September 3, 2017

Restoring a Ludwig Vistalite

Lessons learned after purchasing and restoring a vintage Ludwig Vistalite tom

By Darin Soll

In a previous post, Our love affair with wood shells, I asked, "Why aren't more drummers opting for the consistent tone, durability, and reduced sensitivity to heat and humidity that synthetic drums offer?"  As my regular readers know, I love my Rocket Shells 8x13 snare drum with its carbon fiber shell, but I have never played drums with acrylic shells, such as Ludwig's legendary Vistalite line.  That is about to change--last week, I purchased a vintage 9x13 Vistalite tom for an audio project I am working on.  In this post, I share what I learned in the purchase and restoration process.
Used vintage 9x13 Vistalite tom in Translucent Smoke

The Purchase.  I found an inexpensive vintage 9x13 Vistalite tom in Translucent Smoke on Reverb.  The listing described the drum's condition as "good" with some surface scratches but no cracks.  It also noted that the Ludwig badge was missing but the drum was otherwise complete.  Zooming in on the photos in the listing, I could see that the shell had multiple deep scratches and scuffs, but it seemed round and functional.  The hardware showed moderate to severe corrosion.  Since I needed an acrylic shell for audio rather than aesthetic purposes, I decided to go ahead and buy the drum.
Ludwig reissue of Bonham's classic kit

The History.  After their 1972 introduction, Ludwig Vistalites grabbed the spotlight on the drum risers of John Bohnam, Robbie Bachmann, and Karen Carpenter.  While the seller had no information about the history of my particular drum, we can tell from presence of a tone control that it is a vintage 1970s Vistalite.  Translucent Smoke Vistalites first appeared in the 1977 Ludwig catalog.  Since Ludwig discontinued the vintage Vistalites in 1979, we can deduce that this drum is between 38 and 40 years old.  Ludwig reintroduced Vistalite drums in 2001, and the photo at right shows Ludwig's reissue of Bonham's classic Vistalite setup.  Since the reintroduction, vintage 70s Vistalites have become collectable.  One Ludwig faction argues that vintage Vistalites sound better, while the other argues that the superior quality of reissued Vistalites' seams and bearing edges gives them, ahem, the edge.

Initial Assessment.  My "new" Vistalite tom arrived extremely dirty--the packing material consisted of foam peanuts, dirt, dead crickets, assorted beads, and at least one nail!  As usual, I started with complete disassembly and thorough inspection of all parts.  This drum shipped from Louisiana, and judging from the level of corrosion on all of the hardware, it lived much of its life in high humidity at best, and submerged in a bayou at worst.  The hoops, tension rods, and tone control all showed quite a bit of rust, and the tension lug and tom bracket bolts were corroded as well.  The shell had multiple deep scratches and scuffs.  While the tension lugs themselves were in decent shape, with only a moderate level of dings and pitting, the springs were showing some rust.

The drum shell, on the other hand, was totally unfazed by all the moisture.  One of the advantages of synthetic shells is that they can handle all the moisture you throw at them without corroding, swelling, shrinking, or rotting.

The Restoration.  I decided to restore this drum into what I would actually consider to be good condition.  First, I ordered new 2.3mm triple-flange chrome hoops, 1-7/8" tension rods, and Evans Level 360 Genera heads from my friends at Drum Factory Direct.  Next, I ordered new tap bolts and fender washers for the tension lugs and tom bracket from Bolt Depot, a great source for small quantities of specific types of bolts and washers.

While I was waiting for the new parts to arrive, I decided to work on the tension lugs and the shell.  Now that the tension lugs were off, I used a little Turtle Wax Chrome Polish & Rust Remover to shine up the lug casings.  The polish will not fix pitting in chrome, but it did remove patches of oxidation and rust.  I used the same product with a wire brush to remove the rust from the tension lug springs and receivers.  One tension lug was missing the small foam strip that prevents the spring from rattling inside the lug.  To replace it, I cut a piece of packing foam down to the size of the strip from another lug.
Shell after cleaning and buffing

Next, I used NOVUS' Plastic Polish Kit and a power buffer to attack the scratches and scuffs in the shell.  The NOVUS kit includes three separate products to address deep scratches (#3), light scratches (#2), and cleaning (#1) of acrylic items.  I used a power buffer with the #3 product on the deep scratches and scuffs.  I saw significant improvement after about 20 minutes of buffing--the photos above and the one at right show the same side of the shell for comparison.  If I had more time, I believe I could remove them completely.  I then used the #2 product to buff out all of the light scratches.  After buffing out the scratches and scuffs to my satisfaction, I wiped down the entire shell with NOVUS' #1 cleaner.

Stress cracks around tension lug holes
While working on the shell, I noticed that it does in fact have cracks, contrary to what the seller stated.  Several of the tension lug bolt holes are surrounded by star cracks.  This is a common problem with Vistalites--over-tightening of tension lug bolts causes stress cracks to form and then radiate out from the bolt holes.  There is not much that can be done about these cracks.  The good news is that the tension lugs and bolt washers cover most of them, and I don't expect them to alter the tone of the shell.
Vintage acrylic shell seam

I also noticed small ridges in the bearing edges at each end of the shell seam.  Vintage Vistalites are formed by rolling a sheet of acrylic into a cylinder and then gluing the edges of the sheet together, forming a seam.  The ridges I noticed appear to be excess adhesive at the ends of the seam.  Because this is a one-off project drum, I got out my Dremel tool and lightly sanded off the excess adhesive by hand, being extremely careful to leave the overall bearing edges level.  Because level bearing edges are so critical to drum tuning and tone, I always recommend that you leave bearing edge repairs to a professional, especially with wood drums.  In the photo to the right, you can see the seam after I sanded off the excess adhesive.  Note that the bearing edge is now completely level.

The Re-assembly Process.  After spending some time on the tension lugs and the shell, my new parts arrived.  Let the re-assembly begin!

