So why haven’t you bought a Seamus O’Kane?

Ok, the title is a bit misleading, however how many of you have run across the conversation with another drummer or player that has sounded like:  “Oh you have to buy a [pick a random bodhran maker] drum?  They’re the best!  You have to get one!”?  Seriously, how many times have you had a conversation where the goal was to turn you towards another maker, or maybe in the negative, turn you away from a particular maker?

It comes and goes.  I’ve had this a few times, and more and more in the last few months.  The big names that I keep being asked about by folks who harbour questions about the kit I use is “should I get a Seamus O’Kane or a DOK drum?”.  Actually let me list the most popular drums references in my conversation with others that are in question here, and let me give you the most popular chat topics about them and generally why I don’t have or why I want one in the future.:

SEAMUS O’KANE:  Easily the most talked about when I chat with folks.  He’s a big name in the bodhran world and for damn good reason.  His drums are sound, refined and have a history that few other makers and models can equalize.  SOKs are the first modern styled drums out there that have become arguably the most popular type of bodhran.  I find a lot of people will focus on SOK’s work because it pops-up in conversation most often, and is a popular choice among players.  Secondly, SOK drums [to me at least] get referenced the most with regards to me by some of the most well-known players.  “Should I buy one” or “why don’t you have one” are the most popular topics.  Thing is, I do enjoy a SOK drum, however in my life I made long distance friends with folks of opportunity and have had to try and compare models of SOK against other makers.  Again, it’s not about one being better or worse, but for me it must feel like it suits my playing style.  Since I have my own way about I can imitate a number of makers who use SOK drums, John Joe Kelly, Mossie  Griffin, and Dom Keogh, however my efforts in playing with them are mixed.  While I enjoy the sounds I’ve never found one that suited my ear.  My Finnegan Hill drum is actually what captures my sort of “super SOK drum”, and why it got designed.  Also it’s been modified to suit my playing as well, so there’s not a template here.  It cost the same and the shipping was less.  I have something that basically sounds like an SOK with my own enjoyment put into it.  I put a lot of effort into research and communication with FH drums and we figured out what would be ideal in-concept.  In practice, it nails it.  So the long winded story of why I don’t have an SOK is simple:  I haven’t needed one and I wrote a whole article about the UPS and DOWNS of me trying them.  So I have a divided opinion.

However, would I play one or want one?  Yes.  A huge yes.  And I recommend anybody who loves tone drums to contact Seamus O’Kane about his work.  There is something there that nobody has been able to reproduce.  That’s is uniquely Seamus’ party piece.  The one thing nobody has been able to emulate or copy.  It’s a response time and feel that I can’t describe without having one in my hands.  “Alive” is what I call it.  And I’d have one for 2 big reasons:  The sound with MOST of my tippers is wonderful, and heritage.  To own a piece of history has the collector in me most happy.

DIARMAID O’KANE:  One of Seamus’ sons and also a solid choice for any player.  I like his visual style and I enjoy the sounds these drums make.  I have not been super happy with the tuning systems however, as while they use the lovely Bartlet/Forkner system, I have never liked complicated designs.  The way the tuning plate is attached at right angles to 2 major locations for the tuning screw is to me, not really needed.  However it does make the design have a particular sound as compared to the SOK.  “Wider” is how I describe it, and “louder”.   To me these are cut through the session drums that have a sensitivity to them that is more refined than the SOK design, but make it a bit more manageable and volumous.

So why did I not buy one?  Well it took forever for me to try one in Canada and what I tried I asked about the models and found the Type-D system.  I love that.  However when I made an inquiry about one in a unique colour [which DOK invites you to do on his website”,  I didn’t get a response.  I still haven’t and that was 2014!  Again, I don’t need a loud drum in the same regard however I have a drum that does what it can do but lacking that open-air sound.  My Metloef is such a drum that fits that position for my stage playing.

Would I ever buy one?  Maybe.  Would I want one?  Sure!  They are amazing kit, but I don’t feel the same pressure of heritage here, and I don’t like the double plate design on the tuning ring.  While it opens up the skin more than most drums [almost like an Eckermann, and I’ll get to him next!] it doesn’t make sense to me as a design that would take torque as well.  It’s very pretty, but looks aren’t everything.

