Sonor SQ2: birch or maple? Shell thickness? Seriously need advice!

jmcleanmoffat

Junior Member
Hello everybody! Long post here, but thank you so much for your time.

I am planning on ordering a Sonor SQ2 kit this summer, and I'm so excited! In regards to which styles will be played on this kit... well I know everyone says "I play everything," but seriously. I could list tons of drummers who I often try to emulate. For efficiency's sake let's just name Buddy Rich, Jojo Mayer, Jimmy Chamberlain, John Bonham, Benny Greb, Antonio Sanchez, Steve Gadd, Bernard Purdie, Dave Weckl, Elvin Jones, Mark Guiliana (just to name a few!). It's also important to add is that this kit will be used for both higher-end venues and studio recording, but mostly studio recording.

I've decided on the following: maple or birch shells, semi-gloss natural veneer, 16x22" kick, 14x16" floor, 8x13" and 8x10" rack toms, 6x14" snare. But... maple or birch? And just as important, what thickness? Which is more versatile for toms: vintage thickness or thin thickness? Kick drum: medium or heavy? If anybody would say I should go a different route for either, let me know your thoughts! Also, I can't figure out: do the vintage shells have a roundover bearing edge? Or sharp 45 degree like the rest?

As far as tone, I am really going for a sound that can get in-between more old-school 60's/70's sounds and modern sounds (I tend to lean towards vintage tone but I need to be able to pull off both). Meaning I want to be able to smack into them when needed for heavy chops and modern grooves, but I very much want to be able to open them up with a vintage vibe and more vintage grooves and sounds (jazz, classic rock, early funk, etc). To summarize, I'm looking for a medium attack with strong presence, warmer or softer mids and full (but not muddy) low end from all my drums. I think birch will be the way to go? Beechwood is just a little too round sounding for me and, in my experience, maple is a little too boomy and not very snappy.

To my understanding, if a flat eq curve equals " | " then:
beech equals " ( "
maple equals " ) "
birch equals " } "

I'm basically looking for an almost maple-y sound but slightly less boomy and slightly snappier. I'm really leaning towards birch (also my other possible choice was a Yamaha RC but I've got my heart set on the SQ2 now). I need to cover a wide tuning-range from big and punchy (Bonham) to tight and boppy (Jones). I'll usually be playing the kick with slight damping, sometimes wide-open, very rarely choked. I understand how much head choice and tuning has so much to do with overall tone but shell thickness is probably as important as wood choice or head choice!

I welcome opinions from anybody who considers themselves knowledgable about Sonor drums in general, and anybody who understands shell thickness and wood choice. I am also particularly interested in hearing from those who own SQ2 kits. Thank you guys so much for your time!
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
in my experience, maple is a little too boomy and not very snappy.
You're placing too much emphasis on the wood species influence element of your experience. Drum timbre & overall characteristics comprise of the totality of elements, & when appropriately aligned, deliver a distinctive result. From your description of required characteristics, & of the options you've presented, I'd shoot for thin shell maple with a medium weight shell for the bass drum. That said, there's a world of options out there beyond your self imposed restraints, & many of them arguably more characterful within your price range.

Ultimately, Sonor make very good drums, & a light - medium weight maple is rarely a poor choice.
 

jmcleanmoffat

Junior Member
Thanks for your advice on the thin tom, medium kick maple shells, that is definitely in the running along with the birch! I didn't mention my price range, but I suppose you can guess it since I'm stating my intent to buy a Sonor SQ2. I am aware of the other brands out there and have hands-on experience playing Ludwig, Yamaha, Tama and Pearl. Limited experience playing Gretsch drums and a handful of other brands here and there.

Could you be more specific as to what you mean by "Drum timbre & overall characteristics comprise of the totality of elements, & when appropriately aligned, deliver a distinctive result?" I was under the impression that the timbre of the drum was influenced by said characteristics, such as wood choice, shell thickness, head choice, tuning, etc. Or is that essentially what you're saying, which is that wood choice isn't too important? I have listened to YouTube clips of Sonor's thin maple shells and they sound great (some SQ2's, Prolites, etc.) but they have a softer tone that doesn't quite hit like the sound I'm hearing in my head. Do you think think thin maple shells can "snap" as well as birch shells?

