My Drums - Their Story

I got to thinking the other day about my drums and their stories. Or is it about my stories attributed to the drums. Either way I believe that each drum, if it falls into the hands of a professional player, ends up with a story to tell. I am not a vintage drum collector but I have many drums and each has a tale to tell.  Their story can range from how I got the drum, where it was used or the individual or company that made the drum.

I have already written about my 6 ½” X 15” single-tension Leedy Snare Drum - (March 2014). It opened the Eastman Theatre in 1922 with a fortissimo snare drum roll played by William G. Street for the Star Spangled Banner. The drum was then used by Oliver Zinsmeister in the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band and probably spent a few gigs at the White House. The drum is now here with me at the Eastman School of Music and has been used for many formal occasions involving the Eastman Theatre. Not a bad history for such a drum.

In another article for Not So Modern Drummer, I have written about the Rogers Drums that are part of the Eastman School of Music Percussion Department -  (September 2014). I would like to single out one of the Rogers 6 ½” X 14” drums that is my personal snare drum. The Rogers Drum Company gave the drum to me since I was endorsing the drums and supplying the Eastman Percussion Department with their equipment. Now why is one drum so important?  This drum was in my studio and played on by all the students for their lessons. It also had another function. It was the drum used for all the auditions at the school. I auditioned 1,618 students in my 49 years of teaching – only 258 of those who auditioned were accepted. This drum has seen the best and the worst. If it could talk, I am sure it would have stories to tell.

In 1976 the Eastman School of Music played host to the first Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC). The Premier Drum Company was exhibiting at that convention and was featuring a rope tension drum 19 ½” X 17”. Jim Coffin was the man in charge of this exhibit and he being a friend of mind suggested that I buy one. I did and have had it ever since. I have played it on several occasions and each time I use it I am reminded of the convention and what a great event it was and the drums position in the history of drums.  Inscribed on a plaque on the shell of the drum is the following:


Having a son who is also a drummer/percussionist has its rewards upon reaching milestones in your life. When I turned 55 years old he had W.H. Reamer make me a replica of The Grand Army Republic (GAR) Drum with the emblazonment of the Eagle clutching arrows and a shield – 21” X 17”. Since I was also in the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band, W.H. Reamer emblazoned the shell with the Marine Corps Globe and Anchor, my name and dates I served in the band. This is a beautiful drum that sounds as good as it looks. I have used this drum on countless occasions for rudimental demonstrations, clinics, parades and lectures. Inside the drum across from the vent hole there is plaque that reads:


I also had W.H. Reamer make the same drum for my son. Now we have matching father and son drums. He was also in the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band and has the Eagle and the Globe and Anchor on the shell.

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph about having a son who gives great gifts at milestones in my life, the 6 ½” X 14” Orlich glass drum was a gift when I retired from playing timpani in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra after 43 years. As you can see the plaque reads – JOHN H. BECK – ROCHESTER PHLHARMONIC ORCHESTRA  - 1959-2002. This drum was a big surprise to my students as well as some auditioning students. I always had my Rogers Drum for them to play on but had the glass drum there so they could experience its tone and feel that I might add is great.

There you have the story of MY DRUMS – THEIR STORY. You can decide if drums have a story or the player gives them their story – I think it is collaboration between the two or said in another way – IT IS A WIN WIN SITUATION.

1960s Leedy Shelly Manne Set

I really like Leedy drums. I know some of you share my passion for these fine American made drums. I just love the history of this company, and besides, the drums are high quality and beautiful. When I was a young boy there was a sign artist that lived next door to us. He painted signs for businesses and such, and he was a very good painter. On day I went over to his shop and there was a drum head he was painting for a local band. They were called The Wild Cherries. I remember the look of the letters on the head and what stuck out the most was the Leedy logo on the head. I had seen the Ludwig logo on Ringo's drum head and I was not as dumb as some people to think it was part of the band's name. I had never heard of Leedy drums and so I guess I was dumb at first to think the band's name was Leedy the Wild Cherries. I soon started learning information about Leedy drums from another drummer who told me they were the same as Ludwigs. That information wasn't exactly right even though Ludwig and Leedy were owned by the same company for many years, and Leedy and Ludwig were even combined for a few years in the early 1950s. Then I had a friend who had a set similar to the set I'm featuring from my collection this month. He told me Leedy was not just like Ludwigs they were just like Slingerland drums. He was also somewhat right, because Slingerland bought Leedy from Conn in the late 50s and basically made what some people call "Slingerleedys". This drum set from my collection is a Slingerland built Leedy set from the early 1960s.

