Drumming up Business!
“I was instantly intrigued when venturing through a very unassuming industrial estate in Stockport that it should be the home of one of the greatest drum makers in the world.”
“A modern, clean bright factory where traditional drum-making techniques are combined with engineering ingenuity to create something amazing.”
Everywhere you look you can see highly – experienced artisans creating a variety of stunning instruments.
From hand-cutting and matching of wood laminates or adding delicate 2mm inlaid pinstripes – to a snare drum assembly that looks like a watchmaker’s dream.
“Well made drums that look and sound good”
A brief history of the drum-kit…
Arguably one of the oldest instruments in the world, the drum has been used by ancient tribes since the beginning of time.
Before the advent of the drum kit in the 1840s, bands and orchestras employed a number of percussionists.
However, this took up space in the limited orchestra pits & proved very expensive.
Drum-kits were hugely portable, compact & required just one player, thus resolving the problem.
The modern drum – kit as we would recognise it came about in the 1920s and was developed in the vaudeville era. It eventually became a central part of jazz playing in New Orleans, the drum – kit was born.
Traditionally a drum-kit comprises of a large bass with foot-pedal, 1or 2 tom-toms & a snare drum.
The combinations & numbers of drums can vary, depending on the drummer and the style of music being played.
Where it all started…
As a master drum-builder with over 30 years’ experience, Keith Keough started the company with Al Murray in 2015, and in the space of four years, they have expanded from a small hand-picked team of artisans to over 22 staff and counting.
Custom made mistake…
Whilst he started to set up a snare drum and started to tune it (subconsciously), Keith told me that he started his drum making career almost by mistake.
He had originally wanted a set of custom-made drums, so he commissioned a drum maker to create the drum kit of his dreams.
He was so disappointed by the sound when he received them. Despite tuning them for days they just couldn’t make the grade.
So he started dismantling the drum kit to see how it was made and, with his father, a master joiner, they decided that they could make a better drum kit.
In a bizarre turn of events, he ended up making a drum-set for the original drum maker!
“Despite being in the industry most of his life, Keith’s genuine love and enthusiasm for drum making are inspiring to see.”
Drums made by drummers for drummers…
The attention to detail is painstaking to the point of obsession, including a lot of work on the inside of the drum some of this will never be seen.
There is one thing that unites the workforce: nearly every member of staff plays the drums, some in the past professionally, some as gigging drummers and some as a hobby.
Speaking to them they all come from backgrounds with specific skills that are highly transferable in the creation of drums – from helicopter engineer to skilled joiners, everyone plays a vital part in the process.
“I make drums better than I play them”…
Because every stage of construction is totally hand-finished with fastidious attention to detail, the results are amazing.
There’s a sense of inner pride and I was reliably told by one drum technician “I make drums better than I play them” as he marked up a drum shell by hand to accept all the chrome hardware.
“There is a distinct passion from everyone involved in the construction of these drums that’s truly infectious.”
Engineering a drum…
Using Scandinavian Birch and Mahogany combined with their in-house quality control, up to twelve layers can be used to create a drum shell.
Cold press moulding…
Each drum shell is handcrafted by bending several thin layers of wood with their ‘cold press moulding’ system that they have developed.
This allows them to maintain the original integrity of the wood and reduce stress on the wood fibres.
“This provides an explosive sound with depth and resonance unequalled.”
Perfection takes a little longer…
This hand-crafted process can take four hours to achieve the desired result – whilst conventional drum shells can be quickly processed in just four minutes.
Exo – Tone finish…
Take your choice from plain solid colours, vintage pearl or something with a lot of glitter, it’s all part of the drum making process.
Unlike other manufacturers who wrap a finish over the surface when the drum is completed, the Exo – Tone finish is part of the construction and integrity of the shell, and the finish is applied in the ‘cold compress system’ stage of the manufacturing process.
The shiny bits…
Solid brass lugs are chrome plated and they allow the sound to travel throughout the shell.
The in-house designers have taken their inspirations from art deco with a flavour of modernity, giving it a beautiful vintage look.
In the air tonight?…
Feeling a bit Phil Collins and need a big drum kit? Well they can provide a range drum sizes right down to 6 to a massive 26 inches.
Regardless of their size, all of the drums created are to the same exacting standards.
What’s in a name?…
There is a deep pride and heritage that runs throughout the company, which is echoed in the names they use for their snare-drums, such as “The Archer” – denoted with a arrow head, “Bluebird” – the land-speed record car, “Merlin” – Rolls Royce engine for the Spitfire.
All honouring glory days or amazing engineering achievements.
‘Simple and elegant’ is the solution applied to the design and finish of these drums.
R & D…
Like any progressive company, they have a research and development department creating new, exciting finishes and experimenting in the engineering of the drum making without any restrictions.
Being a relatively small company in instrument makers terms, they have the ability to create very small production runs.
As an example, they made a limited edition of just 50 snare drums called ‘The Duke’ made from Bog Oak that’s over 3000 years old.
“Drums have been used to motivate troops, to create a marching pace and to signal orders in the midst of battle.”
March to the beat of a different drum…
The legacy of the military drum still survives today and the British Drum Co are very much part of the proud tradition.
With the demanding standards and accuracy required by the military bands, they have recently supplied marching drums to the Royal Marines and Grenadier Guards.
With permission granted from the Queen, a small wooden washer resides in every single drum created for the Royal Marines from the actual wood used on Nelson’s flagship –
Each piece is lovingly etched with a laser donating its heritage.
Drum Pipe Bands…
They have created a drum for pipe bands. It’s a stunning piece of engineering capable of taking extraordinary pressures where most drums would just shatter.
The tension on the skins, which are made from Kevlar, is gradually tightened over a period of days to achieve the high tensions used on these drums!
“It says on the website “Looks Amazing – Sounds Amazing – Feels Amazing” and they’re probably right!”
This a very young company among much bigger, more established giants of the industry.
But the reputation it has built up in just a few years is nothing short of remarkable.
Everyone I spoke to on the day was working on creating the best possible product…one drum at a time!