ECKERMANN:  Wow, what to say about this guy?  CLEAN.  Very clean, very different and VERY high quality.  I have to stand on a box and wear platform shoes to get close to the build quality of these things.  They have a unique sound that works amazingly well with almost any frame drum music, AND it doubles VERY well for frame drumming with hands, such as Tar playing.  I have a ton of respect for these instruments.  Also he makes other stuff too, like Dafs [which I adore].

Would I want one?  YES.  Probably more than any on the list here, but would I buy one?….No.  As the technology and the quality to me are amazing, but are not evolutionary.  Executed very well but almost TOO well.  That sounds wrong, let me explain.  Some drums are expensive and have all that flair and pizazz in them.  Made of exotics, etc.  Well…that’s fine!  However, this is not the case here.  There are no exotic designs, no extra carpentry and while refined in scope, not a lot different from other makers who use a through-frame design.  Also, the through-frame design means TOOLS TO ASSIST, which is an outdated method of tuning.  So would I buy one with money?  No.  I’d beg and steal for one, but I don’t think HOW it’s built renders the price tag.  Don’t get me wrong they are VERY excellent, and I own an exotic from Christian Hedwitshak in exotic wood, but I got that second hand in a once in a lifetime deal.  A brand new model would break my wallet.  As would Eckermann’s work.

ALBERT ALFONSO:  I think these drums pop-up the second most in conversation.  They are popular.  VERY.  And by their owners stand by them…Just before they sell them which I kind of understand.  I got to try the DaRed Drum [which I absolutely love and would snatch in a moment] and DaBlonde, but not the Ultra model.  For some reason I prefer the older model and think it’s one of the finest buys out there.  I do have reservations about the tuning system, but I do think the skins that are used are some of the finest.  DaBlonde drum to me is on par with many drums out there in the 500$ range.  It’s a very very good design that Albert has put time into in ways few makers do.  BUT….Would I want one?  No.  And do I want one?  No.  Even at a discount.  Why?  Again, I own drums that do what it can do.  Seanie McGrath makes drums to I feel the same sound standard, and which cost A LOT less.

The magical thing about AA drums is the attention to details about skins and tuning that Albert does with the buyer.  Again, that is something special.  However there is a sense of being talked-down to and again, in my opinion, it’s good to educate your customer, but it’s quite another to be felt like an inferior.  Again, AA is a personality that captures incredible playing and building skills, but what is passed in the ether from maker to player?  It’s kind of like how Ferrari allows you to buy a car, but puts great stipulations on some models, and really don’t won’t to hear if you are pushing the limits of it.  I feel the same way here.  I’d get a DaRed Drum second hand.  That would be excellent but I know that if I did that, it would actually never be as good as Albert could ever make it FOR ME, because part of buying from him is that communication to make you a drum as good as it can be.  Sadly, I’ve not had that relationship.

BESPOKE BODHRANS:  I never ever knew that they existed if I hadn’t walked into it via YouTube.  A big endorser is Junior Davey.  And you need to make no bones about it…If Junior is endorsing it, it’s gold.  Is it right for me?  I don’t see any major differences between Ozzie’s clean work and the stuff produced by makers who maker similar models.  I haven’t actually heard the differences either.  So my opinion about Bespoke is limited only to what I’ve seen on videos.  So would I have one?  I don’t know!  Would I buy one?  Maybe.  I just don’t need another drum.  He still remains a mystery to me.  I also know that endorsements only go so far.  Ultimately though it is the relationship you have with the sounds you enjoy that will guide you to a good maker.

BELGARTH:  Well I tried to get one a few years ago only to find that they weren’t being produced anymore.  I think the cost for them is very good, and they have been one of my most favourite design types for about 5 years.  They are unique, creamy, very well built [solid] and remind me very much of Cooperman Valez designs, only I’m pretty sure Belgarth is WAY older and original.  Would I have one?  YES!  Would I buy one?  Yes, but I currently have a CH and a Bridget Drums collection that while not the same, fit playing large-body drums in the way I for the most part, enjoy.  So the jury is still out.  I’m always looking for one for the future.

BEN MARCH:  I include Ben’s work here, not that he pops up in my conversation with others AT ALL, but that HE SHOULD!  He makes some of the most playable and easily enjoyable drums and I highly recommend his work.  Like Seanie McGrath, these are some of the most affordable and easy to enjoy drums I’ve played.  So why don’t I own a Ben March?  I own a Seanie McGrath.

