Drum Set Reviews
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The classic Ludwig Vistalite drum set from the 1970's has been reissued by Ludwig in a choice of 4 colours, including the beautiful Amber Vistalite that John Bonham played with Led Zeppelin! You can order the set in a range of sizes and it will likely mean a wait of about 12 weeks while it's built.
The set has had a few slight changes to bring it into the 21st century, but otherwise it's a pretty faithful version of the original. You can only buy the shells without any hardware, so that'll need to be bought seperately if you need it.
The review set was a Jelly Bean colour (i.e a mixture of the 4 colour options) and includes a 22"x16" bass drum, 13"x9" hanging tom, 14"x14" and 16"x16" floor toms, with a 14"x5" snare. The question is, does this set sound as good as the original?...
As i'm sure you are aware, the Vistalite is acrylic (petroleum derived plastic) and is hand made which tells you something straight away - these aren't cheap! The shells are made from oblong sheets of 1/4" (6.35mm) thick acrylic that's heated up until it becomes bendable, then it's formed in circular moulds. An added benefit of using acrylic this way is that the bearing edges are super smooth, and I mean super smooth!
Checking over the thick shells, there's no doubt that they'll last and i'd say there's virtually no chance of them cracking either. But, that does mean they are very heavy too, definately heavier than most wooden shell sets in the same size.
One thing i did notice about the kit is that there's a 1/3" wide strip of matching acrylic fixed to the inside of each shell. This helps strengthen the join in the shell, but it's hardly noticeable unless you look hard and I doubt it'll effect the sound.
On the shells are Ludwig's cool 'mini classic' lugs with rubber gaskets to isolate them from the shells. You can order it with 'large classic' lugs if you want to, but the mini's look great as they are. Other nice details include the small rubber washers on each tuning rod that stop the lugs dropping out when you change heads. Also, a RIMS style rack tom isolation mount has been added to the set, helping the tom give maximum resonance.
One of my favourite parts of the Vistalite has to be the wooden bass drum hoops with a thick strip of glitter running through the middle just like the original. Plus, Ludwig have supplied their own heavy WeatherMaster bass drum heads with that cool 70's Ludwig logo on the front. Throw in the updated fold-out spurs and the bass drum is already looking like a winner.
Probably the most appealing thing about the kit is the finish. That's why most people love this set! The Jelly Bean looks awsome and shows off what each of the 4 colour options would look like on their own. Obviously, the classic John Bonham Amber is my favourite, but the other options - Blue, Yellow, and Clear all great too. It just sits there on the stage and says 'look at me!
Make no mistake. The Ludwig Vistalite sounds very different to wood or metal kits. It's a lot more dry and hard sounding, but still with plenty of volume and attack.
The snare drum in particular is really lively with a piercing attack thanks to the upgrade to 45-degree bearing edges (the original had flat edges). Like the whole set, it's on the dry side but it's not dull! Hitting it in the center gives a thick note, while the edges have a pleasent ping. Best of all though are rim shots that give a teriffic crack!
The toms are a lot more hard, direct and seem contained in their own mid-range frequency. They're much warmer with less attack than the snare drum and I guess they're even a little bit muddy sounding. Still, very playable though.
But, the star of the whole set for me is the bass drum. It's got a thunderous, deep sound and attack, and is less boomy than a wooden bass drum. I didn't even need to put any dampening in it to get a soild, focused sound. Awsome! It's like a cannon!
Tuning the kit has been made a lot easier with the new bearing edges, and getting a fair range of notes from the set wasn't hard to do. The snare was good at a slightly higher tuning, while the toms where better being left in their mid-range frequency. The bass drum, as you'd expect, was great at a low tension where the depth and power was maximum.
I reckon Ludwig have done a good job of re-making the Ludwig Vistalte. It's still got all of the charm and good looks of the 70's original, but with a few tweaks to bring it inline with today's standards. The sound from the bass and snare drums is good, but the toms don't quite match them. Overall, it's a good set, but not amazing.
Because of the hard, very loud, penetrating sound, i'd only recommend this set to rock drummers who really want to kill it! It's a sound that not everyone will like. There are other high cost sets made from wood that perform better in my opinion, but with the Vistalite you're also paying for the premium of it being hand made with expensive materials.
Any downsides? The toms are a bit muddy so don't quite match the quality sound of the snare and bass drum. They aren't terrible though, just not as defined. My only other niggle is that the wing nuts on the tom mount and receveing block are a little too close to the shell for comfort.
What about the price? The Vistalite isn't cheap, but it's about what you'd expect to pay for a quality high-end 5-piece set. Where's the cheapest place to buy? Here's the cheapest place i've found! They have some pretty decent prices, so i'd try checking them out for the best deal.
The final word: if you want a different sound and look for your new drum set, the Ludwig Vistalite will definately give you that. It's not as good some other high-end sets, but it is different and definately cool.
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