Saturday, October 15, 2016

Johnny Williams' Stone Master-Models

John Francis Williams, popularly known as Johnny Williams, was born in Watertown, Massachusetts on November 15th, 1905. If the name rings a bell, it may be because he was the father of famed film composer John Williams. The elder Williams became a well known drummer in the 1930s through his work with the CBS Radio Orchestra in New York and then with the famed Rayomnd Scott Quintet.

The oddly named six-piece group was assembled in late 1936 and was highly prolific from 1937 - 1939. Scott would go on to form and lead a variety of ensembles under different names through the 1940s and into the 1950s (some of which involved Williams) and was the regular orchestra leader on classic 1950s television show Your Hit Parade. But Scott's earliest fame came with his original 'quintet' and their late 1930s studio recordings of such songs as "Powerhouse", "Twilight in Turkey", and the highly recognizable "The Toy Trumpet".

As a member of the Raymond Scott Quintet, Johnny Williams appeared in several Hollywood films during the late 1930s including Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938) starring Shirley Temple. The Scott Quintet's involvement was apparently significant enough that the musical group was featured along with Temple in photographs promoting the movie. The handsome fellow at bottom left of the below picture sharing a glance with Shirley Temple is none other than Johnny Williams with his Stone Master-Model drum.

Whether or not Williams played the same drum on the Raymond Scott Quintet recordings, we may never know. But clearly Williams had an affection for Stone snare drums as he appears in many other photographs from the same time period with Master-Model drums at the center of his outfit. And he must have had more than one because pictures show Williams with Master-Model drums in at least two colors - likely white marine pearl, and black diamond pearl.


By 1939 Johnny Williams had signed on with the larger, more modern Leedy Drum Company. Most signs point to George B. Stone & Son being all but out of the manufacturing business by the late 1930s anyhow so it's surprising that Williams stuck with Stone as long as he did. As George Lawrence Stone had begun to devote his attention almost entirely to his drum school and related activities such as teaching and writing, Stone & Sons' drum making interests faded. So Williams' move to a company that could more readily supply his needs was a logical one. Leedy must have been proud of their new endorser as they touted him prominently on the cover of Leedy Drum Topics #28 in October 1939.

Do you have a George B. Stone & Son Master-Model drum? I would love to hear about it! Drop Lee a note at And for more on Boston's early 20th century drum makers, please visit

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

ca. late 1910s No-Nic All Metal Drum

During Nokes & Nicolai's fourteen year existence from 1912 through 1926, the company had more success than any of the other Boston Drum Builders at manufacturing metal shell drums. As metal drums gained in popularity through the 1910s and into the 1920s, virtually every American drum company had their own rendition, the most common shell choice being nickel plated brass. Nokes & Nicolai constructed theirs around a thick, polished aluminum shell riveted together at the seam. Earlier examples such as the one seen here featured similarly constructed aluminum hoops while later versions of the same model feature diecast hoops eliminating the need for rim clips. Another indicator that this particular drum is an earlier one dating approximately from the mid to late 1910s is the snare-throw off, an updated version of which was installed on later models.

Polished aluminum cleans up fairly easily as it does not rust. The cap of the Washington Monument is formed of solid aluminum for just this reason - its resistance to deterioration. A light layer of oxidation can occur, but this in a way seals the metal protecting it from further damage. A homemade paste of cream of tarter and water removed enough of the oxidation in this case that the aluminum shell and hoops could then be polished back to a brilliant shine. The before and after pictures show the transformation.

For a more in depth comparison of multiple examples of the No-Nic All Metal Drum and including catalog artwork, see the post from March 6, 2012. And for more on the early 20th century drum builders from Boston, Massachusetts, visit

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Four Years with Mr. Stone

Paul Munier was 20 years old when he began studying with George Lawrence Stone in the early 1950s. Mr. Munier had previously studied drum majoring under E. Leonard Bayrd of the Redmen's Band in his native Wakefield, MA and while pursuing Education degrees at Boston University he sought out Stone's help to learn the art of drumming. Munier, now 87 years young, recounted stories from his more than 200 lessons with George Lawrence Stone in a recent telephone conversation. Excerpts from that phone call have been transcribed and edited for publication here.