Also "That said, there's a world of options out there beyond your self imposed restraints, & many of them arguably more characterful within your price range" - I am definitely open to hear suggestions! I wouldn't call my preferences "self-imposed restraints" as much as my personal opinion based on extensive research (not facts). But i know what you're saying, that I obviously have ruled out some options because they don't fit my parameters that I've listed. Obviously I admit, I am not an expert! And I don't live near a store with any Sonor kits, which is why I'm glad I can get feedback from you and hopefully other good folks on this forum. Care to elaborate any further? Thank you!
 

jmcleanmoffat

Junior Member
Also, I have to admit I like the more controlled tone of birch on a kick, as opposed to toms where maybe the maple shells make more sense. Anybody have experience with birch kick and maple toms? And if birch for the kick, would you still recommend a medium shell?
 

WallyY

Platinum Member
I don't know where PNW is, but is it far and away from a place that might have some sets for you to try?
More than a couple hours away?
For those types of decision it might even be a good idea to take a weekend and go to the shop where you will be ordering them and try what they have.

It's hard to go wrong with a well made set but with all the different depths and woods you want to be sure of your specifics, at least to offset any buyers remorse that might creep into your head.

I've been playing what essentially amounts to deeper depth medium birch for many years.
I like the way it responds at very light playing, but I wish it had more articulation in the larger sizes. The overtones are a much more acquired taste with birch. New SQs will be much more tame from the isolations but those influences are still evident.

Sounds recorded will not give you the best idea of what you want. Mics lie.
If you'll be playing them a lot you want what will sound responsive to your ears while you're playing so you can create the ideas you have without too much mental interpretation of the sounds.
 

jmcleanmoffat

Junior Member
Thanks everybody so far - having diecast rims on the toms may be a good way to go, depending on the overtones. Wally Young, how are the overtones an acquired taste with birch? How would you describe them? I've always thought they sounded a little more controlled and less ringy or boomy than maple, but maybe I'm wrong? And maybe the shell thickness determines that more than the wood. Do you think that the loss of articulation on the larger sizes is due to the birch wood, or due to the deeper depths? Typically I'd think that the deeper the drum, the less articulate but the more loud or booming it'd be.

Mics do lie - I'm a producer (and the one making the lies!) so I'm aware of the discrepancies, but I like to start with a naturally solid drum tone instead of messing with it too much post production. I agree with you about "you want what will sound responsive to your ears while you're playing so you can create the ideas you have without too much mental interpretation of the sounds." That is exactly what I'm going for. I just need to make a decision on the details! And sadly I've been to the Sonor dealers near me and all they have are a Martini and a Player's Kit, which are nice but not the same. PNW = Pacific Northwest.
 

WallyY

Platinum Member
The articulation is less, or maybe slower with the deeper drums but it's also a little less because of the slightly attenuated midrange of birch. Probably the combination compounds the effects.

On listening to only the SQ2 medium maple, medium birch and medium beech together, birch has overtones going further into the depth of the tone. It's a very subtle difference but birch has a flappier sound compared to the maple which has a cleaner fundamental.

You have to hit them hard and soft to understand the differences. That's why getting your hands on them is the best way to choose.
 

Wave Deckel

Gold Member
To be honest: I have the impression that a SQ2 is definitely not the right thing for you right now. The SQ2 is an option for those drummers who know EXACTLY what they need and cannot get with any other drum-series out there.

But you actually don't know what you want. Way too many open questions.

You should check the market again and try different drumsets first. Better yet: let someone else play the drums and listen to them (with closed eyes). Listen to a vintage drumset, an old Gretsch or Ludwig. And compare that to some high-end Gretsch or Tama or Pearl or ... and then make up your mind: What did you like with each drumset, what didn't you like? Was it the hoops? the thicker/thinner shells? Maple/birch/whatever? Check which drumset gets the closest to your "ideal design" and then use this as a template and improve it accordingly when ordering a SQ2. Everyting else is IMHO complete nonsense.

And: Every type of music CAN be played with ANY woodshell-combination. Be it live or in studio. You can play jazz on an Oak drumset, you can play Hardrock with a poplarwood drumset. The drumset itself is not as important as the drummer who knows how to use the material in a proper way.

Wally Young said:
It's a very subtle difference but birch has a flappier sound compared to the maple which has a cleaner fundamental.
*cough! cough!* Where did you read that?..... Beg your pardon, but birch is tremendously popular among studio-drummers since decades because it is VERY precise and easy to record. (= kind of a pre-EQ'd sound that sound engineers always talk about) Check e.g. the story behind the legendary Recording Customs.

jmcleanmoffat said:
Typically I'd think that the deeper the drum, the less articulate but the more loud or booming it'd be.
That's correct. But loudness also has to do with shell-thickness.
 
