3.17.2011

Gretsch Catalina Birch 2010 Review

Over the past year or so, I’ve wanted to buy a drum kit that would be my main ‘gigging’ kit.  I own a very nice Gretsch USA Custom kit, that I purchased in 2002(?).  I love that kit, but I didn’t want to take it out to bars or clubs and run the risk of something happening to it.  I was pretty sure that I wanted another Gretsch kit, but I also checked out Yamaha and building a custom kit myself.  I looked at used kits on ebay, checked the specs for new kits and did the math on having a kit built, custom.  My budget was around $1000.  All the used kits that I looked at had some detail that I didn’t care for. The custom kits, while extremely nice, would’ve been too much for my budget.  I kept ending up back at Gretsch kits.
At first, I looked at the Catalina Maple series.  They weren’t too expensive and were maple, which is always great.  This sounds silly, but I wasn’t too hip on the color selection that they had to offer.  That’s when I came across the Birch series.  What I found was that the Birch series were unique in that they utilized the 35 degree Gretsch bearing edge and also came stock with 7 ply.  This meant that they should project more volume and have a lower fundamental tone.  Not a lower pitch, but more of a lower end quality.  I play mostly modern rock, so this suited me well. 
I chose the Euro shell pack, which basically consists of a 22” bass drum, 10” & 12” toms, 16” floor tom and a standard 14” snare drum.  Around a week later the order arrived at my local shop.  The only assembly required was to put the bass drum & floor tom heads on. The snare and BD-mounted toms were pre-packaged and tuned (sort of). 
From Birch
Set up was easy: insert double tom holder, attach toms, extend floor tom legs, attach BD pedal and use existing SD stand.  I will say one thing about the GTS system on this kit:  Gretsch only attaches to two lugs (vs 4 on my USA custom kit) and there’s a funky sort of rubber stopper that keeps the tom from hitting metal. 
From Birch
Honestly, it does it’s job just fine.  The toms were tuned quite high for my tastes and the 10” sounded almost like a toy drum.  I quickly tuned it down and it sounds better.  I had some trouble getting the floor tom to sound the way I want, but I’ve always had some issues with floor toms.  They sound higher when you’re right next to them, but farther away they sound fine. 
Right off the bat, the best feature is the Bass drum (isn’t it always this way?).  Worst feature: snare drum.  WHY, Gretsch, WHY don’t you put a snare bed on this porn-star-of-a-drum-set? 
From Birch
I’m half tempted to buy a router and do it myself.  I wonder if there’s a reason they don’t though.  After some tuning and experimentation, the snare drum became acceptable-sounding, but it still lacks the tonality of a pro snare drum.  There’s just no beef to it.  I have a Gretsch Maple snare drum and it sounds loads better than this one.  It will do fine for bar gigs though.  I don’t expect to find any drum snobs anywhere near where I’ll be playing.  The snare does have a nice sensitivity to it though.  Which reminds me, the hoops on the drums are only 1.75mm single flanged.  Again, WHY?  I’m sure it has to do with cost containment or something.  I’ll bet if these bad boys had die cast, they’d sing a different tune all-together.  Sigh, another day my friend.
The color of the kit is beautiful though.  I ordered cobalt blue, very blue indeed:
From Birch
Overall, I’m very happy with the kit.  I haven’t gigged yet (this Sunday will be the first) so I may post a follow up.  My initial impressions are that the kit sounds pretty good.  I’d love to change all the batter heads and do an A/B against the USA Customs, but that is another story.  And I have yet to hear it in an environment where I can discern the Birch from Maple (I demo’d it in my basement, which is like playing in a glass amplifier), but I’m hoping to really get a sense of what Birch can do for you!  So, for now, I’m a little skeptical on the real difference between Birch & Maple, but time will tell. 
Overall Rating:  7.5/10
Pros: Cost, Color, Quality, Tonality (pending)
Cons:  snare drum, single flanged hoops

Here’s another pic, sorry I’m too lazy to crop some of these:
From Birch



12/16/2010 Update:  Ok, so I've gigged quite a bit with these drums now and I owe this post an update.  The Birch thing?  Yeah, the tone is lower and has more presence.  It's a good thing.  The snare drum?  I don't use it.  But this kit has become my main gigging kit, it's great.
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