Last issue we brought you a trio of cajóns new from Meinl’s Artisan range, which we rated very highly indeed. This month we have more from the German percussion giants in the form of their new Marathon Series timbales, which offer a traditional Latin look and feel for a very competitive price.
The steel shelled 14” and 15” drums feature smooth, evenly rolled edges along with beading top and bottom in an antique finish, which thanks to its careful application looks almost like a wood veneer. Both drums sport six small lugs to hold in place highly chromed, substantial rims via chunky tuning rods, and small but heavy-duty brackets for mounting the duo are welded onto the rim. Both drums are equipped with medium-thin timbale heads featuring Meinl’s logo, which is printed on the underneath of the head so that it won’t fade or rub away as you play.
Onto the accompanying stand, which is a heavy, double-braced affair that is highly chromed and sufficiently sturdy to keep everything perfectly in place under the heaviest of percussive flurries. The stand also comes with a substantial cowbell mounting post that is adjustable in terms of how far the bells are placed away from the player, which when added to the height and angle adjustment the stand offers makes finding your perfect setting a quick and stress-free task. Also supplied is an accessory pouch containing tune-up oil and a large, L-shaped tuning key to give you everything needed to get the drums set up, secured in place, tuned and ready to play in a very short amount of time.
Once set, the first thing that strikes you is how cool the whole rig looks: the brown colouring of the antique finish contrasts perfectly with the chrome hardware. The heavy-duty stand gives a solid feel, and once in place nothing is going to move an inch. The included cowbell post is also a welcome addition, providing options for mounting any size of bell onto the set-up, although it would similarly quite easily house two, or perhaps even three, small bells comfortably.
When tuned relatively high the drums give loud, full-bodied and well projected tones that are very clear and precise, with just the right amount of ringing overtone from the steel shells. Rim shots add focus and snap, and while they do add a noticeable amount of volume, they’re surprisingly not the loudest timbales I’ve played in this way – I must admit I was expecting the combination of steel shell, chunky rims and medium-thin heads to provide a little more in terms of volume and bark. It’s a similar story when playing on the side of the shell. The notes produced are pleasingly clear with a nice amount of metallic ring, but not very loud.
If you want to play patterns that combine notes played on the heads and shells you do need to pay attention to getting a good balance between your hands, otherwise the sound the heads produce quite easily overshadows patterns played on the cáscara. Experimenting with the tuning provides some interesting results: cranking the tuning up a notch can choke the drums, with the notes produced losing a little in terms of depth, volume and projection, although rim shots at this higher tuning are louder and much better projected than at the lower tuning. That said, this is only apparent at a very high tension that you usually wouldn’t expect the drums to be tuned to.
These wonderful instruments immediately impress with their exquisite finish and superb attention to detail. The accompanying stand is equally impressive: strong and very sturdy.While there are a couple of points that you need to focus on to get the most out of these drums, they offer a clear, precise and, most importantly, musical sound. Overall a very nice addition to Meinl’s range of traditional Latin instruments.