Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden has endorsed Premier for 20 years, and to mark this milestone he and Premier have come up with two signature snares, the Nicko Sicko (previously reviewed) and Aces High. The latter, reviewed here, is a limited edition of 100, recalling Maiden's 'Aces High' song which celebrates the impossibly brave RAF crews of WW2.
The snare is hand-made in Premier's Lancashire factory using 100 percent UK sycamore. Our native sycamore is a close relative and counterpart of North American maple and in fact is sometimes called European maple.
Our review model has a 14"x51⁄2", 19-ply, 10mm (3/8") thick shell. The lay-up is special in that Premier individually glues single veneers, alternated horizontally and vertically in H-V pairs, as opposed to the more usual H-V-H trio used by most manufacturers. Thus we have eight sets of V-H with a single inner H-V-H trio making up the 19.
The Aces High snare has a complex finish in hand-cut natural cherry and green dyed sycamore, soaked to absorb the colour throughout. Then there's Premier's now familiar fine marquetry in the shape of the RAF blue-white-red target logo and tail fin stripes, plus the 'LZ' RAF symbol of 66 Squadron which flew the Mark Six Spitfire (adding up to 666 with its various Iron Maiden associations). Finally, the inner shell is sky blue - representing the Spitfire's underbelly - and personally signed by Nicko.
There are 10 double-ended solid brass, chrome-plated lugs, with the bullet shape of the Spitfire's front nose cone. The refinement continues inside the shell which has Premier's unique volcano-shaped isolation washers, made from solid aluminium with a rebate that fits inside the lug hole to isolate the screw from the shell wall. The fixing screw bolt actually sits flush with the mouth of the volcano, further streamlining the innards.
The drum is completed with 2.3mm steel triple-flanged hoops, Premier's 610 strainer and 42-strand wires, plus the classy Premier script logo and Nicko McBrain signature plate. Every drum is dated and hand signed on the inside label by Premier's head designer/builder Keith Keough.
Although different visually to the previously reviewed Nicko Sicko, the Aces High has basically the same shell and sound. In terms of timbre the sycamore is close to American maple, though Keith suggests it's "a little brighter and cleaner in tone". Added to this, the relatively thick, heavy shell also heightens the pitch.
First impressions are of a sharp, responsive and sensitive drum, with the bonus warmth you expect from wood. Arriving with the batters partially de-tuned, a full turn on each lug immediately confirms the refined nature of these instruments, with a resounding fat-slap backbeat and lively cross stick.
With the 45° bearing edges perfectly cut, there is sensitivity right to the edge and rim-shots ring without being unruly. Arriving at upper-mid tension the tone is still fat - there's plenty of body, but we would characterise the drums as bright parks rather than fat sloggers.
Winding up the batter towards marching tension, this is as crisp a snare as you would want. Unlike a metal snare it retains a woody timbre behind the shrill ring, while double strokes near the edge now produce a machine gun ra-ta-tat - hailstones on a slate roof.
The snare came fitted with Remo Coated Emperor X batters and Ambassador Hazy resonants. The Emperors respond well to energetic Maiden-esque onslaughts and the drums show no signs of choking unless you over-tighten the snares. You have to watch this as the sheer width of the snares covers a large area of the resonant head.
We've commented previously on Premier's 610 snare strainer, which although superbly built we find awkward to use because of its enclosed and quite small tension knob. Mind you, it does have a clever, quick-release butt side.