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Craviotto: An Evolution


As many of you know, I was a supporter of Johnny Craviotto's incredible custom drum building even before I opened my shop. Johnny's work is truly world class, and his ability in crafting an instrument can be compared to the work of master luthiers such as John D'Angelico. Johnny has the unique ability to craft not only superb sounding musical instruments, but also instruments of superb beauty. 

Johnny's history is long and varied, and all of his many experiences have led him to where he is today. At one point in his past Johnny spent a great deal of time with a person who crafted wooden ships, and through this relationship Johnny learned a great deal about the properties of wood and how to bend it and treat it.  

Throughout the years Johnny has always had the desire, talent and passion required to do the type of work that he does today. Several years ago this culminated in the beginnings of Johnny's own business. Initially, snare drums were the only product being built. I first became aware of Johnny's work when he had arranged to build the initial Timeless Timber maple shell drums. These drums were 5.5x14 and were built by Johnny and distributed via Drum Workshop and were only available in limited numbers. My own passion for fine drums brought me to these drums built by Johnny. The wood used on these drums was harvested from Lake Superior after having rested at the bottom of the lake for over 100 years. Most of this maple was 600 years old and it was superbly patterned birdseye maple. The hardness of the wood made it an excellent choice for an instrument. Fortunately, Johnny was able to secure the use of this wood for the percussion market. The real challenge in this effort is the ability to steam bend a single piece of such a hard wood and to be able to ensure that the shell will not crack. That's the piece of magic that only Johnny could do. Others have tried, only to find themselves with countless broken boards. Thanks to his knowledge and ability, Johnny was able to bend these boards and thereby create a truly magnificant instrument. In addition to the beauty of the shell, its superb bearing edge, and the incredible sound, the drum was finished with all hardware being 24k gold plated and the rims were engraved in a beautiful pattern by master engraver John Aldridge. When I first saw the photos of these drums I had to have one, so I called a drum dealer friend of mine and placed an order. Back then it took a very long time to get one of these drums, but when it arrived, it significantly exceeded my expectations in every way. Incredible sound, sensitivity, projection, and also an exquisitely beautiful work of art. 

I was so impressed that one day I took it upon myself to call Johnny with a question: Would you build a limited number of these for me in 4x14 size? Not having known Johnny I wasn't sure if I would even get to speak with him since generally, you don't often get to "the boss" when you call a company. Above and beyond that issue was the fact that I was not affiliated with a major drum company and wasn't even a full time dealer at the time. I was just someone who loved his work and wanted to do a limited run of special drums. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Johnny was not only willing to answer the phone and talk to a prospective customer, he was also very willing to work with me.  He didn't have a large dealer network at the time, and we were willing to place a large order so we moved forward.

So, I placed an order to do a limited run of 25 timeless timber maple snares in 4x14 size, and that was the beginning of our relationship. I sold those drums from my living room using what was at that time my very fundamental, but functional, website. What I found so satisfying about selling these drums was the wonderful reaction I received from each person that bought one. Without exception, each person told me that this was the most fantastic drum they had ever played.

As my relationship with Johnny progressed we went on to do many other limited editions of these fine drums as well as others, including many one-of-a-kind items. As we expanded our business and I eventually opened my shop, I began to promote Johnny's drums even more aggressively and we have never stopped. We're proud to be his largest dealer and always hope to remain so.

The progression of Johnny's business beyond snare drums reminds me of a conversation he and I had many years ago: At one time early in my relationship with Johnny I went out to visit with him. He and I sat in his shop and talked about how wonderful it would be if, one day, he could somehow build a solid shell drum set. At that point in time it was nothing more than a dream, and the work and equipment involved in a task like this was just not something that could be dealt with at the time. But, we both agreed that if in fact he could one day create such a drum set it would truly be wonderful.

Much time has passed since that first discussion, and I am now sitting in my shop looking at the very first Craviotto solid shell kits. These sets are the product of years of work, experience, and passion in addition to the significant money invested in order to be able to produce such a product. But it's here, finally. And it was worth the wait. When I pulled the first drum out of the box it was truly an incredible moment. Johnny has, once again, created a masterpiece. He has developed a special process for creating the shells for these sets, and has created superb finishes as well, including a beautiful natural wood satin oil stain with a contrasting wood inlay across the circumference of each drum, and also has some superb sparkle lacquer finishes as well. Steam bent solid wood is carefully matched and joined into a virtually seamless shell. An amazing process unique to Johnny, which he has named his "One-Ply" shell construction process.

And then there is the sound: These sets are beyond anything I have ever played in my life. They far exceed the sound of the old vintage Gretsch kits of the 50s and 60s, and they surpass anything that is available on the market today. Since our shop tends to focus primarily on jazz players our production kits are all 8x12, 14x14, 14x18 and 5.5x14.  These are the ultimate jazz kit with a tuning range that is unsurpassed, and a sound that is beyond anything you have ever experienced. 

So, here we are. We came full circle and actually have realized the dream of the one-ply solid wood drum sets. Johnny's business has continued to grow, and we fully intend to continue to support him and to assist in seeing the Craviotto Drum Company grow even more as time progresses.  

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