Isn't poplar a sub-par tone wood? If so, why does Gretsch use it?

PorkPieGuy

Platinum Member
I didn't want to rob another thread, but this is a question I've had. First, check this out:




I realize that are a huge variety of factors to consider when it comes to the way a drum sounds, e.g. heads, tuning, edges, depths, etc.

However, when it comes to the construction, I know that the amount of plies and the thickness of these plies plays a big part too. Here's the crux of my question - I thought that poplar was on the same level as basswood or luan (cheap mahogany) as far as sound and desirability, and can usually be found in lower-line drum sets. However, whenever I look at the construction of these upper-end Gretsch kits, I see that poplar is used. I realize that they may be inner plies and may not effect the sound as much (my assumption). Why do they use poplar? Isn't this a sub-par tone wood? Is there a different grade of poplar that Gretsch uses that I'm not aware of? Does this have more to do with tradition as opposed to sound quality? Are there people out there who actually prefer poplar as opposed to maple?

Thanks in advance! :)
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
As far as I know, poplar adds low end. Sub par tonewood? I can't say. I'm sure it's less expensive. But sound is more important than how inexpensive they got it in my book. The vintage maple/poplar/maple formula used in the vintage Luds are sought after shells.

FWIW, you are retroactively welcome :)
 

Tommy_D

Platinum Member
Well, poplar generally has a shorter note than that of maple or birch, and due to its soft nature poplar absorbs higher frequencies more than that of birch or maple as well. If that makes it sub-par, then I guess its sub-par. However, if you are designing a kit to have a mellow, vintage sound then adding poplar in the mix is a great choice.
 

MJD

Silver Member
I believe(and someone with more knowledge will correct me) that the construction of the drum will have a lot more to do with it than the wood species used. I've heard some horrible sounding drums made of maple and some fantastic sounding drums made from poplar and vice versa. I'm not saying that the wood will not make a difference but that if the drum is well designed and made it will sound good regardless of the wood being used. I wouldn't say any one of the commonly used woods for drums is automatically superior to the others, just different. I happen to really like the sound of luan mahogany drums.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I believe(and someone with more knowledge will correct me) that the construction of the drum will have a lot more to do with it than the wood species used. I've heard some horrible sounding drums made of maple and some fantastic sounding drums made from poplar and vice versa. I'm not saying that the wood will not make a difference but that if the drum is well designed and made it will sound good regardless of the wood being used. I wouldn't say any one of the commonly used woods for drums is automatically superior to the others, just different. I happen to really like the sound of luan mahogany drums.
Well, in one case, mine, I wanted a 16" floor tom for my PDP set. Initially, I got an all poplar PDP shell, rewrapped it, and used it for about a year. I never could get along with that drum, for whatever reason, it sounded not low enough for a 16" drum.

So I got a PDP maple shell, and transferred everything from the poplar drum to the maple drum, including the wrap.

Huge difference, the maple behaved normally.

Contrast that to my (soon to be retired) all poplar Sonor Players kit. Great sound. It's 14 sounded lower than the 16" PDP poplar.

So I'm stumped. The PDP poplar shell seemed round and true. But now I'm thinking it was a dud.

I guess out of all the drum shells made, there are bound to be some klunkers.
 

crispycritters

Senior Member
IMO its probably the fact that poplar is widely used for inexpensive starter sets encourages the belief that it must be sub par, I've heard poplar drums that sound good and I own a 6 ply poplar (20 year old?) Pearl Forum set that doesn't...

One drum company (C&C?) sell quality drums made of Luan, although they did go to some lengths to explain that not all Luan is equal and they use slow growing, denser, high quality Luan to make their drumsets which they claim is superior to the standard grade stuff used for starter sets.

Maybe poplar is a species that grows over a wide area and the wood sourced from cooler climates grows more slowly and is denser and more desireable for drum builders?
 

force3005

Silver Member
Hi PPGuy. Poplar has big low-end warmth and has smooth and even tone. Has soft highs and mid ranges. This information is based on good grade poplar.
 

opentune

Platinum Member
Neat chart. Even more interesting or maybe ironic is that the most expensive of their drums have 'gum' or 'gumwood' in them, not exactly exotic or elegant.
The workability of the wood is important for construction. Poplar is in the middle of the sandwich for that reason, and has been for 50+ years in some of these companies.
 
G

Ghostnote

Guest
Sub-par isn't the adjective that comes to mind when I think of the sound of my Legacy kit. Is strawberry sub-par to chocolate?
 

GetAgrippa

Platinum Member
Well there is maple and then "maple" as in N.A. rock maple-there is birch then " 100% Finnish birch" like Kumu drums. I'm sure poplar is the same since poplars include white, grey, and black poplars, balsam poplars, then related aspens and cottonwoods.
 

mpthomson

Senior Member
Some Sonor Performer kits of the mid/late 80s were poplar. They sound just like a professional quality drum kit, even though they were Sonor's cheaper line at the time. Fantastic drums and a bit of a bargain nowadays.

regards,

Mark
 

Woolwich

Silver Member
Up until the 60s (or possibly even later) the wood often described in catalogues and brochures was.....wood. The kits sounded great and nobody cared.
We now have a combination of marketing to hype objects , and a microscope to put those objects under to praise them or pull them apart. I used to think that birch was inferior to maple based on the fact that the Sonor Force 3003 birch kits were cheaper than the Force 3005 maple kits. But further investigation showed other differences like 8 lug instead of 10 lug bass drums, rubber grommets below the lugs of the maple kits but missing on the birch, high gloss lacquer finishes on the maple kits but flat wax finished on the birch. So actually birch per se was no cheaper, but in this case Sonor had "created" a hierarchy to market their kits that left me with that impression. And I'm not blaming Sonor, I think there's still a general perception that maple is "best" and birch is "second best" amongst the less informed drum buying public. I believe that the wood in a kit is akin to the beans inside of a tin of beans or the ketchup in a ketchup bottle. Most of the cost of getting those food products to us is in the manufacturing, canning/bottling, transportation, storage etc. and the actual bit that we want to eat and that we are paying for is,if not the smallest part of the equation, then not the largest part either.
On a controversial note I also find it unusual that on a continent as large as Asia they don't seem to have one single wood species superior or equal to the woods found in Europe or North America either for drum or guitar building. Is this actually the case because it might be? Or do manufacturers just give us any old rubbish in a Far Eastern made musical instrument? Or is it possible that there's a teeny weeny bit of marketing going on to differentiate home grown American and European kits from those made in China?
 

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
I have made many picture frames with poplar. And I recently bought some faux barn board poplar from Home Depot to play with and I will tell you there is poplar and there is poplar. The faux barn board was very soft compared to the better grade I use for framing.
 
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