So they do make them like they used to…
Words: Tom Voce Images: Richard Ecclestone
Gretsch Broadkaster Kit Classic Heritage
The olden days. Before any house in your area code owned a telly or a computer, or an area code. When the internet was called a ‘library’, drummers wore suits and drum breaks were things that needed to be repaired. It was a time when pop music was called swing and underground nightclubs played hard bop. Yes, it was the golden age of jazz drumming – before sequencers, synthesizers, backing tracks and X Factor. But it was also the era of weird wobbly pedals, hard-to-tune calfskin heads and limited positioning hardware, so as a jazz cat on the drums living in your 1940-1959 pop idol-free retro paradise, things were not always as golden as they are now.
Flash forward to 2015 and look at all the innovations that have accelerated drum manufacture. There are improvements to virtually every aspect of drum making – from durability, to sound purity, to visuals and toys; everything has changed. So why are Gretsch undoing it all?
The item in question is the new Gretsch Broadkaster, and the reason this kit has got everybody excited is that it is almost identical to the old one but with one important difference: it’s new.
In Detail and In Use
The Broadkaster first announced itself in the 30s, but set the tone for the era of 40s swing and 50s bop through artists like Papa Joe Jones, Louie Bellson, Art Blakey and Max Roach. The Broadkaster kits they played share pretty much the same blueprints as the ones being built today, from thin three-ply shells, eight lugs, internal mufflers, rail mount tom holder, classic kick drum spurs, right down to the vintage label. The 302 ‘Stick Chopper’-style double-flanged hoops are made of heavier gauge steel than the choppers of old, presumably to boost a player’s woodchip supplies. That’s just about the only major difference. The heads are Remo Fiberskyn on the batters, not calf; modern-day materials ensure no animals or tunings are harmed in the making of your grooves. There may be some other small differences, too, though having never seen an original (given their relative scarcity and cost), I’m not the one to get into full-on trad-revivalist comparisons. Needless to say, it seems to do a very good job of delivering the vintage experience.
What exactly is the ‘vintage experience’? A fashion pull-out from a Saturday broadsheet? Is it a Saga vineyard tour? A new hipster bar in Shoreditch, perhaps? It could be any of these things, I suppose, but in this case it’s the combined sound, feel, and look of a kit that puts you in a different time. And it all starts with bearing edges.
A vintage drum tone can generally be recognised by the character that a 30-degree rounded bearing edge provides. Most modern drums use 45 degrees for projection and clarity, but the old school was all about tone, warmth and fullness. The reverse roundover edge on the Broadkaster provides so much contact between head and shell, and the maple-poplar-maple ply sandwich is so thin, that the drums sound open and resonant at the same time as being dense and controlled in shape. If you’re looking to emulate the sounds of some of the best drummers of the bop era then I’m pleased to say you can, and the sounds you can get are made all the more characterful when placed next to the purity of the modern drum sound that we take as standard today.
Add the vintage hardware to the experience and you have a little slice of history ready to play; the consolette rail mount on the kick for the tom-tom, the funky forked spurs, the classic disappearing legs. If you own a record player and enjoy the experience of putting on a record as well as the music itself, then the vintage hardware fittings may be for you. If you’re not fussed about vintage looks and don’t like the idea of having to adjust your tom with an obsolete tool and want some more sturdy tom and kick legs, then a modern build is available with Gretsch’s standard mod cons. This might even allow for a ‘truer’ sound, but then it’s the modern developments that are missing on this kit that contribute to its character. For me, it would have to be a vintage build, not only for the sepia tinted nostalgia value, but also because you get the wonderful tone controllers – dampener pads on the underside of each drumhead that give you extra sonic control without any gel, rings or tape. This is an innovation from the past that I wouldn’t mind seeing on many future kits.
These kits come in a range of three classic sizes, Jazz (20” kick, 10”, 14” toms), Heritage (22”, 12/13”, 16”) and the mighty Bomber (24”, 13”, 16”) and one modern Bop configuration (16”, 10”, 14”). All kicks are 14” deep, giving that late developing round boom that tails off quickly. There are four kinds of beautiful finish, two lacquers and two wraps (though after playing the satin copper, I don’t have eyes for any other).
So shout it from the rooftops: the Broadkaster is back, showing these younger models how to really swing.
Gretsch Broadkaster Vintage in
Broadkaster shellpack: 12”x9”, 16”x16”, 22”x14”
Broadkaster Satin Copper Lacquer snare: 6.5”x14”