SONOR LATE 50'S KIT RESTORATION

franke

DFO Star
Joined
Aug 10, 2005
Messages
6,278
Reaction score
362
Location
Los Angeles, CA
This is a very lengthy (over 3500 words!) post resembling a magazine article and not the typical DFO topic thread, so those who don’t want to sift through the story are invited to scroll down to the pics.

Background:

About two years ago I was in the process of putting together an early 60’s “mallet badge” kit, and was short a few things. I came upon an auction on eBay for a load of Sonor parts that had what I was missing as well as a lot of things I didn’t need, and though I thought it was priced too high, I put it on my Watch List out of curiosity: if it got bids, then at least I’d get sense of what the current “market” for parts was.

28 lugs, 26 rods, 8 T-handle rods.jpg
The Parts Load

The seller was Uncle Bob’s, a music shop in the Milwaukee area, and in the listing was the phone number. The auction ended with no bids, and after some consideration, I thought that even though there were more parts than I needed, this was a way to get them. I could then sell off the excess and perhaps recover most, if not all, of the cost. I contacted a guy named Jeff who claimed to be the son of the store’s owner, and asked if he was open to offers. He was, and added that he had acquired the parts from the estate of a Sonor collector. Some of the parts were NOS, including five Sonor script badges (the photos in the eBay listing were out-of-focus and didn’t show the lot in its entirety).

We worked out what I thought was a fair price for the parts, and for another $200, he offered one full sheet of WMP wrap, a pair of fifties tom shells that had been stripped to bare wood and a complete fifties bass drum in faded gold sparkle that was metric sized but said that I could still get heads for. Intrigued at the prospect of having enough parts to finish my current project and more than a head start towards completing another, I paid $300 for the whole shebang, including shipping. Having once been in music sales myself, I hung up with the nagging feeling of what I had just fallen for virtually sight unseen, but at the same time, felt I had perhaps gotten the better end of the deal. Besides, I told myself, I sure do know how to make lemonade out of lemons.

The parts lot was as Jeff described, and the two bare tom shells looked okay, but the bass drum was so out of round that it was unplayable: even the hoops were warped on edge. The diameter was either 20 7/8” or 22 1/4”, depending on which two points along the circumference one used to measure the diameter, making it too large for metric heads (Remo doesn’t make anything larger than 50 cm, or roughly, 19 7/8”), but getting heads for it was a moot point given the drum’s condition. Unhappy about receiving what was basically dumpster ballast, I contacted Jeff but he never responded, and soon dropped the matter.

SONOR SHARK TOOTH BASS DRUM.jpg
Shark Tooth bass drum

Post-War Sonor drums fall into two broad types, commonly referred to as “shark tooth” and “teardrop”. What the two have in common are three-ply beech shells with reinforcement rings (the six-ply, no ring teardrops would appear sometime around 1965): where they differ is in hardware design, and most importantly, build quality, for based on the condition and workmanship that went into my “shark tooth” bass drum, it seems as though they were made under rather primitive conditions, as if they the plies were laid up and glued in some sort of work bench jig with no thought given to consistent thickness, as opposed to what typically comes out of a heated, pressure mold. The “shark tooth” era is said to have lasted from 1950 to around 1957.

Concept:

The build quality of the tom shells was much better than the bass drum, and I wondered whether they were perhaps made during the “transition” period, or sometime between 1957 and perhaps 1960, the time when the shark tooth drums were being phased out and the introduction of the teardrop drums (as a side note, 1950’s and most 1960’s Sonor catalogs are basically useless when trying to determine when one era ended and when the other began as Sonor often used the same photos year after year). It’s hard to know for sure which period the toms were from: while the lugs on the shark tooth toms were smaller than those on bass drums, the holes spacing is the same as teardrop lugs (teardrop drums use the same lugs on toms and bass drums).