Step 1:  Re-install the tension lugs.  First, check to make sure the foam pad, spring, and lug receiver are properly seated in each tension lug.  Vistalites also include mylar shims to prevent tension lugs from marring the shells--simply slip the shim over the lug bolt receivers before you re-insert the lug into the bolt holes on the shell.  At left, you can see the exact bolt and washer "sandwich" I used to attach the tension rods to the shell--a #8
tap bolt (hex head) in a 3/8" length, a #8 split lock washer, and a #8 fender washer with a 3/4" outside diameter.  Note that I am adding a split washer and using a slightly oversized fender washer (the original had a 5/8" outside diameter).  The oversized washer helps spread the stress of the bolts on the shell as well as cover more of the existing stress cracks, as you can see at right.  To prevent damaging the shell and choking its tone, use the minimum torque necessary when bolting hardware to the shell.  My process was to tighten the bolts evenly until I just reached the point where I was unable to jiggle the tension lug on the outside of the shell by hand (there is some play between the lugs and the bolt holes), then just a slight turn more.  The split washers will help prevent the bolts from working loose over time.

Step 2:  Re-install the tom bracket.  Skip this step if you plan to use suspension mounts, otherwise, ensure the eye bolt is inserted and the washers and nut
are installed on the bracket itself.  Vistalite tom brackets also include mylar shims to keep the brackets from marring the shells.  Slip the shim over the bracket bolt receivers, and then re-insert the bracket into the bolt holes on the shell.  The tom bracket bolt and washer sandwich is a #10 tap bolt in a 1/2" length, a #10 split lock washer, and a #10 fender washer with a 1-1/2" outside diameter.  I cleaned and used the original fender washers because they were already formed to the shell.

Step 3:  Re-install the tone control.  Skip this step if you are building a drum to be played--tone controls are outdated and there is no reason to add more parts that can develop rattles inside your drum.  If you are restoring the drum to its original state, however, you will want to re-install the tone control.  Insert the three small screws into the mounting holes above the vent hole.  Thread them through the tone control bracket and the metal plate on the inside of the shell, add the washers and nuts, and tighten just enough to keep the tone control from jiggling.
Evans Level 360 heads fit perfectly

Step 4:  Install the heads.  New Evans Level 360 Genera heads fit perfectly on this drum.  New chrome hoops not only look great but head off tuning problems arising from out-of-round hoops.  At $11.50 a piece for new six-hole 2.3mm triple-flange hoops, Drum Factory Direct makes the decision a no-brainer.  I installed nylon washers on the new tension rods and brought the heads up to an even tension before dialing in the tuning.

Restored Vistalite tom looks and sounds good!
Step 5:  Tune the drum.  Be sure to check out my post Tuning drums with Tune-bot for tips and tricks on drum tuning.  A round and true drum with consistent bearing edges reduces the tuning effort, and the 6mm acrylic shell delivers more projection and brightness than a comparable wood shell.

Step 6:  Enjoy your new drum!  As you can see, while not perfect, this 40-year-old cleans up well enough to be a solid addition to a vintage Vistalite kit.

Happy drumming!

--Darin

October 5, 2016

News from Drum Nuts (& Bolts)

By Darin Soll

By its fourth anniversary on October 7, Drum Nuts (& Bolts) will have been viewed 64,000 times by drummers across the globe, from the US to the Ukraine, the UK to Australia, and many countries in between!  I want to thank all of my readers for helping Drum Nuts (& Bolts) become a go-to resource for drummers interested in drum tuning, vintage Slingerland drums, selecting gear on a budget, and other topics related to the technical side of drumming.

2016 has been a busy year, and time has flown by since I posted my last article.  Unfortunately, drumming and writing have taken a back seat to other priorities.  However, that is about to change, starting with the look and feel of the blog itself!

So, to "re-launch" Drum Nuts (& Bolts), I have updated the blog template to give it more of a musician/club vibe and to add some useful features such as the "Popular Posts" section in the right-hand column.  Popular Posts, as the name suggests, lists the most popular articles in the blog, starting with "Tuning drums with Tune-bot," which is far and away the most popular article with 10,000 views since it was originally published in August 2013.

I hope you enjoy the changes and I invite you to continue providing your feedback by commenting on articles in the blog.

Thanks again for your support, and happy drumming!

--Darin

September 1, 2015

Drum head selection...a closer look

By Darin Soll

In the three years since My favorite head combinations, one of the first posts in this blog, I have had the opportunity to experiment with additional drum head combinations across four different drum kits.  In this post, I will share my updated drum head recommendations, the result of dozens of additional hours of changing out heads, tuning them up, and then playing them in the rehearsal studio.

Typical drum bearing edge profiles, courtesy of Modern Drummer
But first, a refresher on drum bearing edges is in order...

Many of you have probably seen the illustration on the right from Modern Drummer magazine, which depicts various bearing edge profiles.

Bearing edges matter.

Drum kits from the 1960s and 1970s were built with rounder bearing edge profiles.  The "Vintage Roundover" edge pictured above was common on snare drums and rack toms, and it was not uncommon to see full roundover edges on floor toms and bass drums.  Vintage roundover edges produce a warmer tone as the increased shell contact with the head reduces harmonic overtones ("brightness"), attack, and sustain.  The shell plays a greater role in the overall tone of the drum.

Conversely, "Standard" or "Double 45" degree edges produce a brighter tone as the reduced shell contact with the head increases harmonic overtones, attack, and sustain.  These modern (1980s to present) 45-degree edges are cut more sharply, and with sharper bearing edges, the shell's role in the tone of the drum is reduced.

We already knew that different types of drum heads can affect the tone of our drums, and now we know that bearing edges affect tone as well.  So, that raises a question...how does the interplay between drum heads and bearing edges affect the overall tone of our drums?  What combinations of heads and edges will produce the tone we are looking for?

