Sunday, October 28, 2012

Shipping Vintage Drums

A few simple tips can save you time, money, hassle, and heartbreak when shipping your old drums.

Pack well using more than one line of defense against damage! Use a sturdy cardboard box such as the ones used by drum manufacturers to ship new drums. If you want to line the sides of the box with extra cardboard, even better. Place the drum in a plastic bag or line it with plastic wrap, and then go around it a time or two with bubble wrap. Finally, position the bundled drum in the middle of the box filling the extra space with newspaper to keep things snug while in transit. This helps prevent dings, dents, or worse if the carrier mishandles the package. If there are any loose parts or detached components, tighten them or wrap them up separately placing them in an obvious position in the box. You don't want anything rolling around loose in the box which could go missing or cause damage to the drum. Tape the box securely shut and cover all seems in the box with packing tape.

Don't use an absurdly oversized box! Many carriers charge you not only for the weight of the package (which can't really be helped) but also for the size of the package. In other words, you're paying for the amount of space the package will take up in their trucks in addition to just the weight. As long as there is enough room to safely insulate the drum, use the smallest box possible. Most snare drums (not including field drum sizes) can be easily packed in an 18" x 18" x 8" box, and in many cases a smaller box is perfectly acceptable. Just use your common sense here!

Pack the drum yourself. This will save you money versus what your local shipping outlet will charge you. The shipping stores often charge ludicrous amounts for boxes, packing materials, and labor. Your local hardware store has everything you need including tape, bubble wrap, and cardboard boxes for much cheaper. Do the packing yourself and you'll come out ahead on the overall cost. Also, reusing boxes and packing materials is thrifty and more environmentally responsible!

Pay for the insurance! It usually doesn't cost that much extra for a few hundred dollars worth of coverage. If you don't pay for the insurance and the drum is damaged, you are completely out of luck. You've lost your money and the drum, and the other person involved in the deal won't be happy either. It's worth the small additional cost for insurance - especially considering the way carriers are known to treat packages....

Print the shipping labels online. If you have a way to measure and weigh the package, printing the shipping label at home can save you a few pennies. It's not a major savings but every little bit helps. The biggest benefits to printing your own shipping labels are that you can skip the line and drop the package at your shipping location, or you can have them come pick up the package which is a real time saver.

Get a tracking number and provide it to the person on the other end of the deal. This lets the buyer know that the drum is on the way and when to expect the delivery. Tracking packages internationally is less reliable but keeping tabs on shipments in the United States is fairly reliable with any of the major shipping providers.

Happy collecting everyone!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A New Stone & Son Badge Surfaces

Hoop mounted badges are common on George B. Stone & Son drums dating from the mid 1910s through the early '30s. What is not common is to see a badge different from those typically used on the overwhelming majority of Stone drums. Such is the case however with a drum recently listed on eBay by a seller from Lowell, MA.

In some ways this badge is a real stumper. It's different in size and shape than any other badge ever used by Stone. Since it is so unusual, it stands to reason that very few of these badges were produced and installed on finished drums.

Thankfully, there is a paper label inside the shell which clears some things up. The label is one we've seen before and is not all that uncommon on Stone drums of the mid to late 1930s.

All other indications point to a similar conclusion. There is no serial number on the label. (Serial numbers were common from 1922 up until about 1935.) The drum is simple in design using single tension tuning. And the shell appears to have a small metal grommet which was used only on very late Stone drums.

So where does all of this leave us? This badge must have been used in very small quantities near the end of Stone & Son's production in the mid to late 1930s.

Do you have a drum made by Geo. B. Stone & Son? I want to hear from you! Send Lee an email at

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Drum That Doomed Stone & Son

It would be an overstatement to say that a single snare drum model from a single manufacturer put George B. Stone & Son out of business. But when an old friend from the East Coast recently sent an early Ludwig & Ludwig nickel-over-brass shell Universal model snare drum my way, it occurred to me that none of the Boston Drum Builders ever produced anything like this even though many of the companies were operating simultaneously through the 1910s.

It isn't so much that Ludwig & Ludwig's metal snare drums of the 1910s were head and shoulders above Stone's drums, it's that the drums coming out of the Ludwig factory in Chicago were completely different instruments altogether. As Ludwig and their Midwestern counterparts evolved quickly through the 1920s, Stone & Son practically stood still. For example, short of the elusive All Metal Master-Model Drum, Stone installed wooden hoops on virtually all drums built in house for the entirety of the company's existence. And that is just the tip of the iceberg really.

Geo. B. Stone's famous Master-Model Drum (pictured at bottom right), introduced in 1922, used a visually striking yet completely impractical tuning method that involved using a wrench around the sides of the drum to adjust the tension of the heads. Again, this was not a forward looking evolution but rather a throwback to old fashioned ways which only served to put Stone further behind the curve.

Ultimately, designs such as Ludwig & Ludwig's All Metal Drum (pictured at bottom left) caught on and became the industry standard. The Universal Model (pictured at top right) was actually Ludwig's more affordable metal shell snare drum through the 1920s by which time their flagship models implemented ten tube lugs and either the Professional of Super-Ludwig throw-off.

Stone did eventually catalog a metal shell snare drum similar to the Ludwig & Ludwig Universal but these were admittedly not built in house. The metal shell drums sold by Stone were instead purchased from a third party (possibly Leedy or Duplex, or perhaps even from Ludwig themselves as Stone did carry the Ludwig & Ludwig bass drum pedals) and distributed through Stone's dealers which were predominantly in New England.

