Basswood, poplar, and lauan shells

1988fxlr

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Poplar also isn’t really a cheap wood. Its always been a very popular choice for custom millwork that is going to be painted because it has a very consistent grain, is generally free of voids, and can be cut to very precise architectural detail. Its just not common to use it as finish grade work because it tends to show ugly green mineral streaks.

with the costs of all regularly available wood being cheap back in the 60’s-70’s I would guess Ludwig and Slingerland chose it because using it cut down on labor costs and it was easy on tools. Not because it was cheaper
 

cruddola

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There's way more to a kit than the wood. You can absolutely make a nice expensive high end kit out of these. C&C does with lauan. However, it doesn't make sense to make a low end kit out of expensive wood like North American maple. So if you're selling a low end kit, it's always going to be made with the lowest cost materials.
Absolutely, all I can say is I have both Tama old-school Imperialstars and Yamaha Rock Tour Customs, both have that Luan "mahogany" flavor and yet as equally equipped and tuned as I can get, they sound completely different. The method and manufacturing processes and their different hardware obviously adds to the picture.
 
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charlesm

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I've had two kits that were made out of "cheap"-wooded shells: a Premier UK Cabria (poplar/eucalyptus), in the past, and a U.S. Mercury MIJ "stencil" kit (luan) which I still own.

I don't know...anyone can say what they want about "cheap" wood, but both of these kits sound/ed fine to me. Warm, pretty full-bodied tones that definitely evoke what we tend to call a "vintage" kind of vibe.

Also, tons of sustain on both kits, if you like that sort of thing. The note length on my U.S. Mercury 12" rack tom is at least the same as that of my 12" Gretsch USA USAC...which is to say a LOT.

What I don't hear in these cheaper kits compared to, say, my Gretsch kits is quite the loudness potential...the big reserve of acoustic energy. It's a bit lower a ceiling in that regard, with not as much frequency projection. I think this is often where the bad reputation originates...that it's not the same "uumph."

No, it's not, but the truth is that the U.S. Mercs, for example, nonetheless sound absolutely FINE to me just taken on their own as a drumset. I've gigged them a ton, recorded with them, etc. They're their own thing...and that's how I tend to approach a lot of musically subjective situations these days. No, this thing isn't *amazing instrument X*...but what is it on its OWN? What is its intrinsic value?

One of the best things I can say about the U.S. Mercury kit is that it's always FUN to play out. And it's also blast when another drummer comes up and says, "Man, that's a cool kit and it sounds great! What is that??"
 

David M Scott

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I've had two kits that were made out of "cheap"-wooded shells: a Premier UK Cabria (poplar/eucalyptus), in the past, and a U.S. Mercury MIJ "stencil" kit (luan) which I still own.

I don't know...anyone can say what they want about "cheap" wood, but both of these kits sound/ed fine to me. Warm, pretty full-bodied tones that definitely evoke what we tend to call a "vintage" kind of vibe.

Also, tons of sustain on both kits, if you like that sort of thing. The note length on my U.S. Mercury 12" rack tom is at least the same as that of my 12" Gretsch USA USAC...which is to say a LOT.

What I don't hear in these cheaper kits compared to, say, my Gretsch kits is quite the loudness potential...the big reserve of acoustic energy. It's a bit lower a ceiling in that regard, with not as much frequency projection. I think this is often where the bad reputation originates...that it's not the same "uumph."

No, it's not, but the truth is that the U.S. Mercs, for example, nonetheless sound absolutely FINE to me just taken on their own as a drumset. I've gigged them a ton, recorded with them, etc. They're their own thing...and that's how I tend to approach a lot of musically subjective situations these days. No, this thing isn't *amazing instrument X*...but what is it on its OWN? What is its intrinsic value?

One of the best things I can say about the U.S. Mercury kit is that it's always FUN to play out. And it's also blast when another drummer comes up and says, "Man, that's a cool kit and it sounds great! What is that??"
Loudness was my concern with my Lauan kits as mentioned in my post. And..all three kits I had a flat muffled not warm sound.
Was that just my ears ? I mentioned I stripped a kit and had a local auto body shop spray the inside of the shells with a body filler. The result was huge as regards sound volume. Someone mentioned that there was good Lauan available but due to over harvesting (using small immature trees) the quality fell. I was in the residential door manufacturing business in the 70s and the quality of the Lauan skins got very bad. It was so bad that where Masonite skinned door were formally our cheapest product it flipped to Lauan.
I'm sure that drum manufacturers were able to obtain quality product for use in their mid to high price
models either as solid or mixed wood plys but the MIJ stencil kits had a lot of poor quality Lauan and it seemed to swallow sound. Just my experience...
 

