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Billy Gladstone 6x14 snare drum
Note: After you read this and review the photos, click over and see more information about Gladstone snares and why they have remained so desirable and valuable over the years: HERE. Then, check out Steve's podcast about Billy and his drums HERE
Here is a truly rare piece. Original Gladstone snares do not come on the market very frequently. This drum was previously not catalogued in any of the documented history of drums built by Billy, which makes it additionally interesting. The documented history of Billy's drums is definitely incomplete, and occasionally original examples turn up. We have had two such drums in the past, and this drum represents another very historic find.
The 6x14 drum is absolutely an authentic Gladstone snare drum. The drum is the traditional thin shell used by Billy. The name plate indicates that the drum was custom built by Billy for Pete Spomer. Our research hasn't turned up anything on Pete as yet, but it is not uncommon for Billy to have built a drum for someone who was not necessarily a prominent player, but who had the ability to afford one of his drums. The tell-tale triangular badge and three way drum key are original as evidenced by the engraved text as well as the engraved numbering and text on the key.
When we obtained this drum it did not have the original strainer and butt plate. A later early 70s Gretsch lightning throw off had been attached, creating three extra holes on the strainer side. The strainer side also still shows the original holes for the Gladstone throw off/muffler combination. The butt plate was also replaced with a later Gretsch.
We decided to restore this drum as close to its original form as possible without disturbing it further. To do so we have installed a Lang/Gladstone replica strainer/muffler assembly. No additional holes were required for installing this strainer/muffler, and it covers the vast majority of the extra holes on the strainer side. For the butt plate, the current Lang/Gladstone replica butt end mounting holes are spaced slightly different than the original. As a result, we have left the Gretsch butt end on the drum. Two of the internal rods for the three way tuning had broken, and these were replaced with Lang/Gladstone replicas.
What we now have is an original Gladstone snare restored close to its original condition without disturbing the drum any further. Although alterations such as the unoriginal strainer and butt plate can have a negative impact on the value of a drum, the fact that so few Gladstone snares exist makes this less of an issue. I have sold 10 of the existing 25 drums and can tell you that prices range from $19,000 for a fully original black lacquer drum to as much as $25,000 for a rare birdseye maple with gold hardware. The price of $16,000 reflect the fact that the drum has had some alterations in the past. It should be noted that Arthur Press (world famous symphony percussionist) had made alterations to his original Gladstone, but those changes have no impact on the value, especially since the drum was owned by Arthur. However, in this case we feel that the value is more approriate ant $16,000 given the alterations and the fact that the drum was not owned by a famous percussionist. So, the result is that you get an original Gladstone snare at a below-market price.
These almost never come up for sale since so few of them exist (only about 25 of the original 50 drums) and most of these are in private collections and not for sale. . If you have ever had the desire to own one of these incredible instruments now is the time, since I can not imagine when (if ever) we will see an opportunity like this again.
Here is some background information on Billy Gladstone's snare drums:
Background on Billy Gladstone Snare Drums:
Billy only built approximately 50 drums, many of which have not survived. His drums were prized possessions for serious drummers both then and now, and for many vintage drum collectors an original Gladstone snare drum is the “Holy Grail”.
Billy’s innovative ideas transferred directly to the instruments he built. He was a perfectionist and was a phenomenally talented drummer, as well as an inventor. Billy’s goal was to design the finest sounding snare drums with unique, practical features designed to make the drummer’s job easier:
3 Way Tuning System: Billy invented the 3 way tuning system by which tuning of either the top head, bottom head, or both heads together is accomplished by using a 3-way tuning key that allows all tensioning to occur from the tension rods on the top head. This concept was born out of necessity when Billy played at Radio City Music Hall. In those days, the orchestra pit was three stories below the main stage and when the pit was raised, the changes in humidity had significant impact on the calf heads, therefore requiring tuning. Tuning the drum required removing it from the stand to tune the bottom head. The percussion section area was small and cramped, and Billy thought that removing the drum from the stand did not look professional, so he designed the 3 way tuning mechanism to solve this problem.
Simple Snare Strainer: Billy designed a beautifully simple snare strainer that allowed for quick and easy throw off and engagement of the snares. The snare strainer arm moves away from the drum and is simple and extremely efficient.
Adjustable Internal Muffler: Billy designed an internal muffler that was unique. The muffler utilizes a small lever on the outside, which points to a series of numbers. The numbers allow for the player to remember a particular muffler setting rather than having to guess. For orchestral work this feature is excellent.
Billy used thin Gretsch shells, which had no reinforcement rings. Billy felt that the drum resonated better if the reinforcement rings were left out. He viewed the bearing edge of the drum the same as a bridge on a violin and felt that reinforcement rings would interfere with the natural vibrations. In almost all cases he lacquered the inside of the shell because he felt that it helped with sound quality. The exterior of the shells was typically natural wood and they were lacquered, typically in black. Clear lacquer was used for the few birdseye maple drums he built.