Fifteen years ago, mentioning Taiwanese-made drums to a 'serious musician' would have elicited a contemptuous sneer and a lecture about quality control. Today, Far Eastern manufacturers equal and often surpass the quality of instruments made in the USA.
With years of experience making shells under contract for many of the big names, the Mapex brand was established in 1996 and quickly became recognised for the quality of its drums.
The Black Panther name is used for Mapex's range of 29 stand-alone snare drums, which includes the usual maple, steel, brass and bronze shells as well as more unusual materials such as cherry and walnut. The Thick Flame Maple boasts a 15-ply shell that is nearly 7mm thicker that the other maple drums in the range.
The shell is ﬁnished with a single ply of ﬂame maple - a wood that boasts a unique ﬁgured pattern as a result of its method of growth - which is then hand-lacquered and buffed to a deep honeyed gloss shine that emphasises the appearance of the wood. The bearing edges are ﬂawlessly cut and feature a vintage-style round-over edge and wide snare beds, which when combined with the thick shell should give a dark, warm woody sound.
Unloading the snare from the included Black Panther branded rigid case, we were immediately taken with the rich lustre of the ﬁnish, which, on this particular model, has a kind of sunburst fade effect. Using a DrumDial for reference, we tuned the drum to a medium tension and were rewarded with a full-throated woody 'thwock', the die-cast hoops adding a metallic overtone.
Cranked up to tabletop tension, the drum produced a deﬁned and dry backbeat, with a savage rim shot that decayed very quickly.
We put the snare through its paces at a couple of gigs. With a funk band it cut effortlessly through the other ampliﬁed instruments and, batter loosened off, its sensitivity came to the fore in a jazz trio, responding immediately to the varied dynamics and working well with brushes. The dual-adjustable strainer helped to ensure the drum didn't choke at any volume, and the die-cast rims meant cross-stick patterns weren't drowned out.
The only downside is that the coating on the Remo Ambassador head deteriorated after just one gig.