August 31, 1999

The New Pearl Pipe Band Snare Drum

For the first time in years, pipe band drummers have a variety of well-crafted instruments from which to choose. The newest entry into the field is the Pearl FFX505N. Pearl is well established as a manufacturer of percussion instruments and lays claim to being the world’s number one drum maker in its on Web site ( My first impression of the new Pearl drum was favourable. The clean lines and fine detailing of the drum were impressive. The example I tested was in a very attractive green wood stain with a urethane finish and brushed aluminum rims and hardware. There are five standard colours available: white, red, black, blue, and green, and Pearl will provide custom colours on special order. The Pearl is in the same weight range as the other two contending pipe band snare drums currently on the market, albeit slightly heavier at 7.5 kg or 16.5 lbs. Overall, the Pearl FFX505N is a very attractive looking instrument. Pearl has paid very close attention to craftsmanship detail and the needs of the drum performer with the FFX505N. The precision of the snare system has been improved over what has been generally available in the past, and the tensioning system has been moved to one side and is well marked. Also of note was the finish on the bottom and top snares, which was clean and even, unlike the inconsistent products of the past that have contributed to many of my drum corps’s premature head tears and ruptures. Even the bottom snare guards are made larger to provide more effective protection when setting down the drum. Other details include nylon washers that prevent the loss of bolts as the rims are pulled off during those inevitable emergency head changes at Highland games. Even the tuning key has a small hole that allows a cord to be threaded through it. The one detail that was somewhat puzzling was the choice of sling hook attachment on the drum. The piece came disassembled and was awkward to affix to the drum. This was not typical of the workmanship that went into the rest of the drum. The angle created by the hook may well be too severe for some players. Most drummers, however, will base their purchase decision not on appearance, but on price, service, and sound quality. While the price of the Pearl FFX505N will vary depending on the prospective buyer’s location, it would appear to be the most expensive of the three new drums on the market. As for on-going service, it remains to be seen how committed Pearl will be to this product. On the Internet chat lines, for instance, some concerns have arisen about the availability of the Pearl logo batter heads. As for sound quality the volume produced by the drum was good and the pitch was bright. The head was responsive and enjoyable to play on. The snare sound was good and full at all volume levels. To my ear, however, the drum had a slightly plastic sound and did not seem to have the depth of tone or projection of our well-worn drums. The sound achieved with the test drum was somewhat reminiscent of our Remo and Legato drums in the 1980s, but with more projection. A competitor’s batter head was tried to see if it would alter the sound quality but the difference was insignificant. As we were only able to test the new Pearl on a solo basis, however, it is hard to know how it would sound within a full corps setting. The craftsmanship and appearance of the Pearl FFX505N are a step up in drum evolution. It does, however, have a different sound than what most drummers have heard over the past few years. Already three leading Grade One corps have switched to Pearl, but only time will tell whether this new sound will gain wider acceptance. — Dave Danskin is lead drummer of the Grade One Halifax Police Pipe Band of Halifax, Nova Scotia.




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