Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fibes SFT 690 Snare Drum

As I mentioned in my last blog, Drum companies over the years have tried different combinations of shell size, snare strainers, wires, and tensioning systems to build their drums. The one constant was the make up of the shell. It was either wood or metal.

In 1966, the Fibes Drum Corporation was born and fiberglass was used for shell construction. This was truly a first, and drummers took to Fiberglass and sales took off. I remember the first time I saw these drums. It was at Mr. Kelly's, a Jazz club in Chicago. There was Buddy Rich sitting behind a set of Fibes drums driving his band like nobodies business. I remember the snare drum, in particular, stood out. Buddy must have felt that way also. because he used the Fibes Snare Drum even when he was endorsing Slingerland. The cover of his Live in London LP on RCA clearly shows his Fibes Snare Drum.

Buddy wasn't the only player who endorsed Fibes. Jack Sperling and Alan Dawson played them, along with Billy Cobham of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Well, I thought, if these drums are good enough for Buddy and these other great drummers, then I had to own one.

The pictured SFT 690 Snare Drum is one of four that I own. The drums came in various wraps with the strangest being the Fivel finish. This Beauty has the Black fivel wrap. It's really more of a sprayed on finish than a wrap. The drum is very sensitive and is a great all around snare drum that can be used in any situation.

Unfortunately, the Fibes Drum Company is no longer with us. After going through various owners and even a few name changes, the company " gave up the ghost." Perhaps it will reappear someday, but its place in drum history is assured.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Slingerland Spitfire Snare Drum

Drum Companies throughout the decades have gone to great lengths to build "the perfect Snare Drum." Different shells, different snare strainers, and different snare wires and heads have all been used in the quest for the perfect sound. Slingerland, Ludwig, Gretsch, Rogers, Camco, Premier---- all have taken a whack at it. Some of these ideas have worked, others have not.

In 1979, the Slingerland Drum Company gave customers a look at the Slingerland Spitfire Snare Drum. This drum was offered in two sizes, 5 1/2 x 14 and 6 1/2 x 14. It came with either gut or wire snares and you had a choice of a wood shell, a chrome-plated brass shell, or a lacquered brass shell. It also came with brass hoops and the TDR snare strainer, which Slingerland introduced in 1976.

As one can see in the photo, the drum had the unusual arrangement of off set lugs, with 12 for the batter head and 6 for the snare head. This was supposed to give added sensitivity and clarity to the drum. Whether this was the case was debatable.

Slingerland had offered offset lug snare drums in the early 70's. The 1973 catalog shows a 4 x 14 Buddy Rich model, but both heads had an equal number of lugs. The Spitfire was a different animal entirely. This particular drum is unusual because it's a wood shell covered with chrome wrap. It's a good drum, but it's not better than the Slingerland Radio King.

In any case, the drum was a failure. It lasted one year and then simply faded away.. I'm sure there were Slingerland endorsers who used the drum, but I've never seen any. The history of Drum Companies is filled with many success stories. Unfortunately, this is not one of them.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ludwig Supraphonic 400 Snare Drum

The 1960's were a wonderful time for drum companies and drum retailers. Business was brisk at the retail level and manufacturers worked overtime trying to pry every last dollar they could from their customers. But one company seemed to stand above the rest, particularly in the exploding Rock and Roll scene. That company was Ludwig out of Chicago Illinois.

The Ludwig Drum Company was no johnny come lately. The company had been in business for years, supplying drums and accessories for every need. But the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show sent shock waves throughout the industry. Ringo Starr played Ludwig and that's all aspiring rock and rollers needed to see. It also didn't hurt that Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones played Ludwig Drums. In fact, many of those British Invasion bands played the brand. It wasn't long before American drummers began to follow suit. The Ludwig brand name became commonplace on many of the drums sets of groups that appeared on weekly rock and roll TV shows like Shindig.

The Ludwig Supraphonic 400 Snare Drum was standard issue with many of the Ludwig kits. This metal beauty came with 10 Imperial lugs and triple flanged hoops. Earlier models had heavy brass shells, but later models were made with whatever metal alloy was available at the time. The drum was built like a tank. It could stand any "punishment", yet would still retain response and clarity. Literally, thousands were sold.

It should come as no surprise that the Super 4 is perhaps the most recorded drum in history. Hal Blaine, the great session drummer, used this drum. Hal recorded on 40 number one records, 350 top ten records and thousands of other tunes. Charlie Watts used the drum early in his career before switching to Gretsch. Mitch Mitchell, with Jimi Hendrix, played it. Others include Jim Densmore with the Doors, Dino Danelli with the Young Rascals and John Bonham with Led Zeppelin, who played the 6/1/2 x 14 model.

Happily, the drum lives on. Nowadays, in addition to the standard aluminum shell, you can order it with a titanium shell. Or you can simply buy a used one. They are plentiful and they are not expensive, at least not the brass ones.

There are more collectible Ludwig Snare Drums. The Ludwig Black Beauty comes to mind. But, as far as Drum History goes, the Super 4 takes a back seat to no one.