Camco: The Stradivarius of Vintage Drums

Camcos have been a cherished and well guarded secret by studio musicians for decades. To some it’s their modern clarity of tone and seemingly incessant resonance that sounds pre-eq’d. To others, it’s their ease of tuning and the ability to stay in tune which was built into the design, regardless of what era they were made in.

These brilliantly crafted drums with their thin, smaller than standard diameter shells and their machined hardware were the pinnacle of American made vintage drums. They are sought out today by some of the worlds first call recording artists, collectors and working musicians.

Some of the largest pro and vintage drum shops have waiting lists for vintage Camco kits.

A few weeks ago we saw recording artist and studio owner Jeramy Stacey with Benmont Tench (previously with Cheryl Crow) playing his C-650 Alice Cooper White L.A. era Camcos on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show. Drummers of that caliber could afford to play any drums made. That in itself says a lot.

That’s the attraction Camcos have.  They are like owning a hand made Italian Sports Car rather than a Ford or a Chevy.. From the hand-sanded, polished, then sealed and waxed bearing edges, to the premium select aged maple shells that were threaded for each lug screw in the later years. The attention to detail and the amount of labor that went into these drums is mind bending and apparent as soon as you pick one up. The words are always the same... Oh Wow....

There were some that predicted their prices would exceed that of the Round Badge Era Gretsch kits from the 50s and 60s, and they were right. It’s not uncommon to see an original 4-pc. kit with a 20” or 22” bass drum selling for $6,500.00 and up, with 18” and 24” bass drum kits selling for quite a bit more than that.

During the Oaklawn, Ill. years (1961-1971) they made mostly 20” kits followed by 22s,18s, then 24s. We saw a switch between the 20” and 22” sized kits during the short but productive Chanute, Ks. era. (1971-73) again with the 18s and 24s bringing up the rear. The Jasper-shelled 24s are extremely rare.  There have been only 4 Oaklawns and 2 Chanute era kits with 24” bass drums that have emerged that we know of.  The current owners are all known and live all over the world including Canada and Belgium where only the L.A. era drums were ever distributed and sold. During the L.A. years, (1973-77) the trend again changed with 22” bass drums leading the way followed by 24s, 20s, and 18” bass drums.

Collectors look at this closely when appraising the value of vintage Camco drum kits. The C-650 is a favorite among the L.A. era players and artists. It came with a 14x24” BD, 9x13”, & 10x14” tom toms, 16x16”, & 16x18” floor toms with a matching 6.5x14” 6/6ply Keller Maple snare. Still today, the 6.5x14” model #452 is a highly sought after snare drum and a “Go To” snare for many recording artists.

Nick Mason of Pink Floyd  just recently sold 2 of his most prized and recorded snare drums, the mid 70s Natural Maple L.A. Camco 6.5x14” model #453 which was the 10 lug option, and his early 80s Tama Bell Brass 6.5x14” to Footes Music Shop in the UK.

These 3,4, or 6-ply Jasper-shelled Oaklawns or 6-ply Keller-shelled L.A. era all have one thing in common, their owners swear by them and agree they are by far the best drums they have ever owned and the last kit they would ever sell.  They are the type of drums one wants to take to the grave with them just in case there is a drum heaven.