Drum Companies vs. Drum Assemblers

Targalx

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Pearl, Tama, Ludwig, Sonor, Yamaha, Gretsch, DW... these major drum companies design drums, engineer their components, manufacture their drums. There are also some smaller drum companies who design, engineer and manufacture their drums. (I'm pretty sure INDe fits this description, right?)

There are a lot of small businesses that I don't know fit the aforementioned qualifications: They don't really clean-sheet design their drums, they don't manufacture their shells, they don't engineer their components. They just compile parts pre-manufactured by other companies, drill shells (that they may not make), maybe cut some edges, lacquer/wrap them, and screw things together. There's no shame in doing things that way, as I understand that these folks work hard and don't have the capital to invest in shell manufacturing or to machine their own hardware — they’ve got to start somewhere, after all. But, are these folks drum assemblers as opposed to those brands listed in the paragraph above, who are drum companies? Should there be a differentiation in the nomenclature here?

It seems like everyone now has a "drum company" in their garages, and the marketplace is flooded with tiny drum assembler brands.

Another thing: It may be my lack of observational skills, but I noticed that the resale value of some of these drum assembler brands is generally pretty weak. Part of that reason may be the fact that the kits are built so exact to someone’s specifications that it’s hard to find another buyer who wants a 20x22” kick with a 6x12” tom and a 12x15” floor tom in aquamarine-fuschia-gold swirl and staggered bronzed Z-shaped lugs, or whatever. And they often sit on Craigslist, eBay or Reverb much longer than a major-brand kit. (Just being a relatively unknown name doesn't help, either.)

Should there be some kind of differentiation between those who assemble and prep off-the-shelf components into drums, and those who wholly design/engineer/manufacture their drums? Or does it not matter—drum companies are drum companies, regardless if they do their own design, engineering and manufacturing?
 

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MrYikes

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Lets say you bought the machine to make the shell, now you have to train the man to run the machine. It is up to you to determine the quality that you will accept of his work. You will fire him if he makes too many bad products.
Now lets say you buy the shells from some other company. It is still up to you to determine the quality that you will accept from them and if they send too many bad products you will in fact fire them.
 

Mongrel

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In today's world....nothing is the same as it ever was.

For me, as long as the parts being used are quality parts, and as long as those parts are not ripping off other companies patents or other design considerations, it doesn't matter to me whose basement-yours or Tama's, they are being made in.

If the kit sounds good, I like it, and I can afford it, I will consider it.

The only thing for *me* is that I don't see any justification or need to by anybody's new kit. There are thousands of top tier used kits available for pennies to the dollar so it makes no sense for *me* to buy new.

And having said that, I would probably stick with one of the well established companies you listed in your first paragraph rather than a boutique brand.
 

ARGuy

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Should there be some kind of differentiation between those who assemble and prep off-the-shelf components into drums, and those who wholly design/engineer/manufacture their drums? Or does it not matter—drum companies are drum companies, regardless if they do their own design, engineering and manufacturing?
Should there be? I would ask, why? I seems that that turns it into an ego thing. Even if everyone agreed on a definition - which isn't going to happen - all you're really going to do is give each side ammunition for their side of an argument.
 

Drumming-4-Life

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Should there be? I would ask, why? It seems that that turns it into an ego thing. Even if everyone agreed on a definition - which isn't going to happen - all you're really going to do is give each side ammunition for their side of an argument.
This line, manufacturers vs. assemblers, is quite blurry, even within companies. I have spoken to many small-time drum makers, and representatives from large drum companies. Without getting into specific instances, you may or may not be amazed at the information you uncover. I know of one famous drum "maker" who actually doesn't make any of the components of their drums. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more. To me, that's not a drum maker, that's an assembler. Most large drum companies are guilty of at least some of the same practice. For example, many of the large drum companies, mentioned by the OP, do not make any of their metal shells. The vast majority of metal shell-making is farmed out to various Asian countries. The shell is the foundation of the drum. If you (the company) don't make the shell, how could you represent it as your own? That happens all the time.

I know of one drum-maker who actually makes all of his own shells and components (except heads, snare wires, tension rods, and screws). It's an amazing operation in Sheffield, England. Alan Van Kleef makes his shells, lugs, hoops, claws, and strainer components... and you can smell it when you open the box... the smell of freshly worked metal (cut, ground, burnt, etc.). I've never seen another drum quite like this one. It was completely made by hand.

This isn't an advertisement for VK Drums. They are not for everyone. Some drummers won't appreciate the raw, non-production-line look and feel of his instruments. I play and collect drums. Currently I own 19 different brands of drums, and VK Drums immediately came to my mind, when the topic of "completely made in-house" came to my attention.

