It all started with a pair of drum sticks and a catalogue and Tom Finn was hooked on Ludwig drums. These days he not only plays them in a number of different bands, but also has a basement full of drums of all sizes in various stages of repair.
“My neighbor had a drum kit in his basement,” Tom told MakingMusicMag.com recently during a visit to his Marcellus, NY basement workshop. “I would watch him through the window and was infatuated with it.”
Drumming and Collecting
He began drumming with a single snare at age 10; but it was after a brief tryout with the trombone in junior high school band that he decided that drums were his musical Muse. Responding to a Ludwig advertisement, he sent away for a free pair of sticks (pictured) which arrived with a catalogue of the company’s drums and pictures of endorsers – including Led Zeppelin’s drummer, John Bonham. This in turn led to a life-long passion for both Bonham’s drumming and collecting and restoring Ludwig drums.
“I stuck with Ludwig because otherwise I’d go out of my mind – I can’t collect it all!” Tom said. “And I like their American-made aspect.”
His collection and passion for restoring drums started simply.
“I bought a set of Ludwigs at a garage sale,” he said. “They needed work and were missing parts and had some holes in them. So, I tried to fix them.”
Tom’s drum collecting – or “hoarding” as he jokingly put it – coincided with the growth of the Internet and, specifically, EBay. Today, his collection includes hundreds of Ludwig drums of all sizes, many with the proper rings, heads, hardware and stands. Some of his drums date back to the 1920s and ’30s.
“I’ve spent any where from $10 on drum shells up to a few hundred dollars,” he said. “I’ve found a lot of cool stuff, both locally and online.”
One major on-going project involves re-creating a pair of Ludwig drum kits used by John Bonham. One (pictured) includes a 26-inch bass drum, a 14×12 floor tom, oversized Paiste cymbals, and even period-specific cymbal stands. While Bonham’s gear was 1960s vintage with a finish called “maple thermal gloss,” Tom discovered that some of these drums, which are made from three plies of mahogany, poplar, and maple (from inside to outside), were hard to find, particularly the exact floor tom from the ’60s.
“These are very rare,” he said. “I have yet to find one – mine is a drum from the 1940s.”
Bonham’s last drum kit, Tom explained, comprised stainless steel drums. In putting this re-creation together, he used for his kick drum a 26-inch stainless drum originally meant to be played flat, like tympany.
One current project is assembling a Ludwig kit with a finish called “black diamond pearl.”
“They look good and sound dynamite,” he enthused. “This was the golden age of American drum manufacturing – the 1950s and ’60s.”
Tom kindly offered a few maintenance pointers for drummers.
“Modern drumheads last a long time, but it’s all relative to the amount of use they get,” he explained. “You should adjust their tension to get the sound you like. Mylar [of which most drumheads are made] will stretch, so you’ve got to tighten it to how you like it. Eventually it will stretch to the point where it can’t be tightened – then it’s time to replace the head.”
He also stressed the importance of keeping your drums clean.
“Use a furniture polish like Liquid Gold,” he recommended. “It’s oil-based and gives drums a nice sheen.”
For cymbals, he recommends using a mild cleaner with a rag followed by polish, adding that a rep for Paiste cymbals once told him to avoid citrus-based polishes.
When refinishing drums, he often wrestles with the dilemma of keeping a drum historically accurate by retaining its original paint or contact-paper covering, versus removing the covering to refinish the mahogany or maple surface.
“Do I make it my own or keep the historical aspect?” he asked rhetorically. To a visitor looking at the myriad drums stacked throughout his basement workshop, it appears that Tom goes both routes. His collection includes Ludwigs of a plethora of finishes – varnished maple and mahogany drums sit alongside others of various colors and designs, including many stainless steel and acrylic drums.
When refinishing maple drum shells, he usually uses Minwax’s clear matte varnish.
“It’s water-based,” he explained. “It won’t ‘amber-up’ like oil-based varnishes.”
So, what does he do with all these drums?
Tom’s answer: “I’ve sold some stuff, but mostly I keep them and play them.”
[Note: The author and Mr. Finn have been colleagues in two bands; they estimate that they’ve played a couple of hundred gigs together.]