Recently I was enjoying a night out with friends and I ordered a specialty cocktail made with a liquor ingredient which I never had before. Yes, this is a product review for a snare drum and I promise it will all make sense. To be perfectly honest, I regretted the first couple sips of the drink. I began to wonder why I didn’t order something I was more familiar with. A few minutes later and half the glass gone, I realized how extraordinary the tasty libation actually was.
Pleasantly surprised, I ordered another and then one more later in the evening. My friends ordered the drink too since I couldn’t shut up about it, and they all enjoyed the exact same experience. Well, that is what it was like to play the Provenance “Merlin XX” snare drum. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the first couple whacks gave me more questions than answers, and then after twenty minutes I just couldn’t get enough.
When I first pulled the silver drum out of the case, I was impressed by its clean, sleek appearance. The drum was light-weight, fitted with a nice Trick throw-off, triple-flange hoops, Puresound snare wires and Remo heads, which included a ‘Vintage A’ batter head. After looking at the badge and the beautiful eight tube lug configuration, I noticed a laminated spec sheet in the bottom of the case. I read it and realized I was holding the actual Rolls Royce of snare drums in my hands. Some snares are rare, but nothing quite like this one of a kind gem. The 14” x 5.25” cast aluminum shell is 6mm thick, from the crankcase off a 1944 Rolls Royce “Merlin XX” V12 aero engine on a Mosquito bomber during WW2. My jaw dropped open each time I read that sentence (and again as I typed it). Then the Provenance slogan, which was silkscreened on the soft case, earned a whole new meaning: Remaking History. I stood there in my kitchen marveling at the piece of history sitting there on the table. I took out my phone to snap a couple photos of the drum, then immediately Googled Provenance and learned that they specialize in creating snare drums from high speed, high performance machines that have reached the end of their working life. Wow! At that moment I realized why the word ‘provenance’ was the absolute perfect moniker for this company as they create a new origin and in essence, a new beginning for these materials. They transform both high grade alloys and quality timbers that have already fulfilled a unique role in history into drums, by hand in England. Well, that was all I needed to read before I put the drum back in the case, ran out the door, and drove to the studio. I simply could not wait to hear it!!
Given the fact that this drum is 5.25” deep, with rounded bearing edges and eight lugs, I knew it would have more of a vintage vibe than what I typically use. For my playing, I do like metal snare drums but generally prefer a 14” x 7” shell with ten lugs and die-cast hoops. When I first hit the Provenance “Merlin XX” I was really surprised by the openness of the sound. Admittedly, I winced because of how different it sounded from what I was accustomed to but then proceeded to put it to the test.
I laid into it with a couple of singles and rimshots then started a soft double-stroke roll with a crescendo towards the center of the head. The sound was open, sensitive, and bright without being harsh. It didn’t sound like any other vintage drum I had played before and at that point I was as curious as I was confused, just like I was after the first couple sips of that cocktail.
The real proof for me is feeling and hearing a drum in context. Many snare drums, even some of my favorites, sound okay by themselves but then really come alive within the ensemble of the drumkit. As I started to dig in with some basic rock grooves, I grinned. I focused on kick, snare, hi-hat and really noticed how well the Provenance “Merlin XX” fit in. It has a personality which became more evident the longer I played. Even when I switched to a lighter approach, with more of a ride-based jazz groove, the tone of the snare drum fit perfectly.
What surprised me most about this snare was how nicely it sat with the rest of my drums. While at the studio, I needed to prep for an upcoming gig and in my opinion the style of music called for a different snare sound entirely. Even though I knew that, I just couldn’t take the Provenance “Merlin XX” out of my snare stand because I was having too much fun playing it!
Some aluminum snare drums I’ve used in the past were a bit temperamental in that they had a narrower range where they really sounded great but this drum was quite the opposite. I thought this snare drum offered a clean, classic look with an open, bright and versatile tone. Well done!