Hi Percussion Acrylic set, 1970’s

Today I’m looking at a really rare vintage set that has come into the shop, a late 1970’s acrylic set by Hi Percussion.

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This stunning white acrylic set consists of a 22” bass drum, 12”,13” & 14” toms, a ‘pedal timpani’ floor tom and matching 14 x 6.5” snare drum in original condition. This set found its way to me late last year after I received a call from a friend of its owner, who had recently passed away. I was told he’d bought this set new in the late 70’s, part exchanging his Ludwig super classic set against it. When I went to view the set I was surprised that all the drums were immaculate, with no cracks or splits in the acrylic shells (which is common). No parts or fittings from any of the drums were missing or had been replaced; and furthermore all the drums were fitted with the original heads. A real piece of European drum history, sat in cases in a garage in Birmingham, in collectors condition!

These drums were manufactured in Italy by a company called ‘Caldironi Musica’ who had previously been responsible for the Hollywood and Wooding drums. The drums’ design broke many rules and looked and functioned like no other sets on the market; some of their innovations were copied and used by some of the biggest drum manufacturers in the years that followed.

The biggest innovation that you’ll notice is the frame which holds the set together – quite possibly the first ever drum rack. The bass drum has two tubular bars that fix into support brackets on each side of the drum, not only lifting it from the floor and stabilising it, but with wheels on opposite ends allowing for the whole kit to be moved with ease. A snare cradle is then mounted from one of sides, this also being of good design with a small quick release lever to open/close the basket.

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From the top of the bass drum, there is a socket that takes the two supports for the tom rack. Unfortunately on this set, the bottom section of the rack was damaged beyond repair; this meant that we were only able to mount two toms on the bass drum. Originally, the rack was two tier, allowing the player to mount three toms across the top of the bass drum as well as cymbal arms.

The really unique feature of this drum set, is the floor tom. The tom featured a timpani style foot pedal which operated a set of spokes inside the drum; by playing this pedal, the internals actually tune the drum higher and lower as you play. Like the rest of the set, this feature is totally original and fully functional, which is quite unbelievable (in that, usually when one comes across such rare drums, the main mechanisms usually need a repair, sometimes with no positive outcome). This is the only drum of the set that isn’t on wheels, but the design of the floor tom legs with their lovely feet more that makes up for that.

Another innovation that appears on this set were the quick release claws on all the drums; the lack of holes in the hoops for tension rods to pass through, made changing the drum head quicker and easier and having tried it its really great.

So with the kit set up, either on the rack or with a one up one down configuration (tom on a snare stand) we tuned it up easily with the original heads. Each drum features original dampeners / mufflers which one can clip on or off the drums (they are held in place via the tension rods). Personally the drums sound better to me without them on, but they are another unique feature that I’ve never seen on a drum set before. I’m not a massive fan of acrylic drums, to be honest, but this set sounds really good; a huge sound with no dampening in the bass drum, with loads of bottom end with the toms tuned low.

The snare is a beast; big and deep with plenty of power. A lovely, standard snare throw with a really smooth action, quick release tension claws to match the set, and a good depth to add some real body. What a sound!

The floor tom is absolutely off its head!!! Great fun to play and I’m sure it would suit anyone who enjoys soloing; trying to play the foot pedal whilst playing the bass drum would take some practice, but I’m sure it’s possible.

The set also comes with a matching bass drum pedal and Hi Hat stand.

Henrit’s Drum store distributed these sets in the UK in the late 1970’s / early 1980’s. Bob told me that only a handful of these sets made it into the UK, so it’s great that we’ve come across one in such fantastic condition.

It’s unfortunate that we were unable to set the kit up in all its glory with three toms across the top and the cymbal arms, but I hope the photos give a good representation (There is a photo of Philly Joe Jones playing a set with just two toms mounted like this in an old catalogue).

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We hope you enjoyed reading about this set. It’s available to buy on our website, where there are lots more photos for you to study. Or come to the shop and have a play on it – it’s currently set up for people to play – you won’t see another in this condition in the UK.

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Pre International size drum heads

With vintage English drums a common enquiry is ‘are my drums pre-international size’?

Hopefully I can clear up that question for you here. Premier made pre-international sized drums in a 20, 10, 12 and 16 (metric sized shells) on all sets pre-1968. All other Premier drum shells should be standard (international) sized, although there are exceptions (notably larger bass drums that were non-standard sized and fitted with calf heads).