Iristone

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I've read that an inner ply of harder wood will help with the projection of the drums, and then you can make the outer plies of softer wood to condition the tone.
Examples of professional drums containing poplar:
  • Ludwig
  • Rogers
  • Slingerland
  • Gretsch Brooklyn and Broadkaster
Examples of professional drums containing (or made entirely of) lauan:
  • C&C Player's Date
  • Pearl President Deluxe (a controversial limited edition I know)
  • Some earlier Pearl and Yamaha kits
 

A.TomicMorganic

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Interesting thread. I am currently having a SD shell bent from big leaf maple, which is a bit softer than eastern maple. Good builder. I am thinking of doing the inside of the shell with shellac in order to get a little more projection. What do you guys think of this approach?
 

shuffle

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I agree about edges and heads but that wasn’t an issue for either kit. The edges were fine on both and I tried new heads more than a few times.

It was a matter of them not sounding the way I wanted like when you choose a guitar that you thought would match the sound in your head, but it doesn’t.

I was happy to sell both kits to people who are hopefully enjoying them more than I did.
I've had Cat. Clubs a couple of times.
Fit and finish was outstanding but sound,no!
They made me drum head poor trying to get some low end punch. Never happened and never going to happen.
They have low mids but low end,nada.
So,I don't mess with those 3 tone woods anymore.
Some will say it's a softer tone!
Nah,not in my book, they just don't have any guts to produce lowend.
And I prefer guts.
Matter of taste.
 

vintagedrummersweden

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I've heard my favorite Swedish drummer playing on his old Gretsch SSB kit, unmiked, and they sounded great. He let me try them and they sounded dead.
Another time he held a clinic on his Tama Swingstar 80's kit, again unmiked, and they sounded as great as his drums always sound.
My vintage collecting friend asked him about his favorite drums, trying to get him to reflect on different brands, but his answer was "it's a wooden cylinder and you tension the heads".
What I'm trying to say is that it's, unfortunately for me, more up to the drummer than the gear...
 

gra7

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Fully satisfied with my wee Tama Club Jam, which is poplar and mersawa ply.
I have a Club Jam Mini with a floor tom. I sold all my other kits, bar the Tama Walnut/Birch Starclassic after getting it. The Club Jam is perfect for lower volume and acoustic sessions, and you could probably do jazz gigs with it. It's fun to play something smaller like this, and it is literally 5 minutes setup time.
 

FitDrummer

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I have a Club Jam Mini with a floor tom. I sold all my other kits, bar the Tama Walnut/Birch Starclassic after getting it. The Club Jam is perfect for lower volume and acoustic sessions, and you could probably do jazz gigs with it. It's fun to play something smaller like this, and it is literally 5 minutes setup time.
I was thinking about one of these. Could it withstand in a little bit of a higher volume situation? Could you play rock/pop/funk covers with it?
 

FlowTom

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It's not fair to name lauan as an inclusive generic species since there are sub species and regional varieties within that designation.
From a commercial lumber standpoint, it's like mixing pecan and hickory, which is commonly done.
In solid lumber, I distinguish between lauan and Philippine mahogany, which can be decent material. I've had some nice Philippine lumber over the years.
There's a variety of densities within the lauan designation. Some is softer than spanish cedar, some is almost as hard as keruing.
A lot of the quality of the material comes down to how it's handled at the commercial facilities like veneer mills.
You can see from various lauan products that the wood is typically processed as low grade material.
I haven't had any trouble truing and tuning shells that include basswood, poplar, etc. and getting them to sound good.
But I usually have a heck of a time getting old Pearl and Tama lauan shells to tune easily and sound good.
Some of those shells are well made and fitted out but it doesn't seem to matter.
The way that lauan behaves, I'm not sure it really wants to be a drum. I just avoid it.
 

michaelocalypse

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The only issue I've had with luan shells is that you still don't really know what wood/species it is, so I'm sure there's some variance in there.

At any rate, the "cheaper" woods that I've had all take tung oil well (inside of the shell), and all the drums ended up with a lower tone afterwards. They also looked a lot nicer.
 

RayB

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I am grateful that we have our internet and forum(s) so that we can learn about the truth......which can many times differ from the marketing we have been force-fed for years.

Several times I have played my lauan (sp) drums and see my fellow musicians blown away at how good they sound. If I can identify 2 essential factors (other than roundness/manufacturing flaws, etc.) - it would be heads and good edges. If you have those two factors - any wood specie can sound great. Same - nope. Still 'great' - yup.

