What do Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Bob Marley, UB40, Santana and T-Rex all have in common?
Well, since Natal Percussion was originally founded in 1965, these are just a handful of premium artists who have played and recorded Natal gear over the years. It was only seven years ago that we saw the birth of Natal Drums following the company’s acquisition by Marshall Amplification.
The first kits produced by Natal were part of the now flagship Originals Series, to which this walnut review kit belongs. Other current kit ranges include the Arcadia, Arcadia Acrylic and the brand new Cafe Racer.
The Originals Series is currently available in a choice of four shell materials - ash, maple, birch and walnut. There are a number of different finishes on offer, which differ slightly for each wood type. In the case of walnut, the choices are Black to Pewter Fade, Natural Walnut or Orange to Red Fade. The high-gloss lacquer on our Natural Walnut review kit looks absolutely fantastic and, combined with the elegant woodgrain, it gives the kit a serious degree of class. The look is enhanced even further by matching wood hoops on the bass drum.
In terms of shell sizes, we have been treated to the largest tubs available in the series. The one-up/one-down ‘UR’ three-piece kit comprises a 13"x9" rack, 16"x16" floor and a humongous 24"x14" bass drum. There are eight other shell pack options available, ranging from four-piece fusion sizes (10"x8", 12"x9" and 14"x14" with either 20"x18" or 22"x18" bass drums), through to standard rock sizes (12"x10", 13"x11", 16"x16", 22"x18") as well as a 12"x8", 14"x14" and 18"x14" jazz setup.
The shells themselves are of a high quality, smooth to the touch with all joins looking spot on. The bearing edges appear even on the most part, although we did find one tiny finishing imperfection.
The bearing edges are 45° with slight back cuts, leaving a very thin point of contact for the head. This is the modern standard with the reduced contact between the shell and the head resulting in added attack and sustain.
Evans drum heads come as standard on Natal drums - the bass drum has a clear EMAD batter and an un-ported branded resonant head. The toms use double-ply G2 coated batter heads and budget UNO G1s on the bottom.
Each shell is constructed from just seven plies of American walnut, which makes them extremely thin, relatively speaking. This becomes particularly apparent whilst we’re placing the heads on the 24" bass drum as, without them, the shell feels remarkably flexible.
It’s at this point that we encounter a slight issue with the wooden bass drum hoops in that they don’t sit absolutely perfectly on the head. When attempting to lay the hoop flush around the drum head, a gap of a couple of millimetres appears on the adjacent side. However, with some tension in the head it eventually sits evenly on the shell. This could potentially be due to the flex in the shell and something that just needs a little bedding in over time.
Despite the thin shells, each drum is actually still fairly weighty - testament to the sheer bulk of solid-shell hardware. The review kit sports standard chrome hardware, although a brushed nickel upgrade is also available as a special order.
We think that the darker brushed hardware would look awesome complementing the rich dark brown appearance of the natural walnut finish. Supplied shell hardware includes the mighty Natal Sun Lugs with extra thick rubber gaskets, heavy-duty retractable bass drum spurs, Natal Sun logo badges, which neatly incorporate a vent (two on each drum), 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops and Tru-Tune tension rods.
Also in the box is the Natal Resonant Mount (NRM), which holds the rack tom firmly in place whilst making no contact with the actual shell. This is achieved by two specially designed lugs on the tom that allow the mounting bracket to be screwed directly and securely into place.
Incidentally, two regular Sun Lugs are included with the 13" tom in the event that a snare stand is used in favour of the NRM system. The tom arm itself features a ‘non-slip’ aluminium ball-joint that is designed to be more hardwearing and sturdy than a regular rubber or plastic one. Generally speaking, Natal continues to impress us with its extremely well-crafted and attractive hardware - the attention to detail is admirable, even down to the sturdy memory locks.
Natal describes walnut as “dark in tone and looks... producing a rich, low tone, thanks to a tighter grain on the wood”. As we start by tucking into the monstrous 24"x14" bass drum, we find that it’s pointless to argue otherwise.
Using the included EMAD batter head and un-ported reso, the drum lets out a well-rounded yet amazingly low-pitched note. With the comparable power of a decent sub-woofer, even a medium velocity beater strike is enough to get the rafters shaking in our small studio.
With a bit more of a thump, the cavernous nature of this mighty rock bass drum is released, providing a gut-rumbling note with a lengthy decay. The thin outer ring on the clear EMAD is just enough to focus the tone but still leaves the drum pretty much wide open. Due to the lack of sound port on the reso head, burying the beater actually diminishes the note rather than enhances it. We conclude that a small sound port and a little dampening would certainly remedy that issue for those of us that like to dig in a little more.
The abundance of low-frequencies continue as we move up to the toms. With the 16"x16" floor tom tuned just above wrinkle on the top with slightly more tension in the bottom head, the resulting note is a sizeable growl with bags of sustain. Tuned a little higher up the register, the 13"x9" rack tom - supported securely by the NRM system - shows off some of the natural warmth of the walnut shells. Bringing the floor tom up in pitch also demonstrates a surprising amount of versatility.
These drums aren’t the easiest to tune but once you find the shells’ natural frequencies, the reward is a highly resonant, full and rich-sounding kit. In these sizes in particular, the Originals Series Walnut has got powerhouse rock kit written all over it. In fact, that goes a long way to explain why arena veteran and Simple Minds stickman Mel Gaynor has chosen to make it his weapon of choice.