I currently have access to four acoustic drum kits, so I had the ability to do "head-to-head" (pun intended) comparisons between drums with modern Standard edges and drums with Vintage Roundover edges, and then cross-check the results on other kits with similar bearing edge profiles.  These comparisons have been extremely useful in helping me to choose the most appropriate drum heads for the specific sound I want.

Drum kits used in this comparison:
  • PDP X7, thin all-maple shells, Standard bearing edges
  • PDP FS, thin all-birch shells, Standard bearing edges
  • Slingerland, 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shells with re-rings, Vintage Roundover edges
  • Stone Custom Drum, 3-ply walnut-poplar-maple shells with re-rings, Vintage Roundover edges

The following Head Selection Matrix summarizes my recommendations for toms.  It's really two separate charts--the top half shows head combinations for toms with vintage/roundover edges, and the bottom half shows head combinations for toms with modern/45 degree edges.  The desired tone ranges from warm to medium to bright as you move from left to right across the three columns.  For each tom type (rack and floor), I list my batter head choice over my resonant head choice.

Head Selection Matrix for toms--click the image to enlarge

So for example, if you have vintage/roundover edges and you want a "medium" tone, I recommend the middle column selections in the Vintage section of the matrix--clear 2-ply batters over clear 1-ply resos on your rack toms, and clear EC2 batters over clear 1-ply resos on your floor toms.  Move to the right for a brighter tone, and to the left for a warmer tone.

To achieve a "medium" tone with modern/45 degree edges, you would use the middle column selections in the Modern section of the matrix--coated 1-ply batters over clear 1-ply resos on your rack toms, and coated 2-ply batters over clear 1-ply resos on your floor toms.  Note that the "medium" tone selections in the Vintage section of the matrix will result in a brighter tone on Modern edges.  Note also that the "medium" tone selections in the Modern section of the matrix will result in a warmer tone on Vintage edges.

Obviously there a dozen other types of drum heads that I haven't covered, and thousands of drummers out there with different needs and tastes.  This matrix is not intended to be all things to all drummers...I'm just sharing what I've observed as I tried these combinations of heads and edges.  Hopefully this serves as a useful resource as your strive to get the best tone out of your drums.

Happy drumming!

--Darin

June 22, 2015

Slingerland vs. PDP: Maple snares head-to-head

By Darin Soll

Back in October, I wrote about my quest for the snare drum sound on Rush's 1982 "Signals" album.  As many of you know, Neil Peart played "Ol' Faithful," a 5.5x14 Slingerland Artist snare, until 1993.  While the Artist model could be purchased with either a 3-ply maple-poplar-maple or 1-ply solid maple shell, at least one source indicates that "Ol' Faithful" was a 3-ply drum.

Two weeks prior to that post, I found a 1964 Slingerland 5.5x14 Deluxe Student model in Sparkling Red Pearl finish at my local Sam Ash store.  The Deluxe Student model is based upon the same 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell as the 3-ply Artist, so I decided to give it a try.  Outfitted with new Evans G1 coated batter and Hazy 300 snare side heads, as well as Puresound Custom 16-wire snares, this classic Slingy's sound is very similar to Peart's snare on "Signals."

Another maple snare drum in my collection, a 2008 PDP Platinum 5.5x14 1-ply solid maple, also produces a very "Signals-esce" sound.  And the PDP has a Slingerland connection--readers of this blog know that I purchased the Platinum solid maple snare as a less expensive alternative to Slingerland's legendary 1-ply Radio King model.  Two very different snare drums, built 44 years apart, both conjuring up The Professor's sound?  This calls for a head-to-head comparison!

1964 Slingerland 5.5x14 Deluxe Student 3-ply
2008 PDP Platinum 5x14 solid maple













Again, I want to point out that while both drums incorporate maple into wood shells of similar dimensions and wear Puresound Custom 16-wire snares, these are two very different drums.  The main differences include:
  1. The Slingy has a 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with maple re-rings, while the PDP has a 1-ply steam-bent solid maple shell with no re-rings.
  2. Slingerland used 30-degree roundover edges, while PDP cuts sharp 45 degree edges with a shallow backcut.
  3. The Slingy's shell depth is 5.5", while the PDP's is 5.0".
  4. The Slingy has six tension lugs, while the PDP has ten.
  5. The Slingy has chrome-over-brass stick saver hoops (similar in rigidity to 2.3mm hoops), while the PDP has been upgraded to 3.0mm steel DW True Hoops.
  6. The Slingy wears an Evans G1 coated 1-ply batter head, while the PDP wears a Remo Controlled Sound coated 1-ply reverse dot batter head.
As a result, this comparison is a mostly subjective review of each drum's performance in six categories:  (1) Quality of construction, (2) Ease of tuning, (3) Sensitivity, (4) Projection, (5) Overall tone, and (6) Resembles "Signals" snare sound.  Here are the results of my review:


Snare drums head-to-head:  Slingerland Deluxe Student vs. PDP Platinum solid maple

Rating scale:  1 to 5, with 5 being highest
Category Slingerland Deluxe Student PDP Platinum solid maple Comments
Quality of construction
5
3
Slingy remains solid after 50 years!  PDP's original 1.6mm hoops and clunky throw were mediocre.
Ease of tuning
3
5
PDP's bearing edges are excellent.  Slingy more challenging to tune evenly with only 6 lugs and less rigid brass hoops.
Sensitivity
3
4
PDP "edges" out Slingy with sharper bearing edges and even tension between its 10 lugs.
Projection
3
4
PDP solid maple shell projects more volume, overcoming any dampening effect of the reverse dot head.
Overall tone
4
5
PDP solid maple shell adds somewhat more body, "woodiness" to tone.
Resembles "Signals" snare sound
4
5
Both drums are close--PDP wins with drier tone due to heavier hoops and 10 lugs.
Total scores
22
26

Notes:  Both drums tuned to 3g using Tune-bot.  Volume results are based on average decibel levels measured by Extech 407730 sound level meter.
Slingerland Deluxe Student upgrades:  Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Evans G1 coated batter head, Evans Hazy 300 snare head.
PDP Platinum solid maple upgrades:  DW Mag throw, DW 3.0mm True-Hoops, Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot batter head.


