From his early days playing with Del Amitri and Faithless through to his present day role as one of contemporary music’s go-to session drummers, Ash Soan has carved a path over the last three decades that has seen his distinctive playing grace recordings from the likes of Adele, Robbie Williams, James Morrison, Julian Lennon, Marianne Faithful and many, many more.
But as well as his work on songs, Ash has developed a huge online following on social media simply by documenting his progress as an engineer and demonstrating his sonic craft.
Regular viewers of Ash’s videos will be familiar with his trademark sounds, from the stacked rides to detuned toms and multiple bass drums. Then there’s the snare sounds. Whether it’s the fat, dead, ’70s-inspired, or high-pitched and funky. The drum that we’re focussing on in this review is a recreation of the snare which forms the blueprint for the latter with the all-new Gretsch Ash Soan Signature Snare.
Gretsch Ash Soan Signature Snare: What is it?
Now, this is a brand new launch for 2022, however the origins of the snare actually begin the ’90s, when Ash ordered a custom purpleheart stave snare from esteemed UK drum builder, Gary Noonan. Gretsch built a ply version of the snare, in the same purpleheart wood for Ash when he became an endorsee, has been using the prototype drum on his Instagram and YouTube channels, as well as recordings for a little while.
Fast-forward to now, and that prototype drum has been made available as a production signature model from Gretsch. Signature gear can be divisive, sometimes arguably even cynical due to the lack of any actual ‘signature’ sound. But those preconceptions are quashed with a look at the spec sheet, which is a long way from an identikit 14”x5” maple or steel drum.
There’s no doubt that what is on offer here is a bonafide signature snare, starting with the size: 12”x7”, and continuing with the 9-ply purpleheart shell, continuing Gretsch tradition with a 45-degree bearing edge.
Ash and Gretsch have gone with the natural hue of the wood, finished in a gloss lacquer and fitted with 4mm die-cast hoops, a Gretsch Lightning throw-off. Internally, the drum is coated with Gretsch’s silver sealer, and every snare includes an ID label hand-signed by Ash, denoting the year of production.
Given the dimensions, you may well be thinking “auxiliary snare”, and while traditionally drums of this size and tuning nature fall into the ‘other’ side of your hi-hat, we’d say it’s an oversight to view it merely as a second snare drum, particularly as it clocks-in with a retail price of £947.
Gretsch Ash Soan Signature Snare: Performance and verdict
The intention behind the drum is clear - Ash’s characteristic high-pitched funk/hip-hop/pop/reggae sound is very familiar. With the drum at a low-medium tension straight out of the box, a quick tweak of the tension rods evens out the pitch for a mid-range snare sound with a rather sustained and clear overtone.
It’s impossible not to want to tune-up high though, and that’s where we think many of these drums will spend most of their days. With another turn of the key applied, we’re into Ash’s reggae/dub territory. It’s still got plenty of body, and unleashing a rimshot at this tension can be ear-splitting in the most satisfying of ways. Make no mistake, as we’ve declared before, smaller dimensions do not amount to lower volume, particularly when they’re cranked.
Just as detuning and muffling pretty much any drum can produce an approximation of that dead sound, so can cranking the tension take the pitch up. But the difference with higher tuning ranges on more standard-size drums is the range that it begins to choke-out, and that’s where the combination of the 12”x7” dimenstions and the purpleheart really comes into play here.
At this medium high tension there’s still a ring to the drum, and we defy you not to start giving it your best rimshot/sidestick reggae-rock chops. That said, it’s this territory and above that can work for so much more than that.
With one Remo Crown control applied, it tames the overtone a bit, begging for some funky/hip-hop backbeats - think of the ’90s New Jack type sound and you’re not far off.
But there’s more tension to be had here, so we crank it a little more and add some muffling, which gets us into the more experimental, stacatto, sample-like sounds we’re used to hearing on Ash’s videos.
It’s not all about the super-tight sounds, though. There’s more versatility on offer than you might expect from a drum of these dimensions. Tuning it down below our medium starting point brings back more of the open, sustained sound, which when muted offers a great, beefier snare sound than you might expect.
Loosening resonant head and wires offers some longer sustain and a bit more sizzle. Is it going to rival your Black Beauty or C.O.B. for more general applications? If you already own those drums then probably not. But we can see this drum genuinely working for singer-songwriter or bluesy backbeats with the correct tuning, and there’s no question that it’s got the firepower to be heard as a main snare for smaller, un-mic’d gigs.
As we mentioned, signature gear can be a rock-and-hard-place scenario. Too focussed and it risks alienating all but those after the purpose it sets out to achieve. Too wide and it loses its signature identity.
Ash Soan’s signature snare is not a cheap drum. It’s a US-made, high-end snare that for many will be a big outlay as a main snare or addition to your collection.
As you’d expect, it absolutely fulfils the brief of delivering his trademark hip-hop/funk groove sound - after all, it’s the drum we’ve come to associate with one half of Ash’s sonic identity, so it passes the signature test with flying colours.
The great news here is that Gretsch and Soan have struck the sweet spot in producing a drum that isn't a one-trick-pony, but has character by the bucketload. On paper it could be considered niche, but in reality with some thought about tuning and head choice can act as a versatile workhorse for many musical situations.
Gretsch Ash Soan Signature Snare: Hands-on demos
- Dimensions: 12"x7" [diameter/depth]
- Shell material: Purpleheart
- Snare wires:
- Throw-off: Gretsch Lightning
- Hoops: Gretsch 4mm die-cast
- Heads: Remo
- Other features: Gretsch silver sealer, internal ID badge signed by Ash Soan