Having rebuilt the 1920's Ludwig & Ludwig Universals and heard what nice sounds they can produce, I decided to explore further down that road. The Universals used a one piece rolled lightweight brass shell so this time I was after the more desirable two piece heavyweight brass shell like the 1920's Black Beauty had. You don't see many 14 x 6.5's (14 x 4 or 5 was the more common size) so I was happy when I landed this project which as you can see needed a fair bit of work to get up and running!

The hoops and clips were steel and had been painted silver at some point but the Ludwig & Ludwig logo was on the top hoop which was a good start! The snares wires were 12 strand "Snappy Snare" ones which were all buckled up and beyond repair. The heads were also shot, the strainer rusted solid, rusty tension rods and an assortment of odd screws were holding it together!

A Sorry Looking Heavyweight Drum

A sorry looking 1920's L & L Heavyweight Brass Snare as received!

Below are some parts which have been fitted by a previous owner some time ago but are clearly not original... the strainer would have been fitted by three screws, the Ludwig one in the picture uses the bottom hole and a newly drilled top one. The butt plate would have been smaller than the Ludwig one fitted. This was not too much of a concern as I was interested in playing the drum anyway.

Snare Strainer

Rusty Buttplate

At this point I knew I'd have to replace both heads, rods, screws, hoops, wires, possibly the strainer as well, knock out a few dents and carefully get the shell round... another fine mess I'd got myself into!

The shell is constructed differently to modern drums, being first rolled and brazed then spun in two parts. The two sections are then assembled top over bottom as shown below:

Two Piece Shell

1. The join for the two shell pieces along the seam can be seen. Typically the two halves are joined using braze and solder.

2. The flange is rolled back and soldered to the shell creating a box section construction, this makes the shell very rigid and strong (some earlier heavyweight drums didn't have the flange soldered to the shell interior though). At 4.5 lbs the shell alone is also fairly heavy in weight, hence the name.

Before And After!

Above: the tube lugs cleaned up quite nicely.

There were a few bad dents here and there which were dealt with quite easily thanks to that tool I built for repairing the Universals and you'll notice I used lug screws from a Supra to hold the tube lugs on (the thread is the same) due to the fact the original slotted pan head screws were missing or chewed up. The good news is the tension rod threads are standard Supra as well so it's easy to source threaded parts for these old drums, unless you are literally hell bent on restoring exactly as it left the factory! I specifically wanted triple flanged hoops rather than single flanged with claw hooks so I wouldn't chew up sticks on rimshots. Some 1950's WFL nickel over brass hoops were added which made it more modern to play as you can see, matched the finish of the drumshell and kept the tone "old". The strainer was stripped, serviced and rebuilt and works fine. I had a butt plate in better condition which was used and I also carefully got the shell round again. Needless to say, to get the drum cleaned up took hours by hand!

The finished drum:

Back In Business

The drum is finally back in action after what was undoubtedly a very long time in storage!

I put on a new coated pinstripe for the batter head and ambassador snare side, new wires and cranked it up. I took my time over tuning it to see where the drum liked the head tension and put a 1/2" thick muffling ring (rather than the thicker ones) over the top head to dry out the drum some but leave it's character. I was always very interested in this drum having heard the Universals I built and figured the deeper heavier shell would add more boom to the sound and this was certainly the case, it's got serious volume and balls yet sounds great when played quietly as well.

I put my best Ludwig alloy 14 x 6.5 Super-sensitive with a die cast top hoop next to it (my fav sounding drum at the time) for a comparison and to my amazement the old brass drum kept up quite happily! The alloy drum has less variation of sound, ghost notes sound like a quieter version of full strokes whereas on the brass drum the ghost notes have a different tone to the full strokes which sound like gunshots! When the drum is hit with a full stroke the SS is brighter, crisper and the brass drum more bassy. Will the powerful boom from the heavyweight or the brighter tone of the SS cut through the mix better? That's basically the main consideration here.

Six lug snare have certain advantages too. For a start they hold their tuning better at lower settings due to sharing the tension force between six points instead of eight or ten. This obviously means the force applied to each tension point is higher on a six lug snare at any given tuning, the result of which is the tension rod is less likely to slip and turn. Due to less contact points on the shell they are also more open sounding. It's equally true that the more lugs you have the easier it is to crank the heads tight, once again horses for courses! I actually found the old brass drum sounded better when tuned around medium to my ears so it panned out just right! So far, every musician who has heard the two drums in my home has preferred the tone from the old heavyweight rather than the super sensitive.

Here's what Gary at Noonan Drums had to say when comparing the old two piece shell construction to a modern one piece shelled counterpart: "As far as sound difference goes the two part shells (with the double thickness swage, or bead) have a definate lift in the mid and top end. I believe this is in some part due to the double thickness and therefore more mass at the centre of the drum, or bead."

The drum hooked up really well and this got me wondering how an 80+ year old antique (at the time) would stand up against modern competition...so I visited one of the biggest drum stores in the UK to compare!

Picture the scene, I've walked up to an assistant asking to try out some pretty impressive brand new drums and out of my drum case comes out the old guy for a comparison, some nickel missing, a few marks and such and you can see it's seen some use! He smirked and thought I was kidding, I mean that's just an old well used antique, right?!

With four pairs of ears witnessing the experiment (who all generally agreed with the findings below) a good start I thought to compare the old guy with would be:

Ludwig Bronze Supra 14x6.5

Ludwig Brass Supra 14x6.5

They were both very nice drums for sure and it was a close call but neither quite had the range of tone or power I was getting out of my old guy much to everyone's amazement including the shop assistant... next:

DW Edge 14x5 with Die cast hoops

Rocket Shells Carbon fibre shelled 14x6.5

These didn't do much for me and got smoked, my apologies to DW fans! Next:

Pearl Brass Free Floater 14x6.5

Not even close! Next:

Tama Simon Phillips signature 14x5.5 Bronze

Looked like it had gold plated fittings everywhere and was much prettier to look at than anything else. But it just didn't quite have the same tone and balls... next:

Ludwig Brass Super-sensitive 14x6.5

Ludwig Hammered Black Beauty 14x6.5

Some more Ludwigs were brought in and they were very nice but the old guy saw these two off as well and the assistant's jaw was dropping by this point... next:

2003 Noble & Cooley Zildjian alloy 14x4.75

Now here was a very interesting drum, killer rim shots with no effort and a very nice tone from that cymbal alloy shell. But being a shallower shell size it wasn't the sound I was looking for (lots of top end bite but no grunty bottom end) and it was too different for me to make a constructive comparison between the two. The quality of the sound was beyond question but they do come with a pretty scary price tag to match!

The shop assistant admitted defeat at this point with a grin and shook his head... the shop had no drums in stock that sounded any better! He gave the old heavyweight a look over and was fascinated... proof indeed that with care and attention "old time" drums can be hard to beat! The sound sample page features the drum recorded in the same spec as the shop test but the story doesn't end there. I ditched the 'o' ring recently (which are always all or nothing and this was a thin one) and added an external adjustable muffler which clamps to the top hoop. I dialled it in and immediately I had a more open drum with extra metallic bite. It was a bit like turning up the treble on a hifi and allowed the shell to REALLY sing. It's a noticable improvement and I'm quite sure the drum would now be even further ahead in a similar test!

Slightly modifed muffler

Above: The external muffler originally had a single loose fitting metal washer, the spring occasionally slipped past the washer and muffler bracket and caused binding on the bolt thread when turning the handle. Using a snug low friction nylon washer totally cured the problem.