The PDP Platinum solid maple snare wins this mostly unscientific challenge, 26 to 22!

While a solid shell could help the Slingy's scores, in the context of this challenge, I think heavier hoops, or a Slingy with eight or ten tension lugs, would really level the playing field.  Either improvement would even the tension across the heads and dry out the tone.  Unfortunately, I have not found any 6-hole snare side 3.0mm or die cast hoops for 14-inch drums in my online searches.

PDP drums continue to impress.  Don't overlook them as you search for the right snare for your sound!

This comparison got me thinking...wouldn't it be interesting to have Bernie Stone at Stone Custom Drum build a reproduction of The Professor's Ol' Faithful snare?  "Stone Faithful?"  Hmmm...

Until next time!

--Darin

April 3, 2015

Stone Custom Drum kit

By Darin Soll

Readers of this blog know that I would never buy a new custom drum kit.  Never.  After all, I've written a ton about selecting drum gear on a budget.  I would recommend maple or birch PDP drums to anyone, and I am a big proponent of buying used gear on eBay.

Then, I heard about Stone Custom Drum.  Stone Custom Drum is a custom drum builder based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, building new drums using the vintage Slingerland formula.  Being a huge Slingerland fan, I had to take a closer look.

Stone Custom Drum 6-piece custom kit
Well...the short story is that looking turned into buying.  Say hello to my new six-piece custom kit, courtesy of Stone Custom Drum!

The longer story about Stone Custom Drum, "SCD" in the rest of this article, is worth sharing.  Read on to learn how this budget-conscious drummer ended up purchasing a brand new, custom made SCD kit...

SCD is owned by Bernie Stone, a longtime drummer and drum-maker.  As head of drum repairs at The Percussion Center in Fort Wayne in the mid-to-late 80s, Bernie developed a reputation as a top drum craftsman.  He had the opportunity to work on drums for a number of famous drummers, including Neil Peart.  About ten years ago, Bernie had the opportunity to acquire the tools and molds from Slingerland's long defunct Niles, Illinois, factory.  After carefully re-furbishing the old Slingerland equipment, Stone Custom Drum began building new drum kits with 3-ply and 5-ply shells.  While the classic maple-poplar-maple formula remains the standard, Bernie's crew will also incorporate a number of exotic woods into your shells, depending on your requirements and taste.

I initially approached SCD about building a 18x22 bass drum to match my '76 violin red Slingerland kit.  The original 14x24 bass drum is just a bit too tall for my two-up rack tom setup.  I specified a 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with reinforcing rings, knowing that SCD's black oval badge is so similar to Slingerland's Niles badge that to most observers, a new 18x22 SCD bass drum would appear to be an original Slingerland.  SCD responded promptly with an estimate and informed me that I would need to ship one of my existing drums to them in order to color match the violin red finish.  The estimate was reasonable, but it got me thinking--do I really want another orange drum?  What would it cost to have SCD build a complete custom kit?

I already knew what I really wanted...a "new Slingerland" kit.  The classic 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings, vintage bearing edges, my typical two-up, two-down tom configuration, chrome Slingerland hoops and Sound King lugs, and a walnut-to-dark brown burst finish.  A matching 7x13 snare would round out the perfect kit.  I emailed all of the details to Kenton Snyder at SCD, and he replied promptly with an estimate in the neighborhood of $4,000.  I gave SCD the green light to build my new kit, along with a couple photos of the walnut burst finish I was looking for.

Again, since I've written a ton about selecting gear on a budget, I need to explain why I would even consider spending $4,000 for a six-piece custom drum kit.  The reason is simple--if you want custom drums, that's what they cost.  Custom drums are constructed by experienced craftsmen with no-compromise materials to each customer's specifications.  Keep in mind that over the past 40 years, low-priced imported goods (built using low-priced labor and materials) have skewed our perspective on what products should cost.  Without getting too far off-topic into the economics of the drum industry, I'll simply point out that based on the government's inflation calculator, an $800 Slingerland drum kit in 1976 would cost $3,300 in today's dollars, adjusted for inflation.  And while Slingerland offered a number of factory options, its kits could not be classified as "custom."

All walnut 7x13 snare, before hardware
After shooting a few samples of the walnut burst finish in the SCD workshop, Bernie called me with a concern--his test maple shells were not taking walnut stain well.  He recommended switching the outer ply to walnut to achieve the results I was looking for.  Since walnut is similar in hardness to maple, we decided that this change wouldn't adversely affect the tone of the shells.  Kenton let me know that switching all drums to a walnut outer ply would add a bit over $300 to my order.  I gave them the thumb's up to proceed.

Bernie then told me that he already had a 3-ply all-walnut 7x13 shell that he could use for my snare at no extra charge.  I decided to go for that as well.  I also let Bernie know that I would rather do tube lugs on the snare.  He agreed that tube lugs would look great.  This level of collaboration with the builder is only possible with a custom kit.

I originally specified 8x12, 9x13, 12x14, and 14x16 toms, an 18x22 bass drum, as well as the 7x13 snare drum.  I decided to have Kenton add a 7x10 tom as well, for those occasions that call for a fusion setup rather than a standard rock setup.  After all, why invest in a custom kit that doesn't meet all of my needs?  Kenton let me know that the 7x10 tom would add about $400 to my order.  With shipping, my grand total was now approaching $5,000.

SCD shells, newly finished, before hardware
SCD completed the build of my new custom drum kit in about one month.  They texted photos to me as the build progressed, and emailed me with a few questions about some of the finer details as they came up.  The walnut burst finish turned out beautifully, so when the first photos of the finished shells arrived, the waiting became MUCH more difficult!

