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Medicine Man 5x13 Snare Drum

It’s always fun when I get the chance to try out a custom snare drum from a drum maker that hasn’t had a lot of market penetration. This is due in part, to the fact that lots of custom maker’s drums don’t find their way into local music stores where we can take them for a test spin.

I recently had the chance to spend some time with a Medicine Man 5x13 8 lug snare drum, and it is this drum that is the subject of this review.

About the drum: The drum tested is a natural finish 8 lug maple shell snare drum that was hand made by P.J. Clevenger, the Arizona drum maker that makes drums under the name Medicine Man Drums Arizona… This is not to be confused with Medicine Man Drums of Ohio, same company, different craftsman. This could be a bit confusing, but not to worry, he can explain it if you give him a call… there’s no funny business going on.


The drum I reviewed isn’t the top of the line model with expensive upgrades like expensive tension casings, die-cast hoops or Trick throw-offs… those are available for an additional charge. This drum is a simple, entry level, working class drum. I suppose it’s safe to call it “basic”. The tension casings are reminiscent of PDP, the throw-off is simple and inexpensive. The hoops are beefy, and solid and Clevenger makes no excuses for the fact that this is your basic Keller maple shell.

At first glance, the drum is simple. The finish is well done, and understated. It arrived with Attack heads and puresound snares. I’m not the biggest fan of Attack heads, and rather than wasting the brand new head on a test spin, I opted to remove and retro-fit my own head; an Evans G1 single ply coated. I would live with the snare head as it was.

I placed the drum on a stand, away from my kit and my first impression of the drum was a good one, because it literally fell into tune. The tension rods turned smoothly, in spite of the fact that they had a simple metal washer instead of premium upgraded nylon ones that are pretty common on high-end drums. It was quite easy to get the tuning even with no weird overtones. This was a great sign that good things were to come. I gave the drum a hearty rim-shot and it really BARKED. I gave it some open rolls and it purred out a gorgeous tone. I crushed the rolls and pressed them in tight… very clean and articulate.

I decided to crank some tension into the drum… the “pop” was what you would expect from a 10” popcorn drum. I then tuned it down low, loose and fat. The volume dropped off a bit, but the drum spoke in a big fat tone that sounded more like a 6 ½ x 14 than a 5 x 13. The tuning range on the drum is impressively wide. It won’t go as low as an 8x14, but heck, this drum is technically a piccolo drum, it has no need to be a heavy metal artillery shell!

So how does it sound with a kit? I set it up with my Trick kit, and it was well able to keep up with the big guns. The volume was ample, and the tone worked well with my kit; very impressive. The drum is an ungainly little spud, it looks pretty generic and plain, but with a kit, it takes command of the situation and does a remarkable job. My next stop was to try the drum on my Gretsch bebop kit. This is a vintage 18” kick with a 12” rack tom and 14” floor tom. These drums are tone monsters and I was pretty much convinced that the Medicine Man drum would stick out like a sore thumb, but I had to give it a try, just to satisfy my curiosity. At first, the drum didn’t really blend well with the Gretsch kit, but some very minor tuning adjustments were made and the drum fit right in. Because the drum is very articulate, it was able to catch every nuance… ghosting… subtle accents… the whole works. This drum has a lot of tricks up its sleeves!

Needless to say, I’m impressed. The drum looks pretty simple, in fact it looks like it is nothing special. What makes this drum so special? I know what you’re thinking… It’s a Keller shell with generic hardware… who cares? Well… here’s the deal; I was shocked at how good the drum sounded, and I needed to see for myself what made this drum tick… so I took off the heads, and I examined the construction of it.

You have probably read in many magazines and forums that the bearing edge is important. That’s certainly true. If a bearing edge is not dead level, the drum will have issues tuning. If the heads are not parallel, the drum will never sound quite right. Personally, I have had drums with bad bearing edges in the past and the only solution is to have them re-cut, and that’s an expensive proposition because the folks with the correct tools and the right know-how are pretty hard to find, AND it’s an art that needs to be mastered before you should try it on a fine instrument.

So how good IS the bearing edge on the Medicine Man drum? Well readers, the bearing edge is absolutely flawless! It is really clear to me, that while Clevenger cut nearly every corner possible in the construction of this drum, he didn’t skimp when it came time to cut the dual 45 degree bearing edges and the snare bed. I have owned drums that cost four times what this drum costs with bearing edges that were not even close to as perfect as the edges on this drum. To be concise: The bearing edge on this drum is as good, or better than virtually every production drum I have ever played, including DW collectors series and Sonor top of the line drums. This is the single most important area of drum construction, and the drum is perfect in that regard.

No need to explain further… Clevenger makes a fine drum. I compared it to a wide array of drums including a vintage Black beauty, Timeless Timber, Trick, Sonor de-lite and Gretsch. The drum keeps up with all of them, for a fraction of the price!

So how much is the drum? P.J. simply states “around $300.00”.

If you’re looking for a drum in the price range of $300.00 or more… make sure you give one of these drums a try. If you’re looking to spend less, consider spending a few more dollars to get a drum that I feel is a really great value. You could buy a whole lot less drum for a whole lot more money!

For more information on Medicine Man Drums, visit their website at : http://www.medicinemandrumsaz.com/

Review ©2007 Mike Morgan, all rights reserved. Please Note, due to server issues, the photos that were originally in this review have vanished. We're working on getting them replaced, sorry about that!

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

Hunter S. Thompson

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