Sometime between 1968 and the early 1970’s all Premier shells became international (standard), and you can generally tell by the badge and kit set up. Typically there was a backlog of pre-international shells in the factory which made it into kit set ups, so many kits between ’68 and ’73 have a mixture of international and pre international shells; some with the earlier 60’s badge and lugs, some with the 70’s badge and fittings, some a mixture of the two! It’s not unusual to have a kit with an international size bass drum and pre international 12 and 16 toms and often with a mixture of badges. It’s worth noting that Pre international 16″ floor toms are always 10 lug, whilst the international drums are 8 lug, so at a glance you can generally tell; the 12″ tom is nearly always Pre international, until the later badges and fittings in the early 70’s. If in doubt, its best to measure the shell’s diameter with the head off:

10″ Diameter,9-5/8″ Actual Dia.
12″ Diameter, 11-7/8″ Actual Dia.
16″ Diameter, 16-5/16″ Actual Dia.
20″ Diameter, 19-5/8″ Actual Dia.

Remo are the only manufacturer of pre-international heads, but now produce quite a range; coated, clear and smooth Ambassador, Pinstripe and Fibreskyn are currently available. They will however make anything to order, in any size, so contact us if you fancy something else or have an unusual size bass drum.

Other 1960’s English drums often require pre-international heads – Dallas (Carlton, President), Olympic, John Grey (Autocrat, Broadway) and some snare drums are slightly under or over 14”. Currently there are no heads available off the shelf for these snare drums, but as mentioned Remo will make heads to fit. It’s worth noting that both Boosey & Hawkes (Ajax, Edgeware, Stratford) never did pre-international sized drums so standard heads will fit these drums.

We always have Remo Pre international  heads in stock and on order at Nick Hopkin Drums.

Slingerland Festival Snare drum

This was an extremely popular chrome shell snare drum in the 70’s in the USA, marketed as a cheaper alternative to the top line Sound King model. It actually has different features and characteristics which make it a great drum in its own right, rather than a cheaper alternative, so let’s look at some of those.

Appearing first in the 1963 catalogue, named the ‘Festival’ model, this drum features a smooth chrome over brass shell. It was only available in a 5” depth although it was offered as an 8 or 10 lug drum. Fitted with a rapid strainer, more reliable than previous Radio King Clamshell strainers and easier today to replace or repair than the Zoomatic strainer which were a feature of the Sound King.

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The drum was fitted with Slingerland’s ‘Rim Shot’ hoops (also referred to as ‘stick saver’) which curl inwards giving a different and distinct sound when compared to other hoops of the period ( but cutting into your fingers if you carry the drum by the hoop!). Also standard was a tone control dampener and 20 strand ‘snappy snares’.

This snare drum was popular in the 70’s but seldom seen here, which the Sound King snare being much more popular. So we picked one up when in the States, and we love it. It was a great warm tone due to the brass shell, but a real weight to it when tuned down and played hard with a rimshot. Tuned up high, with the snares taken down to a buzz, this drum offers great sensitivity making it more than suitable for those jazz gigs. There is a notable difference in sound when compared to the Sound King and other chrome over brass snare drums of the era. I love the fact that all these drums have their own characteristics which give them their own unique sound.

Overlooked or ignored by many drummers is the effect that the snare throw has on the sound of a drum. There is such a variety of snare throws on drums of the 60’s and 70’s within and between brands and all these have such a huge influence on how a drum sounds and responds when being played. Other than snare drums that have snare wires extending over each edge of the shell, there is something appealing to me in a basic, no nonsense snare throw that does its job and the rapid strainer performs well for me in this respect.

 

Slingerland continued to make these drums into the mid 70’s. I don’t know why we see less of these drums in the UK. We have a nice 8 lug 70’s drum in the shop at the moment that sounds stunning and hope to source some 10 lug models in the near future too.

We are 4 years old!

So this week it’s 4 Years since I officially opened Nick Hopkin Drums. We began in a small one room unit, with no running water or a toilet! Within the first month I took a call from Clive Deamer who was touring the USA with Radiohead and sourced a snare drum for him. We had people driving from the far ends of the country to see what we were up to and buying kits & snares. Adrian Harris from EMD came over, loved what I was doing, and gave us an account so we could stock Remo pre international heads. Mike Dolbear, Rhythm and Drummer magazine got on board.

3 months later we moved to a larger unit with two rooms a kitchen and toilet. Uk drumming legend Steve White started championing the business and so we started attracting more visitors.

We did a couple shows in the UK and in October 2012 moved to our current premises. Within a few months we had name drummers and producers turning up to try gear and basically geek out on our stock and talk drums. That hasn’t stopped!

