SONOR SIGNATURE SERIES REVIEW
International Musician and Recording World Magazine - February 1980
SONOR SIGNATURE SERIES
On the second day of Christmas I received an unexpected phone call from Oliver Link at
Sonor factory in Germany. Could I possibly get out to Frankfurt as soon as possible to be the first drummer to appraise and play a "brand new" and evidently quite revolutionary drum set and accessories (which were to be unveiled at the NAMM winter trade fair in Anaheim and subsequently at the Frankfurt trade show?)
Oliver Link was so excited about it that, of course, I accepted and over the next couple of days I mused about what he could have up his sleeve. He wouldn't give me any information so my mind worked overtime. Would Sonor's revolutionary set be electronic? Would it have nut-boxes? Would it be constructed from some brand new "man-made" material? Would it have a completely different tuning system? All these thoughts were in my mind during the three-hour "hair-raising" trip through deep snow from Frankfurt to the village of Aue in Westphalia where the factory is. I finally got to see the products and was relieved to find them to be relatively conventional even though they were without doubt the most handsome natural wood-shell set I have ever seen.
The set is as you can see from my heading at the top of the page called Signature Series and Horst Link (Oliver's father) thinks so highly of them that he has decided, as it were, to endorse them personally with his own autograph (illegible to an Anglo-Saxon) affixed to a brand new golden shield which adorns all the drums.
Right, that's the preliminary paragraphs over — on with the actual drumcheck. The set is available in two shell compositions. I played the prototype which was veneered in bubinga, an African hardwood which originates in the Cameroons and has a somewhat curly grain rather like some of the less prevalent maples but with an outward appearance colourwise of a cross between rosewood and (say) light oak — really it's a light rosewood.
The other alternative is also a natural wood finish this time from Indonesia called Makassar ebony which has a zebra-like grain of black stripes on a mid-brown background (up until now ebony has been used very little in the music instrument industry and then mostly for expensive fingerboards or high quality unfretted stringed instruments. At one time I remember seeing drum sticks from this extra hard wood but this was ages ago).
Sonor actually went to the extent of buying a complete tree in West Africa to make their veneers for the bubinga shells to ensure (a) continuity of grain matching from an exterior (and interior) pattern point of view, and (b) possibly more important, continuity of sound from a sound standpoint.
The Signature Series drums have 12-ply shells all finished off at their raw edges like the Sonorphonics but with 10 layers of beech without glue rings withfinal layers of bubinga or ebony. The edge camber is inverse and 45 degrees, and all shells have an extremely slight radius at head contact point. The single layers arc first glued in threes then the four
three-ply laminations are placed separately into their oil-heated former The three inner joins are, as per usual, staggered around the circumference of the drum and cut not at right angles but diagonally butted at approximarely 30 degrees. The Sonor rosewood shells are exactly the same thickness and construction as these new Signatures but all of these more expensive shells are three plies thicker than a Sonorphonic drum. As I've said before, all Sonor wood shells are made deliberately slightly undersize relative to head diameter This affords a timpani-type head seating when the counter hoop, with the head collar inside it, doesn't touch the shell, so I feel it gives a clearer sound. This way the only head contact point becomes the bearing edge which, as I said, is very slight.
HLK2028 which is the largest Signature Series set has as its last number designates, eight drum pieces with a 22-inch bass drum, however here the similarity to a conventional kits ends. The drums are unique in that they are all deeper than normal (or what used to be normal) 10 x 10, 12 x 12, 13 x 13 and 14 x 14 all rack mounted roms. The floor standing toms are 15 x 17 and 16 x 18 and the bass drum is four inches deeper than normal at 18 inches and the set's wood shell snare drum is also a little deeper than normal at eight inches.
The tripod double-strutted stands are all-new (Sonor felt they should come up with something
fabulous to reflect the quality of the drums) and beefed-up to the Nth degree, with a hold system invented last year and up to now used for locking the ratchet arms to to their clamp plate on their latest double tom tom holder. The tom tomlegs are made from slightly thicker rod than before but instead of having the sort of normal double bend like Ludwig's, have a single bend like Gretsch's but Sonor's turn starts two thirds of the way down the leg. These all have the new optional spurs lined to them (as dues every other stand on the set) but I'll talk about these at more length in the accessories section.
