Can I have a little more of everything? This could have been the motto of the developers of today’s test object, the SJC Element Aluminium 14×8 Snare Drum. But wait, who is SJC? A little review will help here. About 20 years ago the big custom drum boom started, countless small drum manufacturers started to build wacky finishes and special sizes for their customers hungry for individualization. The catalogues of the established manufacturers were suddenly considered dusty and boring. This wave has now subsided again, and only a few of the companies have been able to hold their own in the long term. One of them is SJC, which stands for the initials of one of the founding brothers Scott J. Ciprari. The Massachusetts company’s recipe for success is not only to be able to realize almost all drumming customer dreams, but also to recognize in time that series production is needed to survive economically.
And there are. In addition to copper, titanium, bell bronze and aluminium sheet, SJC also uses cast aluminium boilers in its metal snare drum range. Aluminium is appreciated for its dry, controlled character by drummers and sound people, it is not for nothing that one of the most recorded snares, the Ludwig Supraphonic, is made of exactly this light metal. In the case of the SJC element, however, the fact that the boiler has a significantly higher wall thickness and the powerful size of 14×8 inches makes it even more difficult – in the truest sense of the word. Metal-Alarm, some might think, SJC however considers his creation to be one of the most versatile snare drums ever. See the following lines to see if that’s the case.
The cast boiler Boiler has reinforcing rings
Before I can take the drum out of its packaging, the accessories fall into my hands. In addition to a simple tuning key, this includes a warranty card, a SJC sticker and a certificate of authenticity stating that the Element Snare Drum is “handcrafted and assembled in the USA”. This means as much as “built and assembled in the USA”. The website on the other hand only speaks of “assembled”. What now? Let’s take a closer look at the components.
The heart of the snare is of course the powerful cast iron boiler, which has a basic thickness of 2.5 millimeters. At the edges, however, it is a good four millimeters thick, because during turning, reinforcement rings with a width of almost two millimeters were left standing. The boiler burr is 45 degrees, the clearly visible snarebed is ground down flat and has a width of about ten centimeters. It could also accommodate wider carpets than those used in the factory. A hollow drilled, screwed border provides the necessary air balance. The screwed aluminum badge on the outside also contributes to the good impression, inside a sticker informs again about the place of manufacture USA (“handcrafted!”), the dimensions, serial number and date of origin. None of this has to be true, but it reinforces the feeling of having invested in something of high quality. Nevertheless, I can’t get rid of the feeling that I’ve already seen the boiler design of Taiwan products several times, even the final price of the snare doesn’t indicate a casting process in the USA. But this remains speculation. Now let’s have a look at the attachments.
Shield Lugs are the name of the SJC single brackets.
For the hardware, SJC relies on 20 individual, cleanly chromed brackets in its own shield design, which is also found in the badge and thus contributes to the SJC brand identity. They have no special features like the angular drop style lift-off, but all components are plastic-lined and screwed to the boiler. With a thickness of three millimetres, the triple-flanged tension tires are somewhat stronger than the more common 2.3 millimetre versions, which should go well with the tonal character of the element. By the way, there is a bit of custom. The Element Snares can also be equipped with coloured hardware on request and at a ten percent surcharge. SJC uses Evans skins in the factory, a G2 coated is used on the flap side, and the 20-spiral, well-made standard carpet buzzes on a Snareside 300. All in all, the drum is flawlessly crafted, the promise made by SJC that every drum will be inspected intensively in the factory does not seem to be an empty declaration of intent. Let’s see what the good piece has to offer in terms of sound.
Fat, but controlled sounds the element aluminum
After I adjusted my snare tripod a little bit downwards to put the eight incher in a chest of drawers position, the first sound impressions start. And they turn out quite positive, because this rather voluminous drum feels surprisingly handy and fast under the sticks. At least I have played much slower 8er snares. Due to the material aluminium the element always produces a dry sound, especially in higher tunings one rarely has the feeling of having to use damping. The heavy cast iron construction also contributes to this. I also like the fast carpet response and the pleasantly integrated rim shots and rim clicks. For a better comparison, I recorded the video and most of the sound files with a Remo Ambassador coated drumhead.
Very high mood
“Crack” says it when you put on the element properly and place a strong rim shot. However, the snare drum doesn’t sound lifeless, because the rigid shell compresses very little even at high voltages. Despite the dimensions I would use the snare in Funk and HipHop without any problems, if a round, wide attack is desired despite high tunings. I really like the sound very much.
Medium high tuning
It becomes even more voluminous if you give the drumhead a little more air to breathe, because then the test drum can play out its “displacement” correctly. I really like the crispy attack and the open, but at the same time controlled Kesselton with its limited overtones. This characteristic also provides a fat snare sound during recordings, because you are not forced to handle Gaffatape. Also the playing feeling looks very full and pleasant, lots of air in the cauldron looks a bit like a pillow. Despite the high sounds you don’t get the feeling to play on a board. I played the first two files with the Remo Fell, in the other two you hear the double layered work-Evans. I like the Evans better in a deeper mood because it helps to integrate the overtones better. But both are a good choice.
If the SJC Element is tuned one floor lower, the sound becomes more fur-heavy. This is typical for cast metal or very hard wood boilers, because the material simply vibrates less, so that the energy absorption happens more in the skin. The result is a matter of taste, I personally like a bit softer kettle better in lower tunings. In this case, however, I can definitely get to grips with the sound, because the balance of sound and carpet is retained. That’s how it sounds in the sound sample.
If it goes even further down, the element clearly shows its large boiler volume once again. Of course the overtone singing also increases in undamped condition, depending on the application a little damping is recommended. How this sounds, I’ll demonstrate at the end of the video. Here come four sound files, the first two with the Remo, number three and four in lower tuning with the Evans G2 Fell.
Conclusion (4.5 / 5)
No, a snare for metal drummers is not the SJC Element Aluminum 14×8. On the contrary, the thick cast aluminum tank is astonishingly versatile and reacts much more quickly to playful nuances than the size of the drum would suggest. Especially in high moods, the stiff kettle shows its strengths and combines punchy, precise sounds with the volume of a “figure eight”. Fat and big, however, it goes down from middle tunings down, then the typical, slightly fur-stressed sound of Aluguss Kesseln shows more clearly. Assembled from Taiwan parts in the USA, the drum is absolutely clean and its price of less than 600 Euros makes it a good alternative to the offers of established manufacturers. The personal check is hereby recommended.