In the late 1930s, the Slingerland Drum Company was at their pinnacle of success and biggest historical rate of drum production. The Slingerland Radio King drum line was one of the most sought after percussion instruments during this golden era of jazz. Drum consumers were placing overwhelming orders. The Krupa 6.5x14 Radio King wood shell snare model and drumline were being produced 24/7 by the Slingerland factory workers. Every aspiring drummer from beginner to professional wanted to play the exact drums that “Ace Drummer Man", Gene Krupa had made so iconic.
At this time, wood was the main ingredient to produce the Radio King shells and drum line. Slingerland was advertising that they were the exclusive drum company producing a 1-ply steam bent solid maple shell snare drum. The wood shell snare drum was the preferred or popular choice by many drummers of this era.
Although, there were still a small minority of drummers who actually preferred to play a “metal” shell snare drum. Slingerland recognized this situation and offered a Radio King metal shell snare drum in their catalog. However, very few of these metal brass shells were ordered and produced.
Here is a wonderful example of a very rare late 30s, Slingerland 5x14 Radio King metal shell snare drum. The shell is heavy brass, one piece, and nickel plated brass. According to Slingerland’s catalogs of this era, this metal shell snare could only be ordered in 5x14 or 6.5x14 sizes The plating options available were either nickel or chromium. Unlike the popular “Krupa" model, there was limited information describing all options that were available when ordering the metal version. Most likely, these metal shells were much like a special order that was requested and specified by the consumer.
It is important to point out that Slingerland used up every single available part in a fast pace assembly line. The volume of supply and demand impacted what was available on any given day to accommodate an order. This is a significant reason why some snare drums came equipped with or without a muffler. Moreover, some Radio Kings came equipped with the 3-point strainer and two extension bridges, while others had the 3-point strainer and only a simple butt plate installed. Stockpiles of many key parts quickly were depleted, so a cataloged or prototypical Radio King snare drum was not always produced exactly, due to the limited supplies.
In today’s vintage market, some collectors believe that a Radio King Snare drum must be made exactly to original specs and cataloged to be legitimate. This is a absolutely incorrect and a falsehood. Many Radio Kings simply were constructed with what parts were available at time of factory assembly. In addition, there were “one-offs” that were uniquely made for a consumer’s special order request.
Here are the Specifications:
The construction of this 5 x14” shell is a heavy brass, one piece shell. The shell is plated with a highly polished nickel over the brass body. The shell has a specially crafted design only unique to Slingerland. This design is a carry over from their late 20s/early 30s heavy brass professional models with the tube lug design.
Interestingly, this shell was constructed with a large center bead which has a larger center arc than a 30s Ludwig and Ludwig two piece brass shell. The bearing edges are at a forty five degree angle that have a flanged lip that extends inward. This design gives this snare much strength and stability for a powerful attack and quick response. Most importantly, this snare drum really has an ultra dynamic range and sensitivity. The snare beds are specially crimped, allowing for great snare response to capture staccato articulation and sensitivity.
The lug design of this metal shell is very complimentary, utilizing eight radio king streamline center lugs with the beautifully crafted “art deco" design which certainly adds to the aesthetic beauty of this snare drum. There are sixteen springs loaded to hold the swivel inserts to accommodate the tension rods. The lugs are specially machined to accept the large center bead design and are thick walled inside. However, these streamline lugs varied in design through Slingerland’s formidable years. They were made out of a pot metal variety and sometimes prone to breakage under years of tension.
The top hoop on this snare is stamped with the “Slingerland Radio king” logo and constructed of solid brass with nickel plating. The bottom hoop design is unique , as it has the wider snare gate.
The opening is approximately three by one half inches with a rectangular channel design.
The snare gate is a first generation Radio King design that would later transition using four rivets to replace the four machine screws.
The 3-point throw off design was used for the strainer system. This was the popular choice and one of the most efficient strainers of its time. This is close to the first generation 3 point, which has a male thread attached. There is a knurled knob nut to allow for a drummer to adjust or break down the collapsible throw handle. The butt plate is a simple design.
The sixteen tension rods are the Radio King square head variety. These tension rods are 2-1/4" long and tapped threads approximately ¾ in length. Sixteen factory washers complete this set up.
No muffler is installed.
This rare Radio King 5x14 Heavy Brass Shell snare drum is a wonderful design that Slingerland had offered in their late 30s catalog. This was an alternative choice to the popular wood shell Radio King snare. The drum consumer that preferred a metal shell snare still had an option because of Slingerland’s catalog choices and special orders.
These rare metal snare drums are extremely collectible and desirable. Only a handful of these great drums have ever come to light and still exist. The next time you are searching for the ultimate vintage snare drum, you may want to add this beautifully crafted drum to your wish list.