Sunday, June 26, 2011

Percussion Preservation!

As promised earlier today, I'd like to present two current restoration projects Matt and I are working on. First off, a remarkable 1920s Ludwig bass drum, complete with original, factory-painted head. Matt's been longing for one of these for quite some time, and we were thrilled to win this one in an ebay auction. Rather than have it shipped (at a steep cost and risk in cartage), we decided to take a Memorial Day weekend road trip to pick it up. Well worth the drive, and we were so happy to see good friends while in town.

Being around 90 years old, the drum presented no surprise in its need of tuning up, both aurally and physically. The head boasted a dingy layer of nicotine, grime and insect leavings (don't ask - I didn't), which we cleaned - thanks to the advice of a conservator - with saliva and cotton swabs. The results were pretty astonishing - you can see the contrast below, thanks to the last patch of unrestored paint:

There were also several spots where the paint had chipped away entirely, fixed via a light brushing of spackling, with oil paint touch-ups. This secured the areas sufficiently, and matched well enough that you wouldn't know there was damage, to begin with.

A close-up of the serene, admittedly Bob Ross-ian pastoral scene on the drum head. The whole thing measures at a full 28" - that's a lot landscape, and plenty of deep sound for the Singapore Slingers to enjoy. Our percussionist, the keenly gifted Michael Plotkin, assisted in the re-tuning of the instrument - it's hard not to fall in love with the renewed depth of tone.

And now to our second project - a set of five late 1920s temple blocks - more percussive instruments, which will eventually sit astride the bass drum. These are possibly scarcer than the bass drum, the sets most often having been broken up over the years. We bumped into this set while in New Orleans, appropriately enough - tucked away in a large antique shop. They weren't in the best of condition cosmetically, but they have all the sound one could ask for.

A good look at the lacquers we're using - I'm a devoted fan of One-Shot paints, which provide deep color and wonderful shine. The gold paint is of a "leaf-in-a-bottle" variety - initially I'd wanted to use actual leaf, but figured that would be gilding the lily, pun not intended. These blocks were factory-released having been painted - I chose to stick with that practice.

Remarkable scales adorn the blocks, in keeping with the aquatic theme...

Another, closer look at the fish head. From what I understand, these blocks were originally carved outside of the factories, then shipped raw for painting. This makes a lot of sense to me - the designs seem far more Indonesian/Philippine in nature than something that would come out of the States.A close-up of one in the restoration process - stripped of chipped and loose paint. When we found them, the blocks were literally snowing red flakes - there was little chance of salvaging what was left on them. As well, a couple of them have structural hairline cracks, which will be strengthened and sealed before painting. We were very fortunate in that One-Shot's "Bright Red" is a dead ringer for the original color - and their paints are strong enough that, once these blocks are brought into the orchestra, the new surfaces will easily withstand the frequent mallet usage they'll be seeing.

We believe that these blocks are likely from the Leedy company, but they also could have come from Ludwig. Frankly we're a bit stumped, as we've never seen them carved in a "fish" theme before. Usually they appear as little "skulls", symmetrically-designed. Whatever the case, we're very grateful that they came our way, and are doing our best to restore them properly.


  1. Hi Danielle, hope you don't mind me contacting you. I was just wondering if you ever completed the restoration of this lovely looking bass drum? I'm a drummer in England and I'm working on my own bass drum project, I've bought a few vintage red temple blocks (although they look more like crabs than fish) and I'm keeping an eye out for a suitable bass drum. Many thanks

  2. Pete, thanks for getting in touch, and my apologies for the late reply! The drum is now fully restored, and gets its share of exercise at indoor performances - the temple blocks and Chinese tom, as well! Keep an eye on ebay, as that's the best resource we've found (I have a sneaky suspicion that many of these drums are languishing in high school and college storage facilities) - all things considered, we got a decent price on our drum, and were able to pick it up, rather than risk shipping damage. There is always hope! Best wishes, and let us know how your project goes!

  3. I have an old Ludwig similar to yours that I'm trying to sell. There is a huge tear straight across the entire mural. There's 2 old colored bulbs in it. It was given to my dad in 1980 when another drummer was getting rid of it. I'd imagine this item is from the 20's or 30's. Do you think it's worth anything? Thanks.

  4. Hi, Tyler - Pardon my late reply. I spoke with Matt, and he feels that the best thing for such a situation is to keep the drum body itself, but replace the head. Unless you can find a specialist who can salvage and rejoin the calfskin head that the painting is applied to, that's likely the best approach. As far as selling the item, it's a tough call - and likely an expensive labor of love. I wish I had more positive input!