Q: What was Stone's teaching studio like?

He had two locations on Hanover street. One was his studio, upstairs, second floor, and the other was a factory where they did the manufacturing. They had a store with a big glass window on the second floor that overlooked the street and in back of that was the storage room. Mr. Stone had a low wooden table with two rubber pads on it and two kitchen chairs in front of it. Fitted in the back of the table was a music stand, and that was it! Everything else was just packing stuff and there was a sink in there, a small white sink. It was, you know, as crude as it could get. It was unbelievable!

Q: How did you hear about George Lawrence Stone?

I had heard of Stone because I had used his books when I studied. I was going to Boston University at the time and I realized he was right on Hanover Street, so I went in there one day and I said "How do you go about getting lessons here?" And the secretary says "Well, he only takes serious students now. Are you interested in becoming a professional drummer?" I said "No, no. I'm perfectly happy being a drum major here, but I'm very much interested in drumming." "Well he really only takes more or less professional caliber students" said the secretary. So I could see I was getting no place with her!

He came out of the back room with a student and the the student took off. And I was standing there talking to her, and he came over. He said "Are you interested in studying?" and I said "I am but I'm not interested in being a professional drummer. I'm drum majoring now and I enjoy that but I'm really interested in drumming. And from what I've seen of your books, you'd be the person to go to to get information." So we talked for a few minutes and he said it was $3.00 per half an hour for lessons. I told him the money doesn't bother me and he said "You're willing to spend your money but you don't want to become a professional drummer?" He must have figured this guy is a little bit off!

He asked how I got interested and I told him. And he knew of the Redmen's band, of course he'd seen them in parades. And I said the drum major taught me four basic rudiments - single stroke roll, long roll, flam, and ruff - and he said "You're interested in learning more? You're willing to pay me to teach you about drumming, and you're not going to become a drummer?" I said "Sounds crazy but that's true!" He says "I'll take ya. Sounds interesting." So that's how I got in with him you know. And I started on half hour lessons and I was going to BU of course, I come in there once a week. And after a couple of years, some weeks I'd take a second half hour lesson. So in all when I finished up, I had 210 half hour lessons with him - four years.

Sometimes we would sit down and wouldn't even pick up a stick. We'd just get talking on some rudiment, or explaining, or working on something and he was unbelievable. I didn't know much about drumming as you know, but I knew that I had met a man that was the tops. Nothing could beat him.

He was the most unassuming man that you could imagine. He didn't come on strong yet he had everyone from Gene Krupa, you've heard of him, and all the rest of them came to him for lessons. Of course they were all famous before they got there really. But in those days those people were self taught and they'd get a few lessons and they were good, you know what I mean, naturally good. But after they became famous, they often took lessons to learn more - the technical side of drumming and everything. So he had symphony orchestra guys, the Boston Symphony drummers would come for him, rock and roll drummers came to him, jazz drummers. He ran a drum corps at one time and he was a drum instructor for a drum and bugle corps from the American Legion I think it was. And he really had a fantastic background. So I stuck with him for the four years. I spent the last three years of my bachelors degree and a year from my masters degree with him and I became a language teacher.

Q: Why was Stone willing to take you on as a student if you didn't want to be a professional drummer?

I don't think it's just because I was willing to pay. He really seemed to enjoy it because when we'd be doing something, I'd ask him questions or something and I remember several times especially towards the end of my four years there, he told me "You sent me back to the books plenty of times to find out, to get the background." He said "It was always good talking it over. You weren't just asking crazy questions, it was a good question and I had to figure out the exact answer." And after I got through with four years with him I still kept in touch with him all the time after I moved to Connecticut and when I went home I'd see him a lot if he wasn't busy at the time. We'd always have a good chat.

