On too many occasions, brands take advantage of the fame and prestige of their endorsers to sell snare drums and other products with the signing of a drummer at a price that does not reflect quality. This is not the case. The Sonor Gavin Harrison Signature Protean is, by itself, several snare drums at a time, and it is very easy to show that Gavin Harrison went really serious in its conception and design.
If anything distinguishes Gavin Harrison above all is the clarity of his sound, his clean and fine style. Over the years, he’s been asked not only for his technique but for his tuning methods, which snares did he use or if he used any special method for sound muffling… And he has had no problem in explaining some of his tricks, like cutting a few wires on each side of a twelve snare set, leaving only eight snares in the center. He has even declared himself a little obsessive when it comes to research on the amount of options one encounters to make things sound well. Harrison owns a full professional studio at home where he has recorded his drum parts for many artists and bands he has worked with, so he has a lot of experience with the whole thing.
With this background, if Sonor releases a new snare drum with Harrison’s signature on it, you tend to pay attention. Gavin explains that he has spent over a year designing the product because he wanted to gather his knowledge and needs in one snare drum, and get something that he really wanted to use in all situations. Looking at the results, it’s no wonder that he thinks he has. At the very least, the Sonor Protean brings a very particular hybrid design and some accessories that necessarily make this snare drum usable for different musical situations.
The design has a simple, timeless appearance with a black satin finish (so no fingerprints) which, combined with the lugs, gives it a very elegant Art Deco look. I can not be objective here, since I am a big fan of Art Deco and its modernist, aerodynamic shapes. The aesthetics of the Protean are intentional as a part of its willingness to be adaptable, since both color and functional simplicity fit easily into any drumkit.
The name “Protean” comes from the sea God of ancient Greece, who could change shape at will. They decided to put this name to highlight the versatility aspect of this snare drum. The Sonor Protean is made of six-ply premium hand selected birch wood. It is 6 mm. thick and has hybrid bearing edges: the top is a vintage rounded bearing edge, which gives the head more contact with the wood and produces a thick, full sound. Sonor hadn’t cut an edge of this type since 1975, which gives an idea of how much care and effort they have put to match Harrison’s specifications. The bottom edge is the classic sharp 45° angle that facilitates the transmission of sound from the taps, ghost notes and improves articulation. It’s a well thought arrangement, since both edges perform different kinds of job soundwise. Similarly intentional, the lugs are double with two anchor points.
Both hoops are hybrid as well. The top hoop is the well-known S-Hoop with the flange angled inwards, which helps with tuning control, powerful rimshots and prevents the sticks from being damaged. At the bottom we find a Triple Flange Hoop. This hoop has two pieces cut out, one opposite to the other, so the space left is used to install a Dual Glide System. This mechanism by Sonor allows you to change the snare wires easily in a few seconds by operating a couple of clips. It is a really clever system that is specially useful in a snare drum like this, since it comes with three different snare sets in its Premium package. The throwoff lever is also part of the Dual Glide system and has a long throw to prevent the snare wires from sounding even if they are adjusted really tight. You can see two detailed pics of the Dual Glide system above these lines.
The Sonor Protean is sold in two different sizes (12″ x 5″ y 14″ x 5,25″) and two separate versions for each size, standard and Premium. The standard one comes with the snare drum with all its features and a set of 8 steel snare wires already installed, two tuning keys and three dumpening rings -light, medium and heavy. In the Premium version we find the same accessories, but everything is inside a beautiful purple case designed specially by Hardcase. In the bottom of it we have a small box containing two extra sets of snare wires: an 8 wires Spacer set made of brass and an EQ set of 8 bronze wires. These two extra sets and the one installed in the snare drum have the wires spaced in three different ways for different specific purposes. The bronze EQ provides a crisp, dry sound with good articulation and thickness which makes it suitable for funk and Rock, while the brass Spacer would be better for softer and smooth jazzy sounds. It makes all sense to make these three sets of snare wires to be exchangable at an instant. The Sonor Protean has been built with all attention to detail: it comes with two tuning keys because Harrison believes that a snare drum is much better tuned with two keys at once. These have a curious protruding part which is bright red to distinguish them in a stage with dark light. This part is designed to be able to turn the tuning screws very fast whith the keys instead of the fingers when we put a new head and it’s completely loose. No more fingers covered in grease, skin peeling or blisters. Also, the three dampening rings have three different thicknesses. The S-Hoop in the top comes with the metal edge inward, so it ensures that these rings don’t fall off when moving the snare drum. The rings come with some numbers on them for each of the tuning screws, so you can tune them in a logical sequence. The batter drumhead is a Remo Controlled Sound Coated with the black dot for reinforcement in the center at the inner part of the head, and the bottom side head is an Ambassador Resonance Clear.
The Sonor Protean snare drum is not “yet another more snare drum” to take advantage of a famous name and offer something with a signed plate on it. It is a very well built product, appropriate and adaptable to different situations. In addition, Gavin Harrison himself was involved for more than a year in the process of design. He had always in mind his own experience both soundwise and his needs when it comes to find a tool that is versatile and suitable enough to work with on a daily basis. When it was known that Sonor was bringing a snare drum with such a number of features to the market, everyone thought that the price would be easily over $1,000 if not much more. Well, the official list price of the Premium version itself is slightly above $1,000, but the truth is you can easily find it for less than $800 (and less than €800 in Europe).
If you’re seeking for a serious and really versatile top-quality snare drum made of wood, the Sonor Protean Gavin Harrison Signature is the perfect candidate.
This post is also available in Versión en Español.