Sunday, April 21, 2013

Single Head Snare Drums

The early 1900s saw a great deal of experimentation in drum design and construction. One model which caught on for a brief time but has long since gone nearly extinct is that of the single head snare drum.

Single head snare drums served several purposes. For one, they were compact in size and were highly portable. A small drum with only one head could easily nest with other smaller drums or be filled with traps and sound effects to be packed and transported to the next gig. Also, single head drums were by their very nature economical since they didn't require as much material to assemble. In some instances, these drums were constructed with less than high end shells and hoops which further reduced production costs.
It should be noted that companies were not promoting single head drums as being top of the line. Instead, these drums were targeted towards working drummers who were on the move and those buyers who were looking for cheaper options than the high end models. This isn't to say, however, that single head drums were poorly built.

In terms of construction, most of these drums are fairly straight ahead. The three examples pictured here, as well as all of those depicted in catalog artwork below, utilize a single wooden counterhoop. Some use conventional tension rods and some use thumbscrew rods. Many but not all had some sort of posts affixed to the shell to facilitate the positioning of the tension rods. The style of hooks used to pull tension down on the hoop vary by maker. Some designs tension from the top but most tune from the bottom where the tensioning hardware would remain completely out of the way of the player.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of these drums is how the snares are mounted inside of the drum against the bottom of the head. Some models had only a simple strainer with which to adjust the snare tension. Other examples, such as the one pictured at top, had a true throw-off capable of engaging or fully disengaging the snares from the head.

The three drums pictured at right are all of unknown make. No badge or label is present on any of the three nor do they match up definitively with any of the catalog pages below. This speaks to a couple of point including the inherent generic nature of these drums, and the fact that these were generally considered lower level instruments even in their day. It would appear that many companies were less likely to herald or even label these instruments as they left the factory.
Lee's Early 1900s Single Head Drum

Danielle's Early 1900s Single Head Drum
Photo Courtesy of Danielle Squires

Early 1900s Single Head Drum
Photo: ebay
In the catalog pages below, most of which date from the 1910s, you will notice some shared artwork. Where these instruments were being manufactured is unknown. Note how adamantly the second Stone & Son catalog states that their single head drums are bought from another manufacturer! Again, this all speaks to the fact that these instruments were popular economical offerings available through a great number of companies during the early 1900s.

Oliver Ditson Wonderbook Number Four - 1910

Excelsior Drum Works - 1911          Photo:

Geo. B. Stone & Son Catalog G - ca. 1912

Geo. B. Stone & Son Catalog H - ca. 1915

F. E. Dodge Company - 1907          Photo:

Carl Fischer Musical Instrument Co.          Photo: eBay

Acme / Sears, Roebuck, and Co. - 1908          Photo: eBay

Nokes & Nicolai American Drummer No. 6 - ca. 1918

Do you have a single head snare drum? I want to to hear from you! Send Lee an email at

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Faux Rosewood Hoops

Where were these hoops coming from? They appear on a 1880s Thompson & Odell drum in my collection and several others I have seen. At first glance it appears the hoops are made of rosewood but upon closer inspection they are in fact formed from maple which has been stained a deep reddish color and then hand painted to imitate the woodgrain of rosewood.
Lee'sThompson & Odell Drum, ca. 1880sThompson & Odell Drum, ca. 1880s
Thompson & Odell Drum Label, ca. 1880sThompson & Odell Drum Label

The similarities between the hoops on this Thompson & Odell drum (above) and a similar maple shelled drum by Lyon & Healy of Chicago (below) are uncanny.

Lyon & Healy Drum, ca. 1880sLate 1800s Lyon & Healy Drum        photo: eBay
Lyon & Healy Drum Label, ca. 1880sLyon & Healy Drum Label        photo: eBay

The hardware on the two drums pictured above is also very similar albeit somewhat generic. Furthermore, the wording on the Thompson & Odell label describes the company as "Importers and Wholesale and Retail Dealers in General Musical Merchandise". This all leads me to believe that Lyon & Healy of Chicago was behind the manufacture of this particular Thompson & Odell drum.

Thompson & Odell Drum, ca. 1880s

Late 1800s Lyon & Healy Drum

Lyon & Healy was one of the largest producers of band instruments in the late 1800s, and drums such as these often turn up with labels listing other instrument makers or music stores as is the case here. Lyon & Healy in fact proclaimed themselves to be the "largest general music house in America" and was likely a source of instruments for countless smaller dealers at the time.

This certainly isn't to say that all Thomposon & Odell drums were built by Lyon & Healy because that absolutely is not the case. Drums by J. B. Treat, and Charles A. Stromberg were also dealt by Thompson & Odell prior to the Company's bankruptcy in 1905. Stromberg was in fact employed by the company for a time. But the evidence to suggest some sort of working business agreement between Thompson & Odell and Lyon & Healy is strong as the two drums pictured above demonstrate.

Do you have a Thompson & Odell drum? I want to to hear from you! Send Lee an email at

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Stone Master-Model Prototype Shell

First introduced in 1922, the Master-Model Drum was George B. Stone & Son's premier snare drum offering and remains the most easily recognizable and iconic instrument produced by the company. Originally marketed as the "All-Weather Drum", the name "Master-Model" was adopted by late 1922. The Master-Model snare drums were built around 5" x 14" staggered three-ply all maple shells, not single-ply maple as is sometimes reported.

But with every rule comes an exception as is the case with this early prototype.

All that remains of this drum is the shell and hoops. There is a paper label inside of the drum and a Stone & Son badge mounted on the top hoop which places the drum no later than 1922. (The Master-Model specific badge appears to have begun use around January of 1924.) What is most interesting about this early example is that unlike every other Master-Model shell I've ever handled, this one is formed from a single, thin outer ply with four reinforcing rings which combine to line the entire inside of the drum.

Now compare the prototype shell pictured above with this late 1920s example. This is the typical 3 ply 5/8" thick maple shell employed by Stone on their Master-Model drums through the 1920s and into the 1930s.

1923 George B. Stone & Son Master-Model Snare Drum Shell1923 George B. Stone & Son Master-Model Snare Drum

The odd thing about the prototype is how the entire inner shell is covered by the reinforcing rings. It's an obvious evolution at that point to then make the inner rings into one complete ply which would yield a two ply shell composed of a thin outer ply and a much thicker inner ply. Stone apparently settled on a three ply version by about 1922 which they would use on all of their Master-Model drums going forward. The production of a staggered three ply shell is a milestone often credited to Brooklyn's Gretsch Manufacturing Company but date stamped examples from George B. Stone & Son appear as early as 1922.

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