METLOEF:   Yes.  One of the biggest names out there.  Often one of the most recommended.  I put in a quote for a drum a long while back and sadly was not able to get a response.  When I found out why it made good sense to me.  So for myself I had to buy one second hand, which is my black one owned by Andy Inns from Black Dog Podcasts.  I knew exactly what I wanted and just happen to find it.  Ok, so it wasn’t a bright orange or sunshine yellow or sky blue, but hey!  Ya get what ya can and SOUND over the design every time.  Yes, some of Rob’s drums are VERY expensive.  That said, how many clients have backed out of their contract with him because they couldn’t pay on time?  How rude and disrespectful!  Plus, if you don’t have the money, then WHY are you asking for bells and whistles?  Forkner makes some of the best simple and straightforward models of drums, with skins that are supplied by Darius Bartlett and other fine people who deal with skins.

METLOEF: comes up every so often but I find the biggest mistakes anybody has with his work, is not being honest with him as a maker.  I find that distasteful.

And lastly….

CHRISTIAN HEDWITSCHAK:  Of all makers, CH comes up the MOST in equal measure of love and despising.  While I’ve never heard anything bad about the build quality, I hear more complaints about SOUND and COST than anything else.  The sound aspect is talked about VERY openly on his website, and COST is right in your face.  Like Metloef, the buyer has to do the work of READING the information about price and kinds of performance.  Also more than any drum maker out there now, are more videos from various owners and retailers reviewing his products than any other maker.  That’s incredible!  So where is the misinformation?  Where is the biggest issue?  It’s in people’s attitudes.

Well the most negative things I hear is that the SOUND is too compressed.  Secondly that the cost of many of the models is too high, and again and again I’ve done videos and articles about COSTS of drums and where to prioritize your money.  Ultimately what I’m talking about is WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?  If you don’t know then you are going to spend badly.  If you spend the time researching and communicating you WILL get something good that is cost-effective.  If you want extras, you can have them.

What I don’t understand about things is that when it comes to the positives about CH’s work, build quality and skin quality are never issues.  It’s always SOUND and COST.  Oddly, these are also the 2 things I hear the most about CH’s drums that are positive.  LAtely many owners have suggested the good ol CORELINE models to new folks, while drums like the TrHED and the MOS and the MONss are all given equal love by their fans.  The MONss is one of the most videoed drums he makes and is used is many types of recorded music.  Owners say that they love the versatility of these drums for RECORDING and that’s the thing….Recording.  Also, there are so many standard models being produced from the Bavarian Dragon’s lair that to say CH drums aren’t good without a qualification of model is like saying white bread is boring, when there are so many versions of it, or saying that Fender guitars are bad, when not specifying the model and use type.

Again and again these makers [save for Mr. March and Bespoke] pop-up in chats I have with folks.  We all have only SO much money.  I joke with people and say “I don’t smoke, so I save a lot of money every year towards musical stuff”.  So I have the time to research this and listen.  When I perform reviews of products I try to not say ONE IS BETTER, but rather WHY ONE MIGHT WANT THIS, over THAT model, etc.  The thing is bodhrans are very simple drums, and it’s very hard to improve a simple design.  It takes a lot of time and skill to make those small differences into designs that are unique.  Every maker has their own way, and YOU as the consumer also are part of that process.  These drums pop up b/c they are popular, unique or not well known.  They also have a lot of HOT chat about them.  Divided opinions and are all backed-up by their makers and players as excellent.  Again, my whole effort is to not say one is better, rather that WHO would want THIS or THAT in a drum.  I have my own preferences, but each drum I’ve mentioned above is something that I would easily play.  But HOW I would get to that playing is different.

For yourselves, that’s the question:  HOW do you spend your money, and how much do you care about heritage, exotics, sound and where the drum was made?  We tend to leave the MIP drums alone, but we also tend to treat other designers as if they all made MIP drums when they come from Canada, Ireland, USA, France, Britain, etc.  I can’t tell anybody about HOW to buy a drum, but can only suggest things and point out patterns and themes in conversations I’ve had, and experiences I’ve taken-in.  So it’s up to you to make that final decision.

Simplicity and diversity make uniqueness a very difficult thing.  I suggest not listening to the negatives.  Spend your money wisely.  Enjoy your time practicing.  That’s the goal.  Your enjoyment trumps anything bought, made or sold.  And never think too hard about.  That’s my job!flash-mob3.png


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