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GetAgrippa

Platinum Member
A friend of mine has a Sonor SQ2 beech drum kit that is sweet. Just thought I'd complicate your choice with a new wood choice.
 

zenghost

Senior Member
Plenty of good advice here.

Before I ordered an SQ2 kit, I drove 5.5 hours (one-way) to a shop that had numerous kits/shell types available for audition. Otherwise, it's an expensive mistake to make. I ended up with medium beech and would not change a thing.

Medium shells are usually a middle-of-the-road safe bet at 6mm. Thin shells come in at 5mm (heavy is 8mm) - Vintage shell is 4mm + 2mm re-ring (6mm + 2mm re-ring for bass drums).

The ProLites use the vintage shell design.

The Vintage shell design is not the same as the Vintage Series of drums. Different shells and bearing edges. The Vintage Series has the round-over bearing edge on a straight shell as far as I can recall. All SQ2 (regardless of shell type) are 45 deg edges last time I checked.

The most sensible advice is to audition these drums if possible and to not obsess so much over the choice of wood. In my opinion, head selection and tuning ability on a decent drum shell go a long way in easily giving you plenty of versatility.
 

WallyY

Platinum Member
*cough! cough!* Where did you read that?..... Beg your pardon, but birch is tremendously popular among studio-drummers since decades because it is VERY precise and easy to record. (= kind of a pre-EQ'd sound that sound engineers always talk about) Check e.g. the story behind the legendary Recording Customs.
That is incorrect.
The naturally muffled tone of Recording Customs have less to do with the wood than the edges and heavy lugs.

Birch is easy to record because of the controlled sustain after the transient fundamental. Not because of the overtones.
 

Wave Deckel

Gold Member
Birch is the preferred recording wood because birch will give you a touch more bottom and top end than maple straight out of the box. It simply requires less EQ'ing from the type of sound it gives in the studio (that is/was especially true of the RC). With Maple you have to adjust the EQ'ing a lot more. That's what sound engineers keep telling me. All of those that I know, prefer birch over maple in studio. On stage, it's a completely different story.
 

jmcleanmoffat

Junior Member
Man, you guys are awesome and the advice I'm getting is great! I really appreciate all your input here. I wanted to address a couple comments about how maybe SQ2 isn't the best option for me. Also though I am open to suggestions, I have enough experience with DW, Tama, Pearl, Yamaha and other brands to know they aren't the kits for me (even the RC, which is beautiful but not as versatile in tone as I like - in MY experience - just opinion!).

I actually started this quest with some other sets in mind. There was a certain thing I didn't like in so many kits that I couldn't put my finger on it first, but I realized after hearing the Sonor Prolites that it was a subtle but undesirable sound in the high-mids that I could hear in every recording/video of those kits (as well as many others I ruled out), but NOT the Prolites. As I said, I'm a producer as well as a drummer, so these things bother me personally more than they might bother someone else. As I listened to more recordings of Sonor kits online I found that throughout the different sizes and types they all had an integrity to the low-mids and a control to the high-mids that sounded so good. I am a mixing engineer so I know when I'm hearing eq, compression, etc, and I can tell what is the drum and what is the production! I've heard lots of Sonor maple and beech kits on youtube and only a couple videos of Birch kits... but every one of them with thick, dampened clear heads on them, which in my mind takes away so much of the tone of the drums. Anyway...

So I was seriously considering the Prolite kit (which is still in the running, especially after many people are recommending thinner maple shells for the SQ2). However, I know what sizes I want, and the 8x13 tom and 16x22 kick aren't options on the Prolites. I also have generally enjoyed birch kits, as I said I personally feel they're less boomy than maple, which I'm learning from everybody may have more to do with the shell thickness and other factors. This is why I'm asking these questions, because I won't be making any rash purchases! As I mentioned earlier, I have looked around and unfortunately Sonor dealers within 5 hours of me in every direction don't have any Prolites or SQ2s, only the "special edition" low-level kits. They are great entry-level kits but I am not an entry level drummer nor am I working with an entry-level budget.

