While US, UK and Japanese brands have dominated the market for high-end acoustic kits, Italy isn’t without its cult contenders.
Vintage names such as the Art Blakey-approved Hollywood and the originally iron-shelled Davoli all found favour outside of Europe, while in more recent times, Tamburo remains a brand held in high regard by those in the know. Joining the list of brands who are looking to prove that Italy’s musical export is about more than just opera comes DS Drums. It might be a new name here in the UK, but it has actually been in business for almost 25 years, having been founded in 1995 by builder Luca Deorsola.
DS (which stands for Drum Sound) offers a staggering number of shell, size and finishing options in its Rebel custom kit series - so much so that the company’s website features an interactive configurator for speccing up your custom build. UK store Drumazon introduced the brand to these shores in 2018, supplying our review kit preconfigured from the list of options. It comes in at £3,999: a hefty investment, but that word is key here. These are handmade, hand-finished drums with bespoke hardware and design points, made to the specification of the customer. So, if you’ve got the Di Niro waiting, let’s start talking Italian...
When it comes to truly custom drums, options can open up a world of flexibility, or they can boggle the mind. Indeed, in order to make decisions about a one-off kit, you first need to have courage in your convictions, starting with the shell material. DS offers seven different wood shell combinations for the Rebel series: staple tonewoods mahogany, maple and birch, plus mixtures of the three. All of the drums in our review kit comprise a blend of birch and mahogany, plus an outer veneer of Mapa Burl which has been finished in a fade from its natural, lacquered appearance to Exotic Green. The full kit comes to us in a classic fusion-esque six-piece setup of 10"x7", 12"x8" and 13"x8" rack toms (featuring suspension mounts), a 16"x14" floor tom, 22"x16" bass drum (undrilled) and matching 14"x61⁄2" snare.
Let’s first talk about that finish. DS offers many finish options, from satins, sparkles, gloss and more. Fades have become popular again as of late, with this year’s NAMM Show floor featuring plenty of graduated colours, and DS really knows how to deliver a stunning first impression. Our kit comes under DS’ Exotic category thanks to that Mapa Burl, however they do advise that the Exotic range is subject to availability of the wood when ordering. The actual colour of our fade might not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly raised eyebrows around Rhythm HQ, mostly of the positive variety.
The toms are mounted using supplied Sonor tom holders, and as we get to setting the kit up, there are multiple appointments that catch our eye. The lugs are beautiful - at first glance they’re sure to draw comparisons to another company with D in its initials, however when you look a little closer it’s a smoothed-out thing of curved beauty that would double nicely as a hefty ornament. The floor tom legs are held in place with chunky, yet sleek-looking hardware, complete with tasteful memory locks, and each tom features dual badges. The tom depths mean that they sit snugly atop the bass drum, allowing us to get them nice and low without risking hitting the top of the drum.
As our kit came from Drumazon, the toms arrived out of the box tuned to some sympathetic intervals, and after some minimal tweaking the Rebel gives us our first confirmation of its quality, as soon as we start to play. It’s more than just a matter of pitch, though: they ring into each other beautifully, full of life with just the right amount of sustain and overtones without clashing. It’s a full sound, and if you’ve ever questioned the ability of single-ply heads to offer a controlled and full tom sound, experiencing them in this configuration delivers a strong case to change your mind.
Perhaps it’s a combination of the birch/mahogany shell, or that shortened depth, plus the coated Ambassadors on the top and bottom of the toms, but it adds up to a pleasing and easy tuning. 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops are featured throughout the kit, and DS has opted for a design with a comfortable rounded edge. It’s nowhere near as pronounced as an S-Hoop, but it does strike a balance between those and standard hoops, adding a slight forgiveness to our rimshots. The ‘naked’ sound is open and leans towards a more classic tom sound, but with the addition of one piece of gel the toms take on an immediately fatter quality that we found behaved perfectly when we tested it under close mics.
Likewise, the snare is a versatile drum. Ours arrived at a medium tuning, and we experimented with different pitches in quarter-turn increments both above and below our original tuning. As well as plenty of sensitivity across the tuning range of the drum (again sticking with the Ambassador batter and reso combo, with 22-strand Puresound wires), there was a pronounced yet neat overtone which remained throughout the range.
The bass drum came fitted with a pair of Remo P3 heads: clear for the batter and branded ebony on the resonant side. As is often the case, our drum wasn’t ported which can often lead to fairly flabby, yet big sounding bass drums with minimal muffling - in this case a pillow. With very little effort, the kick sounds low and punchy at the same time. There’s sustain to go with the thump, but the 16-inch depth keeps things under control without much trouble. We didn’t feel the need to add anything else to control the sound. The bass drum will project nicely in a live environment without losing its immediacy.
If we had to describe this iteration of the Rebel in one word, it would be ‘clarity’. The birch plies in the supplied sizes ensure plenty of cut, which is further bolstered by the deeper weight of the mahogany. The overriding impression we get is that these are capable of delivering a pleasing blend of open tone and punch. The overtones are pure, and they can be dialled back without having to kill what makes them great in the first place. You can always take ringing away from a kit, but you can’t add breath that isn’t there. In UK terms, it’s an overnight success, just one that took 25 years to realise itself here.