For the past four years Matt Morgan Davies has been building snare drums in his Sussex workshop, the last two using his own steel moulds. Matt offers a bespoke service, primarily using Finnish Birch, but customers can also choose Walnut, Beech, Maple or African Mahogany, in any thickness and configuration.
Matt sent us two quite different drums, one with a modern thick shell, the other with a classic thin shell with reinforcing rings and wooden hoops.
The former's shell is 14"x6" birch, a stout 12mm thick, with an inner ply of Wenge, a chocolate brown African hardwood which is also used in making electric basses. The finish is Frozen Gold Glitter lacquer which is super-cooled to -50°C, creating "thousands of microscopic cracks to enhance the sparkle effect".
The second drum has a 14"x7" shell made from 4.5mm of 9-ply birch with 6mm birch reinforcing rings. This time the inner ply is Bubinga with an outer veneer of glorious Waterfall Bubinga, sealed with traditional French polish and wax. There is a small, solid walnut air vent over the butt end.
Bearing edges on both drums are superbly cut, levelled and sealed with shellac, fine-sanded, sealed again and finally waxed. The Bubinga drum's edges are slightly more rounded-over. Gibraltar supplied both the solid maple and die-cast hoops.
Both drums have 10 tube lugs of lightweight aircraft-grade aluminium supplied by Ego of Oregon. Ego uses the same tooling and aerospace alloys to make parts for Rolls-Royce jet engines. Both drums have the classy Dunnett R strainer and 20-strand PureSound snare wires.
Rim shots on the glitter drum have that Gene Krupa, rounded, woody clonk that you only get from the best wood snares. Birch is excellent for a snare drum, with a little more bite than maple and 14"x6" is an ideal all-round size - you have the power but it's not so deep you start to lose the definition. All we can say is that this drum has a sweet tone and is up there with the best.
The timbre of the wood hoop drum is slightly deeper, warmer and more open, as you'd expect with the thin shell, rounded bearing edges and wood hoops. We're not so keen on it though, and it's because of those hoops.
They are quite low profile so that rim shots are at a low angle. That's not such a problem, but with cross-sticks your stick lays almost flat, with little space for picking up underneath.
And the stick hits the broad rim almost flat. It sounds fine, but it's not quite as comfortable or sharp as it might be.
The other problem is that with wood rims the snare is actually 15¾" in diameter and many snare drum stands don't fold out that far.