I need something versatile and something I will have for keeps, not another mid-grade kit. I figure if I can narrow down the options exactly I will purchase an SQ2 - hence me asking here about the only options I am undecided on - birch or maple, and medium or thin/vintage shell thickness. So far it sounds like most people are leaning towards thinner maple shells, which I understand are the trend right now and rightly so, they seem to sound fantastic. But if I end up deciding thin/vintage maple, I may go with the Prolites. If I lean towards birch medium/thin shells I'll likely be going SQ2. Either way I'm really into 16x22 kick and 8x13 second tom, and that won't happen unless custom ordered :/

Again, if you have other brands that I'm not considering, let me know! I have listened extensively to Gretsch, Ludwig, DW, George H. Way, Yamaha, Tama, Pearl, Sakae, Canopus, and a handful of others. SO FAR, the kits that sound the best all-around are high-end Sonors.
 

Artstar

Platinum Member
So I was seriously considering the Prolite kit .
Hi Jmclean. The SQ2's I've noticed that owners really rave about and DON'T sell are the medium shells in beech and maple and a few birch. And then the THIN shells IN BIRCH.

Not too many guys go nuts over the vintage SQ2 shell with rings that is like the ProLite, just fyi. There is a guy on this site who returned a kit like that. He kept his other medium and heavy shelled kits the longest.

The thin birch is a real gem from what I have read, especially the S-Classix owners who just go on and on about their kits.

Here is a THIN BIRCH.. mic'd obviously..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EStvq1sLBqs
 

jmcleanmoffat

Junior Member
Artstar, thanks for that link. That was actually the best video I've seen so far on birch Sonor kits, specifically because they were similar sizes to what I am thinking of and - yes, certainly eq'd and processed slightly, of which I can discern from the true drum sounds - they sound exactly like what I expected them to sound like, although still with those damn clear heads though! Also now that I'm aware of the S-Classix - sadly discontinued it seems - I have more reference for Sonor birch shells now.

I'm curious also: Sonor states that if you want a loud, full, mellow tone you should go medium or heavy - if you want more brilliance or flexibility in sound then go thin or vintage. I always thought the thinner the shell, the lower the pitch. I guess "full" is a pretty subjective word in terms of sound, but does anybody know specifically what they mean by that? Is it just "bassier" with the medium/heavy shells but pitched higher?

I'm pretty into what I'm hearing with the S-CLassix and they are making me lean towards the thin birch shell SQ2. However at lower tunings they DO sound a bit... thin? And I don't mean lacking in mids, I know the general mid frequencies are more subdued for birch. Artstar mentioned lots of medium shell owners of all wood types often rave about (and keep) their kits. Any medium-shell Sonor owners out there with any input? Again, everyone on here has been super helpful and I value all of your input greatly!
 

Artstar

Platinum Member
Drummerworld member "Smatch" (owned for years) and then Zenghost currently owns the medium shell , and also Hazelwood7 has a few of the medium shelled kits.

You are primarily recording and some mic'd venues ?? I don't see how you could go wrong with THIN BIRCH toms and MEDIUM BIRCH or MAPLE or BEECH kick.
 

WallyY

Platinum Member
Jeremy Bender plays the Birch Infinite which is medium birch similar to the SQ2 without the gaskets.

I play the first drums Sonor made from birch, the Sonorlites which are medium birch — old school.

Someone else who plays the medium shells will come along in due time for a comment.

Another thought – since the SQ2s are so custom and also so expensive, have you thought about having a set custom made to the parameters that you would want? Guru, (Keep it simple) make custom drums that are extremely well regarded by the people here who own them. They consult and will make a set of the highest quality, catering to the sound you seek and it would be hand-made to exacting standards.
 
This is a post I did on the sonor museum. I hope you find it helpful

A Guide to Demystifying the different SQ2 Shell Thickness and Wood Choices

This is based on me playing a number of sq2 kits and over the years and yes some educated guesses. I am lucky to have a drum shop near me in Dales that stocks so many German Sonor kits. This gives me an opportunity to play and listen to the different Sonor offerings. I get a lot of PM’s and I try to help people trough the SQ2 ordering process. I hope this post helps to demystify the process in what the different SQ2 woods and shell thickness offer.