Q: What was a typical lesson like?

Well he'd start in, at first he used to have you close and open one of the rudiments but then he'd get right down to whatever he had assigned out of his book. And if something came up and I asked him about it then we'd get off the track. And we'd spend the rest of the half hour discussing that you know. That's why it took me so long - four years - but I enjoyed it! He never shut me down if I said I have a question.

Q: Did you cover other instruments with Stone?

No, rudimental drumming and I did have a drumset. I used to go out and play dances. I had a concert snare naturally from the set that I would use if I was playing with a military band in a concert or something. My main thing, I was still doing drum majoring and eventually I gave up drum majoring, but I'd still use the title because I didn't know what else to call myself! I didn't want to be called a drummer because I'm not a drummer.

Q: What was Stone like as a teacher:

None of them could top Mr. Stone because Stone knew every phase of it. In fact, if you were writing him up, you would have to say that he was the first drum instructor who covered all drumming. Because before that, there was no jazz drumming, you know, set drumming. It was either concert or parade. Then the set drumming came in - jazz came in - and that went into rock n roll or whatever they call it today. He bridged both of those from the time before jazz came in and then when jazz came in and once jazz went into what do they call it now? Rock 'n' roll or something? He covered everything. It was really interesting to see that he was in the era that covered the old style that first introduced jazz, and when they got into this syncopated jazz that we have today. I don't know what they call it, but it's a more advanced type of set drumming you know?

Mr. Stone said to me "Most people, when they come on here, they just want to finish their two year course and make some money on it you know?" So I dragged it out for four years, and he must have been sick of seeing me after four years. He was a really interesting go to and boy we had some great conversations. Sometimes we wouldn't even pick up a stick. You know, we just kept talking on something - the history of how a rudiment fit in with another one or something. And then he wrote articles on how many basic rudiments are there, are there two? or are there four? or are there six, you know what I mean? and then he'd write it up in his column for the international musician!I would read his column and I'd think, oh yeah, we discussed that three months ago. He was unbelievable. I couldn't say enough good about him.

Lee can be contacted any time by email at And for more on George Lawrence Stone, George B. Stone & Son Inc., and the other early 20th century drum makers of Boston, MA, please visit

Monday, May 2, 2016

ca. 1906 - 1910 Stromberg Orchestra Drum

From Gary Wolprt in Mason, New Hampshire comes this early single tension Orchestra Drum by Boston's Charles A. Stromberg. The drum was long ago refurbished but much can still be pointed to as evidence of Stromberg's craftsmanship and ingenuity, and his evolution as a snare drum maker.

ca. 1906 Stromberg Orchestra Drum

Most interesting about the drum is the hardware used to tension the heads, a method sometimes referred to as 'double tension'. This is in fact merely another form of single tension where both heads are tuned simultaneously. The main distinguishing feature of the so called double tension tuning method is that the tension rods are adjusted from the side of the drum with the use of a key, not from the top or bottom using thumbrods or more conventional tension rods.

Stromberg Single Tension Hardware
Stromberg Single Tension Hardware
ca. 1906 Stromberg Drum Hardware
Stromberg 'Double Tension' Hardware
Stromberg Separate Tension Drum Hardware
Stromberg Separate Tension Hardware

The claws used here (above center) are an interesting modification of those typically employed by Stromberg. In order to better accept the tension rods, or perhaps to emulate the look of slotted tension rods being fitted into the claws from above, each claw has a fixed cylindrical segment which is permanently affixed. The tension rods are then threaded in a different direction at each end so that turning the rods adjusts both heads at once. An unusually fine threading gives the player added control over fine tuning, though it would mean more turns to bring a damp drumhead up to pitch.

ca. 1906 Stromberg Drum LabelStromberg may have chosen to apply this so called 'double tension' method for one of several reasons. Firstly, this was likely intended as a lower level model than his patented Stromberg Invincible Orchestra Drum which was being produced contemporaneously. Another possibility is that a customer specifically requested a drum with this tuning method as there was still much discussion during the early 1900s as to the merits of single tension versus separate tension.

