Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Few Thoughts About Vintage And Custom Drums

About the author: Ken Sanders owns a selection of Vintage Drums and various Custom Drums, from Fork’s Drum Closet.
Ken is also an active member at Drum Solo Artist where he is answering drum related questions, and helping drummers with tips and advice.

Vintage Drums Versus Custom Drums

As a general rule a vintage drums should range from 1920 's to 1970 's and drum sets usually include three, or four pieces. Some of the Manufacturers that are popular between the "vintage drum seekers" are: Gretsch, Ludwig, and Slingerland, and one of the most important aspects when choosing a vintage drum is its particular model. - That of course if you are buying the vintage drum as a collectable item, and not because you just want to add that "vintage sound" to your drum set.

I do my all of drum equipment business at Fork’s Drum Closet in Nashville. One of the cool things about shopping at Fork 's is that you never know who is going to come into the store. Customers, both professional and amateur, often have those drummer-to-drummer discussions that are worth just hanging out at the shop to hear. One cool thing about us drummers is that we love to share our drum information with one another.

One segment of Gary Forkum’s (the owner of Fork’s) business is the ever-increasing vintage drum market. Fork’s has a steady flow of very interesting vintage drums and drum kits coming into the store. It is not unusual for the customers that are present when some really cool items come in, to ooooh and aaaah the newly arrived treasures, often with the reverence others might associate with viewing a sacred relic. I’ve certainly slobbered over lots of them, and see no foreseeable change in my tendency to do so.

Some folks love to collect vintage drums because they find them unique pieces of musical history. Others have been looking for a drum that they want to create a certain “authentic” sound for recording work... basically a tool of their trade, but a very special one. Still others, especially “Jazz Guys” are looking for a vintage kit that has the feel and look and sound that just “does it” for them. Everyone seems to have at least one “Holy Grail” drum item they are searching for. For a lot of us drummers... well... we really have all the stuff we will ever need. It’s just that we still just want more cool stuff.

Well, I went through all of that to get to the heart of the discussion we had at the drum shop last week. The topic was... ”Do the old drums just sound better than the new ones?” Aaaaah, you can imagine the depth of that discussion... way too much to cover here, but it does warrant a few points I will make.

First, everything about what "sounds" good, bad, great, or, terrible, etc. is, of course, very subjective. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then likewise we can accept that fantastic sounds are up to the ears of the one proclaiming them as fantastic sounds.

Now, although some others may disagree with me, there is no doubt in my mind that the top line drums made today, are better crafted than the drums made thirty and more years ago. But the sound? Obviously subjective!

Today’s top line drums are made from specifically selected woods and other materials to purposely generate certain sonic qualities. Walnut shells, birch shells, ash shells, maple shells, and beech shells, etc. or combinations thereof... all generate different sound characteristics. Additionally the glues, bending and seaming technology, and other craftsmanship involved in making top line drums today is far superior to those of the good old days. Now that 's the craftsmanship, not the particular sound that just might absolutely rock your world.

So maybe we can agree that it still comes down to the unique sound you like, doesn’t it? For example, I was surprised to learn that the eight lug Ludwig Acrolite snare drum of the 1960’s was preferred over other most of the more expensive drums for many years by recording engineers. It was the unique sound that the drum’s thin aluminum shell and the eight lugs produced! Now the Acrolites were considered inexpensive student line drums back then. But with all of those treasured old Radio Kings and Supraphonics that were also out there during that period. "who wood think" the Acrolites were the “go-to” snare drum?

Another example that I hear over and over is that someone in the drum shop will eventually say “I’ve been looking for a snare drum with that classic roundabout (remember the Yes recording with drummer Bill Bruford) sound, and I still haven’t found it”.

I confess that I’ve had a lot of fun with this one. I’ve told those drummers searching for that genuine roundabout sounding snare drum to select ANY 5 to 6 ½ depth, 14” diameter drum in the shop and then I would show them the drum they were looking for.

After they brought me a drum I would say... "My God... that 's it!" Next I tuned the drum heads top and bottom and then de-tuned the top head. Then aha! there was the roundabout snare sound. The point is that it is not always the drum. It is often the way you set the drum up.

So our drum shop discussion last week ended this way just about any drummer can name a vintage drum (or drums) that would just be their ultimate find. If they find it, they will treasure it, and it will be a source of personal drum pleasure for them to have.

However, back to the original question posed; an old drum does not automatically qualify for being a great sounding drum. Even after being properly repaired/restored an old drum MAY NOT sound like the mythical sonic treasure you had stored away in your mind for years. I have discovered that many times myself, although, it doesn’t stop me from still wanting that ELUSIVE vintage drum that is STILL my particular Holy Grail drum. It must just be something that gets into the blood system of us drummers!

Our drumming performances, in my opinion, are a combined product of our minds, our ears, our limbs and lastly, our equipment. No matter though because many of us drummers are still gear heads anyway. Hope you enjoyed these thoughts and I hope you find your Holy Grail Drum!


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