If you want to see my current collection of snare drums, here is a link...
https://flacche.com/index.php/drums/snare-drums
 

Prufrock

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My dad is arguing with my uncle about politics, so it is nice to escape to DFO to something much less contentious: major drum brands versus small, boutique drum companies... ;-)

I've seen this topic raised a number of times with the same arguments. Here are a few things that probably have been brought up before in this context:

- The idea that a major drum company makes everything start-to-finish in-house is inaccurate. Some very large companies did a lot in-house (including shell manufacturing and part machining). Saying this, there were and are a lot of major brands that out-source parts. Think of vaunted Jasper shells in round badge Gretsch drums. Think of parts supplied by W&A - completely standard for many of the major brands. I can't think of a better example than George Way. His first drum company - The Advance Drum Co. in Canada - basically imported Leedy parts and assembled the drums in Canada. There were a few proprietary parts (such as the lugs), but the drums are almost identical to Leedy (and he started working for Leedy not long after). When George started the George Way Drum Co. in the mid 1950s, he ordered shells from Jasper, and his proprietary round turret lugs from the Consolidated Die Co. So was George Way just a drum assembler, or is this how the business works? Same arguments go around regarding cymbal smiths: do they forge their own bronze, or do they merely shape blanks? If I am a sculptor and don't quarry my own marble, am I legit? If I am a car company and don't have my own plant to create the plastic that goes into the components in my car, am I just a car assembler? You can take this to any extreme, of course, but it isn't unusual for people in many different fields to have different levels of manufacturing capability; it doesn't mean you aren't legit if you don't go back to the most elementary level of production. In fact, as mentioned in the previous post, some very small drum companies make everything start-to-finish, and this may make them outliers in the industry since most major drum companies don't even do this.

- Yes, it seems boutique drums have a harder time on the secondary market. The customization (ego) that goes into the drums may be part of it, and those looking for something similar have their own dream of the ideal drum set, which is not what the original purchaser wanted. It may also be a case of people not really understanding what they are looking at. Major drum companies are known quantities, and people go for what they know. To go with an example outside of the drum industry, people will pay silly money for major label clothes off the rack (like Polo), and they will walk by really high-end custom clothing (like a custom Savile Row suit that will run you $5000+) simply because they recognize the Polo label and have never heard of the Savile Row tailor. Same goes for drums. This means that a knowledgable buyer who knows what they are getting can find a better deal on custom drums in the secondhand market. The market can shift, however. Look at the vintage and custom car market. For years stock classic cars were bringing the most money, while customized cars never seemed to bring anything close to the money that was put into them. More recently, however, the market has shifted as buyers started seeing the custom cars as unique works of art. It's harder to put a standard price on them since there aren't straight-up comps, and it can also be more difficult to know a good one from a bad one without standard expectations, but people have gotten around this. Maybe this will happen for drums, and some of the boutique makers (or assemblers) of today will become the cream of the secondary drum world as reputations build in hindsight. At that point you won't be able to afford them, so take the general guidelines from the stock market: buy while the price is low!

Then again, I suppose it depends what you are looking for in terms of ROI. Are you buying what you love, and that is your return on investment, or are you buying with resale in mind, which is a different ROI? I tend to purchase drums that I love. If the drums also happen to have some resale value (which I know fluctuates) that's a bonus.
 
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Mcjnic

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Some extremely insightful responses so far.

I will keep mine short ... not much left to say.

You listed Gretsch as an example ... why?
Gretsch outsourced their shells and such for quite a few decades. They were assemblers by the constraints presented within this topic.

I don’t believe a conclusive discussion can take place without fully quantifying the relevant variables ... which we’ve thus far failed to do.

Lacking that, we are riding on the retreads of threads past ... But ain’t it fun as heck to be discussing drums!
The day feels a bit fuller when we do.
 
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K.O.

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I don't know of any of the major brands who create every part in house. All the die-cast parts have been made by outside suppliers pretty much forever. That's still the case today but now those suppliers are generally located in Taiwan or elsewhere in that vicinity. Gretsch hasn't made their own shells since the mid 1950s. Ludwig has outsourced their metal snare shells since the early 1960s. All companies make these decisions based on what will be most cost effective.

I get what you're saying but the distinction between manufacturers and assemblers is somewhat blurry. If the main distinction is making their own shells then what is Gretsch? (and what was Rogers?) and what about the smaller outfits that do make their own shells (like Stone Custom)?

There was never an American drum company where trees, iron, and bauxite went in one end of the plant and drums came out the other. I doubt that applies to any of the overseas companies either (maybe Yamaha). The "assembler" making drums one by one in his garage or basement may lavish far more care in the work they do and create a superior product because A: they can & B: they almost have to to compete in any real way. Yet I have zero interest in those drums because the history and reputation of the brands that appeal to me is also an important factor (to me). I think many others feel the same way, regardless of how much content of those drums is made in-house or just assembled there. There's just a bit too much gray area there to really make a hard distinction.
 