The legs use the same prism-locking clamp as before but the spurs, while being exactly the same shape, have a brand new and highly positive system for locking their prism jaws. The solid jaws are fixed to both sides of a flat spring-steel clamp which is locked with the screws I already mentioned from the tom tom holder. Evidently these clamps (with a "V machined into them) are so effective that they need very little screw pressure to completely immobilise both legs and spurs. To make doubly sure, they fit pipe-type clips with screwdriver slots which both secure and enable consistent setup each time. There's also a new hi hat which can only be
described as gigantic with a beautiful smooth action which I would guarantee to make the worst hi hat cymbals sound good.
The 10-inch drum has five "Snaplock" screwdriver tensioners and padded nut boxes per head, the 12 and 13 have six, the other three 14. 15 and 16 all have eight. All drums have air holes as normal (the bass drum's is underneath). The set I played was double headed with white coated Remo Ambassador heads all over. I understand though, that they intend to market the new sets with see through Ambassadors which should add even more zing to their sound. These drums sounds themselves are exceptionally clear and round with a lot of depth yet with better playability than that afforded by larger headed drums. I must say that extra depth as opposed to extra diameter drums will definitely be the future progressions because smaller heads have
more penetration with less tendency to flap and bang. Perversely I wanted to know how these extra- depth "signature" roms would sound with just a single head. What happened surprised me. The sympathetic (bottom) head was removed from the 12 x 12 drum and its pitch immediately became deeper. From having been nicely in tune at number two on a descending scale it now matched in pitch tom tom number four — the 14 x 14.
All the drums have Sonor's spun one-piece triple flange counter hoops which are made on the same machine which also makes metal shells. None of the drums have internal dampers (except for (except fro the bass drum) they all have Sonor's external spring-steel dampers which clip to the rim and are adjustable in pad pressure via a threaded washer with a milled edge. They make two different sizes — (he smallest one is fitted to the smaller toms and the larger to the
others. They work very well on Sonor and are available separately for any make of drum — however, they don't fit all other makes securely.
The bass drum has the usual 20 tensioners, pressed steel claws and cast nut-boxes. There are
brand new T-handled tensioners which are much more streamlined than before and match the T bolts found in some positions on the stands and leg holders. I have mused in the past about why Sonor do not fit solid wooden hoops to their rosewood bass drums. I now know that the company consider the metal hoops to be stronger and truer (they aren't prone to warping) which is why they use them.
This bass drum has easily the loudest sound I have ever heard — the next loudest was a Camco which a friend of mine ordered specially deep in ihe early Seventies in was 18 inches back to front too). The Sonor drum has more roundness and less "edge" than the Camco. This drum, like the rosewood ones, has Sonor's de-luxe adjustable twin strip damper who's operation I described when I reviewed the 1025(XK) set last year.
Sonor's spurs can be described as the non- adjustable outrigger type, constructed from thick
bent rod. shaped into a triangle with one side extended for a couple of inches past the apex which is fitted with optional rubber or spiked tipped ends. The triangle formed by the spur is planned cleverly to angle the tip forwards in stop any forwards movement. The triangle itself is contorted along its two longest sides to fit snugly against the shell.
The snare drum was not available for me to play as a snare, because they were working on the parallel action strainer the day I visited the factory. However, I did get to play it as a drum without the snares. Obviously its sound is deeper than normal, although not quite as deep as a parade drum. It is also significantly louder than any other snare drum but it doesn't have the same "top end cut" as a metal shell. (At the moment Sonor do not have the machinery to make a metal drum eight inches deep — at least not in one piece. But I figure they'll overcome the machinery problem eventualy and an alternative metal shell drum will be the route they'll
The company are fitting a different triple flange rim to their batter head. It's quite a bit thicker than normal and spun in one piece from phosphor bronze (normal Sonor hoops are spun from ferro manganese). This special batter hoop gives a little more thickness to the sound and adds, I feel, a little more weight — certainly to the rim shot.
Ordinary white-coated Ambassador heads arc fitted to the drum, but I figure that eventually they will use Remo's transparent Ambassadors or maybe CS. Either of these would be more resilient. The drum has single nut boxes for each tension screw and the larger of the external dampers is fitted. I can't wait to hear it with snares.