The label applied inside of the drum tells us several things beyond the fingerprints from some less than careful shell refinishing. For one, the address listed, 767 Washington Street, is not often seen suggesting that Stromberg only operated here for a short period of time. The same address is handwritten inside of the previously referenced Invincible Orchestra Drum with a date from March of 1906 placing the drum featured here sometime shortly thereafter. Also noteworthy is the omission of the word "Invincible" which tells us that the maker did not want us to confuse this drum with his patented design featuring separate tension lugs.

Unfortunately the original snare strainer is no longer present (a plugged hole in the shell prior to it being refinished confirms this modification) leaving us to wonder what exactly was there in the first place. And the hardware which now appears a copper-ish hue was likely nickel plated upon leaving Stromberg's shop. For that matter, the original color of the drum may have been something very different from the very dark stain it now wears.

But the shallow one ply maple shell is as refined as any made by Stromberg. And as usual the drum has a subtle elegance about it due in part to Stromberg's claws which were more streamlined that those of other makers of the era. A new slunk head from Stern Tanning tucked onto the original flesh hoop has this drum back in service once again. Special thanks to Gary for allowing his drum to be featured here!

Do you have a drum made by Charles A. Stromberg? I want to hear from you! Feel free to drop Lee an email anytime at And for more on the early 20th century snare drum makers of Boston, Massachusetts please visit

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Blond Master-Model with Provenance

Boston's George B. Stone & Son produced more than 700 Master-Model Drums after its introduction as the company's flagship snare drum offering in 1922. The most commonly applied finish is what Stone cataloged as "Black De Luxe". Second most common is the natural maple finish seen here.

George B. Stone & Son - Catalog K, 1925
George B. Stone & Son Master-Model Drum

Stone & Son heralded their Master-Model as "The Ace of All Orchestra Drums" proclaiming that it was "easiest playing and best tone snare drum in the world." The three ply maple shell, a feature unique to Stone at that time, was "guaranteed not to split, warp, or crack." Describing how the drum was set up before leaving the factory, Catalog K (1925) states "Both heads are of the most durable, first quality calf, specially selected and treated to withstand dampness" and that "Each Master-Model is equipped with snare strainer and muffler attachment of a new design, also the best coiled wire snares". True to Stone's intentions, the original snare wires and new calfskin heads adorn this example. And note the small metal tab attached to the strainer which keeps the knob securely in place - a small piece which frequently goes missing or is removed and misplaced.

Equally as interesting as the period correct setup is the provenance associated with this drum. So often the story is lost over the decades of who originally owned the drum. In this case however, we can trace ownership all the way back to the beginning because the drum remained with the family for nearly 90 years before it was purchased from the owner's granddaughter.

Ernest Rhys Llewellyn was born in Auburn, Massachusetts on July 2, 1888. A patent attorney by trade, Llewellyn was also something of an inventor himself receiving three patents for designs of his own pertaining to locking screws and a power transmitting mechanism. According to his family, he was also an architect, a Free Mason, an award winning field dog breeder, a small arms instructor for the U. S. Coast Guard during the second World War, and at one time owned an office equipment retail store in Manchester, New Hampshire. And somehow in addition to all of this, he apparently found time to play drums.

Mr. Llewellyn lived out his later years in Arlington, Massachusetts, his possessions eventually ending up in a wooden shipping crate relegated to the basement for storage after his death. His timpani were long ago donated to a local Massachusetts high school, and his snare drum has now found its way into the author's personal collection. As a nice touch, included with the drum were several pairs of sticks complete bearing the etched initials of Llewellyn's granddaughter who briefly played the drum as a junior high school student.

Do you have a drum made by George B. Stone & Son? I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to send Lee an email anytime at And for more on George B. Stone & Son Inc. and the other early 20th century drum manufacturers of Boston, Massachusetts, please visit
Ernest Rhys Llewellyn