Leedy drums from this era (1956-1965) are very similar in every way to Slingerland drums with the exception of the lugs and badges. This set is a 22", 16", 13" set in standard depths. The lugs are Beavertail Leedy Lugs. You will hear the expression "Art Decco Design" when referring to these sleek modern looking lugs. The blue oval Leedy badges have Chicago 48, ILL. USA on them. This will date them 1960's. The first Leedy badge Slingerland made was a brass oval that dates drums mid 50s. The first blue oval badge '57-'58 didn't have the 48 after Chicago. The rims are "Stick Savers just like Slingerland drums. The Finish is yellowed white marine pearl. The set looks almost butterscotch. The yellowing is not consistent over the whole set. Something interesting to notice in the photos are the unfaded areas on the kick drum. The set had a cloth muffler across the batter head with excess cloth covering an area on the shell. Where the cloth shaded the shell the finish is still white. There is another white area where the front calf head was not tensioned equally. The place where the head covered the shell is still gleaming white. There was also a small sticker on the bass drum shell by the badge, and on the floor tom shell that covered a small spot. If the drums had been kept covered by a sheet when not in use they would probably be a lot whiter than they are now after 55 years. Any way, I still love that vintage "vibe" these drums have. They are beautiful to me.

I always share my adventures in collecting, because it is a lot of fun and exciting to score a great drum set. I buy some drums on E-Bay and I am not at all knocking that method of acquiring vintage drums, although It is like fishing in a barrel. It's more fun, and you really feel like you have scored when you find drums at good prices from owners or unlikely places. I realize that's more difficult now and it's becoming more difficult all the time. These drums were owned by my great friend Butch Braddy. I've told you before that he has helped me get a lot of drums over the years. He is the sales manager of the drum department at a large music store in a local city. He gets the opportunity to pass on or buy a lot of great vintage drums. I am so glad he's my friend. If he is letting something go or thinning his collection, I get a call. I try to keep some cash ready for just such an emergency. He called me recently to tell me about this Leedy set that he was parting with. I was there to lift his burden as soon as I could get to him. Thanks, Butch for this great set. Until next time, always peek into those dumpsters. You never know when someone has tossed out a Leedy Black Elite snare drum.


Eddie Knight

I went to visit Eddie Knight at his Drum Studio in South Bend.  I called him to ask if he had an email address because Mike Kaskell in England asked me.  A Camco set with an “Eddie Knight” sticker was in England.

No, Eddie doesn’t have an email address.  He did tell me he had a leather bound catalog cover that had belonged to U.G. Leedy.  That’s like telling me he had George Washington’s uniform or Abe Lincoln’s hat.  “I’ll be there”.

South Bend is over two hours from me and it took me a few months to come up with a second reason to get to that part of my state.

Eddie and I made an appointment and I went to his studio, up 23 steps from ground level and I walked into “Oz”.

Because I am old enough to remember great old drum stores, I am familiar with the sights of old Camcos laying around and snare drums sitting on the floor and stuff just everywhere.  This was no chrome and glass and steel modern designed music store.  This was no dainty well dusted showroom.  This was not a Madison Avenue inspired anything.   This was a dyed in the wool drum studio just like they used to be.  I just wanted to breathe the air and get high on 50 years of everything.

There were more autographed pictures than I could count – stars on sets, old students on sets, black and white shots, vivid color, faded color, and old advertising pieces.  My running statement was that I was on sensory overload.

Yes, I saw great drums, but for this piece, I will stay on topic.  Eddie pulled out four leather bound Leedy catalogs – F & G.   So we talked, prior to World War I.

Two of the catalogs had the gold embossed name of “U.G. Leedy” (the much revered president), one had the name “Alfred Kuerst”.  Al, as he was known, was the VP of Leedy, really the second in command.  Before George Way got there, Al was the guy quoted in trade magazines.  He was also very popular because he paid each employee his/her wages in cash every week.   The fourth catalog read “order clerk.”

So, these were the books taken to music stores and trade shows.   The covers are permanent – the catalogs do not slip and out.   This is what I came to see and they were just the start!

Somehow George Way got these special catalogs and his widow, Elsie, gave everything to Eddie over 40 years ago.  Eddie had been a protégé of George, and George called him “Be-Bop”.

Well, Be-Bop has some other catalog treasures B and C and other Leedy catalogs.  And every one I saw looked brand new.  Leedy’s first catalog was not branded with a letter.  It has the Cyclorama address in it, so that makes it before 1903.  Therefore “B” has to have been published no sooner than 1904.   And it looks new - uncreased, no spots, no loose pages, no cuts.  Damn!

