Monday, September 26, 2011

Rogers Swiv-O-matic Hardware

William Ludwig Jr. spent the later years of his life, proudly celebrating the legacy of his drum company. For a number of years, he made an appearance at the Chicago Vintage Drum Show talking about Ludwig Drums and the company's rich history. One moment in particular sticks in my mind and it's directly related to the topic I'm addressing today.

During his visit to the show, Bill would host a question and answer symposium. At one point, a fellow drummer asked Bill which competing Drum Company, during the 60's heyday, caused him the most concern. Without hesitating, he said that Rogers, "scared the dickens out of him."

The Rogers Drum Company was aggressive in promotion, marketing, and innovation. The picture here is a copy of the 2nd page of the Rogers 1962 catalog. The Rogers Swiv-O-Matic hardware was truly revolutionary for the time. The uni ball idea allowed the drummer to place his hanging toms in almost any imaginable position. In addition, the hardware was tough and durable. In the 50's, the rail consolette, or the Ray McKinley tom holder as Slingerland called it, was the holder of choice. Indeed, Ludwig, Slingerland, and Gretsch all used the rail. It made its first appearance in 1947 and it was solid, but very limited, particularly concerning height and angle. The Swiv-o-Matic tom holder changed the playing field dramatically.

Soon, other companies began to change their hardware. Slingerland adopted the uni ball idea and came up with the Set-O-Matic holder. Fibes used the concept almost exclusively. Even Camco shipped some kits with the Rogers hardware attached. On the other hand, Ludwig and Gretsch continued with the rail, continuously improving it.

In the 70's and 80's, as rock music became louder, drum companies were forced to adapt. Rogers changed to their Memriloc hardware. It was beefier and much, much heavier. Slingerland followed suit with their Magnum hardware. Even Ludwig began selling sets with their Modular series hardware.

But it's the Swiv-O-Matic hardware that caught the fancy of drummers so many years ago, even drummers who didn't play Rogers Drums. The link below shows Keith Moon with his Pictures of Lily Premier kit and the Rogers Swiv-O-Matic hardware.

And here's the great Buddy Rich.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Premier Super 4 Snare Drum

The 1960's was a time of intense competition between Drum companies. American companies like Gretsch, Ludwig, Camco, Slingerland, Rogers and,to a much lesser extent, Leedy did their best to attract the prospective buyer. But they weren't the only players on the field. European drum manufacturers entered the fray as best they could. Two German companies, Sonor and Trixon, promoted and marketed their drums using all means possible. But it was a English company that really carried the standard for the "Old World." That company was Premier.

Premier was founded in 1922 in central London. Premier made drums up until the Second World War. After the war, they resumed production. Premier attracted it's fair share of endorsers. I was first made aware of the company when I saw a picture of Sam Woodyard playing a double bass drum kit with Duke Ellington. Other jazz players like Rufus Jones and Barrett Deems also played Premier. Ringo Starr played Premier at first, but then switched to Ludwig. And the irreplaceable Keith Moon, of the Who, played the brand his entire career.

But Premier faced an uphill battle in the U.S. Perhaps it was the distribution. Or maybe it was the fact that the early Premier drums were metric sized. The fact that 3 of the major American Drum companies were based in Chicago, with a 4th one in Ohio, certainly didn't help Premier sales in the American Midwest. But you could find the drums if you looked for them. Both Frank's Drum Shop and Drums Unlimited in Chicago carried the line. And Premier was worth investigating, which brings me to the drum you see pictured here.

The 1960 Premier catalog called this model the Super 4. This little beauty sports one piece die cast hoops and Premier's parallel snare action strainer. The strainer was designed to allow the 18 snare wires to "float" against the snare head. Tension across the head would be consistent and the drum wouldn't choke, at least that was the theory. Premier was the only company in the world using this system in a 4 x 14 snare drum.

But does it work? Well. by the sound of the drum, it works just fine. The drum sounds as good as its American competitors. It's heavier than a comparable Ludwig, Slingerland, Gretsch, or Camco 4 x 14. Surely, the strainer has something to do with this. But it's a fine drum, solidly constructed, with state of the art chrome plating.

In the early 60's, the name was changed from Super 4 to the Royal Ace 4" model. And, for many years, it was a staple in the Premier catalogs.

As of this writing, Premier's future seems to be in limbo. That's unfortunate. Premier made some fine drums in the 60's ( and 70's, 80's and 90's). The company always seemed to be " swimming against the current." But its place in the history of drum companies is assured.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Fibes SFT 690 "Black Beauty" Snare Drum

In 1966, Bobby Grauso and John Morena founded the Fibes Drum Company. The shells were constructed of fiberglass which was revolutionary for the time. Clear shells were offered along with solid fiberglass shells covered with wraps. In addition, a sprayed on finish called Fivel was featured in the early Fibes catalogs.

The flagship snare drum of the Fibes Drum Company was the SFT 690. In fact, it was the only snare drum offered by the company. In a previous blog (See January 27th), I spoke at length about the 5 1/2 x 14 SFT. It was, and still is, a fine musical instrument. And it has enjoyed a great run. No less an authority than the great Buddy Rich played one even while he was endorsing Slingerland.

Bur Fibes didn't sit on its laurels, so to speak. The company started offering different wraps and different shells. Actually, the shells were still fiberglass, or Crystalite as they called it, but the company began to fiddle with the look. They came out with a " bumpy" or dimpled shell that looked frosted when held up to the light. Fibes also made a solid black acrylic shell, which brings me to the drum you see pictured above.

Perhaps the best way to describe this drum is to quote from a Fibes Ad in Downbeat Magazine, dated March 14th, 1974. The ad is titled, "Bobby and the Black Beauty." The copy reads as follows. "Our new Fibes drum is a beauty, but it's black. Black like you've never seen black. Made with our regular Cystalite shell, but with a difference, the color has been impregnated internally so that scratching of its high gloss blackness will never occur. We're proud of the Black Beauty and proud of Bobby Grauso, who thought of black being beautiful on a drum."

Now it's important to remember that this is Ad copy. When one thinks of a Black Beauty, one thinks of Ludwig, not Fibes. Nevertheless, up to this time, black wraps were used to cover drums. There were no solid black shells, although Fibes shells were made of black fiberglass.

Clearly, this was an attempt to sell more drums and drum companies, since the beginnning of time, have been trying to do that. More importantly, this is a very fine sounding snare drum in the rare 6 1/2 x 14 size. The drum is loud, but very sensitive and very similar to her smaller sister.

I haven't seen many of these and I suspect it was not a sales success. Still it's a important drum from the golden age of American Drum Companies.