The drums had to travel nearly 2,000 miles to reach my home, so shipping meant another week of waiting.  But the wait was worth it--the drums were packed securely, arrived in excellent condition, and looked even better up close and in person!

The first thing I noticed while unpacking my new drums is how light they are.  Poplar core 3-ply shells weigh less than thin-shell all-maple or all-birch drums.  While my vintage Slingerland drums with their poplar cores are similar in weight, the lightness of my new SCD drums still caught my attention.  The next thing I noticed, of course, was the beautiful finish of my new drums!

Finished shells in the SCD workshop 
My drums arrived in the middle of a particularly busy week at my day job, so I had to wait a few days before I was able to set up and play my new SCD kit.  After unloading them at my rehearsal studio, I began the set up process.  First, I added my own WorldMax DSS isolation mounts to the rack toms.  I decided to standardize on PDP mount hardware since I plan to keep one of my PDP kits for gigs, so I attached a PDP 10.5mm tom bracket to each of the DSS mounts.  SCD could have provided all of this for me, but I already had the mounts.

Next up--tuning.  As always, I use Tune-bot to dial my drums into notes, and I followed the "Darin's PDP FS Tune-bot tunings for modern rock" scheme in my previous Tuning drums with Tune-bot blog post.  Bernie's crew did a fantastic job with my shells and edges, and all drums tuned up very easily.

Once I wrapped up the tuning process, I mounted my new SCD drums on my PDP rack, made a few positioning adjustments, and I was ready to play.

Walnut-poplar-maple shell with re-rings
Boom.  Meaning "wow," but also describing the low-end punch emanating from my new SCD shells!  It could be my imagination, but I am wondering if the walnut ply in each shell is enhancing the lower frequencies.  The bass drum fills the room in the same manner as my Slingerland 14x24.  The all-walnut snare has a great voice as well.  The toms have all the warmth of my vintage Slingerlands, mostly due to the vintage-style edges, but partly due to the Evans coated G2 batter heads.

To sum it up, my new SCD drums are beautiful to the eye--and to the ear.  The walnut burst finish is exactly what I wanted, the Slingerland-style shells recapture the warm tone of vintage American drums, and the Slingerland-style stick saver hoops provide triple-flange flexibility with rimshots that rival die-cast hoops.

Drummers in the market for a custom kit, particularly those who grew up with the awesome tone of vintage American drums, owe it to themselves to check out Stone Custom Drum!

--Darin

February 2, 2015

NAMM 2015

By Darin Soll

Anaheim Convention Center, site of NAMM 2015
As many of you know, the annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show is the premier showcase for the latest in music gear.  2015 NAMM did not disappoint!  From January 22 through 25, 2015, nearly 96,000 people descended on the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, to see, learn about, and experience the latest in music products.

Attendance at NAMM is limited to music products industry merchants and their guests, and I was very fortunate to receive an artist's pass for this year's show from Stone Custom Drum, LLC, a Fort Wayne, Indiana, builder of quality drums in the American tradition.

Two of the four exhibit and meeting levels on
the NAMM 2015 show map
In a word--NAMM is overwhelming.  With four levels of exhibit and meeting halls, over 6,000 booths, and tens of thousands of attendees checking out music gear, the atmosphere in the Anaheim Convention Center is a continuous crescendo.  There were 526 merchants in the percussion category alone!  Fortunately, NAMM provides a smartphone app to help attendees organize their plans of attack.

Celebrity sightings are fairly common at NAMM.  Many artists were scheduled to appear in exhibits for autograph and photo opps, as well as in-booth jam sessions.

Tre Cool of Green Day talking to fans
Steve Smith and Danny Carey were scheduled to appear in the Sonor booth.  Among the many artists scheduled to appear in the Yamaha pavilion were Kenny Aronoff, Bobby Blotzer, Steve Gadd, Tommy Igoe, Dave Weckl, and Alan White.  Endorsers for Pearl Drums appeared in its exhibit throughout the show, and Ludwig hosted artist autograph signing events.  And Stewart Copeland and Dave Lombardo were on hand to demo new Paiste products--unfortunately in private press rooms.

I was able to get close enough to shake hands with Tre Cool of Green Day in the SJC Custom Drums exhibit, and John Good of Drum Workshop just outside the DW pavilion.

But I was more interested in the gear than the celebrity sightings, and I had the opportunity to see and play the latest gear from dozens of recognized brands.  Just to give you an idea of the breadth of products represented at NAMM, here is an alphabetical list of percussion-related exhibits I saw...

Neil Peart's DW "R-40" kit
Replica of John Bonham's Ludwig Vistalites
Aquarian, Avedis Zildjian, Ayotte Drums, Axis Percussion, Canopus Drums, Craviotto Drum, Crush Drums and Percussion, Ddrum, Dream Cymbals and Gongs, Drum Workshop, Dunnett Classic Drums, Evans Drumheads by D'Addario, Gretsch, Intellistage Stages, Istanbul Cymbals, KickPort, Ludwig Drum, Overtone Labs (makers of Tune-Bot), Pacific Drums and Percussion, Paiste, Pearl Drums, Pork Pie Percussion, Premier Drum, Mapex Drums, Meinl, Peace Drums, Promark, PureSound Percussion, Regal Tip, Remo, Roc-N-Soc, Roland, Sabian, Sakae Drums, SJC Custom Drums, SKB, Sonor, Soultone Cymbals, Stone Custom Drum, Tama Drums, Taye Drums, Trick Percussion Products, Truth Custom Drums, TRX Cymbal, Vater Percussion, Vic Firth, WorldMax, Yamaha Drums...and that's less than ten percent of the percussion-oriented merchants exhibiting at the show!

Attending NAMM should be on the bucket lists of all music gearheads.  I highly recommend it...just be ready for a five-alarm headache at the end of your first full day!