The only footnote/exception to this discussion - in my mind - is Alder. I have a ddrum Reflex in storage - waiting for some setup/playing (and a 20in BD shell re-wrap project). I always use EQ rings on my toms - regardless of which kit/specie. This alder Reflex kit will be the only exception. I will not be using any EQ ring on those toms - they already have an EQed sound to them. It is really remarkable. If you like that warm EQed sound - you might love them. If not, you might find this kit impossible to sound like you want it to. BTW - different than the warmth of thin 3-ply Slingers, MIJs.
I own a Reflex Rally kit made from alder wood. Best sounding toms I ever played. Very easy to tune, plenty of projection, and a truly unique sound. I've played or owned maple, birch, mahogany and poplar drum sets (been at it over 50 years), and I pick the alder toms over all of them. The bass drum is also excellent. The matching snare is good but nothing special. I know Ddrum had quality issues in the past, but I haven't experienced any with this set. They offered the set at a very moderate price and I think it's a terrific deal.
The only problem is Ddrum discontinued the entire Reflex line and no other drum manufacturer uses alder wood. I believe alder is not an expensive or hard to find wood: Fender guitars have been made from alder for years. No idea why Ddrum stopped using alder or why no one else builds drums with it.
Very happy with this set; every musician I work with loves the sound and look of them. If anyone knows why the Reflex line was discontinued, please let me know. Ddrum seems to discontinue a lot of their models after a few years.
 

David M Scott

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I've read that an inner ply of harder wood will help with the projection of the drums, and then you can make the outer plies of softer wood to condition the tone.
Examples of professional drums containing poplar:
  • Ludwig
  • Rogers
  • Slingerland
  • Gretsch Brooklyn and Broadkaster
Examples of professional drums containing (or made entirely of) lauan:
  • C&C Player's Date
  • Pearl President Deluxe (a controversial limited edition I know)
  • Some earlier Pearl and Yamaha kits
I have Googled C&C and I'm thinking that although they use Mahogany, I wonder if it is Luaun. Does anyone know for sure ?
 

David M Scott

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It is Lauan or "Philippine Mahogany".
I spent significant time in the residential door manufacturing business and we used a great deal of Luaun and it was sometimes referred to as Phillipine. I understood that name was used as a marketing tool as Luaun is a very soft, fast growing plentiful tree that is marketed as Mahogany when in fact it is a distant cousin at best. We also made doors with Tiama or African Mahogany which has
a very distinct, somewhat wild grain and much denser and heavier than Luaun. I have furniture made of Honduran Mahogany and it is very dense and weighs a ton. I'm thinking a Botanist should be consulted to determine what are and what aren't true Mahoganies.
 

Tornado

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I spent significant time in the residential door manufacturing business and we used a great deal of Luaun and it was sometimes referred to as Phillipine. I understood that name was used as a marketing tool as Luaun is a very soft, fast growing plentiful tree that is marketed as Mahogany when in fact it is a distant cousin at best. We also made doors with Tiama or African Mahogany which has
a very distinct, somewhat wild grain and much denser and heavier than Luaun. I have furniture made of Honduran Mahogany and it is very dense and weighs a ton. I'm thinking a Botanist should be consulted to determine what are and what aren't true Mahoganies.

Just a quick Google ago, I learned that there are even 120 different species that are sold as "luan". Maybe "luan" is more accurately defined as "forest of random trees we clear cut on a tropical island".

I think this is true of a lot of wood products. I know that N&C is selling drums made of tulip wood. Also known as "tulip poplar". But "tulip poplar" isn't a true poplar. However, I learned that if you buy "poplar" at Home Depot and such, it's actually "tulip poplar" aka tulip! So that raises the question of what the heck those vintage drums with poplar were made of in the first place, and what current "poplar" drums are really made of.
 

David M Scott

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Just a quick Google ago, I learned that there are even 120 different species that are sold as "luan". Maybe "luan" is more accurately defined as "forest of random trees we clear cut on a tropical island".

I think this is true of a lot of wood products. I know that N&C is selling drums made of tulip wood. Also known as "tulip poplar". But "tulip poplar" isn't a true poplar. However, I learned that if you buy "poplar" at Home Depot and such, it's actually "tulip poplar" aka tulip! So that raises the question of what the heck those vintage drums with poplar were made of in the first place, and what current "poplar" drums are really made of.
Let me mix another Martini and I'll get back to you
 

Iristone

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Poplar (and willow) trees always give me hay fever. :silent: But I really like how their wood sounds between maple plies. I wonder what will happenif someone sandwiches some luan between African mahogany plies?
Speaking of species - I've always wondered what species the gumwood is that Gretsch uses. I've heard it was sweet gum, but eucalyptus is called "gumwood" sometimes too.
 


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