Eddie has boxes of his catalogs with many of them in plastic.  We need an archivist, please!

I had a great albeit brief visit with Eddie who has taught drummers for 50 years.  I’d like to go back, shoot the breeze and breathe the air.

His catalog collection is superb and while it was U.G. Leedy that got me there, it was Eddie Knight who kept me in riveted attention.

I never would have guessed we have a rival to the Library of Congress in downtown South Bend, Indiana.


Leedy 1940s Drum Set

Hello, vintage drum friends. I just love the old drums, and I'm sure many of you love them too. If you didn't you probably wouldn't be reading this magazine. There's just something special about the drums built in the 20s through the 40s. Most of the drums I own are from the 50's through the 70's. Those really appeal to me the most because those are the drums I grew up playing and wanting. The same is true of cars. I really dig the 50's through the 70's cars the most, but the pre 1950s cars are also very cool to me. Just like the really old cars with the big fenders, the really old drums have a special awesomeness about them. Those big bass drums and the sound of those old "tubs" give me goose bumps. I have a set to show you that I think has a great old vibe and I think you'll love them. It is a set made by the great Leedy Mfg. Company. They have a 1941 date inside. So they were built just before the United States entered into Word War II.

Leedy was one of the great American drum companies, and their drums were known for excellent quality. They were a very innovative drum company. The first drums they made were built in Indianapolis. The 20s were a wonderful time for the company. Leedy products were very popular. U.G. Leedy, the founder became sick and sold the company to Conn in 1929. The Leedy drums were made in Elkhart, Indiana beginning in the 30's. This kit has Elkhart badges. Throughout the 30s and 40s Leedy drums demonstrated American craftsmanship at its best.  I recommend you read "Mr Leedy and The House of Wonder" by Harry Cangany for the story of the "World's Finest Drums".

This set is a matching four piece set in a beautiful Cream and gold Duco finish. More than likely painted by Mr. Ray Poland who worked in the finishing department for many years. I just love this finish. I wish I had the skill to paint drums like this. The sizes are: bass drum 26"X14", the small tom is "11X7", the large tom is"13X9", the matching Reliance Snare is "14X6.5". The toms have tacked calf bottom heads. The hardware is nickle plated. The toms have Beavertails on top with single flange rims and hooks. The bass drum has single tension with thumb rods. The rod passes through a bridge on the bass drum  that matches the Beavertail lugs .The snare has 8 tube lugs, single flange rims with hooks,  and the Presto strainer. These drums still sound great. They are a work of art as well as a great musical instrument. The metal mounting bar on the bass drum is very cool. All this metal was not allowed on the metal restricted war time drums that followed this set.

I went to buy a Ludwig Deluxe (Black Beauty) from a fellow collector. He was selling the snare for a well known recording and touring drummer. He showed me this Leedy reliance snare drum and told me the complete set was for sale if I was interested. I was unable to turn down the Leedy kit once I saw the snare drum. I ended up buying the Ludwig Deluxe and the Leedy set. I was very excited about the buying trip until I thought about how I was going to explain it to my wife. I surprised her once by coming home with a Rogers kit and a Slingerland kit we had not discussed. It took a while to explain to her what a great deal it was.  Fortunately, she was very understanding, and she really liked the Leedy set. Who could resist loving a beautiful Leedy set like this? Until next time keep looking for those drum treasures.


John Beck's 1922 Leedy Snare Drum


CHARACTERS: 6 1/2” X 15” Leedy snare drum with 14 single tension rods and gut snares Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Eastman School of Music “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band William G. Street Oliver “Ollie” Zinsmeister John H. Beck

PLACE: Rochester, NY

DATE: 1922 to present

STORY: This Leedy snare drum belonged originally to William G. Street who in 1922 was the percussionist for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. The Eastman Theatre was opened in 1922 and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performed the first concert heard in the new Eastman Theatre. The first sound that was heard in the Eastman Theatre was the snare drum roll performed by William G. Street on the Leedy snare drum to announce the Star Spangled Banner. This drum was Street’s pride and joy.

The first graduate in percussion from the Eastman School of Music was Oliver “Ollie” Zinsmeister in 1935. Ollie was a resident of Rochester, NY. Besides performing in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, William G. Street was also the Professor of Percussion at the Eastman School of Music and Ollie was his first student.  Street continued to teach both timpani and percussion at Eastman until 1968.