The current shop has had many layout changes and I’m finally happy, although I’d love to move somewhere with more natural daylight and sunshine. In the winter it’s like working in a cave. On the plus side, it’s a vintage drum cave! 4 years in we look after drummers from some of the biggest bands in Europe; we’ve supplied drums for producers & studios, and saved a few sessions with some tasty vintage snares; we’ve looked after a handful of drum techs who need to source last minute spares for their guys & girls; We’ve repaired and restored hundreds of drums; We’ve supplied hundreds of vintage drum enthusiasts worldwide with essential & rare spare parts to keep their beloved drums up and playable. We currently ship to 56 countries, with new countries adding to the list weekly.

We now exhibit at shows across Europe & in the USA. Our focus has changed a little from our original idea, stocking more of what people are always asking for – great, classic snare drums and spare parts for their drums and hardware. Last year we started bringing choice snares in from USA to add to our selection of vintage English which we are known for.  We’ve started manufacturing replica spare parts; our slot head drum key and Premier snare screws have become bestsellers and ship out daily! We’re currently working on a range of snare wires as well as a series of snare levers for various vintage brands.

The business has grown really well and we have the largest stock of vintage spare parts in Europe. But we’re constantly sourcing and buying! If you’re searching for something that you can’t see on our website, drop us a line. Bear with me though, as I get an average of 25 emails a day as well as phone calls and physical customers. It’s a one man show, and I still pack all the orders, take all the photos, update the website, do the repairs…! Be sure to  sign up to our e-mailing list to receive a monthly newsletter via email. Thanks for all your support, Nick x

Premier Connoisseur repair

Today, a new customer Phil arrived at the shop. He’d driven 100 miles for me to take a look at his early  1960’s Premier Connoisseur snare drum. This drum, to my knowledge, was aimed at the orchestral player; a lovely chrome over brass shell with die cast hoops, art deco lugs and parallel action snare throw similar to the infamous Royal Ace. On the connoisseur, however one can fine tune the tension on each of the snare wires.

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This drum had belonged to Phil’s father, and had been taken apart and put together a few times and was missing the small plates that hide the snare wires on each butt end. It was also missing the correct wires. Phil had been using the drum for years, with regular snare wires fashioned to the mechanism via cord and had been using it regularly in this way for years.

A quick rummage out the back and I found some old nylon wires, which looked like replicas of the gut wires from back in the day. These were already attached to some unidentifiable metal end plates, but I soon removed those and I set to work re-wiring this drum for the first time since the original wires were lost. It took a good bit of time to set up correctly, as if the tension on each individual snare wire wasn’t uniform, the lever wouldn’t throw the snares on and off correctly.

Once set up I fitted the end plates, held in place by some tiny screws.

The end result was breathtaking. What a sound. Completely different to what our ears are tuned to expecting when we hear a snare drum, with the buzz of the wires; this was more focused, with a crisp, slean sound. It sounded like a snare drum, but with a more rounded but focused sound to it. Thankfully, Phil loved it, although we agreed it would take some time to adjust to this ‘new’ sound. Standing in the next room, it sounded like a regular COB snare – loud and proud.

Phil was happy. So am I. Now i’m on the look out for more, as I have some of these wires left over. Anyone got one?

Ludwig Speed King pedal

Used by just about everyone at some point, we love the Speed King pedal here at Nick Hopkin Drums, but it’s always driven me a bit mad that some of these pedals squeak! We’ve had various pedals through the shop, and to me they always feel and play great. But some squeak. Because the Spring is locked inside the actual pedal, there’s no easy fix to stop it squeaking without dismantling the whole pedal, re-assembling it, and hope that a) it still works and b) the squeak has gone.

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I read a couple great articles this morning on the Ludwig Speed King bass drum pedal which talked about how John Bonham’s pedal squeaked and made it onto some classic Zeppelin recordings. Some argue that the squeak of his pedal wasn’t audible on cheaper home sound systems in the 60’s and 70’s, but that digital remastering  has made it a topic for discussion!

Jimmy page is quoted as saying “The only real problem I can remember encountering was when we were putting the first boxed set together. There was an awfully squeaky bass drum pedal on ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’. It sounds louder and louder every time I hear it! [laughs]. That was something that was obviously sadly overlooked at the time.”

Apparently you can also hear it on these songs: ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’, ‘The Ocean’, ‘The Rain Song’, ‘Houses of the Holy’, ‘Ten Years Gone’, ‘Bonzo’s Montreux’ and the live version of ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ on Coda and ‘All My Love’ on In Through The Out Door.

We’ve got some pedals listed on our website here – some of them may squeak!