Sunday, November 25, 2012

Early George Burt Stone Photo

An interesting old photograph was recently brought to my attention by Drum & Fife instructor Pete Emerick. The photo was uncovered in an antique store located in Gettysburg, PA which specializes in military antiques. Handwriting on the back of the photo identifies the snare drummer as none other than George Burt Stone and states that the photo is of the Camp M.V. Militia at the turn of the century. I believe the abbreviation M.V. stands for Massachusetts Voluntary. The uniforms worn by the men in the picture narrow the date down a bit further I am told, roughly to between 1886 - 1895.

The drum carried by Stone reads "FIRST REGT. / M.V.M. / DRUM * FIFE / AND / BUGLE CORPS" which corroborates the inscription on the back. The drum itself looks to be a typical late 19th century rope drum with leather ears, metal rim clips, and wooden hoops. No distinguishing makers mark is apparent on either drum in the picture. The most interesting feature of of either drum is the large descriptive emblem painted on the snare drum shell.

George B. Stone had an extensive background in military music and this photograph provides a rare glimpse into the life of a man who would go on to be best known for founding George B. Stone & Son in 1890.

Special thanks to Peter Emerick for sharing the image with me and allowing me to post it here!

As always, you can send Lee an email at

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Polishing the Stone

The 1922 Stone Separate Tension Orchestra Drum by Boston's George B. Stone & Son is cleaning up nicely. The decades of dirt and grime have been removed and the shell and hardware are polishing up nicely.

Liberon Black Bison Paste Wax did a beautiful job on the shell and I would highly recommend this product for breathing life back into aged natural finishes on antique drum shells. This was the second clean up project on which I've used the Liberon and I've been happy with the results both times. The maple color wax was a perfect match for the orange shellac finish.

The hardware was all cleaned using one of two processes. Some of the pieces (tension rods, rim clips, and strainer) were soaked in Dawn dish washing soap and then scrubbed with a toothbrush to remove any remaining grime before being thoroughly rinsed in very hot water and quickly dried. I tried a different process on the rest of the hardware (mounting screws and lugs) which was to simply soak the parts in Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner and then rinse and dry them. This was the first time I've tried using Simple Green but I have to say it did at least as good of a job as the Dawn and without nearly as much elbow grease!

After cleaning, the parts were polished with Cape Cod Polishing Cloths which did a terrific job of gently bringing back a brilliant shine to the antique nickel plating. I've used these before and will use them again. They will not scratch delicate plating and have no unpleasant odor which you can get from a lot of metal polishes.

Pictured below is all the hardware ready for reassembly. Coming soon: the completed project!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Stone Drums from Gardner's Modern Method - 1945 Edition

Old method books shed some light on how students and teachers went about the learning process in generations past. These books also frequently include photographs giving us a glimpse at the instruments they were playing at the time.

From the 1945 edition of the Gardner Modern Method for the Instruments of Percussion, we have this picture of a very, very late Geo. B. Stone & Son drumset:

Previous editions of the Gardner Method pictured the author behind a more primitive trap kit. The picture seen here is clearly a younger man behind a newer set of drums. Gardner's Method was first copyrighted in 1919 and subsequently in 1927 and 1938 so it would make sense that the photographs were updated along the way.

The snare drum pictured in this 1945 "Revised and Enlarged Edition" is unlike any Stone we've come across from the 1920s or 1930s. It is likely among the very last instruments assembled by Stone and is an odd mix of old components and more modern ones not typically seen on Stone drums. Stone was merely assembling drums from old stock and parts purchased from other companies by this point. Only the shells could have been produced in house at that point, and even that much is uncertain.

We can clearly see Stone's trademark oval badge mounted on the shell over the air vent and the snare strainer is the same as those used on Stone's Master-Model drums. But the single fanged hoops (metal, not wooden) and metal lug casings (Gretsch 'Rocket' lugs or Ludwig Imperials perhaps?) are a sure sign that this was an assembly job near the very end of Stone's run, circa late 1930s.

Do you have a drum made by Geo. B. Stone & Son? Let's talk! Send Lee an email at

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Harry A. Bower "Dowelaphone"

I was recently pointed by a fellow vintage instrument enthusiast to an unusual Harry A. Bower mallet instrument in the collection of Los Angeles Percussion Rentals. Not unlike Bower's snare drums, this instrument looks to be unusual bordering on bizarre. Most if not all of Bower's instruments serve as little more than evolutionary oddities to us today. But apparently you can rent this one and play it if you really want to!

Photo: Los Angeles Percussion Rentals

Playing this "Dowelaphone" (or Dowel-A-Phone, or Dowel Xylophone) would appear to present some interesting challenges. The rounded over keys would make for awkward mallet ricochets, and the wooden slats placed between the accidentals could easily lead to disorientation when moving across the instrument.

Having studied so many of Bower's patent applications, there was undoubtedly a great deal of thought put into its design. How much of that translates into a practical instrument for performance purposes? Perhaps the ultimate answer lies in how little resemblance any modern keyboard instrument shows a resemblance to the Bower "Dowelaphone"!

Do you have an instrument built by Harry A. Bower? I want to hear from you! Send Lee an email at