When Ollie graduated he was selected for “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in Washington, DC. Street was overjoyed with his first student’s success. Ollie joined the Marine Band and became part of the “Dream Team” - Charles Owen/ Oliver Zinsmeister. They performed on marimba and xylophone not only in Washington, DC but for 20 years all over the United States as the band toured once a year for nine weeks in various parts of the United States. They also did weekly radio broadcasts. As you can imagine, Street was proud of Ollie to the point that he gave the Leedy snare drum to him while he was a member of the United States Marine. I imagine Ollie used it many times for concerts with the band.

When Ollie’s 20- year enlistment was up in 1955, it was my turn to graduate from the Eastman School of Music (1951-55). I took the audition with the band to replace Ollie and was successful. For four years (1955-1959) I was a member of the band and played marimba solos in Washington, DC and on tour. Essentially I was continuing what Ollie had done. Street was also proud of me for my accomplishments. Now he had two of us who did him proud. I only stayed for four years because a call from Street telling me he was going to retire from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and would I like to audition. I said “yes” and got the job. I also became the teacher at the Eastman School of Music in 1968 when Street retired.

Ollie and I kept in touch with each other over the years. The Leedy snare drum was still in his possession. Because I continued teaching in the tradition of William G. Street, continued Ollie’s tradition in the United States Marine Band, and Ollie’s affection for Street and the Eastman School of Music, Ollie gave the drum to me with the idea that I would continue the tradition of the drum.

Since the drum has been in my possession it has been used for a celebration of the renovation of the Eastman Theatre in 2004 in a percussion fanfare that I wrote. I also used it in 2009 in a performance of the Downfall Of Paris for a celebration to announce an addition to the Eastman Theatre. I have used the drum many times to tell the story that you have just read - and will continue to do so.

John H. Beck

Professor Emeritus of Percussion Eastman School of Music Retired Timpanist of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra


Two Rare Leedy Kits

Hey Not-So-Modern-Drummer folks, here's some you don't often see. Check out the attached photos. A Leedy Dreadnaught kit from June 1944. The 1929-30 Leedy kit I got from the original owner. I call it the Frank Gomes Memorial Drum set.  He was a WWII hero who recently passed at 95.

Bob Meyer Cortlandt Manor, NY


John Root's 1930s Leedy Trap Kit

Hey George,

Here's the pictures of my thirties trap kit. It's a Leedy Spartan bass drum and snare. Front head can be illuminated from inside. Horsehair throne. I've assembled the kit over time to make it a true "contraption." Leedy Chinese toms and temple blocks, Ludwig cowbells and bass drum pedal. Leedy & Ludwig hi hat sock cymbal and ching cymbal. I play this kit and it sounds like a "Steamboat Willie" cartoon.

If you've got anymore questions let me know.  Feel free to reverse the images so that no one gets hurt in the view of the pictures. LOL!

John Root Nashville, TN

"Proud Left-Handed Drummer"

Nice 1952 Leedy & Ludwig Kit

From Denzil Woody...

This Leedy and Ludwig kit was purchased in 1952 when I was a sophomore in college. I played them for three years and they have been stored in hard cases since that time.


1936 L&S Catalog (Leedy & Strupe)

In October, 1929, an ailing U.G. Leedy sold Leedy Manufacturing to band instrument giant C.G. Conn Ltd.  For the next 9 months,  Leedy drum building was in a state of transition. In August of 1930, the Elkhart factory was up and running. In those intervening months, Conn sent in a supervisor, Ed Cortas, and many employees came and went. Leedy himself hoped that his 100 loyal employees would have jobs in Elkhart, but many of them did not or could not or, more probably would not, move. U.G. decided to create another company called General Products. Concerned that the Depression would not bring in drum sales, Leedy wanted General Products to make other products as well. But, they would make drums. The legend has become fact. He wanted to name the company Leedy & Sons. He had two sons—Eugene and Edwin, later called Hollis. Conn had just spent $900,000 in cash to buy the Leedy name, so there could be no use of that name outside the drums now made by Conn.

Best place to order essay online.

I have only seen one Strupe drum, but have seen publicity shots of others.

Mr. Leedy bought a former dairy building and started the process of turning it into a drum factory. Some of it was completed when he died in January, 1931. His widow gave this fledgling company the funds to complete the woodworking shop. Edwin joined as Secretary Treasurer. Eugene did not become involved.

