the drum set I am building….
It all started when my friend Will came by my studio with some drums he’d been a-tinkerin’ with.
He said “I want to make a kit like Levon Helm used to play.”
and he showed me this picture, or one like it:
and I said… “I can dig it.”
He told me, “I have three of the drums already, and oddly, they were made within a couple of days of each other at the Ludwig Factory.” and he showed me the drums, and they looked like this:
And I played them, and y’know, they sounded good. Actually, great.
So, I thought to myself…. “No one really cares if you mangle single-tension marching drums. I want to make myself a little kit of those, too. They’re all single ply, with single ply maple hoops. …Get some calfskin heads and some alligator shoes, I bet I could play for TOM WAITS…”
I was thinking, y’know, massive bass drum, some old-school toms and a wood-hooped snare. It’d be like playing a pirate kit… y’know, if pirates played jazz.
The first thing I went hunting for was a bass drum. There were a lot of cool single tension bass drums on eBay, but I kept missing them by a few dollars, and shipping was… rough. I lamented this to a friend of mine who said “Look here, son. I got an old Leedy bass drum out in the garage, I just bought it for the calfskin head for my other 28″ Leedy. You can have the drum.”
So we ran out there to have a look, and I said “Are you sure this is a 28″? It seems a little smaller than that.”
and he said “Yeah, I’m sure, because it’s bigger than a 26.”
“Well, yeah, it just seems smaller than a 28″ to me….” I said, so we measured it.
I am glad we didn’t put money on it. Because the drum is a 27″. No, really.
So, he got a little sad and said, “Well, I reckon you can have the heads, too.”
Well, now I have a lovely off-white, sort of cream colored bass drum, 27″ with calfskin heads and a cool painting of a naked lady on the front, and nickel hardware. I don’t have a photo of it all put together, because as soon as I got it home, I started messing with it.
I soaked the hardware and called Will and said “Hey, man…. I think I am a-gonna start buying some of those single-tension drums like you like.”
and he said “HUH? I CAN’T HEAR YA! I AM PLAYING MY NEW DRUMS I JUST BOUGHT!”
So I hollered “I said I THINK I AM GONNA BUY ME SOME OF THOSE SINGLE-TENSIO…”
and he said “IT’S NO USE, IT’S TOO LOUD IN HERE WITH THESE NEW DRUMS!! THEY ARE PRETTY RULIN’!! YOU WANNA BUY MY OLD LEVON DRUMS???”
and so it was, I drove over there couple days later, and I am now the proud owner of the Levon drums.
But, well, I like black drums. A lot. And I got to thinking maybe I could make all these drums the same color. I wasn’t really feeling the big French vanilla Leedy drum, and it didn’t have a badge, wasn’t the original color, all that, so I stared hitting them with some grain filler in preparation for shooting them with black piano lacquer.
Word to the wise: Don’t put grain filler on old paint. It’ll crackle like crazy and you’ll have to strip it after that.
Fortunately, the drum is one solid piece of mahogany, and it was a snap to get the old paint off.
(Now, I hear some of you purists crabbing already. There’s a million old Leedy bass drums out there that AREN’T 27″, so no one wants this drum more than me. If I ever do sell it, I will probably have to have had Remo make me some custom heads… this drum is going to be my own little white elephant, only it’ll be black lacquer. So… shadduppayouface. There’s a plenty of other Leedy bass drums in non-ridiculous sizes. Run along.)
Here’s the bass drum hardware:
and the snare drum hardware:
I was over at a friend’s house, the same friend who sold me the bass drum, and we were looking at his old Leedy bass drum, which was black lacquer, only it has copper hardware.
And I said, “I sure like the look of that.”
He said “Well, you can get just about anything copper plated if you know the right guy.”
So I did some hunting and found the right guy. Boy, did I. He did this drum in nickel plate for another drum geek:
Charlie Lockhart is his name, and I can give you his phone number.
I sent an email off to Charlie, and he sent me an estimate. And it was… a lot. But, that’s understandable, considering I am asking him to copper plate a whole kit.
So, I balked, told him I’d have to maybe catch him on the flippity-flop, because, well, I mean, that was a lot of money, etc…
Then I got to thinking about it, and I decided I’d wait and see. Get the kit lacquered, get the heads on it, and then see how it sounds. It is sounds like a million bucks, then it’s worth getting that hardware copper plated. Otherwise, it’s Cape Cod cloths and coffee and just do it, do it, do it until it’s all done, live with a little flaky chrome and yellow nickel here and there…
if it sounds like a dream, though, I am going to get the copper hardware.
SO, this week, it’s been grain fill and sand, grain fill and sand, repeat, ad nauseum.
Three of the drums are ready to shoot, now, though. Here they are, all masked off:
Tomorrow the bass drum and the biggest tom get a final buffing with 320 grit sandpaper, then they get the masking tape and newsprint treatment.
After that, it’ll be time to wait for a sub-50% humidity day in Georgia summer.
Wish me luck!