I already said Sonor have designed completely new and extremely solid stands. All the bottom
tubes arc from approximately 1 1/4 inch outsize diameter steel. The second stage is of 1 1/8 tube. The top adjustment at each tube has a new height locking block with an ultimately replaceable nylon/plastic centre core which takes the friction wear. This piece has a small location slot formed into it to accept a corresponding tongue from the cast memory clamp which is of course lockable (with your drum key) in any position to ensure the kit goes together in the same way each time. Not just height wise but position wise too. This will turn out to be a big advantage in the Signature Series case because the legs of its six tripod-based stands are so wide that once you had got to the position where you felt your drums were comfortable without their bases fouling each other, I'm sure you'd be anxious to commit it to memory.
The split clamps at the top of each tube are in two pieces. One piece includes a cast pipe-fitting boss which is sweated to the down tube itself and the other half-ring is fixed with two screws — one "L"-shaped to lock solid, the other screw-driver operated to fine-tune the clamp opening. The new double strutted tripod legs have spacers where thesmall steadying strut from the bottom of the downtube joins them to make a more solid leg whichwon't bend at all. The cast tilters for the cymbal andboom arm position are the same as before with a steel skeleton inside the casting to strengthen butnowadays they lock to the stands with a screw locked
collar via a turned steel shaft fixed to the top tubes.These tilters are exactly as before sprung-loaded onto cast radical splines.
The feet of all the stands have optional rubber orspike-tipped ends which are sprung and one onlyhas to twist and pull the rubber end cone to expose the spike. It has an intentionally strong spring which was fitted to eliminate any possibility of foot rattle. The boom is adjustable in its position relative to the centre of the stand through its tube retaining eye-ring. The non-tilter end has a heavy fixed counter- weight which is I suspect made from cast-iron. This stand is without doubt the heaviest I've ever picked up — the illusion of this strength is magnified
because its spikes really do lock into the floor. Two boom stands are supplied with two floor stands for the mounted toms plus of course a hi hat stand is made from the same diameter tubing as the others and has the same two piece rubberised foot-plate with toe stop as before but now has a "bike-type" chain to join it to its centre pull. Its spring is adjustable from outside the centre tube in a compression cylinder. The cast inverted "u" frame which supports the bottom tube is the usual Sonor one and the legs and feet are the same as on the other new HLZ stands — flat double strutted steel but not so wide-spreading. Its tube height clamp is
as I've already described and it uses the new "L"-shaped screws to lock both the height and the
The bottom cymbal cup is very interesting. It consists of a very thick metal washer brazed to the top of the second tube which has a thread cut into it just below. The cymbal's angle is uniquely adjustable by a large milled-edge threaded washer which runs up the thread and as it does pushes a sprung vertical 3/16-inch pin up against a fibre washer (with a felt) — it's simple and devastatingly effective.
The centre rod is as before of Sonor's hexagonal steel and the top cymbal clutch is of something I have never seen before. It works on a holding principle which I'm sure must have a name but I'm afraid I don't know it. The actual cymbal and felt washer sandwich is as usual but above this instead of a wing bolt is an unusual wedge shaped case with a plastic window which holds two floating pieces of 1/4-inch rod (the rollers) end on. Above and below these horizontal rollers are pieces of flat 1/8-inch steel with clearance holes in them to fit around the centre rod. The top one of these plates is slightly dished to keep the rollers apart. Underneath the bottom plate is a compression spring, so as we screw down the top piece of metal with the milled washer-
screw provided we move the rollers down and inwards against the sloping decreasing walls of their cage. Ultimately they squash against the hi hat's centre rod and lock their whole cage framework onto it. It works jolly well and is very interesting to look at. (It reminds me of the sort of thermometers which cars used to have years ago. They were actually fixed to the radiator cap (which in those days was externalon top of the bonnet) and visible from the driver's
seat) (just another piece of useful background information for you). This hi hat works very smoothly and I personally haven't seen or played a better one.
The basket-type snare drum stand HLZ5580 uses the same leg principle as the others but is designed especially low to cater for the'eight inch deep snare- drum. It has the same split clamp and again we have the L-shaped locking screws with an extra large spring-loaded one to lock the playing angle adjustment. (Any one of the locking screws which may foul anything or be awkward to turn is made in not three but four pieces). The screw itself is actually turned by a cast lever which can be moved off and round to another of its internal locking splines by defeating an internal spring once the clamp has been tightened enough.
