Burnley drummer Andrew McKenna began making his own shells in 2013, which, he says, is “when we became a professional company rather than just a hobby-builder”.
The company also makes complete kits and supplies bare shells to others.
North took over the shell-making equipment, press, moulds and tools, etc of Carrera Drums when Dave Carrera stepped back from the business a couple of years ago. Dave made really superb shells and it’s good news that North is carrying on that tradition.
North is now a true custom workshop with three full-time and two part-time staff and a turnaround of about eight weeks. Since shells are made from scratch you can specify materials, lay-ups and finishes; walnut, mahogany, birch, maple etc, with exotic veneers or wraps, lacquers and more; shells with or without reinforcing rings and with bearing edges of various profiles.
Our review snare combines vintage hoops and lugs with an experimental shell lay-up of mahogany with a copper sheet core. Andy designed the drum with Manny Dominick, drummer with Ghost Town.
“We wanted a snare that had characteristics of both a wood and a metal drum, a dry, dark, warm tone,” he explains. The smart maple wood North Custom Drums badge is laser-cut, while inevitably the metal hardware is generic. It’s top quality though, including the Trick throw-off, WorldMax snares, vintage flat hoops and beavertail lugs.
Mahogany is a warm-toned wood, and that underlies the timbre. Copper is the darkest toned of the metals used in snares, and though the sliver of copper forming the central ply is enclosed and does not touch the heads, you nonetheless sense there is a metallic element to the overall timbre. The beech reinforcing rings tighten up the sound and raise the pitch a touch, but then those flat hoops open up the drum’s resonance.
The modern bearing edges are sharp and cut on the wood, not the single copper ‘ply’, with a neat round-over to the outside, easing tuning and giving incisiveness.
Wherever you play this drum and at whatever tuning, it is tidy. At the edges you hear every grace stroke, parchment-like and snappy, even when the batter is tuned slappy and low.
With no flanges to stifle the resonance, the flat hoops resonate freely and rim-shots ring like hell, emphasising the presence of that copper core. With 10 tension claws around the perimeter you’d think you’d catch your sticks, but we didn’t find that to be a problem.