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Wanted - Drums of Note (Part 2)

Still looking for a secondhand kit? Last month John Clarke investigated the American contenders. He concludes this two-parter with The Europeans.

Having covered the American contenders in this guide to used drums last month, we now arrive at those kits made on our side of the Pond, with British, German and French makers representing Europe's contribution. As with last month's American drums, I've concentrated here only on those makes which you're still quite likely to find in many shops' used gear departments, leaving out some of the real 'weirdos' which are rare and, of course, very much subject to personal taste.

It's rather sad that we Europeans have never really turned out anything like the number of the collectable kits that our colonial cousins have, which means that most of the European made drums I'm looking at this month are really only considered as semi-pro or amateur propositions. Someone once said to me that 'some stupid buggers cut down Europe's hardwood trees a few hundred years ago' and that, as a result, our native makers could never really compete with the Americans, who've always had access to high quality Maple. If our makers wanted Maple they had to import it (at cost). However, the Beech and Birch shells used as substitutes weren't necessarily inferior; it was more that American drums sounded different and few drummers during the Sixties and Seventies could resist the more 'open' or 'full' American sound. Nonetheless, here are the makes you're likely to encounter.

Home Grown - The Brits

PREMIER really must have more drums scattered around the market on this (or any other) planet than any other two drum companies that I can think of; which, if nothing else, must stand as a tribute to their durability! For many years the Premier Drum Co. produced little other than the occasional hardware updates by way of new introductions, as a result of which they were caught with their percussive pants well and truly down when certain gents from the Far East decided to 'have a go' at the drum market. For all that, it would take a very harsh critic to fault the care with which Premier have always constructed their drums. Using Birch ply shells reinforced by sturdy internal hoops at both bearing edges, die cast hoops in their superb chrome and many different (and effective) coverings, Premier have always looked such very good prospects. So what went wrong? For all their care, Premier's drums became noted for having a 'boxy' or 'restricted' sound. Mind you, listen to their current products beside those of Yamaha, Tama and Pearl and you'll see how far this is no longer true. Just for the record, some pundits have suggested that it was Premier's earlier use of a softer middle ply that created this reputation, while others have argued that it was because of their use of a flush bracing feature. Whatever the cause, if you're looking for a set that will sound good and soak up an infinite amount of punishment then you could do an awful lot worse than opt for an old Premier kit. Put it this way: Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell, Sam Woodyard (Duke Ellington) and many others were more than satisfied by these earlier Premier kits, so why shouldn't you be?!

ROGERS (UK) probably caused more confusion in drummers' minds than why it was that the band's vocalist always managed to stand in front of the bass drum, obscuring the drummers-eye view of that mini-skirted young lady in the fourth row! Either way, someone had the bright idea at some stage of having Rogers shells manufactured in England, but fitted with imported hardware — thus creating two distinctly different lines of Rogers drums. The IT Cat's spies tell me that these 'Rogers' shells were, in fact, made by Premier and that they were equipped with that over flexible 'Swivomatic' hardware by their London-based marketing/distribution people. As time went by these Rogers kits became quite well accepted by drummers.

While not up to the standard of original US-built Rogers kits, there are plenty of these UK produced types still to be found (usually at vety good prices) and they're worth a try. Do note, however, that (during the early 1980s) Taiwanese Rogers kits were being marketed under the 'R360' and 'R380' labels. They're conspicuous by having 'modern' hardware but became about as popular as sets of concrete cymbals. You have been warned!

Another drum name manufactured by Premier, although not marketed by them, was BEVERLEY. Their drums were designed to offer the not so well off British drummer a kit with American looks, to the extent that they ended up looking a bit like Ludwig with some Rogers thrown in for good measure. I don't intend that to sound like a put down though because these drums weren't just good looking, they could also be made to sound very respectable although they were sadly underrated. Today, a Beverley is still a very pleasant sounding kit and is about the cheapest buy on the secondhand market that's worth considering.

Back in the Seventies, HAYMAN came closest of all to pushing the competition back across the Atlantic. With their stylish round casings (as per Cameo and now Drum Workshop) plus a very robust rail-type tom tom holder, Hayman were, for sadly only a short time, a very major force to be reckoned with.