Leedy and Sons became L&S and we now think that L&S also stood for Leedy & Strupe. One of the former key Leedy employees who did not leave Indianapolis, at that point, was Cecil Strupe, the engineer. He was named president of L&S. In the earliest days of production, there were also Strupe badged drums. It may have been an attempt to circumvent the Leedy name while promoting Strupe’s name since he was known to drummers thanks to frequent mention in the Leedy Topics.

Today’s catalog was made in 1936. It is the only L&S I have found. I have seen brochures, and I think this company deserves honorable mention in American Drum History. L&S drums were sold nationally by mail through Chicago Musical Instruments. Chicago Musical Instruments had formerly sold Ludwig & Ludwig drums through their catalog, but that deal soured when Conn bought Ludwig as well. So, the catalog sales company needed a new drum supplier. If you lived in Indianapolis, you could stop by the factory and buy from their showroom. Famed California jazz drummer Benny Barth, told me about that. An L&S snare was his first drum. L&S made drums, timpani, bells and other mallet instruments, but the products just always seemed a notch below Leedy in quality. You can see imperfections in the cast lugs, from the dies. The drum rods were hex headed, calling for a special key. I would say that like the Cecil Strupe designs for Leedy, we see the same kind of toggle crazy, and thin metal/weak spot strainer inventions on L&S snare drums.

The popular high end snare drum during the middle years was called the Dictator, which was probably not a wise choice during the Hitler and Mussolini years. I see example of L&S drums pretty regularly on eBay and they seem to come from all parts of the country, which may give proof to the scope of sales from Chicago.

The company was never a success, but it hung on and had an interesting ending. Strupe left the company and moved to Chicago where he went to work for WFL. Edwin Leedy sold the company to a music store owner who marketed the ready made products through his store. He changed the name to the Indiana Drum Company. At some point in the early 40s, Sears and Roebuck had a connection with Indiana Drum, using the name Drum Master and then may have bought the machinery and designs. Sears advertised that they had a factory in Chicago, and, in the one Sears Drum catalog I have seen (check out to see it), you can see L&S drums, no matter what they were called.

I am sure World War II ended Sears' need to have a drum manufacturing plant. After the war, they struck deals with Kent and Japanese manufacturers to have drum sets for sale in their catalogs.

But for 10 years, Leedy Indianapolis alums were building L&S "Drummers Equipment” and hoping for the best.



The 1941 Leedy Set


The air is cooling down and the leaves are beginning to change colors. It's time to put away the summer clothes and get out the long sleeves and sweaters. I have a very "cool" old drum kit to show you this month. I know I featured a black diamond kit last time, but this black diamond set has "greened" a little giving it a completely different look. The set I want to show you is a 1941 Leedy. I have all five pieces. It was bought as a set in the year they were made and was owned by one gentleman until his death a few years ago. The man played this set with an orchestra until he purchased a Ludwig set in the 1960s. He put this set away in storage and that's where it stayed until his son decided it was time to find a new owner.

I'll tell you more about how I was fortunate enough to acquire them later. The sizes are: bass drum 28"X14", toms 16"X16", 13"X9", and 12"X8". The matching Broadway Parallel snare is 14"X8". The shells are plies with re-rings. The lugs are Beavertails introduced in the late 1930's. The insides of the bass drum and snare are painted white like Ludwig.  Conn owned both Ludwig and Leedy when these drums were made. They were made side by side and yet maintained differences. Conn finally joined the two lines in the 1950s and made Leedy Ludwig Drums. The Ludwigs bought the Ludwig line back in the mid 1950s and Slingerland bought the Leedy line. You already know all this, I'm sure.

These drums were made in Elkhart, Indiana. The workmanship is excellent. The date stamp inside is January 1941. That was just months before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor bringing the United States into the World War.

The mark inside also says "For Pearl". This means the shells were marked for a pearl wrap finish. The black diamond finish still looks very good although age has made it look sort of green. The hardware is nickel. The heads are calf with the exception of the bass drum batter head.

The son called me and told me he had gotten my number at the music store. He asked me if I would be interested in a very old Leedy drum set. After catching my breath, I calmly said, "sure, when can I come see them." Never say what do you have unless it's a very long drive. My wife went with me, and there they were all spread out on the garage floor. He said the head with orchestra name and his Father's shield logo had been destroyed. The mounts were gone and some of the rods and clips. He gave me a great deal , because he was tired of storing them. It was very exciting to load them up. I have enjoyed the clean-up and having the great piece of history in my collection. Oh, What about the Ludwigs?, some of you are thinking. He said his step-mom had disposed of them and I could tell it was not a subject I wanted to pursue.

Until next time, Phil Wilson