort fat, funky response that transforms a backbeat into a groove. Moving outwards things become more edgy and metallic but still controllable, with any harmonics being sympathetic.
Wherever played and at whatever volume, the sound has a distinctive shape, depth and texture, while cross-sticking is particularly clean and well-defined.
The deeper drum, unsurprisingly, has an even bigger presence. While possessing a similar degree of warmth and crispness, its voice is unmistakably thicker. With the tuning backed off it produces a colossal bark, large enough to power a stadium.
Tightening the batter head lifts the note higher while leaving nearly all the power intact. Imagine Chad Smith on steroids and you're somewhere close.
We must admit, a part of us wanted to be able to report that these snares were hugely expensive, only marginally better for it and impossible to justify in the current economic climate. However, the sound that they produce is quite exceptional, and that is what matters most.
At this end of the market there are few other options - you've got to really want something as bespoke as this. A few examples are scattered among Ford's UK dealers. One hit will reveal all…