if you are here, it is very likely that you have heard of Basswood or Poplar and that you have somewhat confused ideas.
You may have read something in the forums (often in English) and you will surely understand that they are woods mounted on cheap batteries and that most people tend to avoid them. Why?
Let’s try to understand more:
First, the first big misconception is that the same wood is often considered. Absolutely not. They are two types of wood that differ in sound characteristics and also from the aesthetic point of view of the veins.
BASSWOOD (AMERICAN LIME)
Basswood, which can be translated into Italian as Tiglio americano, is a very common wood and this partly justifies its low cost.
It was and still is a very used wood on the cheaper series of batteries but not only, just think that some Tama Rockstars were composed of 9 layers of Basswood and have been produced for many years. Even today this battery is considered an excellent compromise between sound performance and cost.
The Sonor Force series was in Basswood and there are many popular birch/basswood kits, just think of the Pearl Vision VB and VA, other Tama kits, the Yamaha Gig maker, the Mapex Horizon, and many others.
The sound of the Basswood is projected more in the middle / lower than the Poplar and from who owns it is often associated as an economical alternative to mahogany or Bubinga.
Very often it is used as a filler, that is by putting some layers of Basswood inside other types of wood. This happens to contain prices and therefore to give a certain sound characteristic, avoiding putting much more expensive woods. This is considered a much better choice from the point of view of sound performance than having drums made entirely of Basswood.
Very often the batteries made with this wood are coated (or “wrapped” as some say) for the simple reason that its natural veins are not very aesthetically beautiful. For this reason, some producers choose to put a single layer of another wood outside drums made entirely from Basswood, to be able to lacquer the wood and have a better visual impact.
Batteries made of the only Basswood are usually associated with economic mechanics. To give you an example, if you had to go to a store and offer you a completely new set for €300, it is most likely Basswood. The battery will be coated and the mechanical parts supplied will be inexpensive.
A battery made entirely of this wood is in most cases a very precise choice. Or you are looking for a kit to get started and often you need something that has all the equipment including mechanics at a very low price, or you’re looking for a kit to keep in the rehearsal room. Some of these places have humidity problems and some drummers don’t want to take risks with medium-high end batteries.
Having said that, I have a battery in Basswood, everyone has had one and there are kits of all respect, which is equipped with good skins and played by those who know their stuff, do not really disfigure kits that can cost twice as much. I miked, you might find it hard to catch many differences with more famous kits. As I said above, some series in Basswood has made history, so don’t make decisions just by reading a few lines or seeing a brand. Listen before you buy, maybe you can find yourself saving a few hundred euros useful for a good set of dishes. And there you have to avoid the overpriced series, but that’s another story.
If instead, you read POPLAR you are talking about what we call Poplar.
The sound is projected on the mid-high, and he too is often used combined with other woods to increase the sound projection.
The poplar plant grows very fast which means that it is easily available and consequently among the cheapest. It is a fair softwood, although it guarantees a medium hardness in the construction of batteries and unlike the Basswood it has more pleasant veins to see.
Poplar is a wood that does not have much volume compared to other woods, which is why it is often used together with layers of different wood.
It does not have the resonance of maple or birch, so to speak. It was the idea of many to build whole batteries, like the Pearl, but then it was often used as additional wood. An example of 100% Poplar battery is the PDP X7 which however has a thin layer of a birch on the outside.
There are also some TAMA Imperial star and Pearl Export series and Forums made with Poplar.
The union of the Poplar with the maple generates a very vintage sound and it is known that the first Ludwig kits, even before it became a legendary brand, contained Poplar.
Like everything, even in this sector, everything seems subjective. I did some research and it seems that most people define Poplar as the economic alternative to maple or birch.
If you buy a very cheap battery, it hardly matters what kind of wood it is. The advice is to not go to take brands that are too cheap but to throw yourself on more popular brands that often at a price around €300/400 can have very decent wood and sound yields and a better resale (you never know).
Don’t save too much on the mechanics, because if it’s true that you have to spend a little, it’s also true that a Charleston auction that breaks after a week is a waste of money. And trust that it can happen. Perhaps, in this case, the used can be a solution.
SO WHICH CHOOSE BETWEEN BASSWOOD AND POPLAR?
It’s a million-dollar question, like the one “Maple or birch?” Sound advice I wouldn’t give but I would only say to understand what you are looking for and to listen with your ears. Obviously a great job will be done by the skins, the tuning, the miking (if any) and above all the drummer.
It is obvious that if you are among those who have just started playing and you have no experience in this regard, it will be difficult for you to already have an idea of what you are looking for in terms of sound, in this case, it is irrelevant which of the two kinds of wood you choose. Concentrate on measurements, mechanics, and plates.
I have heard cheap batteries sounding much better than other more famous ones, often because they are better tuned, muted and miked. The only reasoning that could be useful to do is the one on the resale and here the aesthetics of the battery, the mechanics that we have mounted and the brand come into play.
Basswood often costs a little less and batteries made entirely of this wood and covered (wrap) are more easily found. The Poplar is perhaps a step above qualitatively and at the same cost is preferred.
I hope I helped you a little if you were confused about these two types of wood. If you have personal experiences, advice, opinions, etc. don’t hesitate to let me know.