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

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