Are mahogany/poplar shells versatile?


Junior Member
Hi all - I'm interested in the opinions of those of you who own a mahogany/poplar kit regarding versatility. I've never owned one or played one, but really like the sounds I hear on youtube videos. Are those shells all purpose? I've heard from people that they're a one trick pony, but not sure as to why. For your info I play pop to hard rock from the 80s. Would it work in those cases? Why or why not?

Thanks so much for the input as there is a lot of great knowledge here!!!

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Well, pop and rock are kinda one-trick pony genres so those shells will work. But really, if you can tune and play, you can use anything. Besides, once you start miking the drums up, no one but you will know what the shells are made out of.


Platinum Member
I will ask what mahogany/poplar shell are you referring to?

If you're talking about 60's era 3 ply (or 5 ply) w/reinforcement ring shell .... I'd say no. Think Ludwig, Rodgers, Slingerland. Once you get past '76-'78 ..... the straight shell became the norm. And a switch from mahogany to maple had also occurred, among the US makers.

But if you're referring to one of the many straight (no reinforcement ring) asian made philippine mahogany/poplar shells (like Pearl Export), you're good to go.
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Gold Member
Op, I recall from another post that you currently have a DW collectors maple/spruce and you were/are considering another DW set with mixed woods? To my ears, the DW mixed woods all sound like close cousins...not worlds apart from one another, so I’d find em equally versatile in terms of sound.

I think versatility depends on how you’re playing em. A gigging drummer might find versatility in smaller, easy to move sizes. For recording, flexible tuning range and ease of tuning might be the key. What’s versatility for you?

For me, versatility is keeping it simple. Sizes that offer flexible tuning range, great sound, great hardware. I wouldn’t worry about the wood if I like the sound and hardware.

Are you within distance of any shops to try different drums in person? Hands on is always the best way to figure out it you like something.


"Uncle Larry"
You can't assign a human quality to a drum. Versatility belongs only to living things.

Sounds aren't versatile, they are what they are. It's the human that adds the versatility, always. If a drum was truly versatile, it could play itself, just like I can beat on my chest. So try as we might, drums cannot be considered versatile. The player possesses ALL the versatility, period. Drums can only be judged on their sound, which is either pleasing or not. A pleasing sound or a not pleasing sound...can't change the style of music. Any musical instrument, by it's nature...since it's not alive, can't be versatile. It will sit in the corner forever without making a sound until it disintegrates or someone plays it. So any drum can be used for any style of music, just like a piano. Who buys a piano with versatility as a requirement?

If you like the sound and look of the drum, that's all you have to go on, really. Forget thinking that a drum can be versatile. A drum is as versatile as a blank sheet of paper.
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Platinum Member
I'm sure there are nuances of contribution from wood make of drum like aging whisky in oak or maple gives different "flavors", but I think simple physics dominates it and in quality of that build in that regard-so true to roundness, shell thickness, diameter and depth influences, mass of hardware, type of heads. All the different layers-except maybe the most inside layer (that sound waves will bounce) makes little sense to me since the whole mass vibrates and not contribution from differences in layers?? Seems gimmicky. Seems like the bottom line would be how does the shell respond to sound waves as a whole with all factors considered so regardless of wood if a crappy build it's going to sound crappy-and I've heard plenty of drums made of "lesser" luan or poplar that sound fantastic-heck fiberglass drums sound great. W


Staff member
If you seek versatility, have only one snare drum. If you want more than one snare drum, seek individuality.
To me wood choice appears to be the least relevant aspect compared to shell thickness, bearing edge profile, shell sizes, heads, hoop choice, lug mass, you name it. You could as well ask "does a yellow kit make a versatile drum sound", there wouldn't be much of a difference.

Any kit will provide a 80ties rock drum sound as long as you pick the right sizes (not too small, not too shallow), use pinstripes and play as they did in the 80ties.
To be even more realistic, pick some old Recording Customs, that's what it was all about back in the days.

Rattlin' Bones

Gold Member
+1 on shell thickness, bearing edges, sizes, heads, and rims. All being the same, I can play a maple drum or maple/mahogany drum more quietly. I notice it more with snare. If I want a hip hop or loud cracking snare I go with birch. Quieter I go maple or maple mahogany. Rerings are a plus for me and the sound I like. If I want dry and recordable I go aluminum like an Acrolite.


Platinum Member
Are those shells all purpose? I've heard from people that they're a one trick pony, but not sure as to why. For your info I play pop to hard rock from the 80s. Would it work in those cases? Why or why not?
The design of the shell has far more influence over versatility than the composition. Attributes like mass, shell thickness, edge cut, reinforcement rings, and hardware are far more consequential than the coloration added by the wood. A simple way to determine the instrument's versatility is to test whether it generates pleasing tones when played both soft and hard.

One of the issues that the Mahogany kits face is that there is a preconceived notion of what they sound like due to its widespread use in vintage kits. IE: Almost everyone assumes that a MPM kit is going to sound like a Club Date, which is reinforced by the numerous Club Date inspired kits available from other manufacturers.

I'd suggest you start thinking of the wood species as a spice. A cheeseburger is going to be a cheeseburger, regardless of whether it is seasoned with garlic, paprika, saffron, etc. The type of bun, condiments, style of cooking (flat vs. grill), etc are the major differentiators.
I have 2 8" toms (concert tom and closed tom). One is a Poplar Tama and the other a maple DW Design series. If I take the bottom head off the closed tom and tune them the same .... they send the same. Not sure the wood type matters all that much as long as the shell is well constructed with a good and similar bearing edge and head. A wood shell sounds line a wood shell. Just my experience anyway.