Sonorlugsverkleind.jpg
Shark Tooth vs Teardrop Lugs

The toms were drilled for script badges, shark tooth-era tom brackets and tone controls, all of which differ from what was used on teardrop shells. Still, knowing that there were late 50’s script badge kits with teardrop lugs, and recognizing how difficult it would be to find shark tooth tom lugs for sale in North America, I decided to make this into a “transition era” kit: script badge, shark tooth hardware, and teardrop lugs. To make a complete kit I acquired an early 60’s (3-ply beech) bass drum shell.

LATE 50 SONOR TEARDROP.jpg
Late 1950's Sonor "transition" kit (not mine)

Once I had what I thought were all the parts I needed, save for one 16” tom hoop and two 20” bass drum hoops, I began to think about how I wanted to finish the kit. Finding period-correct wrap (for Sonor) is next to impossible: I didn’t want to go “hot rod” and wrap it in some weird color pattern just so I could call the kit finished, and I wasn’t too keen on going black lacquer. Then I happened upon some photos of a “one-off” 1950’s Premier kit that was finished in Karelian birch (so named because the species is mostly found in Karelia, a no-longer existent nation that today is mostly comprised within eastern Finland).

Premier Karelian Birch 1.JPG
1950's Premier in Karelian Birch

This wood grain closely resembles what Sonor calls “Scandinavian birch”, a finish that I’ve always liked. “Scandi birch”, as it is known, first appeared on Sonor drums sometime in the eighties. Finishing what’s supposed to be a late 50’s kit in such would be “historically inaccurate” and could very well get me cited by the vintage cops, but I started to think about making a “what if” kit, as in, “what if there was this Sonor artist back in the fifties who asked for a custom, one-off, kit finished in some uncommon-for-its-day veneer?”

After some searching I came upon someone on eBay selling eight 16x22” sheets of raw Karelian birch veneer for about $75, shipped, that combined, worked it to about 20 square feet, more than enough to finish the kit, I thought. Being “raw” means that the veneer is not paper-backed nor is it flat. Flattening it would require softening it, which means getting it wet with a home-brew solution of three-parts water, two-parts yellow glue, one-part vegetable glycerin, and one-part denatured alcohol. The only wrinkle (excuse the pun) in this is that the yellow glue can sometimes adversely affect whether the veneer will take stain or oils evenly.

Karlian Birch.jpg
Karelian Birch

Not wanting to risk that, I bought a product called Super Soft that does the job without any adverse effects. Typically, one flattens veneer with a press, but not having one, I settled on using some old, 12x10” wooden drawer boxes I had made for my kid’s closet that were no longer in use, and filled them with driveway pebbles that when two or more drawer box loads are combined, produced about 100 lbs. of pressure. Given the highly-figured grain pattern, this flattening process took several treatments over several days before the veneer was flat enough to apply to a drum shell.

Veneering:

Veneering typically involves using a vacuum press, and regardless of whether one is using a home hobbyist or an industrial version, a vacuum press is basically a thick, clear, air-tight bag connected to some sort of vacuum pump. A vacuum press ensures even pressure and will produce good results on any flat surface. I’m unsure if one could be used on a drum shell, but not having one to begin with, and not about to go out and buy one to find out, I looked at ways the veneer could be applied manually.

There are basically two ways of applying veneer to a drum shell: contact cement (like what one would use with drum wrap), or PVA (i.e. “Elmer’s” or Titebond “yellow”) glue. The former, as its name would apply, bonds on contact, and as such does not allow for error; the latter, while having a fairly long “open time”, requires evenly-applied clamping pressure in order to adhere to the shell. In between these two is a product called Heat Lock, which is a heat-treatable PVA glue that is applied to both mating surfaces, and left to completely dry before adhesion, just like contact cement, but without the issue of instantaneous bonding, and with the long open time of conventional PVA glue. To apply veneer this way one only needs a clothes iron, which will not only melt the glue and make a permanent bond, but will also flatten whatever tiny wrinkles or bubbles that remain after the flattening process.

