Ludwig moved from its birthplace in Chicago down to Monroe in North Carolina back in 1984.
The area was a major centre of furniture manufacturing and Ludwig aimed to take advantage of the local wood supplies and know-how. To that end Ludwig brought down the original late-1960s shell moulds from Chicago - the same ones used to make those landmark drums played by everyone from John Bonham to Buddy Rich.
While Ludwig has more recently had drums made in the Far East (like most everyone else) it is heartening to see how the company has simultaneously upped its American shell building over recent years. USA-made drums generally cause eyes to roll when it comes to UK prices. But NeuSonic bucks that trend.
Jamie Corry of Ludwig’s long-time UK distributors, Active Music, explains, “The NeuSonic is the first USA-produced kit from Ludwig that retails under £1,500. This is something most definitely worth shouting about. Previous to this the cheapest USA-made kit was retailing at over £2,000.”
And from the USA, Ludwig’s Uli Salazar, says, “NeuSonic is our new USA series built for the working professional, shattering the baseline price for a USA-made shell pack.”
NeuSonic has 6-ply shells incorporating a hybrid of three outer plies of American maple and three inner plies of cherry wood. Not only are these shells made in Ludwig’s USA factory, but Salazar confirms, “all woods are North American hardwoods. We use the same materials and suppliers for all our professional products”.
Asked if this means the NeuSonic employs the same USA maple as used on Ludwig’s highest-end kits, the answer is a resounding “Yes”. And the shells are produced in the same moulds that are today used on Ludwig’s top Legacy Classic and Classic Maple series.
The costs have to be contained somewhere and there are no extravagant lacquers, but instead Ludwig has opted for four thin monochrome wraps. The review kit is a duck-egg blue called Skyline, and the three alternatives are Black Cortex, Aspen White and Sugar Maple, the latter a natural honey maple effect. The blue Skyline is not porcelain smooth but is more like a powder coating with a very slightly textured nap.
Likewise, the interior, which is a beautiful pale warm brown cherry with wavy grain patterns, is sealed and left with a slight nap again. Along with the restricted finishes Ludwig is offering just two standard shell packs, in time-honoured sizes. The review kit is 20"x14", 12"x8" and 14"x14", while the alternative is 22"x16", 12"x8" and 16"x16". Note that the snare drum in the pictures (and on Ludwig websites) is an Heirloom series snare and is not part of the package deal.
Both three-piece shell packs ship in a single box, which again helps to minimise the costs. If the two standard set-ups are not to your taste don’t fret because you can buy individual add-on drums - additional sizes are 13"x9" and 10"x7" - so most familiar extended setups are attainable.
In terms of construction, the six individual plies are 1/16", adding up to 6/16ths or 3/8ths" thick. That is most definitely a thin shell - more like a Gretsch than a hefty 1970s maple Ludwig Classic - but due to Ludwig’s Radio Frequency Shell Technology (RFST) construction method and special adhesives it feels sturdy and accurately round. The bearing edges are precisely cut to a sharp modern 45 degrees with just the tiniest of counter cuts, cleanly finished. No issues there.
Moving on to the hardware, the NeuSonic rack and floor toms feature Ludwig’s Triad mounting brackets, which were first encountered here on the Signet series four years ago. They look slightly bulky and complicated until you realise the idea is to replace the resonance enhancing properties of Ludwig’s old RIMS-style Vibraband bracket with a smarter system. Thus the Triad mounting block incorporates an integral elastomer bumper, which serves to isolate the part bolted to the shell from the 12.5mm diameter mounting ‘L’ rod (small tom) or leg (floor tom). And unlike the Vibraband, the Triad has the great advantage of not interfering with batter head changes.
The abiding Ludwig image is maintained by the low mass mini Elite lugs and the silver keystone badges. Lugs have black isolating gaskets and all the tuning rods have both nylon and steel washers. The only comment we’d make about the quality of presentation is that the edges of the bass drum hoops are sharp and would be more user friendly if rounded/sanded off a touch.
With their extra-thin shells, acute bearing edges and lightweight lugs the NeuSonic drums are primed to resonate fully. Straight out of the box, the big open, almost boomy sound of the small tom impresses hugely. It hits you with a super punch, intensified by those sharp bearing edges. The same shell properties also ensure that the tuning range is wide and quick to attain. Moving from dark and thuddy to bright and distinct takes just a swift half turn on the rods.
While the 12"x8" exceeds expectations with a full sonorous tone the 14"x14" feels a little tighter and more compact. Good at higher, jazzier tension and decent at lower, greasier tension. But remember, if you need the extra depth and wallop of a full-fat floor tom there’s the option of the 16"x16". Likewise, our review bass drum is a timeless 20"x14" - not huge, but with a cheerful bite. There is character and musicality courtesy once more of the thin shells and cherry/maple wood combo, but the tuning range feels fairly restricted.
This is true of 20"x14"’s generally we think, and the drum works best for me when tuned middle to high rather than futilely pushed to deliver the impossible deepest blatt. Once again, if you want a bigger, darker sound all-round the alternative 22/12/16 shell pack is available at the same price.
Timbre-wise the hybrid of maple and cherry is fresh. The way Uli Salazar describes it, the cherry is the voice, the note, while the maple augments the properties of the cherry and functions as more of a structural component of the shell. Maple is the body of the drum and the cherry inside emphasises the mid range and stick attack.
An integral part of all of this is the supporting hardware. As experience tells us, the budget measures of low mass lugs and simple mounting gear actually have the positive effect of enhancing resonance and tone. A plus for those who do not need massively heavy touring gear, which we guess is most of us.
Thus the straight spurs may have a fixed length, but they work perfectly well and make setting up a breeze. They are just the right length to lift the front end of the kick drum a couple of centimetres off the carpet. And they are quite sturdy enough. The Triad mount brackets on the toms, as we have seen, are fairly bulky, but further isolate the drums, encouraging them to breathe.
All-in-all this makes it an admirably simple kit to own and play. Lightweight, quick to respond with a fully open and satisfying tone, fast to set up and break down. Ideal for its stated purpose of frequent weekend warrior use.