Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The 4 x 14 Slingerland Radio King Snare Drum

In 1936, the Slingerland Drum Company introduced the Radio King Snare Drum. It was the flagship snare drum of the company and quickly became associated with Slingerland's number one endorser, Gene Krupa. For many years, the drum was simply referred to as the Gene Krupa Radio King. The drum came in various sizes--5 x 14, 6 1/2 x 14 at first, then 7 x 14 and 8 x 14 later. Many big band drummers used the larger sized Radio Kings in their bands so they could be heard over the horn sections. Or at least, that was the theory.

But, in the 40's, particularly after the war, Be-bop became the fashion and with it drum sizes began to contract. Drummers began favoring smaller sized snare drums. Indeed, the Gretsch Drum Company began marketing 4 x 14 snare drums and associating them with their endorsers, particularly the great Max Roach.

Other drum companies followed Gretsch's lead and began making 4 x 14 and 4 x 13 snare drums. Between 1948 and 1962, Slingerland produced the 4 x 13 Bop snare drum. The drum wasn't associated with any particular drummer, but it did offer the aspiring drummer yet another choice in snare drums. Which brings me to the very rare and very beautiful snare drum you see pictured here.

You will not find this drum in any Slingerland catalog. There is no factory information anywhere on a 4 x 14 Radio King. The inside of the steam bent maple shell is stamped Sept. 1941. The badge is an early 50's Slingerland badge. Otherwise, the drum is correct in every detail. It has the Radio king stick shredder hoops, the nickel plated Harold R. Dobbs twin internal muffler, and the three point strainer. There are no other modifications to it. It is not a cut down shell.

A couple of things come to mind about this beauty. The drum was, I believe, either a special order or an endorsers request. Slingerland did stockpile shells and the Second World War affected production immensely. Drums made during the war were subject to the 10% rule. Metal could not constitute more than 10 % of a drum's total make up. Wood became the major material in construction, even in the case of lugs. Drum production didn't really hit its stride until after the war. As mentioned earlier, Be-bop was the rage and the 4 x 14 snare drum was part of that excitement. I think this snare drum was but one result of the times.

But how does it sound? Simply great. The drum is extremely versatile--at home in various musical situations. With the choices one has today in drum heads, the mind boggles at what this drum is capable of.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Camco Aristocrat

The history of the Camco Drum Company is one of many twists and turns. Originally, the company was located in Indiana and was then known as the George Way Drum Company. Through various business dealings, the company was sold and the new owners moved it to Oak Lawn, Illinois. The company was sold again in the early 70's and moved to Kansas. Eventually, the company was sold once more and moved to Los Angeles. In the late 70's, Camco gave up the ghost and Drum Workshop swooped in and began to build their empire.

In any case, what concerns us here are the drums manufactured by Camco in Oak Lawn many years ago. These drums have become highly prized by collectors, particularly over the last decade. Camco was always second banana to Slingerland and Ludwig, her Chicago neighbors. The company simply didn't have the wherewithal to compete in the marketplace. But the quality of the drums was never in question.

The drum you see pictured was the workhorse of the Camco Drum Company. This was the snare drum that was offered with most of their kits. Indeed, this drum is part of a complete outfit. Camco described this beauty as a " tailor made instrument of mechanical efficiency and modern styling." The Aristocrat, as this beauty was called, has a 4 ply maple shell with reinforcing rings. It came in two sizes, 5 x 14 and 6 1/2 x 14. The list price on the 5 x 14 was 90.00 US. Like the Ludwig drums of the time, the inner shell is coated with white sealant. Unlike the Ludwig drums, or Slingerland drums for that matter, the Aristocrat has its own pop-in drum key holder.

As the reader can see, the drum is finished in a walnut stain. Camco offered stains in red, green, ebony, and clear. They also offered various sparkles, pearls, swirls, and satin flame finishes. Some of these wraps were quite striking, to say the least.

Even though Camco couldn't compete with Ludwig, Slingerland, Gretsch, and Rogers in the advertising arena, the company did produce some very fine drums. This Aristocrat is proof of that fact.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Leedy Reliance Snare Drum

For many drummers, mention of the Leedy Drum Company will draw blank stares. But this was not always the case. Leedy's motto was the "World's finest Drummers Instruments," and, during the 1920's, 30's, and 40's, Leedy built some of the finest drums that money could buy.
Leedy was originally based in Indianapolis. In 1930, the Conn Instrument Company bought Leedy and moved it lock, stock, and barrel to Elkhart, Indiana. In the 1920's, the company offered 16 different sized snare drums. The customer had a choice of a solid maple, mahogany, or walnut shell. In addition to the wood shells, Leedy also sold a heavy double inverted brass shell. The company even sold a floating head 8 lug snare drum.

The beautiful little drum you see pictured is from the late 1920's. Known as the Reliance or Utility Snare drum, this cutie pie sports a heavy brass shell, 6 tube lugs, and steel single flanged stick shredder hoops with clips. Initially, the drum had 8 lugs, but then became a 6 lug. In the early 1930's, the drum reverted back to 8 lugs.

The snare strainer on the Reliance was called the Utility Snare Strainer. If this drum has a weakness, this is it. The strainer is balky and none too solid. It is definitely not user friendly. Thus, this drum would need more than a fair amount of tweaking to make it usable in today's musical environment. Nevertheless, the drum oozes quality, and when it was made, it was one of the finest drums then available.

Leedy went through numerous twists and turns in its lifetime. At one time, Leedy was partnered with Ludwig. In the 1950's, Slingerland bought the company. Slowly, but surely, Leedy faded into the background, yet another casualty of the "Drum Wars" between competing companies.

But all is not lost. Leedy, currently owned by Fred Gretsch of the Gretsch Drum Company, is alive and kicking, at least on the web. Leedy has also maintained a booth at the winter NAMM show the last few years. The company that was founded by Ulysses Grant Leedy in 1895 still has life in 2012.