Tuesday, January 20th, 2009 | by matthew mcglynn
My favorite picture from NAMM: Rocket Shells founder Paul Hewett standing atop a carbon-fiber snare-drum shell. Those shells must be indestructible.
(I saw John Good of Drum Workshop last weekend, too, but he sure wasn’t standing on one of his snare drum shells.)
Rocket Shells was formerly a custom drum manufacturer, but has recently left the retail market for the OEM business — supplying high-end carbon-fiber shells to custom drum shops. This allows the company to focus on making the best carbon-fiber shells in the industry.
Paul told me that the cost of a Rocket Shell is comparable to, if not less than the cost of buying and finishing a standard wood shell. Which is to say, raw wood shells cost less, but need a lot more finish work — bearing edges must be cut, and the shells must be sanded, painted, stained, or wrapped. The finishing process tends to even out the cost, although a finished wood shell is much more susceptible to surface damage than is carbon fiber.
Carbon fiber is a composite material formed by weaving raw carbon fibers into a textile, which is then combined with epoxy resin to form a plastic-like material that is extremely durable, yet lightweight. Drum shells made from this material are lighter than wood, but much stronger; Rocket Shells are guaranteed not to warp, crack, or delaminate for life.
Another feature that caught my attention is the consistency of pitch and tone from one shell to another. Wood shells do not share this trait — ply density and orientation can dramatically alter the tone of the drum, even within a single shell size. Many years ago I saw a video of John Good bonking a 12'' and a 14'' shell and producing exactly the same note; DW’s pitch-matching program, in which wood shells are selected based on both size and fundamental pitch, is an innovative solution to the problem. [Update 2009-06: You can see DW’s promo video about Timbre Matching here.]
But there is no need to pitch-match carbon-fiber shells, because any two 12'' shells (for example) are going to have the same pitch already.
I haven’t (knowingly) heard carbon-fiber drums, but I found a nice review of a Rocket Shell snare from custom drum builder Greg Gaylord: Carbon Fiber Snare Drum Listening Tests. By the way, it was a conversation with Greg a couple years ago (in which he recounted the story of sitting on one of his segment-shell toms to demonstrate its strength) that inspired me to ask Paul to stand on a drum shell.
So, kudos to Paul Hewitt for risking not only his product’s reputation, but his own neck for the sake of my concept photo!