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This topic has been brought up before...and is one I always enjoy reading about! I appreciate the well thought out responses by the DFO members. Many independent and boutique builders are making fine drums, with many using Keller shells. Nothing wrong with that! These builders add their own "identity" with how they do bearing edges, paint work or even just attention to things like drilling holes! There are so many companies from which to choose. If you find one that offers exactly what you have been looking for, it is a bonus! As stated in some above posts, the biggest issue can be resale values on a kit from a small independent shop...regardless of how good the drum is. Still, I think that many drummers are looking for something unique and not concerned with resale.

-Mark
 

wayne

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In the past there have been several heated debates regarding this, of which I was part of. Time has passed and most of the boutique operators have closed up, as predicted. There are a few left and the ones that survived are here on the forum, and a few others. You need a LOT of money to make a splash on a national level, of course that was the first bit of reality to sink in. If you do, good for you, but if they settled for regional success first, and grew from there, some may have survived..Its come down to trust and respect and belief that your next purchase is based on that. There are hundreds of choices now and there is no excuse for anyone to be taken advantage of, thanks to social media.
 

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This is strictly an opinion on my part. I don't think there's any real logic to it, but it's still how I feel. I rarely expect a drum manufacturer, namely the big companies mentioned in the OP, to make their own shells when it comes out to starter kits and even the really cheap intermediate kits. But when you come to the intermediate kits with higher expectations (in my mind: Mapex Armory, Meridian and MyDentity, Yamaha Tour Customs from about 10 years ago, Pearl Vision from about that same time period) I expect the shells to be made in house. And of course any high end/ pro kits I feel the shells should be made and researched in house. Anything less than that and I'm not interested. It's a snobby attitude I think, maybe even shortsighted, but still how I feel.

I have no problem with hardware being outsourced as long as it is researched and designed by the drum company selling it.

I also think that any company using outsourced shells should say that right up front for whatever kit it applies to.
 

pwc1141

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Ummm .... my recent "custom" kit was made from their own shells that they formed in their own molds with wood hoops that they themselves make. Everything else was produced elsewhere and sourced to suit their own particular design ideas - eg. tension rod/lugs that screw into the hoops, clip on bass drum spurs and a few other things. They are a Brand locally as seen on the bass drum and for $US 1,000 approx at current exchange rates these are cheaper than many imported bigger Brands here that these days mostly get made in Taiwan anyway with some perhaps still made in Japan. How do I classify this company ? Not sure I know having read some of the replies above, but ultimately I am unconcerned that they may only be known locally and my only concerns are their rich warm tone and their two tone pleasing look ....

66950950_2422848307949540_2904331579331444736_n.jpg
 

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For me , I think you should have your own lug design , at the least .

All those “companies “ that let you pick everything never made sense .

I even wonder why Pearl would let someone choose certain aspects in a kit .

If I made drums , I would build and design how I saw fit and the only thing I’d let customers pick is finish .
 

JDA

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Sonor. Does everything. Every nut, screw, washer, drum stick, drum head has been patented and protected by international law from anyone else using anything near their quality. As fact I know this because over the years I read it here somewhere....they're the best
addendum: well up until 1979
 
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Mcjnic

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Noble & Cooley not only sources the wood from the next field over (so to speak), but they actually machine their own lugs and assemble their own throws. Phenomenal work. That's the snares and the SS kits. Obviously, the other kits are sourced "according to their specs" (as is the norm). So, there are a few out there that do start to finish work. These guys are not classified as a new boutique company, as they've been around since the Civil War era.
 

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Eames. They actually grow the shells, in pots, in their backyard, Since 1844 they've maintained a "lug farm" and the same guys still work there..
That does it, I have to get one!

Do you know if their telegraph gear is still up and running?
 
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jaymandude

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Yup, we all have our individual feeling about this. So the only person doing the differentuating is you :)

To me it's lugs and BD claws more than shells. I'll let you use Keller, but not some Drum Supply house .99 BD claws. Nah man, I'll pass...
 

RIDDIM

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This is strictly an opinion on my part. I don't think there's any real logic to it, but it's still how I feel. I rarely expect a drum manufacturer, namely the big companies mentioned in the OP, to make their own shells when it comes out to starter kits and even the really cheap intermediate kits. But when you come to the intermediate kits with higher expectations (in my mind: Mapex Armory, Meridian and MyDentity, Yamaha Tour Customs from about 10 years ago, Pearl Vision from about that same time period) I expect the shells to be made in house. And of course any high end/ pro kits I feel the shells should be made and researched in house. Anything less than that and I'm not interested. It's a snobby attitude I think, maybe even shortsighted, but still how I feel.

I have no problem with hardware being outsourced as long as it is researched and designed by the drum company selling it.

I also think that any company using outsourced shells should say that right up front for whatever kit it applies to.
Snobby, I don't know - naive, perhaps. Rogers, Camco and Gretsch didn't make their own shells. They put out some pretty nifty instruments that are still valued today, however, in some cases very highly. What matters is what they did with the parts once they had them and the sound their instruments produced.
 


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