Highly figured veneer such as this is difficult to work with. Besides the effort required to get it flat, it is very difficult to cut straight – particularly if you’re cutting perpendicular to the grain (more about that later). There are few cutting options apart from a sharp knife or a pair of sharp, heavy-duty scissors. There is a third option - untried by me - and that would be a large paper cutter. Having perfectly straight edges enables one to line the veneers up seamlessly. With raw veneer one can “fudge” the seam by overlapping it slightly, and then sand the overlap down, but when working with veneer such as this, that can be a hard trick to pull off as vigorous sanding can grab small “pimples” on the veneer surface and make tears – even after it has been flattened and glued to the shell.

Knowing the difficulty inherent with highly-figured grain veneers I now understand why Sonor uses “engineered” wood for certain finishes like Scandinavian Birch and Walnut Roots: if they were to use the real stuff the results would never equal that of the engineered variety (Sonor uses engineered wood for exotics like ebony due to importation restrictions). Though I did manage to get the veneer on the drum flat with some decent seams using the tools and methods I had available, the veneer did eventually crack in some sections. This doesn’t bother me since the kit is supposed to “look old”, but I mention it for those who (perhaps after reading this) decide to “try this at home” with an eye towards getting results that look “brand new”.

The surface area of the three shells (14x20, 14x16, and 8x13) comprise roughly 13.25 square feet, so one would think that having 20 square feet of veneer would be more than enough to cover the three drums and perhaps have enough left over for a snare (hey, that’s what I thought), but instead I ended up with just enough to finish the drums and inlays on the bass drum hoops (and had to use “patches” in some hard-to-see spots).

Some of this is due to aforementioned cracking and difficulty in cutting, but mostly it’s due to a choice I made to apply the veneer vertically for aesthetic reasons. Vertical application meant that instead of using the 22” side of the veneer along the circumference of the drum, I used the 16” side, so if I started with the bass drum, there would be an 8” wide off-cut piece, which was wide enough for the rack tom, but not for floor tom (but could be used to cut inlays from). It also meant that landing the seam along the lug line would require further trimming of the 16” length (i.e. if the circumference of a 20” drum is 62.83”, and there are eight lugs, then every other lug is spaced 15.7” apart. Trimming off .3” from four 16” pieces means that at least 1.25” will be wasted). Had I considered this math I might have chosen to go the “efficient” route, but regardless, I still think that in spite of such difficulty, I made the right choice.

58 TD - SHELLS AFTER VENEER.jpg
Shells after veneering

Cutting the Hoop Inlays:

Since I didn’t have any hoops I ended up buying two 10-ply maple Keller hoops from Anderson International Trading. I got them to cut a round over on one edge, but decided to cut the inlays myself. Sonor teardrop bass drum hoops have an inlay that is about 7/8” wide, which is wider than most others and is considered a “custom” job. Though I didn’t ask them how much this would cost, considering that “normal” widths were around $60 each, I decided to take a whack at cutting the inlays myself.

Most use a router table to cut bass drum hoop inlays. I don’t have one at the moment, but I do have a table saw, and I have a stacked dado set (a set of 6” saw blades that can be arranged to cut flat, square “grooves” in widths ranging from 3/16” up to 15/16ths – what woodworkers call “rabbets”). Besides accurately setting the height of the dado blade so that it cuts into the hoop at the correct depth (about 3/32nds), and setting the fence so that the blade cuts exactly in the middle, the really challenging part of using a table saw to do what would normally be done on a router table is ensuring that the hoop is kept square against the fence and table top as it passes over the blade, and it’s guided past the blade with even pressure to prevent deviations in depth of the cut.

