Soundlab Review: Craviotto Drum Company’s Private Reserve & Johnny Craviotto Tribute Snare Drums
February 8, 2018
FROM DRUM! MAGAZINE’S MARCH 2018 ISSUE | BY AJ DONAHUE
Johnny Craviotto passed a little more than a year ago. While the shock may have worn off for many, the sadness won’t. He will remain revered in every corner of the industry, not only for his gifts as a craftsman, but also for his warmth as a person and a mentor.
It’s difficult to imagine such an iconic company continuing on without its leader, who also happened to epitomize expertise in drum craftsmanship. But for those who worked under his tutelage, it wasn’t fair to let Mr. C’s vision go to rest alongside him. So, the Craviotto brand soldiers on with the help of his incredible staff and new ownership.
With that in mind, the opportunity to review these two snare drums is a real honor. They are part of the next phase for the Craviotto Company, and have to live up to all the weight that name carries. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a couple of drums, but it feels unavoidable. Let’s get to it.
Purpleheart Private Reserve
Craviotto’s Private Reserve line is the company’s outlet for creating special, limited-run drums from rare and unique boards. The crew introduced a number of new species to the series this year including, for the first time in the shop’s history, purpleheart.
Steam-bent, single-ply purpleheart drums are rare because it’s an incredibly difficult wood to manipulate. Boards are extremely dense and the individual fibers are brittle, which means they can fray and blow out during the bending process. And at just a hair under 0.25″ thick, steaming one of these boards into a cylinder is a challenging proposition.
Team Craviotto made it work, though, and the results are outstanding. Just about every millimeter of the 14″ x 5.5″ shell is exquisite, and makes it clear that buyers won’t need to worry about changes to the company’s build quality moving forward.
Visually, the wood’s deep, violet-mahogany hue looks truly beautiful beneath the high-gloss lacquer finish. It has plenty of room to breathe between the drum’s trim, diamond-footprinted, chrome-over-brass tube lugs. A small, embossed metal badge with a bold red background adds an elevated touch to the exterior without overwhelming. On the inside, a signed paper label and a wood-burned badge make the drum feel even more customized, while oil-finished, 0.25″-thick internal maple reinforcement rings pop beautifully against the shell’s color.
Regarding the actual build, the bearing edges are level and crisp on both sides, and all joints are flawless to the touch. The exterior seam is tucked neatly behind the three-position Trick throw-off, and is joined on a scarf joint that’s about 2″ long. That joint is so clean that I couldn’t even find it on the top and bottom edges.
Sonically, the Private Reserve drum is a real banger. The tone reminds me a lot of bubinga, with a sharp, singing attack and a lot of high-end clarity that’s balanced by a short burst of lower-midrange punch. From the player’s perspective, I don’t hear quite the same low-end presence as bubinga, but it’s not far off. Stock 2.3mm triple-flange steel hoops, and private labeled Texture Coated batter and Classic Clear snare-side heads by Aquarian help keep the drum feeling open and lively. It also has a much drier middle than I’m used to hearing from a wood drum, which is probably enhanced by the presence of two 0.25″ vents capped by stylish metal grommets. That wide dryness reminds me of an aluminum shell, and really sets this one apart from other single-ply snares I’ve heard.
The response at every tuning I tried was fairly uniform, but feels happiest in the extremes. Cranked up pretty high on both sides, the purpleheart drum delivers an enormously punchy crack that reminds me a lot of David Garibaldi’s sound on Tower Of Power’s studio albums. It’s rifle-shot loud, with a beautifully warm splat underneath. But at the other end of the spectrum, with both top and bottom heads at barely a half-turn past finger-tight, it sounds more like aircraft artillery with a big, broad impact note and a truncated boom to back it up. I think the key to that sound is the limited presence of low-end undertones that fill up the ears with beefy midrange frequencies.
The drum is supremely sensitive and extra clear around the outer playing surface, thanks in large part to the fairly sharp 45-degree edges with only the slimmest hint of a roundover counter cut. On both sides, the edge apex sits almost all the way at the outside of the shell, which — combined with the wide, shallow beds and Craviotto’s proprietary 20-strand wires — makes the snare’s already lively tone even more present under soft strokes. Those snare wires appear to be unplated carbon steel with brushed brass clips, and answer every touch with a quick bite of crisp chatter that feels right at home under the sweetness of the shell note.
This Private Reserve snare really shines in a musical context. When those razor-sharp highs start blending into surrounding instruments, the drum’s broad, middle-out splat really takes over. This is a killing funk, pop, R&B, or modern country snare that sounds huge out in front of the kit.
Johnny Craviotto Tribute
The Johnny Craviotto Tribute snare is a special instrument. As part of what will be an ongoing celebration of Craviotto’s life, the company released an extremely limited series of tribute snare drums designed with some of his favorite features in mind. For this review, I received one of only 25 pieces making up the first batch. I’m a klutz and that kind of rarity is terrifying, so I’ve been handling it like a Faberge egg.
When I spoke to Craviotto’s head of marketing, David Victor, at the 2017 NAMM show, he walked me through how each and every feature on the 14″ x 6″ drum is a direct reference to something personally important to Mr. C. For example, maple was chosen for the shell because it was always his go-to wood recommendation for players who were unsure of what they wanted, and the steam-bent, 1-ply is just a hair more than a 0.25″ thick because the extra mass added some of the old Radio King fatness he loved. The chrome-over-brass 2.3mm triple-flange hoops, broad 30-degree edges with a slight roundover on the outside edge, 0.25″ maple reinforcement rings, paper label inside, and classically styled lever throw-off all harken back to the vintage drums Craviotto began his career restoring, while eight Johnny C. cast lugs bear the diamond-shaped hallmark of his company’s logo. Even the abalone inlay is a nod to the man’s love of surfing. Again, this is a special drum.
Like the Private Reserve model, the construction quality here is out of this world. Every seam, joint, and surface is precisely cut and finished to a degree that makes it easy to see why Craviotto as a company is considered the top of the mountain. To cap it all off, the low-gloss finish on the exterior is subtle and beautiful.
To my ear, this is pretty much the maple drum. It’s warm, full, and fat with a clean finish under every stroke. The private labeled Skyntone batter by Remo (over a clear Remo snare-side head) is wide and sensitive, especially when tuned about a full turn past finger-tight. It gives the drum a great splack sound that’s backed up by a warm bark from those brass hoops. It’s sensitive and lush at every tuning, and really feels fantastic to play. To me, this is what a snare drum is supposed to sound like, and I think that’s a fitting tribute to the man who spent so much of his life making some of the finest instruments on the planet.
If these two drums are any example, it’s clear that the Craviotto name is in good hands. Both instruments are exquisitely crafted and play beautifully. The Private Reserve Purpleheart is a truly rare bird sonically, offering immense crack and midrange fatness that’s perfect for live performances. And as mentioned above, the Johnny Craviotto Tribute drum feels like the quintessential maple snare. It’s hard to get any better than that.