The normal three piece bolts do not have these springs and are simply screw-locked together. The leg spread on the snare drum stand is only nine inches from the centre whereas the others have a 16-inch radius from metal tip to centre boss. The stand is locked initially to the drum with a non-slip knurled screw which pushes the three solid plastic arms up until they grip the rims of the drum. We then utilise Sonor's "quick release" lever to unlock
or lock it again when setting up or packing away. This lever has been slightly reshaped to make it more comfortable and less painful.
The bass drum pedal supplied is designated HLZ5380 but is definitely a hybrid, being constructed from ideas taken from each of the range of Sonor pedals. I found it easier to use than any other Sonor pedal which pleased me. The foot plate is as before oval-shaped rubberised in two pieces which is also to be found on Z5317 — this one now has a rail-type toe Stop like the hi hat's. It is simple and effective to adjust and not at all as sophisticated as (say) their Daniel Humair model although with its single pose it is in essence the same sort of pedal. It has a single expansion spring (three other different strength springs are supplied) and its overall vertical height is moveable with a drum key. This of course changes the footplate's angle of inclination. Its stroke too is changeable on its eccentric splined cam.
Like most Sonor pedals this one has a large drum centre boss which takes and holds the extremely strong woven-flbre strap which is used double since it goes round a rod fixed at the toe end of the footplate and then back to the cam boss. The strap is shortenable by selecting one of three different positions to secure the open end to. The boss itself is ready tapped for this purpose. (I can't understand why Sonor didn't go the whole hog and use the bicycle chain for their bass pedal strap — it would have made it more up-to-date and compatible in feel with their hi hat). The spring can also be moved an inch or so closer to the pedal-axle by selecting another position on the cam. The beater height is as usual adjustable relative to the cam axle but without changing it. This pedal clamps to the bass drum's hoop from a dignified sitting position by a long capstan screw. Rubber "feet" are fixed to the bottom of the cast framework to stop any slipping and the stretches at the bottom of the footplate itself is ingeniously spring-locked to the base which makes the pedal plate much more solid and should ultimately eliminate excessive wear.
Two floor standing torn torn holders arc supplied so nothing needs to be mounted on the bass drum. (This obviously helps its shell to breathe and resonate better.) The two stands have the usual refinements of the bottoms of the other tripod stands but have large two piece cast plates at their tops which sandwich the ratchet-arms and keep them from revolving horizontally. As I said these arms arc locked with the four-piece independantly- moveable lever-sprung locking-screws which in this case would definitely foul each other if their levers could not be moved without losing tension on the screws. Otherwise the torn holder is just about the same as Sonor started out with many years ago where the cast ratchet tilter locates into a female carrier fixed into the torn tom's shell. These carriers are very solidly built with a cast tube retainer behind them inside the drum which keeps it steady for a few more inches or so. The two ratchet arms (left and right) locate into the cast sandwich-block and can of course be adjusted backwards or forwards or up and down.
The Signature Series drums look stunning in every respect with an exclusive gold plaque on each
drum which features the unusual logo with the two beaters (one reversed). The Snare drum has a slightly smaller badge (about 2 x 1 1/4 inches) but since they have only just passed the prototype stage it's not clear how these badges will end up sizewise.
The bubinga wood drums look almost pink from a distance and for me they look absolutely luxurious and with their chrome work (now done on the premises) they appear very expensive. Aesthetically the 15x17 floor torn looks strange to me because the proportions are old fashioned and remind me of a Thirties type Cuban torn torn. 1 suppose I'll get used to it in time though.
Obviously I was aware that I was viewing a prototype set because I had been told so — but had I not been informed I would never have guessed. Its bugs already appeared to be "ironed-out". This set must be the Rolls Royce of production drums and is definitely not going to come cheaply (its high price is at the moment on application) but no doubt the guy who is likely to buy this quality set will be well aware of what he wants and presumably happy to pay for it. He would also be participating in a little piece of African history. Why pay less? There is another set available called HLK2046 which has a 24-inch bass drum and really large size torn toms 14, 15,16 and 18 all extra depth. These are also six- and eight-inch double headed "Signature Series" drums available.