To do this I devised a jig made from scrap pieces of particle board and plywood. The jig is clamped to the fence and the hoop is held flush against the fence and table top by way of a four wooden wheels and a retaining arm. In retrospect, given the amount of thought and effort that went in to making my “table saw hoop inlay cutting jig” (the process itself quickly began to take on a life all its own), it’s now pretty clear that I should’ve just made a router table. Though the jig worked well enough, getting precise depth all the around the hoop was difficult in spite of my best efforts to retain roundness and stability as the hoop passed over the blade, as the force needed to push the hoop along did cause it to flex a bit, resulting in some variation in the depth of the cut, but not so much that it was noticeable.

HOOP INLAY JIG.jpg 2016-02-02 13.40.55.jpg
Ingenious or Insane (take your pick) Tablesaw Hoop Inlay Cutting Jig & results

To get a look that looked like aged lacquer, I first applied fruitwood Watco Danish oil, letting it dry completely, and then did a second application of the Danish oil with a small amount of brown gel stain. Over this I shot three thin coats of gloss lacquer, sanding in between coats down to 600 grit.

2016-02-06 17.26.35.jpg
Bass drum & Hoops after first coat of lacquer

Assembly:

Along with the parts cache I had purchased from Uncle Bob, my plan was to use as much of the hardware from the egg-shaped bass drum as possible, but there were was a few details I had overlooked. The first was the position and angle of the spurs. The bass drum shell I was using was an early teardrop, and while the shark tooth spur brackets had the same hole pattern, and would therefore fit into the existing holes, shark tooth Sonor bass drums used four short spurs that were not only wider than those on teardrops, but were installed towards the bottom, whereas teardrop drums used spurs that were about two-thirds the width and twice as long, which were installed towards the eight o’clock/four o’clock position. I did not want to fill the holes on the shell and I didn’t want to add any new holes, but in order to use the brackets with the existing holes I would need longer spurs. Straight spurs would need to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 18” long just to reach the floor, which would not only be impractical but would also look pretty stupid.

SONOR 1956  K CLUB BASS DRUM SPURS DETAIL.jpg
Typical spur location on 50's Sonor bass drums

To get around spur bracket angle issue, I took a tip from older Premier drums that used a folding spur bent into a reflex angle, and made a pair from two old, trashed floor tom legs that I had laying around. While they did a decent job of holding the drum off the floor, they were terrible at preventing creep. I posted on DFO that I needed two early teardrop era spur brackets, and thankfully DuplexTim responded with what I needed at a very reasonable price, and with very quick (three-days!) shipping. Not having any spurs, I made two from a length of 7/16” diameter steel rod, grinded a blunt point at the tip and installed them in the drum. I might someday take a whack at tapping the ends so I can thread rubber feet onto them, but for now, who cares?

The second issue was T-handle rods and claws. The lugs on shark tooth era bass drums were installed closer to the bearing edge than those on teardrop bass drums. What this meant for me was that although the T-handle rods threaded well into the teardrop lugs (both use a ¼-20 thread, the only “non-metric” part on the drum), they were too short. Also, shark tooth bass drums were six lugs, not the usual eight (for 20” drums), so from the get-go I was short four claws.

Since I prefer to use key rods on bass drums – at least on the batter side - I had eight T-handle rods left over from the mallet badge project, that I used on the reso side and at the top of the batter side for this kit. These T-handle rods differ from the shark-tooth era ones in that they had the Sonor script logo engraved in the handle whereas teardrop era T-handle rods have the mallet logo engraved into the handle – a small detail that no one but the most anal of us would ever notice or be concerned about but I thought I should mention. For the four remaining claws I used whatever I had laying around the parts drawer (one last thing about parts interchangeability. Not all teardrop lugs are the same. While the hole spacing is the same, the lugs themselves come in two distinctly different sizes. The larger of the two is the older version which uses a normal ¼-20 hex nut as a threaded insert, but the hex nut will not “drop” into the narrower version. These require a flat threaded insert that somewhat resembles the inserts used in older Premier lugs).