--Darin

October 26, 2014

Vintage Slingerland maple snare drum

By Darin Soll

About a year ago, I sat down and listened to Rush's "Signals" album from start to finish.  There is something special about the tone Neil Peart extracted from his Slingerland maple snare drum on that album.  Since then, I have been keeping an eye out for a 1960s or 1970s Slingerland 5.5x14 maple snare in good condition...

Sure, it would be great to pick up a Radio King with its highly sought after solid maple shell.  But having read that Neil's "Ol' Faithful" Slingerland maple snare was actually an Artist model, I decided to broaden my search.  The Artist was available with the same solid shell as the Radio King until the early 1970s, and then shipped with the 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell also found in Slingerland's Hollywood Ace and Deluxe Student models.  There is some debate as to whether Neil's Artist had a solid shell or a 3-ply shell, but it was likely a 3-ply.  As a result, I decided that any of the above models at a good price would be a worthy addition to my snare drum arsenal.  I have never been a fan of the 5-ply shells Slingerland offered later in the 1970s, so I avoided those drums.

50 years new!  1964 Slingerland Deluxe Student maple
snare drum with upgraded heads and snares
Two weeks ago, I stumbled upon a Deluxe Student model at my local Sam Ash store.  This fine example of Slingerland's Sparkling Red Pearl finish caught my attention when I saw the black and brass Niles badge.  According to the date stamp inside the shell, this drum was manufactured in February 1964, and it was in excellent condition, particularly for a 50-year-old drum.  It appeared to be all original, including the chrome-over-brass hoops, 12-wire snares, tone control, throw, and Slingerland concert heads.  The finish was in amazing shape and there was no separation in the shell plies or re-rings.  Sam Ash priced the drum at $250, and while that is a bit high for this particular model, I had never seen an early 60s, all-original example in such good condition.  I decided to pick it up.

Wood snare drums from 1964 Slingerland catalog,
courtesy of VintageDrumGuide.com
Slingerland manufactured this iteration of the Deluxe Student model snare drum from 1963-1976.  As you can see at the bottom of the 1964 catalog page shown here, the Deluxe Student model featured the 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings, chrome-over-brass stick saver hoops, tone control, the basic but functional "Rapid" throw, and six Sound King lugs.

The Hollywood Ace model pictured directly above it is identical except for its eight lugs, 16-wire snares, and a 7-inch deep shell option.  Slingerland charged 1964 Hollywood Ace buyers a whopping $15.50 premium for the two additional lugs, 8-hole hoops instead of 6-hole, and four additional snare wires!  Slingerland's classic Radio King model is shown above the Hollywood Ace.  The only other wood snare in the 1964 catalog, the Artist model, not pictured, shipped that year with a solid maple shell, 20-wire snares, and the Zoomatic throw.  The Artist was actually $2 more expensive than the Radio King in the same 5.5x14 size.  For an additional $5, you could order an Artist snare with ten lugs instead of eight, an option that was not available on the Radio King.  I was a bit surprised to find that the Artist, not the Radio King, was Slingerland's top-of-the-line wood snare drum during this time period.

Who says you have to slow down after 50?
Speaking of lugs...since my new drum is a Deluxe Student model, it has only six lugs to tension each brass hoop.  Knowing that brass is a bit softer than steel, I immediately wondered whether fewer lugs and softer hoops would affect tuning.  In other words, should I have held out for a Hollywood Ace, Artist, or Radio King with at least eight lugs?

But before we get to tuning, let's talk upgrades.  Since I'm not starting a drum museum (yet), this will be a player's drum.  So--I removed the original heads and snares and stored them for future restoration.  Evans G1 coated batter and Hazy 300 snare side heads are good choices for any snare, especially vintage snares, and they dropped right on the vintage shell--a good indicator that the shell is still round.  I also replaced the original 12-wire snares with 16-wire Puresound Custom snares.

Tuning the 6-lug snare with Tune-bot was slightly more of a challenge than with 8- or 10-lug drums.  It does appear that the wide spacing between the lugs results in a bit of flex in the brass hoops, so Tune-bot lug frequency readings showed a bit more variance if I tapped more than than an inch to either side of a lug.  I also noticed that tension changes at one lug had more significant impact on tension at the other lugs.  However, as long as I brought the tension up evenly across the drum, it was only slightly more touchy from a tuning perspective.

The drum seems very happy at a 3g# tuning.  At 3g and higher, the maple shell really adds its voice to the drum's overall tone.  I have spent several hours with this drum, and it's a delight to play.  In a future blog post, I will compare this drum head-to-head with my PDP Platinum 5x14 solid maple snare.  Now for my Tune-bot tunings...


Darin's Slingerland 5.5x14 maple snare drum Tune-bot tunings

Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Reso:batter frequency ratio:
3g, 196Hz 400Hz 292Hz 1.37
3g#, 207Hz 400Hz 312Hz 1.28
Drum:  Slingerland Deluxe Student 5.5x14, 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings
Heads:  Evans Level 360 G1 coated batter, Evans Level 360 Hazy 300 snare


As always, be sure to check out my "Tuning drums with Tune-bot" post, especially my Top Ten Tips for Tune-bot Tuning.  These tips provide general guidance that will help you avoid common drum tuning issues and get the most out of your Tune-bot.

Once again, a vintage drum really impresses me with its tone and playability.  If you haven't played a vintage Slingerland maple snare, I highly recommend it.

--Darin

August 24, 2014

Budget snare drum options

By Darin Soll

Finding the right voice for a new song in the studio often involves trying out new snare drums or upgrading existing ones.  As a result, my snare drum arsenal has evolved a bit since My wife thinks I have too many snare drums, a post from just over a year ago.

