Sept 5, 2014:
Now that Gretsch has announced the recreation of their famous 3 ply shells with the new Broadkaster series, we should take some time to discuss the differences between these 3 ply drums and the standard Gretsch USA 6 ply. Make no mistake, this is not a 3 ply version of the 6 ply drums. This is a totally different sound and as a result, adding a 3 ply kit to your Gretsch arsenal is a fabulous idea. The 3 ply shell captures what is essentially the 50s era sound, while the 6 ply shell captures the very late 50s through the 60s and onward. By the way, the Broadkaster name is not new. That was the name for this series when they were originally sold in the 50s.
The original 3 ply shell drums differed from the 6 ply sets in many ways.
Shells: 3 ply were maple/poplar/maple. 6 ply are maple/gumwood. Both have no reinforcement rings and as a result, the overall thickness of the 3 ply and the 6 ply are about the same, but with three thicker plies on the 3 ply and then six thinner plies on the 6 ply. The folks at Gretsch did a fabulous job on this shell and I know first hand because we assisted along the way with input from original examples of these drums that we have in our vintage vault. The intent was to produce a superb replica of the 3 ply shell and they succeeded in a big way.
Bearing edges: The 3 ply kits used a reverse round over edge, as will be explained below, rather than the now-traditional edge found on the 6 ply drums since the late 50s.
Hoops: The 3 ply drums originally used the double flanged "stick chopper" rims while the later 6 ply drum used the heavy die cast rims. The new 3 ply kits utilize the Gretsch 302 double flanged rim which is a modern day replica of the old stick choppers, but a bit thicker to protect your sticks.
Sound: The combination of all of the factors mentioned above makes the 3 ply drums very different sonically from the 6 ply. The 3 ply drums tend to be fatter and more open sounding, while the 6 ply drums tend to have a tighter, more focused sound. It really is two totally different sounds.
Configurations: In the 50s during the 3 ply era the standard configuration was typically larger sizes such as 9x13, 16x16, 14x22 or 14x24 and either 5.5 or 6.5x14 snare drums. Why is this the case? Simple: The music of that era was still heavily focused on big bands and the very early stages of rock. As a result, the larger drums with a full, open sound were in high demand. Sets with smaller sizes such as 12-14-20 and 12-14-18 really didn't come into play until the 60s with the advent of small combo jazz and bebop. The fabulous thing about the new Broadkaster 3 ply series is that we will now be able to experience the sound of those shells in either a full size kit or a smaller kit. With bass drums ranging from 14x18, 14x20, 14x22 and 14x24, and with toms ranging from 8x12, 9x13, 14x14, 16x16, 16x18, the choices are significant and the warmth and "openness" of the 3 ply sound can now be yours in any size configuration. And, to add even more to the flexibility of the configurations you can get your set with modern heavy duty build out or select a full vintage build out if you prefer not only the sound, but also the "look" of the vintage era.
Here's what Gretsch has to say about these:
Gretsch R&D referenced the classic Gretsch 1950’s-era 3-ply shell specification as the main design element for the new Broadkaster shell. New Broadkaster shells are USA-produced using state-of-the-art shell making techniques and constructed with North American maple/poplar/maple wood layup without reinforcement hoops. Shells are .265” (6.7mm) thick. The non-reinforcement hoop design differentiates the new Gretsch Broadkaster shell from most other 3-ply shells on the market today. Each shell interior ply has an integrated scarf joint (tapered overlap) that provides structural integrity needed for the 3-ply specification. Shell interiors are finished with classic Gretsch Silver Sealer.
The Bearing Edge
Bearing edges are hand-finished with a “reverse roundover” contour. The top edge sits at the inside of the shell and contours down and away to the outside edge using a specific Gretsch radius. By nature of this design, there is an increased amount of surface contact between the drum head and the bearing edge, and is a critical component for the differentiated tones these drums produce.
All toms and snare drums are outfitted with Gretsch’s “302” 3.0mm, double flanged steel hoops. These hoops are similar to “Stick Chopper” hoops used in the 1950’s, but are heavier gauge to stand up to today’s more assertive playing styles. They produce a tone that is more “open” than die-cast hoops and add an ambient flavor to the overall tonal characteristic of these drums. Bass drum hoops are standard-build 6-ply maple and include Nitron inlays.