originally published August 2014
When I was living and playing in Santa Barbara, Ca.in the early 80s, I borrowed a snare drum from a friend, Brad Wisham, whose nickname is “Squid”. It was a 1920s Ludwig chrome over brass 4 x 15 Theatre model and it was one of the best sounding snare drums I have ever played and heard.
I used it on several recordings and a bunch of gigs and I really hated to have to return it to Brad. I searched for one for thirty years and I came upon a few that were either in bad shape or just did not have the sound of that particular drum. In 2010 a guy walked into my drum shop in Akron Ohio with one of them, an eight lug model, that he said he had been using as a door stop (sacrilege!). I ended up trading him a new Ludwig wood drum for it. After fixing it up and putting decent heads and snares on it, Eureka! It sounded just like Brad’s. Brad’s drum had a certain low end sound that I had never heard any other drum produce, and it was just a rich and very responsive brass drum at any tuning. I have used mine extensively on recordings. It’s all over the new Poco record. It does have a few minor dings and a couple of extra holes and the wrong strainer, but I am always more concerned with the sound than the originality, so I'm not changing a thing. You can’t tell it's not all original through the speakers! ☺
Benny Yurco of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals playing my snare at Dan Auerbach's studio
During the process of selling a multi – sparkle WFL snare to Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, I took several other drums along just to show him some of my better sounding snares. He really liked this 4 x 15. I told him it wasn’t for sale but I would try to find one for him. This time it didn’t take thirty years. A few weeks later I stumbled across one on the internet that an Irishman named Andy Hilton was selling. I knew from the description that he knew what he had and that it would be as good sounding as mine. He wrote;
“It is with some reluctance that today I offer up my circa 1924 Ludwig Nickel over Brass Concert Dance model snare drum. This is a very rare piece indeed, yet I am happy to say is as usable today as it was eighty eight odd years ago. It features the legendary two piece shell construction, the process renowned the world over for giving the "Black Beauties" of the era their unmistakable sound. Indeed the NOBs and the BBs are effectively the same drum by virtue of this shell configuration. This drum is 15" by 4" and is a ten tube lugged model. All parts are original to the drum other than heads and snare wires/cord. It has been very well treated over its lifetime, there are no defects to the parts, no cracked clips or lugs. The single flange hoops are in round and sit flat. The snare mechanism works perfectly and the drum tunes up fantastically easily. It shows a fair degree of patina, I have only ever given it a light rub down and oiling to the threads and snare mechanism. There is a degree of nickel loss to the shell, lugs and hoops. The photographs should make this evident.
Andy and Gary at the scene of the crime
I would suspect that if you are reading this you will already know what to expect from this drum. Brevity impels me... Probably the finest sounding Orchestral or Studio snare you are ever likely to encounter, from the most articulate buzz to the throatiest crack imaginable, the best snare I have ever played bar none. And then there are the brushes...”
Don’t you just love descriptions like that? I contacted him and we came to an agreement. The shipping was going to be expensive and he was going to have to drive to England to ship it because UPS did not go as far as his town. As luck would have it, my friend Gary Asher, one of the foremost drum collectors of all time!!!!, was traveling in the British Isles and was going to be in Dublin the very next day, which was just a fairly short drive for Andy.
The drum was hungry
Gary agreed to pick up the drum and hand deliver it to me. You have to understand Gary Asher’s exuberant personality to appreciate how he proceeded from that point. I call Gary “the cheerleader of the drum collecting world”. He was manager of Nuncie’s Music in Huntsville Alabama for years where he started collecting and built an amazing museum of vintage drums and sets within the store. After Nuncie’s he started drumschool.com where he teaches many, many students .
The drum was also thirsty
Gary’s collection has taken over his house. You can’t walk ten feet without running into a drum set, most of them rare or special. Gary is one of the most positive, upbeat, gracious and sincere men I’ve ever met. He is also funny and never quits smiling and laughing. He makes many trips around the country often to all the drum shows and to stores and other collectors. I knew Gary was going to take this one all the way to ten. I started receiving email pics from Gary.
I don't know. It just sounded dirty
The first was of him and Andy with the drum when they met in Dublin. Then there came the one with a chicken sandwich sitting on top of the drum with the message “The drum was hungry”. The next one had a mug of ale on top of the drum with the message “ the drum was thirsty”. Then he sent me one of the drum in the overhead bin of the plane. Then it became an entire travelog of this drum's journey.
The drum made it into the overhead bin
I was out of town when he was going to be in Nashville to deliver the drum so he left it with Gary Forkum at Fork’s Drum Closet and I picked it up a few days later. The drum was in excellent condition. No dents or dings. You could tell that the drum had been well taken care of and regularly cleaned and polished. Some of the brass was showing through the nickel chrome from 90 years of polishing. It looked soulful and sounded great and I was anxious to compare it with my drum.
The drum tried to make a break for Rome
My drum was sitting at Dan Auerbach’s recording studio. I had loaned it to him while he and Pat Carney were cutting Black Keys tracks. Pat played mine and really liked it. I took the “Irish Drum” over to Dan’s studio and AB’d them. Bingo again! It had the same throatiness and resonance that mine has.
Ah, yes...the Big Apple
The only difference between the two drums is that Dan’s is the deluxe ten lug model while mine is the standard eight lug.I could tell a slight pitch difference between the ten lug and the eight lug but it had “that” sound; a big throatiness that is hard to define. I would characterize it as the sound of the Norwegian Army coming over the hill. Don’t ask me where I got that. I don’t even know if Norway has an Army! I haven’t heard back from Dan or Pat since I delivered it but I hope they like it.
My 15 inch Ludwig Cob - the Doorstop
These Ludwig drums have the double flanged bearing edges that are welded back to the shell and a very deep crimped snare bed. The 14” models don’t sound like the 15” models for some reason. I speculate that it is just the right combination of tube lugs, the welded edges, the way the snare beds seat the snares, and the dimensions of the drum all working in unison as one vibrating source that makes it sound the particular way it does. Every one who has ever played mine has been very surprised at the greater degree of tone and resonance that this particular drum has compared to other brass drums. Now, I wonder where the next one is?