Despite my wife's concern, I continue to find ways to bring new and creative snare voices to my sound on a budget.  Each of my current snare drums cost between $40 and $299 before upgrades.  Here is my current snare drum lineup, from most-used to least-used:

Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 (vintage 1965-1979)
Shell: Chrome-over-brass   Typical tunings: 3F to 3G
Upgrades: Trick GS007 multi-step throw (chrome) with Retroplate, Puresound Snappy 20-strand snares, Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot batter head
Comments: Workhorse heavy brass snare; this 1975 model's original Zoomatic throw was broken; low-cost alternate to Ludwig Black Beauty
PDP Platinum Solid Maple 5x14 ($299 new)
Shell: 1-ply solid maple   Typical tunings: 3G to 3A
Upgrades: DW Mag throw, DW 3.0mm True-Hoops, Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot batter head
Comments: Low-cost alternate to vintage Slingerland Radio King; shell really sings at higher tunings; awesome rimshots with 3mm hoops
Slingerland Deluxe Student 5.5x14 (vintage 1963-1976)
Shell: 3-ply with re-rings   Typical tunings: 3G to 3A
Upgrades: Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Evans G1 coated batter head, Evans Hazy 300 snare head
Comments: This 1964 example of Slingerland's lower-cost 6-lug student model utilizes the same maple-poplar-maple 3-ply shell as the 8-lug Hollywood Ace and 1970+ Artist models
Rocket Shells C-900 8x13 (used)
Shell: Carbon fiber over core  Typical tunings: 3F to 3G
Upgrades: WorldMax 2.3mm chrome hoops, Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Evans Power Center reverse dot batter head, Evans Hazy 300 snare head
Comments: Lightweight, versatile, and powerful; tone somewhere between metal and wood; smooth Nickelworks throw
PDP Limited Edition 6.5x14 ($200 new)
Shell: 20-ply maple/bubinga   Typical tunings: 3F to 3G
Upgrades: Remo Emperor coated batter head
Comments: Low-cost alternate to Ludwig "Brick;" includes DW Mag throw, 2.3mm hoops, and quality snares; heavy and loud; using 2-ply batter head to dampen volume a bit
PDP Limited Edition 6.5x14 ($200 new)
Shell: 20-ply birch   Typical tunings: 3F to 3G
Upgrades: Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot batter head
Comments: Very similar to PDP 20-ply maple/bubinga--no need to own both, but black satin finish looks great with my PDP FS kit; includes DW Mag throw, 2.3mm hoops, and quality snares
Ludwig Acrolite 6.5x14 (vintage/used 1962-present)
Shell: Aluminum   Typical tunings: 3F# to 3G
Upgrades: Trick GS007 multi-step throw (chrome) with Retroplate, Puresound Equalizer 16-strand snares, Evans Power Center reverse dot batter head, Evans Hazy 300 snare head
Comments: Newer Classic reissue model; P-85 throw was bent; lower-cost alternate to Ludwig Supraphonic
Ludwig Acrolite 5.5x14 (vintage/used 1962-present)
Shell: Aluminum   Typical tunings: 3F# to 3A
Upgrades: WorldMax 2.3mm chrome hoops, Puresound Snappy 20-strand snares, Evans G1 coated batter head, Evans Hazy 300 snare head
Comments: Classic aluminum tone; this 1966 model's P-83 throw seems smoother than newer P-85; weak rimshots with original 1.6mm hoops
Pearl Export 6.5x14 (vintage 1986-1996)
Shell: Steel   Typical tunings: 3F to 3G
Upgrades: WorldMax 3.0mm black hoops, Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, Remo Controlled Sound reverse dot batter head
Comments: Very low-cost steel snare; 3.0mm hoops dry out tone a bit; consider upgrading stock Pearl throw
Mapex MPX 3.5x13 piccolo ($50 new)
Shell: Steel   Typical tunings: 3A to 3A#
Upgrades: None
Comments: Throw is not smooth, but it gets the job done

As you can see, there are excellent options available to the budget-conscious drummer looking to build up his or her snare drum arsenal.  Happy drumming!

--Darin

July 5, 2014

Vintage Slingerland Drumset

By Darin Soll

Over the past few years, I have been watching eBay and Craigslist for a set of 1970s Slingerland drums in good shape for a reasonable price.  While I've picked up a few Sound King COB snares along the way, most of the used Slingerland drumsets I saw were either too pricey or in poor condition.

1979 Slingerland "Country Roads" kit with oversized
concert toms and Rogers MemriLoc hardware retrofit
Regular readers of this blog already know that I grew up playing Slingerland drums in the late 70s and early 80s, and my first professional quality kit was a 1979 Slingerland "Country Roads" 7-piece kit with 5-ply shells in white gloss wrap.  It included a 14x6.5 COB Sound King snare, the first of many that I have owned.  The previous owner replaced the stock tom mounts with Rogers MemriLoc hardware, unfortunately drilling the virgin bass drum in the process.  I sold that kit for $400 in 1987 to pay rent.  I never liked the oversized concert toms, but I do miss the only 24-inch bass drum I ever owned...

Vintage 70s Slingerland drumset in violin red wood finish
Until now.  A few weeks ago, a 70s Slingerland drumset with a beautiful violin red wood finish, 24-inch bass drum, and 12-, 13-, and 16-inch toms appeared on eBay.  According to the listing, the drums included all the original parts, and from the photos, the finish on all the shells appeared to be in excellent condition.  I noticed that the seller was also offering a 14-inch floor tom in the same finish, so it was a great opportunity to purchase a vintage Slingerland kit with my typical two-up, two-down tom configuration.  I decided to go for it.

When it arrived late last week, there were no disappointments--Slingerland's revered maple-poplar-maple 3-ply shells with reinforcement rings, 30 degree roundover bearing edges, beautiful original finish, bass drum hoops with the chrome inlay intact, and the famous stick saver hoops.  The kit's violin red wood finish first appeared in the 1976 Slingerland catalog, and its serial numbers are in the high 230,000s, indicating that this is a 1975-1977 vintage kit, most likely 1976.

While this is going to be a player's kit rather than a museum piece, I decided against any upgrades that would prevent me from restoring the kit to original condition.

