The Ludwig L8264, or Stainless Steel Kit, is a tricky one for Bonham devotees. Modelled on the great man's last ever kit, this limited edition setup is a Holy Grail, much-discussed on internet forums and spied in pictures of Bonzo on stage in the late '70s.
Counting the cost
First things first. You might have clocked the recommended retail price. No, sadly you're not seeing things - this kit really will set you back almost £7,000. So this is more of a look at a piece of percussive eye-candy than a review - a glimpse at a kit that has been snapped up by serious, and minted, collectors, and may or may not be used in anger.
With that out of the way, let's turn our attention to the glorious collection of drums that make up the kit. The foundation is a 26"x14" bass drum, on which is mounted a huge 15"x12" tom. A pair of floor toms of 16"x16" and 18"x16" dimensions and a 14"x6½" Supra- Phonic snare complete the silvery picture.
Bonham fans will recognise this as being akin to the stage kit that he used between April 1977 and July 1980. Internet banter raises the question of whether Bonzo used 18" and 20" floor toms with the stainless set, but the consensus seems to be that the configuration here is the real thing. Certainly the inclusion of Mach lugs on the mounted tom is in line with a faithful recreation - the other drums feature individual Classic lugs.
The mismatch is in keeping with the original Led Zep set. The other instantly-identifiable features that put the kit in a certain time-frame are the bass drum-mounted cymbal arm and the curved, retractable kick drum legs. Neither are aspects of kit design that have survived the test of time, but any modern update is inconceivable where this particular set is concerned.
Both work much better than expected. The inclusion of a memory lock on the cymbal arm ensures it doesn't collapse; and, despite having to hold a 26" kick at bay, the curved legs stood firm.
Sonic boom toys
But enough of such practical considerations. Does this drum kit sound like an H-Bomb going off in a lift-shaft? Oh yes indeed.
To be honest we were a bit nervous about tackling this behemoth. This kit is so iconic that it would undermine the very fundamentals of drumming if it were a weedy disappointment. But instead what we're presented with is a kit that has at its core a bright, penetrating tone but one that's tempered by the size of the shells and the use of heavy, coated heads. So rather than ending up brash, metallic and harsh, the Stainless Steel is muscular and pleasingly toneful.
The fatness of the sound it delivers is just what you'd hope for from a kit so closely associated with one of rock's beefiest drummers, and the slight edginess that the steel shells contribute simply serves to make the kit articulate. The kick drum moves so much air that playing it is an exceptionally involving physical experience, but it actually proves very easy to play with speed and subtlety.
The head responds quickly and it doesn't take a massive right foot to get it working. You'll arguably get the fullest response from the drum when all its elements are stirred into action, but even working it at seven-tenths, it produces a fabulously booming retort. The only slight drawback is that its tone proves so all-enveloping that it kind of overshadows the not-inconsiderable snare drum.
It seems to be a matter of both physics and biology - the kick drum generates a massive waveform, and our forearms aren't big enough to keep up. Shame, because the tone of the 14" aluminium shell/chrome-plated snare is sweet with plenty of depth, and it's crisp enough to be funky, in a barrel-chested sort of way too.
The art of noise
The toms have much in common with the bass drum. Again they're not as hard work to play as you'd imagine. In fact the hardest thing is positioning the rack tom in suitable fashion. That 15" might (and does) sound magical, but unless you're around 7' tall, it feels too high to play comfortably.
We're not sure how important it is to give an impression as to the way this kit sounds. Sure, it's of interest to Zep fans but, paradoxically, those who might actually be thinking of crunching the credit card for this kit will probably not be swayed by whether it sounds any good. They'll either have to have it because it's an icon, or they're a dedicated collector who'll squirrel it away and wait until its stock's risen to the point where it turns a nice profit.