In the Sticks with Promuco
'Manufacturer Profiles' are usually boring excuses for selling ads - which is why IT doesn't run them. But now and again we come across someone doing something so interesting that we think you'd like to know about them. A case in point are Yorkshire's percussion specialists Promuco, recently visited by ITs John Clarke. Here's his report.
Where would you expect to find over a quarter of a million sticks per annum being produced, with 92% of them being exported? Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, all are answers you might expect. So how does the quiet South Yorkshire dwelling place of Thome grab you?? 'Cos that's where it's at!
For the past sixteen years, in a building dating back to 1860, Promuco has been doing very nicely thank you, unintimidated by the giants from the land of the rising kit and, would you believe, actually exporting to Japan! I raise my hat to that one (oh - I don't own a hat!) and, before knives are drawn, that isn't meant to imply that I'm knocking gear from the East; it's just pleasing to hear of a British company doing well in a market dominated by products from that source.
The man behind Promuco is Gerry Waller, a relaxed character who, although obviously a shrewd businessman, has a genuine love of percussion instruments. His track record speaks for itself - he was production manager for Premier, and later a major influence in the development of the original Hayman drums. Gerry now employs a staff of ten, drumsticks being the main product in a substantial range of percussion items numbering an incredible 160 models in the company catalogue, with the usual weights and styles offered by most companies supplemented by others designed in conjunction with various drummers. There's a rack in their factory containing different bundles of sticks, and quite a few prestigious names are pencilled on these (I nearly felt humble, but soon recovered!) - and it must say something for the sticks, as I've never read of Promuco paying any 'name' to endorse them.
Woods used are mainly maple, hornbeam and hickory, with great attention focused on attaining the correct moisture content and quality of grain. If Gerry has one obsession, it is quality. This I found to be a recurring subject throughout my visit to Promuco and, should there be any suspicion that it was laid on for IT, I had to return quite unannounced to get some pictures, and found the production working exactly as I'd seen it before, with the scrap bins still getting any timber or sticks not up to scratch.
Suggesting that a stick was just a stick earned me a lesson in 'a little knowledge can make one look a berk'. Taking one pair of my usual sticks that I had in the car, Gerry did a disappearing act between the racks, to emerge minutes later with a pair of his own make that were to the nearest specification possible. Taking each pair in turn, he played on the nearby wooden workbench, getting a black look from a young lady who was trying to pack sticks, and who was obviously concerned at the personal danger from Gerry's flying sticks. Anyhow, the sound produced did make mine sound dull and without definition; but, perhaps feeling that I suspected trickery, he repeated the exercise on a parade snare drum and, as a finale, by hitting the sticks together. To be honest, I didn't realise such a difference could exist between sticks so close in design, weight, materials and physical appearance: oh well, if nothing else, I have yet another excuse for my sound!
A 'first' claimed by Promuco was the invention of the nylon-tipped stick that didn't do the famous 'missile into the audience' trick, launching a piece of hard nylon into the face of the local Incredible Hulk who, deciding he was no longer into your playing, promptly lumbered to the stage in order to ram the now tipless stick into an orifice of your anatomy that I am going to leave to your individual imagination! So if you use a nylon beaded stick, it could be that Promuco have performed a service of which you have been unaware, as, before their innovation when the tip went upwards and the stick went down, it was once not uncommon to find the stick going right through the drum head! Judging by the number of drumsticks coming out of such a small factory, it would be natural to assume that manufacture is a computerised operation employing the latest hi-tech machines. This is not at all the case; all the work is carried out on normal woodworking machines that are manually operated, which allows for any poor sections of timber or below-standard sticks to be detected even before they pass to quality control.
Not being a 'household name' drum (nor one that I'd previously encountered, beyond seeing an occasional secondhand kit in the 'used' columns), I decided to find the reason for Promuco drums having such a low profile. Broaching the subject brought a response akin to a party political statement, and I guess Gerry has been asked the same question by other innocents.
'It's not company policy to make other than a limited number of drums in a year, as there are a lot of time-consuming hand processes involved, and I won't risk rushing a load of drums through to compete in a mass market. By adopting this attitude, I have remained in business as the only English complete percussion company that hasn't suffered, gone out of business, or experienced near disaster due to various reasons.'
You can't argue with facts as strong as those - nor with what Promuco are currently doing. Although this isn't intended to be a drum review, I'll attempt to briefly describe the shells which filled the store room from floor to ceiling, having been formed and awaiting drilling, covering and fitting out.
A special shell lining is optional to give greater 'cut'. Using select beech ply, the drum shell is formed in a patented process (the development of which made use of radio frequencies to achieve the ideal construction), and this permits a thin but strong shell not requiring reinforcing hoops. Glue for all drums has a lifetime guarantee against age hardening and subsequent shell problems (I have encountered a few old but good drums cracking up due to this), and Gerry expects his drums to give at least fifty years' service. That is one hell of a claim, but I assure you he means it. Tension lugs are rugged and have many facets that should look good under lights, with other hardware to suit individual fetishes, including that lining for the real hard 'power edge'. Unfortunately there were no kits assembled when I was there, but perhaps IT will get hold of one to review before too long, as I'm sure many drummers would be interested to hear about an alternative British drum kit - itself now a rarity.
My only personal observations are that it is a shame (for whatever reasons) that Promuco drums are not more widely available through normal retail outlets, and that only four basic colours are offered as standard. Sizing is also confined to the most popular sizes, but perhaps this isn't a major point, for the multi-drum set seems to be losing favour in recent times, as the drummer who isn't a Cobham, Phillips or Appice has now realised a smaller kit works just as well.
Modestly described as Gerry's 'parts store', across the factory yard is the most astounding collection of drum components I have ever seen. The only problem is in the form of two huge and evil geese, who patrol the area looking as if it would take a nuclear warhead to even remove a few of their feathers. However, ensuring everything was safely tucked away, a swift sprint saw me across the yard and in the building, gasping for breath and leaving the brutes sharpening their beaks ready for my return journey!
Inside are literally tons of fittings for drums both old and current, along with makes no longer around - those which seemed to disappear in the Seventies as Japanese brands started to really gain favour amongst British drummers. Of course there are parts universal to all drums, and Gerry confesses this could prove a headache if he allowed it to. Although a helpful guy by nature, it is understandable that he can't have a member of his staff shut down a stick-making machine to search for and despatch one-off parts, and in the process lose production of numerous pairs of drumsticks. But I understand he will try and supply components in reasonable quantities to those prepared to send their shopping list for perusal, when factory commitments allow him the time.
Without doubt Promuco are a busy little company. They offer a wide range of quality sticks and beaters to the world percussion market, and this is their first line, with other manufactured items carefully slotted in around their production. It would be hard to find any negative area in what they do. Final thoughts are that I would like to return one day with a shotgun - just to play with the geese. And my greatest regret (completely out of character) is that I forgot to grovel and ingratiate myself in order to scrounge a pair of sticks - so if you're reading this, Gerry, your craftsmanship and manufacturing of superior hitting devices, etc. etc. (that's enough grovelling! - Ed).
Feature by John Clarke
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!