First upgrade:  Heads, of course.  The drums arrived with Remo Pinstripe batters all around, which decay too quickly for my tastes, but do produce the dull thuds typical of 70s pop/rock recordings!  Each tom is now outfitted with an Evans coated G2 over a clear G1.  The bass drum now wears Evans EMAD2 and EQ3 resonant black heads.  The EMAD2 does a good job controlling the boom emanating from the 24-inch bass drum.  A Remo Double Falam Slam Patch protects the EMAD2 from solid beaters, and a Slingerland bass drum decal adds a vintage touch to a modern bass drum setup.

Gibraltar SC-USS Universal Suspension Mount
is an excellent solution for vintage rack toms
Next upgrade:  Suspension tom mounts.  While Slingerland's Set-O-Matic tom mount system is quick and convenient, I prefer to position my rack toms closer together, and off of the bass drum.  After researching my options, I went with Gibraltar's SC-USS Universal Suspension Mount.  It is similar to Gretsch's current suspension tom mounts, with a smaller profile and three-point suspension design.  Threading through two tension rods instead of four, the Gibraltar mount stays out of the way when you position two rack toms close together from a single stand.  Using spare PDP tom brackets I already had, installation of the Gibraltar SC-USS was a snap.

Large washers help spread the load the suspension
mounts place on the Slingerland 3-ply shell at the lugs
For a cleaner look, and to reduce the weight of each rack tom, I decided to remove the existing Set-O-Matic tom brackets and hang the Gibraltar mounts over the holes left behind.  This worked out better than I expected.  I borrowed large washers from the Set-O-Matic brackets to help spread the new load the Gibraltar suspension mounts place on the thin 3-ply shells at the lugs.  I also reinstalled the bottom Set-O-Matic mount screw on each drum, as that is the spot where the Gibraltar mount's rubber tip presses against the side of the shell.

To restore the rack toms to original condition, I simply remove the Gibraltar mounts and reinstall the Set-O-Matic tom brackets.

The first thing I noticed when playing my "new" Slingerland kit after these upgrades is that the rack toms really opened up with the suspension mounts.  The Gibraltar SC-USS is an excellent solution for vintage rack toms with traditional mounts that limit positioning options or choke the sound.  The warm tone of the toms caught my attention as well, thanks to the rounder Slingerland bearing edges paired up with two-ply coated G2 heads.  And, last but not least, the 24-inch bass drum booms with authority, but the EMAD2 head (using the thicker of the two foam rings) keeps it under control without the need for a pillow--or the classic felt strips across the head approach as shown in the 1976 Slingerland catalog!

The right set of vintage drums can provide a new dimension to your sound.  The warm sounds of classic Slingerland shells, the 13-inch rack tom, and the 24-inch bass drum are perfect for classic 70s rock.  A word of caution, though, before you consider the purchase of a vintage kit:  Each U.S. vintage drum maker peaked at a different time, during which it built quality shells with a signature sound still sought after today.  However, as each party came to an end, shell quality declined, and the sound of the great American drumset declined with it.  Look for vintage drumsets with the maker's signature shells--3-ply shells with re-rings in the case of Slingerland toms and bass drums.  Otherwise, I think a modern mid-level kit is a better choice.

--Darin

May 10, 2014

Tuning Ludwig snare drums with Tune-bot

By Darin Soll

Last August, I posted "Tuning drums with Tune-bot," which consolidated a number of Tune-bot tuning tips from prior posts.  While that post is by far the most popular page in this blog, a number of you are looking for more details about tuning snare drums, especially Ludwig snare drums, using Tune-bot.

This is not a surprise--after all, there are a lot of Ludwig Supraphonic, Black Beauty, and Acrolite players out there!

Ludwig Acrolite Classic Reissue in 6.5x14
features a seamless aluminum shell
In this post, I will provide the Tune-bot tunings I use for my Ludwig Acrolite 6.5x14 (LM405) snare drum.  These tunings should serve as good starting points for the Ludwig Supraphonic 6.5x14 (LM402) snare drum as well, as the Supraphonic and Acrolite are based on the same aluminum shell.  However, since the Ludwig Black Beauty has a denser brass shell, tuning frequencies at the lugs for that drum will be somewhat lower, similar to my Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 COB snare tunings in "Tuning drums with Tune-bot," and "Getting the right sound out of your snare, part 2."


Darin's Ludwig Acrolite
6.5x14 snare drum Tune-bot tunings:

Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Reso:Batter frequency ratio:
3f, 174.6Hz 363Hz 273Hz 1.33
3f#, 185Hz 384Hz 289Hz 1.33
3g, 196Hz 396Hz 314Hz 1.26
3g#, 208Hz 400Hz 328Hz 1.22
3a, 220Hz 400Hz 360Hz 1.11
Drum:  Ludwig LM405C Acrolite Classic Reissue, 6.5x14 seamless aluminum shell
Heads:  Evans Level 360 G1 Power Center Reverse Dot coated batter, Evans Level 360 Hazy 300 snare


Supraphonic tuning frequencies may be slightly lower due as the Supra's chrome plating brightens the tone of the shell.

Ideally, you want to tune snare drum resonant lug frequencies to a perfect fifth (1.5 times), perfect fourth (1.33 times), or major third (1.26 times) higher than batter lug frequencies, and my 3f, 3f#, and 3g tunings conform to this.  My 3g# and 3a tunings do not because Tune-bot recommends against exceeding 400Hz at the lugs with thinner (2-3 mil) resonant heads for snare drums.

Also, be sure to check out "Darin's Top Ten Tips for Tune-bot Tuning" in "Tuning drums with Tune-bot."  These tips provide general guidance that will help you avoid common drum tuning issues and get the most out of your Tune-bot.

My Acrolite really sings between 3f# and 3a, so I can cover Zeppelin or crank it up for No Doubt or Katy Perry.

Side note:  I've noticed that my Acrolite seems to be really touchy about drumhead seating--has anyone else noticed this with Ludwig snares?

Enjoy!

--Darin