Natal continues to expand its UK-designed ranges with these additions to existing lines.
There’s the Originals series - already offered in a choice of hardwoods, including maple - which now gets an up-market veneer in Mappa Burl. Next, the Originals metal range of Meta snares is given the partially-hammered treatment. And lastly, the recent Café Racer line, with its unusual tulipwood shell, gets a dark walnut stain and centre inlaid decoration.
All six of our review drums share characteristic Natal features. These are the cast, hand-polished sun logo lugs with Tru-Tune tension rods and the Tri-Throw strainer and cast butt- end plate, together with Natal-branded snare wires. We have 13" and 14" drums for review and the former have eight lugs per head where the latter drums have 10. All the drums are fitted with professional Evans Level 360 heads.
Natal’s metal shelled drums now encompass steel, copper, brass, old bronze and aluminium. The two new snares here - a 13"x7" and 14"x7" - have 1mm steel shells divided into three horizontal bands by two convex strengthening beads. Within the beads the metal is hand-hammered, then treated to a Black Nickel plus copper plated finish.
Of similar proportions, the Originals Mappa Burl snares have thin 7-ply, 5.4mm shells of North American maple with the arresting burl veneer finished in high gloss. Mappa Burl (aka European black poplar) is familiar in posh furniture and swanky car dashboards. Brushed nickel hardware perfectly complements the golden burl colour-wise. Unlike the other drums here today, the two maple drums have double rows of sun lugs, which means more hardware, but safer, shorter lug bolts.
Completing the sextet we have two snares which arise from Natal’s mid-priced Café Racer series. These are slightly shallower at 13"x61⁄2" and 14"x61⁄2", and have thicker Café Racer tulip wood 6-ply, 6.9mm shells. A deep brown outer walnut stain is offered in satin or gloss finish. We have one of each and they are equally impressive. To further raise the desirability stakes the drums have centre inlays in dark brown and cream squares.
The drums arrive pretty slack for transport. Following our usual routine with factory-fresh review drums, we put a good turn or two on the batter to see how easily and uniformly each drum comes to life. There’s a reassuring creaking of the head collar while the head seats and slips over the hand-waxed bearing edge, the firm but smooth Tru-Tune rods feeling tautly engineered. Thumbs-up all round.
So next, a good turn or more on the bottom lugs has the effect of freeing up the snare wire response - less choking, more floating - so that the drum is immediately less stifled, more resonant and snappy. Honestly, all six of the drums respond admirably to this simple treatment.
None more so than the cheapest - the Café Racer-derived tulip wood 14"x61⁄2" - which we happily gigged twice. Both Racer snares are a half-inch shallower than the other drums here, probably because the tulip wood - being softer than the maple and certainly the steel - has a rather darker timbre. It’s a luxurious, warm tone, thick without becoming muddy as the tension is eased off. But don’t get the wrong idea, it is also snappy if you give it an extra twist top and bottom.
Turning to the Mappa Burl maple drums the difference is subtle - that extra half-inch of depth counteracting the natural tendency of the American maple towards that familiar bright and lively, take-on-all-comers tone. It’s rich with a popping, rasping attack. There’s an exuberant, rounded, fruity clonk to the rim shots, particularly exaggerated on the 13".
In fact, the manifest difference that one-inch less of diameter makes to the sound of all the drums is striking. More immediately apparent than a small difference in depth. A 13" snare can really transform your whole sound and approach.
Where the wood snares have plenty of resonance with a defined rim-shot ping, the steel drums have a louder and more sustained railyard ‘splang’. Obviously, this suits loud musical styles, but they are also versatile in that hard steel drums are sensitive and can be played softly when needed. There is a relatively high-pitched fundamental, a crispness you only get from a steel shell, most pronounced on short funky - or full-on heavy metal - rim-shots.
The partial hammering creates a more complex inner reflective surface and should dry the sound a fraction, making it warmer and lower. This is subtle and we don’t have a flat-sided Meta snare to compare it with, but certainly the drums never sound out of control. In fact, the resonance from the steel feels more focused than that from the rangy maple.