I remember my first drumming experience. It was 1983, and I’d just moved in with my new step-family in Western Massachusetts. My brand new step brother was three years older than I was, he played basketball (Varsity, no less), he wascool , and he played drums.
I would watch him practice to Springsteen songs…headphones on, big coiled headphone cord drooping over to his record player…he never objected to my wide-eyed presence. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, “Badlands”, “Born to Run”….I couldn’t hear the songs, but I came to recognize the songs he played by the groove.
One night, I got brave. I asked him if I could try. “Sure” he grinned, almost anticipating the 13-year-old train wreck that was about to occur. I went up to my room, grabbed my Quiet Riot album “Metal Health” and ran back down to his basement hideaway, post-haste. I plopped his headphones atop my head, grabbed the sticks, and gently set the needle on the record….and I actually played the song. It wasn’t perfect, mind you…but it was good enough to warrant a “not bad…” from my step-brother.
The rest, they say, is history. Alex Van Halen, Rick Allen, John Bonham, Sandy Nelson, Peart, Buddy, Cobham, Collins, Copeland, Torme…I ate them up. Couldn’t get enough…I loved them…But I always found myself, for some strange reason, asking “But what drums were they playing?” “What brand of drums?” “How many drums?” “What crash cymbal is on this record?”
I know I am not the only one. I’ve been on the internet. We are many. We are unabashed. We are gearheads. Professional drummers are amazing people. We worship them, adore them, buy their signature drumsticks, learn their techniques, styles and solos…hang posters of them in our practice spaces…but a few of us yearn for more. We love the drumming, but are fascinated, captivated, no…obsessed with…THE GEAR.
What’s up with that? Shouldn’t we be tirelessly practicing rudiments and sticking? That’s all well and good, but I, personally, prefer the nuts and bolts of it all. I’m a builder by trade these days (formerly an executive chef and stagehand), and love the viscera …the guts…the dirty bits if you will. I was “in charge” of all manners of instrument repair in high school band. I had a curiosity and a natural knack for diagnosing and solving problems with gear.
Fast forward to today…I am 46 now, I no longer play out in bands. Not because I can’t. I reside in Central Florida…the talent pool here is deep and wide, and I know several supremely talented musicians… Mostly because I work a lot, but also I have a 5 year old son who is, at very least, demanding of a few minutes of my free time most days. I have little time for hobbies of any sort, except for gear. I still collect it, restore it, play it, buy it, trade it, sell it, and enjoy it more than I should, really. I have a veritable arsenal of amazing snare drums, several kits, cymbals, heads, sticks, bins flowing over with hardware, racks, rims, and clamps….acoustic and electric. I do not discriminate. Ludwig, Yamaha, Pearl, Slingerland, Mapex, Tama, and Roland to name a few. I love gear so much, a few years ago, I started making my own.
My first attempt was building stave drums. “Number one “was supposed to be a rough draft. Birch 5" x 14’’ with rescued Mapex hardware. It was better than a rough draft, apparently, because my best friend, amazing drummer, percussionist, producer, arranger, engineer Keith Wilson who passed away in 2014, snatched it up and put it right to work in his studio. He really dug the drum…first try was, by all accounts, a modest success! Well, I guess I never did get around to making that throw away rough draft drum. All the drums that followed were improvements on the original, and I somehow managed to stay in “the zone”. It’s been a dream come true for this gear head for sure!
These days (and nights, sadly) I can be found on the internet, talking to other gear heads about their kits…watching various videos and listening to sound bites. I’m also on Craigslist a lot…looking for that elusive $30 thrift store Black Beauty I just know is out there, waiting for me. So far I have found several treasures in unlikely places like Goodwill and pawn shops. Krupa 6.5 x 14” brass shell snare in need of some love…$40. Mint original Tama stainless steel rack system (hand written tag said “keyboard stand” on it) …$30. It never hurts to snoop around for treasures. have new stuff as well…I’m not a total cheapskate. I have forked out some big bucks for new drums I considered to be absolute monsters…Tama nickel over brass Starphonic, GMS Revolution with brass inner ply, New Monroe keystone Ludwig 402, and lots of vintage drums, too…Slingerland Artist, several brass shell drums, and lots of Ludwig kits of all sizes and shell types.
What can I say? I love gear, and it’s not a bad hobby to have. I’d actually call it a passion, but either will suffice. I used to collect and restore cars and motorcycles. My wife, I think, is pretty ok with my gear obsession. She is actually amazingly supportive in by building of them, and so, vicariously, she must be okay with the collection of gear in our former family room.
Marc Hayward is a cabinet maker, a former chef, and a dad. He owns and operates Hayward Drum Co, and lives in central Florida with his gear.