The mention of real mahogany leads us to another question. How damaging is a drum making to the world’s shrinking rainforests? Whenever I’ve asked drum companies they have, of course, all said they only use hardwoods for their regular lines from sustainable, managed and replenishable stocks. They’re well aware of the problem.
But this is a hot political issue and despite n or because of - many hours looking around on the web I don’t feel qualified to make any binding judgments. There are surprising labyrinthine issues and arguments, which are far too abstruse and involved to explore here. Most people accept, however, that deforestation of old growth timbers is detrimental to the world’s eco-systems. Many species are under threat and some trees take hundreds of years to grow to maturity.
But is the world going to stop using hard wood products? It’s a similar dilemma we face every time we fill up the car with petrol. Are we suddenly going to stop driving? I don’t think so. Luckily the impact of the drum industry on timber resources is minute compared with that of the construction and furniture industries. But it’s still an issue that drummers might want to take time to consider. You can divide hardwoods into two categories. Those which are managed, replanted and harvested; and those from tropical forests, mainly in the Far East, Africa, Central and South America, etc, which are to a large extent irreplaceable. I think we’ve all heard something of the rain forest issues.
The managed forests, on the other hand, are mostly in the northern hemisphere and include relatively fast growing species like maple, birch and beech. These are what most high-end kits are made from. My guess is that if you buy a typical professional set made of maple or birch, etc, you’re on pretty safe ground. Phew! But what about the truly exotic woods which increasingly appear on mouthwateringly beautiful, limited edition drums? You may need to ask some searching questions of the manufacturers.
There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation, for instance that the wood is from trees which have fallen through natural causes, storms or earthquakes, or that the timber has been salvaged from ancient wooden buildings, etc. There are reputable timber companies that deal in small quantities of exotic timbers that have come through these relatively blameless routes. A good example is the Exotic Finish series from DW, which scours wood yards for rare, one-off logs that may have been lying around for decades.
And then there are DW’s Lake Superior Timeless Timber drums. These are veneered with timber made from logs that had been submerged at the bottom of Lake Superior for a century. The reason genuinely old timbers are so prized is that they come from ancient trees from deep in the forest, where there is little light and the growth rings are exceptionally densely packed. This means the wood is extra hard and resonant.
It is impossible to get that sort of wood from regularly harvested, sustainable, new growth forests. So modern hardwood drums, while being beautifully made and finished, lack that extra something that comes from truly old wood. And this, of course, is the argument for vintage wood shells. Drums from the 1920s and 1930s, for example, were made at a time when old growth timber was more readily available.
The longer you keep your modern kit though, the more wood will dry and increase in resonance. If you’ve got a well-made modern kit, just remember it will one day be a vintage kit too.