Their constructional method provided a thin Birch ply shell reinforced internally with the usual hoops, the inside of the drums being finished in white gloss - 'Vibrasonic' they called it. I must come clean and confess at this point that I still own a Hayman kit, so I'm well aware of both the positive and negative sides of them, the latter being represented by the snare drum. For some reason this drum never managed to live up to the quality of the rest of Hayman's drums, being rather gutless, not to say feeble. A lot of drummers changed to other makes of snare pretty early on. The rest of the kit, however was very 'live'and 'ballsy' and will still cope with most requirements - it's another type I can recommend you to try.

Again, a recent attempt has been made to relaunch an old name, this time with a Taiwanese-made Hayman set which, as with Rogers, can be easily identified by having a modern tom tom holder and spurs without your having to look for the heavier, unreinforced shells that are also a feature of the Taiwan-produced Hayman. They appear to have been discontinued now, not having found a lot of favour.

Der Thumpenkickenmachinen

Whilst they've always been recognised for being strongly constructed drums, the kits produced by SONOR back in the Sixties held nowhere near the price levels maintained by today's highly valued models. I've made many comparisons between Sonor and other kits produced back then (notably those from Premier) and have come to the conclusion that while they were undoubtedly made to last, there is some truth in the reasoning of many drummers back then who regarded them as sounding boring. Mind you, if you come across an old Sonor kit give it a try - one man's meat, etc.

TRIXON (beside launching some very weird looking conical shaped drums and trying at one stage to convince us that an egg-shaped bass drum with two pedals was the answer to the twin bass drum principle!) did produce quite a few conventional kits, and damned good they were too! Do watch out, however, for those Trixon models fitted with diamond shaped lugs, as even those non-metric sized heads that are available won't fit them. Stick to the types with the square lugs.

Six months ago I installed a terribly coloured five-drum Trixon (would you believe metallic red crocodile?!) into a studio run by a couple of friends of mine. The idea was for it to be used for rehearsal work, but recording tests showed that it actually sounded really good - particularly so for a twenty year old drum kit. Trixon were way ahead of their time in many respects; take for example the fact that the drums in question were what we call today 'power sizes,' having tension lugs with the insert mounted in a nylon rattle-free mounting and more. All very advanced stuff, and not necessarily improved upon by today's makers. All in all Trixon kits are cheap on the secondhand market and well worth looking out for, providing you stick to the models described above.

Caisses, Monsieur?

ASBA are probably the only French-made drums you're likely to encounter on the secondhand market. The woods they used were never actually named in their catalogues, but examination reveals them to be a decent grade of hardwood that had been very well fashioned into drums, with great attention appearing to have been paid to detail.

My own experience with Asba drums has been restricted to a kind of black Teflon (?) coated sprayed stainless steel. Although undeniably loud, the sound was rather toneless in character, a common problem on many man-made shells. In looks, the tension lugs seem extremely similar to those used by Gretsch, well chromed and with the better kind of die cast hoops fitted to all toms and the snare. Unfortunately, one of the worst tom tom holders ever to be fitted to a drum can be ascribed to this maker; with its assorted tubes and knuckle joints it was about as stable as a Russian nuclear power station. One small consolation about this rather nasty device is that you can retain the bass drum mount, throw away everything above and replace it with a Pearl top section. Fortunately the tubing fits very nicely, thank you, with only a slight amount of care needing to be taken to ensure not fitting the Pearl knuckles back to back as they're a close fit. Most drummers who've done this, however, solve the problem by bringing the toms round and setting them closer together, and that seems to work well.

Overall, Asba are one of the kits you're least likely to come across, but they're once again worth looking at and considering seriously.

And in Conclusion...

At the risk of repeating myself (get on with it! — Ed.) must say again that you'll probably need to make some alterations to any of the kits mentioned above, probably by having to fit more modern tom holders, spurs and other hardware.

It's widely believed that the rigours of life on the road are harder today (although I'm not at all sure that they are!) so you'll probably find older hardware inadequate by today's standards, even if the drums themselves are OK. And don't forget that if you find a good used kit with its chrome and general condition indicating that it's been reasonably well looked after, you can always recover it, either on a DIY basis (most decent music shops can obtain the material you require) or by contacting one of the many specialist refurbishers. Finally, if you're concerned about undertaking any of the minor repairs which may be needed with an older kit, dare I suggest that you dig out IN TUNE Issues 6 and 10, where I delved into the main problems you're likely to encounter.

Good hunting!

Series - "Drums Of Note"

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In Tune - Dec 1986

Donated by: Gordon Reid


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Drums Of Note

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Feature by John Clarke

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