I was at Dales yesterday and I was able to really A/B different woods and shell thickness. I had access to 12x8 tom in vintage beech and vintage maple and medium beech and medium maple. I have heard heavy beech and owned a kit. I have heard thin birch and medium birch. Here’s what I can say. It first and foremost has to do what shell thickness you are going after that makes the biggest difference in sound. Each shell thickness has a distinct characteristic of sound. The wood type is secondary and adds a color to each level of shell thickness. When we tuned a beech medium and maple medium to the same pitch with the same heads and both were 12x8 toms, the difference in sound was very small. All Sonor drums have that Sonor sound. Which is a focused pure sound. It’s in the unique way they make the shells. Yes each drum sounded slightly different because of the wood and there were you could say that beech accents certain frequencies vs. maple but they were very close. The difference come into play more when you have a whole kit in front of you but the main point is shell thickness is the biggest influence of the sound.

So in order of importance to get your desired sound.

1. Shell Thickness (far and away the biggest determination of sound)
2. Wood type
3. Sizes and dimensions of the drums

Shell Thickness

Vintage Shells-Buttery Fat, round, have initial attack due to re-rings then resonance trails off. Can be thin sounding. Sound dynamics cut out at a certain point with a definite sound ceiling . When struck lightly the drum has a vintage sound that reminds you of drums made in the 60's. When you lay into them they have a more modern tone but again the sound ceiling will only take you so far. Add different wood types for different color of sound. Since it’s the thinnest thickness, it will have the lowest pitch (low-end) compared to the thicker shells.

Thin Shells- Open, resonate, woody, thinner sounding drums. Does not have the meat of the medium shells or the fatness of the vintage shell. Sound dynamics cut out at a certain point but up to that point the tone is even from soft till it hits the sound ceiling. Add different wood types for different color. Since it’s a thin shell, it will have the lower pitch compared to the thicker shells.


Medium Shells- Open, resonate, more focused sounding and with a fuller sound. Many folks see these as the most versatile shell that Sonor makes because it can be played softly like a feather or it has a lot of power when you lay into them. These shells don’t have the light rounder tone of the thinner shells drums. They are consistent in tone from the playing them softly to max volume. Since it’s a medium shell, it will have the lower pitch compared to the thicker shells but higher pitch compare to the thinner shells.


Thick Shells- the most focused, biggest attack, fullest sounding drum with ultimate power and projection. Ok so I have heard heavy beech and heavy maple and I talk to folks who had heavy birch. Maple and birch seem to get compressed at this depth while beech doesn’t seem to have this issue. So I mean that for maple and birch it’s like firing a gun when hitting the drum. They have limited dynamics but have amazing power and projection. The beech has more dynamics in this shell thickness and I can see why people like Steve Smith choose the heavy beech shell. The bass drums have a lot of attack and power and sacrifice roundness but will cut through anything you throw at it. Since it’s the thickest shell, it will be the highest pitch shell compared to the other shell types

Wood Type

(Credit goes to jackplaysdrums for this write up from the sq2 brochure)

(Grading out of 10, 1 weak/10 strong)

Maple - Offers mellow, warm and very balanced full tone providing low frequency punch and a mixed balance of mids and highs. (Highs-5, Mids-5, Lows-10

Birch - Aggressive distinct tone with tremendous projection. Providing Low and High-end clarity with a smooth balanced mid-range. (Highs-10, Mids-5, Lows-10)

Beech - Offers a full, warm tone with evenly balanced highs, mids and lows. Tremendous projection, tone and dynamics. (Highs-7.5, Mids-7.5, Lows-7.5)


Wood Type trails shell thickness in difference of sound factor. Although I would give birch more distinctive sound qualities over beech and maple. Beech is like taking the best qualities of maple and birch and you put them together and you have beech.

Maple has the most resonance. Maple may have the edge on beech on warmth but they are both warm sounding woods and it is very close. Birch is more aggressive sounding.

I will say this as a tip. Medium or vintage shelled beech bass drums are just amazing sounding. They have the lows and the attack you want.

Sizes and Depths

I could spend all day on this but the drum tuning bible is the best FAQ there is on how sizes and depth effect sound. Here’s the link http://eric.frap.net/sa/bible/profsound.shtml


I hope this helps the folks who are thinking about ordering an SQ2 in the near future or have questions. Please feel free to comment on my thoughts.

Added from Hellcat
"I would also add that certain woods and thicknesses just don't go well together.

Obviously, this is completely subjective to taste, but I've found several wood and thickness combinations I didn't care for, while a different wood in that thickness sounds great to me. For instance, I'm not a fan of heavy maple, but heavy beech is amazing. Not a fan of thin beech, but thin birch sounds perfect to me."
Chris
 
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