Ever since I was a kid, I've played the four-piece drumset. Of course, as a kid under-10, this was mostly an economic thing imposed by the parental units who didn't know if I was really into it or not, and the whole time I thought it sucked because even as a child, I've perused the drum catalogs and knew that more was always better.
But along the way I've had good teachers who straightened me out and helped me see the error of my ways, and as I grew older I appreciated the four-piece drumset. So, while I was cutting my teeth on those four-drums of my early years, all the while wishing I had more stuff, by the time I was old enough to actually afford more pieces, I never really moved beyond the standard five-piece. In fact, I've stated it here, and for years prior, that I sound pretty stupid on lots of drums. That is, until I finally took the plunge and got the big double-bass monster kit I've always wanted (and knew it would probably never leave the house). I'm not going to ask if anyone thinks I sound stupid on that big kit anyway ;)
A year ago I did a review of the Sonor Safari drumset and loved it. I mainly bought it as a practice tool and didn't really have plans to use it outside of my practice room. Consequently, many friends saw that review on Drummerworld.com along with my solo video of it and decided they could have a Safari kit in their future. I was mainly inspired when I saw Jojo Mayer's DVD where they included snippets of him playing a 16" bass drum, snare, hats and cymbal around New York City (his formidable technique didn't rub off on me, however). I did want a little more bottom end out of the bass drum though, and a full-sized 14" floor tom too, so just last week I picked up a Sonor BOP drumset.
For $397 (which included shipping), I got what's basically a Safari kit on steroids. It comes with a 16x18 bass drum, 8x12 tom, and 14x14 floor tom, with a matching 5x14 snare. It's says "Select Hardwood" on the labels, so it's hard to say what kind of wood it is. People tell me its basswood, or it could be a combination of woods, nobody really knows. Considering the price, I'm not too concerned with what its made out of, I just wanted it to sound good, and it does that.
As the venerable four-piece drumset it is, it literally does nothing to make you sound good. That's totally up to you. Four-piece drumsets are like a great equalizer to me. If the drummer can really play, then it shouldn't matter what he's playing. I really just want the music to groove and feel good. The drums could be made of gold for all I care - if it ain't happenin', you're fired!
Right out of the box the fit and finish was great. No bubbling on the silver sparkle wrap. The bearing edges were consistently flat, and the hardware pieces were very smooth to use. The kit immediately got Remo coated ambassadors on the tops of the drums, and the bass drum got a Remo smooth white PowerStroke 3 head. My Safari I played with the stock Remo UT heads which were made in China, and those managed to sound great with those heads. These Bops drums with the ambassadors sounded absolutely stunning for drumsets in the under-$400 category. When I mic'd it up it sounded even better!
Of course, I'm not saying it's a replacement for any high-end jazz drumset, nor do I think it would survive the daily set-up-and-tear-down suffered by professional equipment. But as a casual drumset for local gigs, I think you'd be surprised how far $400 goes for a shell pack of drums these days. And even professionals aren't working all the time, right?
I have nothing but positive vibes for this little drumset, and I'm discovering that maybe 18" bass drums are for me. It so nice to have everything down low and I didn't have to labor so much to reach up to anything to play it. And I'll take all the help I can get! Mic'd up, the bass drum sounded nice and punchy - no wonder Bernard Purdie uses an 18" bass drum. I didn't miss the amount of air I wasn't moving (and can't hear) on a bigger bass drum. The toms tuned down very good (as you'll hear on the accompanying video) and the snare even "went there" for different tunings. Sometimes cheap snare drums sound good at one tuning, this one did an adequate job of both high tunings and low tunings, so it's a keeper.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, it looks like both the Sonor Safari and Bop drumsets will be discontinued to make way for the new Smart Force series, so if you're in the market for one of these little gems, now would be the time to find one and get one. The Smart Force series which I presume is replacing this is a five-piece shell kit with an 18" bass drum, but it will cost approximately $100 more.
Following is my demonstration video of the Bop. And surprisingly, I'm not playing jazz here. I decided to do a drum cover of The Cars' Bye Bye Love. At least you'll see how the kit sounds in a rock context and it actually comes across as quite solid. After I did this video, I was seriously thinking maybe 18" bass drums really are for me. We'll see what the future holds in that department. Enjoy the music, and especially enjoy what a drummer really does when playing in a rock band!