Friday, December 16, 2011

The Ludwig Downbeat Snare Drum

The Ludwig Downbeat Snare Drum had a varied and short life in the history of the Ludwig Drum Company. But despite it's short life, this drum has a very interesting pedigree. The origins of this beauty really began with William Ludwig and his WFL company.

In the late 40's, Be-bop was the rage and drum companies scrambled to add endorsers to their rosters. Smaller diameter drums became very popular, perhaps as a counter balance to the big kits that were used during the height of the big band era. There were Be-bop big bands, but most of the bop ensembles at the time had fewer musicians and didn't require the volume that bigger drums provided, or at least, that was the thinking.

In the late 40's, William Ludwig signed Buddy Rich to be his top endorser. Slingerland had Gene Krupa and Bill felt that he needed Buddy to compete in the marketplace. Ludwig promptly "married" Buddy with the Be-bop phenomena and in 1949, the Buddy Rich Be-bop Snare Drum was offered in WFL catalogs. The drum came in two sizes, 3 x 13 and 4 x 14. In 1951, the name of the 4 x 14 was changed to the New Compacto Snare Drum. In 1956, the drum was dropped from the Ludwig line up completely.

But in 1960, the 4 x 14 you see pictured above reappeared in the Ludwig catalogs. Called the Downbeat model, this little cupcake delivered " the goods." In production until 1970, the Downbeat was surprisingly versatile despite its smaller size. The wood shell was composed of a 3 ply mahogany/poplar/mahogany mix. At the same time, the 3 x 13 reappeared as the Jazz Combo model. This model lasted until 1970 when it was replaced by the Ludwig Piccolo Drum ( See blog dated Nov. 30th).

This particular Downbeat is wrapped in the very desirable Black Oyster Pearl covering. This, of course, is the same finish that Ringo had on his Ludwig Super Classic kit. The wrap alone increases the value of this drum immensely. But regardless of the finish, the Downbeat Snare Drum remains one of the finest 4 x 14 drums money can buy.

The book on these 3 x 13 and 4 x 14 snare drums is "still open." Ludwig, to this day, offers smaller diameter snare drums in their catalog. Among their Classic Maple Snare options, one can buy a 3.5 x 13 or 3.5 x 14 snare drum. They also sell the Carl Palmer "Venus" Signature Snare Drum. This 3.7 x 14 "power piccolo" sports a green lacquered metal shell, die cast hoops, and brass-plated tube lugs.