I own two 3-ply tear drop kits, both of which were pieced together from orphans and parts. You can read about them here and here. Pics for the first thread can be found here.Please tell me all I need to know. I have a general understanding. Every video I've seen sounds incredible. I would like to add a set to my collection someday and would benefit from hearing more first hand experiences.
Fair price to pay?
Anything you want to share about them, I'd like to learn.
Best heads? For both kits I use coated Ambassadors on top and clear Ambassadors on the bottom.
Best tuning? For drums with 30 degree round-over bearing edges and reinforcement rings, they have a very wide tuning range. They can go be-bop high, but if you tune too low, you'll hear more "whack" than tone. I tend to tune them in the medium range. They also sound great single-headed.
Fair price to pay? These used to be one of the best-kept secrets in "vintage drumdom" but not anymore. Up until a few years ago one could pick up a mid-sixties kit in good to middling condition for less than $400; now, I would expect to pay at least twice that, and three times as much for all-original kits. The few that were made in rosewood can fetch upwards of $2k. The same for kits with 18" bass drums (the most common configuration was 14x20, 8x13, 15x16, with snares that were usually 5x14, or 4.5x14).
Likes/Dislikes: There's no disputing the sound. I don't know if it's the beech shells or their rather thin construction, along with the very rigid hoops (that many mistake as diecast but in actuality are stamped steel), but these sing in way that no other brand can come close to. While most vintage drums weigh less than modern examples, the 3-ply kits are feather-light, which is good news for those with bad backs. Folks get all worked up over vintage Ludwigs (and seem to be willing to pay a premium price for them), but these deliver an unparalleled value-for-dollar.
As for dislikes, the three-ply shells can seem quite fragile, particularly on larger-diameter drums like bass drums and floor toms (read first thread I referenced). Finding parts in the US can be difficult and are often expensive, particularly for things like snare throws, wing bolts, leg brackets, etc. The "good news" - if one could call it that - is that many teardrop-era kits were abused and often disregarded for not being "rock" sized and so were left to languish for several decades in a shed with a leaky roof, so there are lots of "donor drums" out there if one is unable to find the exact, period-correct doohickey they're missing. As I previously stated, both of my kits were put together from orphans and parts that I acquired over the course of a year.
Finally, though you didn't specifically ask, the six ply drums (1965 onwards, though some kits left the factory with both 3 and 6-ply shells) are structurally sounder and have a bit more attack. The latter-day tear drop bass drums (1969-1971) have metal hoops. I'd stay away from 1950's pre-international (i.e. metric) sizes since the bass drums measure out to something like 20 1/4" and Remo doesn't offer metric heads larger than 50 cm (slightly less than 20").