A bespoke lightweight kit with a rope tensioning system
Words: John Griffin Images: Richard Ecclestone
Finland might not necessarily be the first place you would associate with drum making, but that’s where this month’s review takes us, and to the home of bespoke builder Wacco. Let’s take a closer look at the Wacco Old School drum set and see if it’s going to put Finland firmly on the drum-building map.
As you can see from the photos, this is not the traditional drum set we have become accustomed to. Most noticeably there is little shell hardware to be seen. Wacco has gone back in time and revisited the old-fashioned military-style rope tensioning system. They have completely re-engineered it and come up with their version – rope tuning the modern way. But does it work? We’ll get on to that later…
The maple shells, with their precision cut bearing edges, are thin, cross-laminated and heat-treated. This provides a beautiful rich amber shell colouring, all finished off with oil and wax. The review set consisted of a 20”x12” kick drum, a 12”x8” rack tom and a 14”x12” floor tom.
The only shell hardware present is the neat round fittings for the three floor tom legs and kick drum spur holders. It’s all very simple, yet extremely high quality and functional, and importantly, the only two small points of contact with the shell. The traditional wing screws have been substituted with a finger-tightening wheel, the fold-out kick drum spurs are simple, and the floor tom legs are of reasonable length and complemented with small rubber feet. All the hardware has a classy satin finish, manufactured from stainless steel and 100 per cent designed and manufactured by Wacco. Another interesting point: the air hole in each shell is naturally finished – again no metal to be seen.
There are standard maple hoops all round, fitted with rounded grooved insert studs, which accept the tensioning rope. For me, the wood hoops suit the kit, though you do have the option of stainless steel hoops if preferred, which, according to the Wacco blurb, provide a more focused sound.
Last but not least, the tuning. The rope is tightly crimped together to make a circle. This loops round the hoop studs on the top and bottom and through the plastic tension sliders, in effect giving a Y formation round the shell. Move the plastic sliders up and down to tune the drum as desired and it’s as simple as that. Since there is no hardware and thin shells you get a fundamental lower tone. When using the same weight heads top and bottom you will have the same tension, therefore you can’t do too much about the sound by up and down tuning, if you prefer a little difference, Wacco suggests switching to a thinner bottom head to produce a higher tone.
Having reported on the minimal amount of hardware and thin shells, this set therefore has one noticeable feature: weight, or the lack of it. Each shell, in relation to its size, is as light as a feather. In fact I have never handled anything like it before. It’s absolutely perfect if you’re looking for the ultimate lightweight kit.
With the technical detail covered, what do these drums actually preform like as a set? Well, tuning is a doddle, with a little adjustment up and down via the rope gliders. My only issue is with the rack tom; there is no other option but to mount it on a snare stand, and even with minimal shell contact with the basket arms it killed the drum’s natural resonance. On the other hand, the 14” floor tom is a gem with plenty of resonance and bottom end. I must say that the choice of heads supplied with the set, Aquarian Modern Vintage Medium batters (tops) and Aquarian Hi-Frequency resonant (bottom) for the toms and Aquarian Deep Vintage II for the kick drum batter, suit well and are spot on for my taste. The kick drum front head does have a pre-cut port hole, but with no additional dampening inside, it returned a focused, full and rounded sound, which may have something to do with its shallow depth.
One area that did give me a problem was changing the heads. I tested this using the 12” rack tom to see how easy it would be compared to the traditional method using tension rods. Not easy, it turns out. It was a fiddly process and I found it difficult to re-stretch the rope over the final stud when the rope was at its utmost tension. A set of instructions are included, but they are not easy to follow.
Wacco has provided something different with this Old School set and a complete change to the normal appearance we have become accustomed to. Attention to detail, workmanship, and engineering is all first class and faultless. Performance wise, they are up there with the best, packing a punch and suited to many music genres. If it’s an ultra light kit you’re looking for, I don’t think anything will come close. I did have a few concerns, however: the rope’s longevity and replacement availability in years to come, dealing with a head change in a gig situation, and the rack tom. I would like to see an option for some type of mounting suspension bracket so that the shell has improved resonance and the ability to position off a cymbal stand. That said, it’s a beautifully crafted drum set and I wish Wacco well as they strive to make inroads into today’s competitive market. On this evidence, Finland is firmly on the map.
Wacco Old School kit
Kick Drum 20”x12”
Rack Tom 12”x8”
Floor Tom 14”x14”