My only regret was installing the shark-tooth era tom mount bracket in the bass drum, for without some sort of internal support, the shell is much too thin to support a mounted tom. 3-ply teardrop shells are extremely thin; fragile, one might say. It is not uncommon to find 3-ply teardrops with flat spots or other anomalies. However, the very thin shells are a large part of their sound which tends to be “full range”: a low fundamental note with balanced harmonics in the mid and upper ranges. Combined with the extremely rigid, stamped hoops that many often take for being die cast on account of their appearance, teardrops can have certain Gretsch-like qualities in that the tone seems a bit more “focused”.

All in I spent close to $800 on this project (and about $930 on the mallet badge kit), a point I raise since given its unoriginal state, and the lower price that vintage Sonor drums typically trade at relative to the market, I’m unlikely ever to recoup my cost if I were to sell it. This is the fifth “rescue dog/pieced-together” kit I’ve done, and each time I tell myself I’ll never to do it again, but there must be some reason why I keep doing it. One thing is for certain it’s not to “save money”. Those reading this who’d like to find out for themselves what teardrops are all about but who don’t have the patience, skills, tools, and the necessary stupidity to take on this sort of project are best advised to find themselves a complete example.

RESCUE DOGS.jpg
My "Rescue Dogs"

Anyway, here it is. The toms have coated ambassadors top and bottom, and the bass drum has a Fiberskyn Powerstroke II on the batter side and a Fiberskyn ambassador on the reso side. I’m playing it wide open and it sounds terrific. The floor tom has aftermarket legs and Pearl feet (I have the original straight legs, but they aren't as stable as the bent ones). The old Sonor script logo on the reso head is of course an aftermarket item that I picked up on eBay. I haven’t tried this out with my band yet but look forward to doing so in the near future.

58 TD 1.jpg
58 TD 2.jpg
58 TD 4.jpg
58 TD 5.jpg
 

Attachments

DuplexTim

Very well Known Member
Joined
Dec 11, 2014
Messages
583
Reaction score
68
Location
Columbia, MO
Dude THOSE ARE AMAZING! !!!! You are a Master! Congrats....and if you ever sell...hint hint.
 

retrosonic

DFO Master
Joined
Mar 23, 2011
Messages
3,233
Reaction score
246
Location
NYC
Franke: Beautiful, beautiful work. I think any Sonor collector would just love to own that set. You are a real craftsman!!! Congrats!!

If you should ever come across any 50s shark tooth Sonor lugs (#3 in the picture with the ruler) I need some for a resto I'm doing myself.
Please let me know...thanks!!
 

crash

DFO Master
Joined
May 31, 2006
Messages
3,873
Reaction score
757
Location
San Luis Obispo,Ca
Wow! What a great job. I had a set of those in high school. Sold it to buy a huge chrome Slingerlands kit. Wish I still had them.....
 

AaronLatos

spang spang a lang
Joined
Aug 5, 2005
Messages
4,073
Reaction score
208
Location
upstate NY
Great restoration. I know how nice those drums sound and that work was worth it! Well done.
 

atomicmorganic

DFO Master
Joined
Sep 2, 2009
Messages
3,741
Reaction score
180
Totally knocked out kit! Love everything you did. The inlay cutting jig is genius. You got some skills Bro!
 

Stixnergard2

DFO Master
Joined
Nov 30, 2006
Messages
4,271
Reaction score
118
Location
Buffalo NY
Franke,
Great job on the restoration and your creative problem solving skills are always impressive!
 

franke

DFO Star
Joined
Aug 10, 2005
Messages
6,278
Reaction score
362
Location
Los Angeles, CA
Thanks all for your comments. Hopefully there's some info in there for those who might be considering a similar project.
 

psalty

Very well Known Member
Joined
Mar 12, 2010
Messages
972
Reaction score
74
Great work, Franke. As an aside, exotic veneers can be flattened using veneer softeners. A veneer prone to cracking can be softened to the point where it can be rolled around a toilet paper tube. Cutting veneers that have been flattened is easy, a straight edge and knife all that's needed, although I like to use a metal sheer for speed.
 

Latest posts



Top