Session legend and go-to touring drummer for a wide range of stellar bands and musicians, Keith Carlock is proud to confirm the issue of his Signature Snare Drum designed and manufactured by Gretsch. Keith talks to Andy Hughes about the background to the new snare, and his thoughts on having his name on it.
How did the idea of a Signature Snare come about?
I attended a Gretsch event a few years ago, and I was chatting with Andrew Shreve who is their Artist Relations guy, and we talked about a Signature Snare Drum. The conversations carried on over a period of time, and eventually we progressed to design and production.
You must have played a large number of different snares made by different companies over the years, did that experience lead you to think that if you had a chance, you’d maybe change this part, or amend that part?
It did, yes, I’m pretty sure all pro drummers have their ideas for what they’d have if they could have a say in the design of a snare drum. I started out with the idea that I wanted a brass shell for the snare. I have played all different shells over the years, as you say, my career has given me the opportunity to try many kits and work out what suits me personally as a player. I have come to the conclusion that a brass shell is my favourite.
What other specific aspects did you discuss with the designers at Gretsch?
For the size of the snare, I specified a five-and-a-half-inch which is right in the middle of the range, and in my view, that gives the maximum level of versatility in the sonic boundaries of the snare sound. This drum sounds great in all tunings and pitches, with or without muffling, it has a really great middle range tone. I also wanted it to look like it was vintage, like it had been around a while, because for me that visual image suits the music that I play, because I play a lot of music that is rooted in the 1970’s era. I wanted the drum to look like it had lived a while.
We also discussed the shell thickness, I have a 2mm thin shell, and the bearing edge is at forty-five degrees. I also asked for twenty-strand snare wires, I prefer them to the thicker forty-two-strand wires. I also changed the lugs on the prototype – they offered me a smaller lug design which they do, but I prefer the standard lug size, so they changed those for me, and the snare has a ten-lug rim.
You also have the Gretsch Permatone standard drum head as well.
I do, it’s the coated one-ply head. Gretsch fit Permatone heads as standard on all their kits, and obviously anyone who buys this snare can swap it out for something else if they prefer, but I find that the Permatone suits me, so I saw no reason to change.
It is obviously about getting that distinctive Keith Carlock sound.
Exactly. I am sure that all pro drummers dream of a snare that completely captures the essence of their sound, and now I have one. I am really interested to see what the feedback is when the drum is out in the stores and people can try it out.
Have you had a chance to give the snare a good try-out?
I have indeed. I have been doing a lot of sessions from home using the new snare, and I have enjoyed a chance to try it in all situations, all tunings and permutations, and I am delighted that it has performed really well right through.
How many of your Signature snares have you got?
I am sure people imagine I have boxes and boxes of them around the house, but I actually just have two. One is the very first prototype which had the mini-lugs, which we changed to the standard lugs, and they are on the second prototype which is the one I have been playing since I got it. The manufacture is in progress, and once they hit the shops, I may get another one or two as spares, but for now, I am delighted with the one that I have.
Is there one particular tuning that you favour, that feels like your personal comfort zone?
There is, all professional musicians like myself are used to finding the tones and tunings that fit the circumstances we are in at the time, but equally, we all have our own particular favourites that feel more comfortable than some others. For me, I like a medium to high range sound. When I play with Steely Dan for example, I like a good high tone that will crack through the overall band sound and be heard clearly by the band and the audience. We are a thirteen-piece band and we play on large stages, so lower end sounds would just get lost and swallowed up, so I favour a clear higher end tone to do the job.
I would guess that you are really keen to take your new snare out on the road on tour, and see how it performs in a live concert context?
Absolutely! That’s a great point. I live in Nashville, and I have been able to take my snare to some studio sessions around town, and every time I have set it up and played it, the producer or the engineer or the musicians, and sometimes all of them, have commented on how great it sounds. I have had a lot of compliments on the sound, and that’s without me mentioning that it is a Signature model, and these guys hear all different drum sounds all day long, so I am really pleased that it is being noticed. As you say, the real test will be when I can get it out into a live situation and see how it performs, and what people think of it then.
Have you got the taste for further Signature products?
Maybe down the road a little. I haven’t got anything in mind right now, I am keen to see how this goes down first, so this is enough for now!
As a professional musician, you learn your craft, and develop your career, and your reputation grows up around you, but does having a Signature Snare confirm your value and status as a musician?
Definitely it does, yes. It’s an honour coming from Gretsch which is a company I respect and admire. It feels like getting a really important award, it’s a real feather in the cap, and I really hope that people like this Signature Snare as much as I do. As I said earlier, I know that all pro players have the experience to know what their perfect snare drum would sound like, and I am privileged to be able to have exactly that designed and made for me. I am very grateful to the Gretsch company and everyone involved in making this Signature snare, and I hope plenty of people get as much pleasure and enjoyment from playing it that I do.