Note that Stone was cataloging a six lug drum in late 1924 by which time Ludwig had already moved to the more sturdy eight and ten lug designs. With Ludwig & Ludwig's highly advanced Super Ludwig models in production by this time, literally all of Stone's offerings including their Master-Model and Separate Tension Drums had become obsolete almost overnight.

Above: Mid - Late 1910s Ludwig & Ludwig Universal Model

Above: George B. Stone & Son Catalog K - Published 1924

You be the judge. Which of the snare drums pictured below look to you more like the instruments we play today?

Late 1920s Ludwig & Ludwig All Metal Drum
1923 George B. Stone & Son Master-Model Drum

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Where Did They Go?

During the early 1920s, four of the Boston Drum Builders were at or near their prime. Over the next two decades, each would disappear from the drum making map for different reasons.

Harry A. Bower was more of an assembler than a manufacturer per se. Many if not all of his instruments are presumed to have been produced largely by third parties such as machine shops or local craftsmen. Bower certainly was active in the designing and patenting of his creations, and was purported to have been quite the promoter of his wares, but he is not known to have ever had a factory full of workers under his command. So when Bower followed the rapidly evolving entertainment business to Southern California around 1925, his drum building efforts seem to have subsided. The last dated Bower drum I am aware of is from December of 1924. Bower did apply for and receive three patents while living in California in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but it is unknown whether any instruments implementing these designs were ever produced, much less marketed and sold.

Nokes & Nicolai's ending was relatively simple and concise. It is well documented in trade publications of the era that Nokes & Nicolai along with local string instrument maker Joseph Pancheco merged with the Liberty Rawhide Company of Chicago in 1926 to form The Liberty Musical Instrument Company. The looming question then is 'Why did Nokes & Nicolai chose to essentially sell their company?' We have no answer for that.

It would appear that Nokes & Nicolai was doing reasonably well at the time producing high quality professional level instruments well into the 1920s. They were financially stable enough just a few years earlier in 1922 to have purchased the F. E. Cole banjo business. And with both of Nokes & Nicolai's namesakes staying on with the new venture in Chicago, it doesn't appear that either man was looking to get out of the industry. Perhaps business has become bad for Nokes & Nicolai in Boston by 1926. Perhaps the two owners felt that the industry was passing them by. Or perhaps they just got an offer too good to refuse. We may never know.

The Liberty Musical Instrument Company was short lived, failing within two years time and was soon acquired by the Slingerland Company, also of Chicago. So in some small way Nokes & Nicolai lived on well into the 20th century, though to be honest, few if any of the instruments built by Slingerland bore any resemblance whatsoever to those being sold by Nokes & Nicolai in Boston only a few years earlier.

George B. Stone & Son was a family operation in name only by the 1920s with the elder Stone, George Burt, having passed away in 1917. But under the younger George Lawrence's oversight the company reached it's peak by the early to mid 1920s both in quantity and quality of instruments being turned out. It appears, however, to have been mostly downhill from there. The late Ralph Eames may have described the circumstances best in an interview with Rick Mattingly for Modern Drummer Magazine in 1985:

"When mechanization hit the drum industry it sort of passed Mr. Stone by. His business was primarily a handmade operation, and he didn't want to convert to the equipment that would have been necessary for him to compete with companies like Ludwig, Slingerland, and Gretsch. So the business gradually petered out."

And there you have it in a nutshell. Stone never modernized. Case in point: Stone was producing drums employing wood hoops and an archaic tensioning system for more than a decade after the major players in the industry had moved to metal hoops and standardized tension rods. It was impossible for Stone to keep up like that and eventually they just stopped trying. By the very end, the company was assembling only basic single tension drums with whatever parts were left in the shop making for a sad end to a manufacturing business that once made professional quality, state of the art instruments.

We know that Stone was still building drums, albeit it in dwindling numbers, into the mid 1930s but the factory was closed for good by the late 1930s or early 1940s and the drum making equipment sat dormant for the next decade before it was purchased by Raplh Eames in 1950. Eames Drum Company of Saugus, Massachusetts, which is still in operation today, is owned and operated by Joe MacSweeney just a few miles north of Boston and represents the closest thing to a direct lineage shared between any modern drum maker and the Boston Drum Builders of the early 20th century.

And last but not least we have Charles A. Stromberg. It wasn't that Stromberg disappeared so much as that he and his son Elmer simply shifted their focus away from building drums, harps, and banjos to the making of guitars for which they would ultimately become renowned. By the late 1920s, Stromberg's snare drums had evolved into the most modern of any built by a Boston maker of the day. Solid aluminum hoops, elegant separate tension tube lugs, and a fully functional (if slightly over-built) snare throw-off easily separated Stromberg's drums from their local competitors. But as Stromberg was basically a two man operation, their output was very small with the total number of drums produced by the 1930s said to have been only in the 400 range. It would make sense that Stromberg was drawn not only to the more popular instruments of the day for which there was more demand, but where the profit margin was higher for each instrument sold. Though Stromberg's later drums are not numbered or dated, it appears that they were fazed out through the late 1920s and early 1930s as their guitars began increasing in notoriety and popularity. Charles and Elmer Stromberg would continue building guitars until their deaths in 1955.

Do you have a drum built by one of the early 20th century Boston makers? I want to hear from you! Send Lee an email at