“It is with great sadness that we have to announce that our dear friend Johnny Craviotto passed away on July 15th, 2016.
Johnny was, and always will be, the world’s finest drum craftsman. No one had his knowledge, his skill, and his passion for his craft. He created instruments of incredible sonic and visual beauty, and those instruments have graced stages, recording studios, and collections worldwide. His contribution to the world of drum building has been without equal. We are truly fortunate that as the heart and soul of the Craviotto Drum Company it was vitally important to Johnny to pass along his skills, honed over a lifetime, and his innovations in the art and craft of drum building to his trusted colleagues and protégés at Craviotto, so that the “Craviotto-way” could carry on for the next generation. This living art is his legacy, and we will continue with his vision. Please celebrate it with us.
The Craviotto Drum Family”
Johnny Craviotto has long been associated with snare drums. After a long period as a player, he got interested in vintage gear and the art of drum building. In the mid ‘80’s he formed the Select/Solid Snare Drum Company with Billy Gibson (Huey Lewis and the News) and started to build and specialise in one piece snare drums. In 1990, he formed Craviotto Percussion and through a mutual friend Jim Keltner, he was introduced to Don Lombardi from Drum Workshop. There started a long association with Johnny building the shell for all of DW’s one piece snares. These snares gained a great reputation but now Johnny has decided to go it alone and build drums under his own name (though he is still building the shells for DW, but they will be known as DW Solid Shells from now on).
For the moment, Craviotto will be building drums out of four woods – Birdseye Maple, Mahogany, Cherry and Ash – in two or three sizes per wood – 13×5.5” in Maple, Cherry and Ash, 14×5.5” in Maple Mahogany and Ash, 14×4” in Mahogany only, 14×6.5” in Cherry only and 12×5.5” in Maple only – and there will be only a maximum of 250 of each model.
So what makes a solid shell different? Well, most ‘normal’ drums are made up of thin plies of wood which are cut to exact size, coated in glue, put into a metal mould and pressed into shape. When cured, the shell is solid and strong and should be a great shell. However, there are many variants in this method; the glue used can affect the overall resonance of the shell, the plies might come from different trees, countries etc so may change the resonance, the plies may be badly cut so there are air gaps etc – you get the idea. However, this method of making shells is not bad (90% of all drums are made this way and we’d be the first to complain if it didn’t work), it’s just that you have to be careful. The way round most of the problems (and indeed how drums used to be made), is to make them out of a solid plank of wood that is bent round to form the shell. Instantly, you have only one layer of glue, no air gaps, and you are guaranteed that all the wood comes from the same tree.
But, and there is always a ‘but’, it’s not that easy. If you bend a piece of wood – and there are two methods, microwaving and steaming – it always wants to get back to being a piece of straight wood again. This is the reason that old Radio Kings sound the way they do; the shells have gone egg shaped over time as parts of the wood try and straighten up. To try and prevent the straightening, you need to bend the wood very thoroughly and slowly and also support the shell with a support ring. Now Johnny is something of an expert (if not THE expert) at this now, having build hundreds, if not thousands, of drums over the last 20 years, so you are pretty much guaranteed that the shell will be round and around for a long while yet.
The drum I got to try at the NAMM show was a 13×5.5” Ash shell that Johnny Craviotto had on his stand. One thing I should point out is that these really are the cream of the cream. Before, Johnny made the shell before they were handed over to someone else to make the drum complete with hardware etc, but with these drums, he has COMPLETE control from start to finish. I’m not saying that the DW Craviotto drums are inferior, just that these drums are completely hand made from start to finish by Johnny, so nothing gets missed – to all intents and purposes, these drums are almost perfect.
|Ash is a hard and strong wood with great grain patterns. The steam bent shell on this drum was beautifully made – now I know it’s a little strange to enjoy stroking shells of drums (ah, you know what I am on about…good), but you could just see the seam on this drum, but not feel it. The shell, which looks medium light wood, is treated with a hot wax finish so it actually oozes into the shell before cooling, but it still feels like wood, regardless of the protective coating. There is also an option of clear lacquer if you require.
The hardware on the drum is an area that Johnny has done something different to normal. Instead of chrome plating it all like most people do, this hardware is nickel plated, which to my eyes looks different and classy but not enough to divert attention. It is how most vintage drums were finished and it sort of adds to the whole ‘authentic’ new/retro feel of the drum. On this drum, we had steel triple flange hoops though zinc die cast and brass single flange hoops with claws are an option. The throw off is a Nickel Piston one though the butt end is made for Johnny out of brass and again, nickel plated. The tube lugs them selves are specially made and the mounting plates that go against the shell have a diamond shape that is part of the Craviotto look – the badge, butt end, two air holes and company logo all share it. The lugs are made of three parts, the end pieces fit over the tube section which has the threading inside it. This is a logical design that allows only the tube section to be changed for fitting onto different depth drums and allows only the tube to be replaced should you cross thread a tuning rod. Again, all three parts are brass, there are no cheap alloys here – everything is built to last.
After taking the top Remo Ambassador head off, you are met with the bearing edges. Johnny has gone for a 45 degree inner cut with a very small 30 degree counter cut. This allows more of the head to touch the shell compared to a 45/45 so more vibration is passed to the shell. The snare bed is shallow and wide, so it’s sensitive without the custom 21 strand Puresound wires needing to be over tightened. All drums come with a bag to protect it, but I would recommend a tough hard case to protect your investment.
As for the sound, it’s a classic one piece shell sound – crisp, dry, very full bodied at all volumes – your archetypal classic snare sound really. The thing with drums like this is it would be criminal to smack 2 and 4 as hard as you can on it (though rim shots do sound nice and woody). It needs to be played rather than hit and it just offers more than most conventional ply snares. However, I wouldn’t say it’s a snare for all seasons – personally I would pick a ply or metal snare for louder back beat material – but for recording with great microphones and gigs with a lower volume threshold, where the sound of the drum (not the impact) will be appreciated, nothing can beat one of these. In the UK these will be very comfortably over £1000, but its like a Aston Martin – it still gets you to the gig like your Ford Focus does but you can appreciate the workmanship, the comfort and the sheer quality of it. It may cost more, but it’s worth every penny.
Words: Simon Edgoose