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Billy Gladstone information

Dec 3, 2013:

I decided to add some additional information about Gladstone drums and Billy Gladstone since we have been involved in brokering so many of these rare drums. I have owned and/or brokered the sale of nine of Billy's snare drums and also brokered the sale of the white marine pearl set 13/16/22 made for Benny Goodman along with the white marine pearl snare that was Cozy Cole's. Billy only built about fifty snares and only four sets. One of the sets was destroyed in a fire. One other set had the bass drum destroyed in a flood and the snare drum has gone missing. Of the other two sets, my good friend Chet Falzerano owns the silver sparkle 4 pc set made for Billy's star pupil Saul Leslie Beimel, and, the last set is the white marine pearl I just described, and in October of this year I brokered the sale of that kit.

Over the years I have seen the values increase dramatically for these drums and I am often asked why, (and where the values might go in the future). So, let's examine this:

1) INNOVATION. The incredible innovations that Billy made (3 way tuning, simple throw off, new tone control system) were truly incredible and provided much needed "fixes" for drummers during this period. As I have stated previously, Billy invented the 3 way tuning as a way to be able to easily adjust the tension on both heads without removing the drum from the stand. Why did we need this? Well, back when Billy invented this option calf heads were the only choice. As a result, when he played at Radio City Music Hall in NYC the orchestra rose up from sub-sub basement levels and by the time the orchestra got into the actual auditorium the temperature and humidity levels changed, which caused the calf heads to detune. On a traditional drum you would need to remove the drum from the stand to tune the bottom head, then replace it onto the stand and tune the top head. Billy thought that didn't look professional, so he invented a 3 way tuning mechanism that allowed both heads to be adjusted from the top, and even allowed both heads to be moved in unison from the top. You never had to take the drum off the stand to tune it. Fast forward to 2013: We generally don't use calf now, so why is this mechanism important? Two reasons: 1) Some orchestral players still use calf, and Billy's drums were highly favored by orchestral players, and 2) Even when using plastic heads top and bottom, the mechanism is incredibly useful today. Think of all the time you save in a recording studio where time is money. Let's say you've got the tension perfectly set between the top and bottom heads so that the drum sounds fabulous, and let's say the drum is tuned up higher. Now, in the studio, the producer decides he wants a big fat Al Green type of snare drum sound. With Billy's 3 way tuning you can keep the perfect balance between the top and bottom heads and move both of these heads in unison down low to get that fat sound. Simple. No messing with the top and bottom heads wasting studio time and therefore, wasting money.

Even his simple throw off was masterful. It does what it needs to do: on and off, and has a knob to adjust the snare tension.

His tone control was just as masterful. And, this is very useful even today. Let's take my studio recording example and use that as a reference here: Let's say that the snare sounds great but you need to dial out some of the overtones for a specific recording. With other drums you have guys bringing in duct tape, throwing their wallet on the top head, using moon gel, and various other methods for damping the overtones. But, some of those methods adversely impact how the snare sounds overall because they do more than eliminate the overtones; they also tend to kill the natural drum sound. With Billy's tone control there is a numbered range near the lever. You can dial up very little, up to quite a lot of damping here. The tone control gives you far more control over the process of reducing overtones and it does so without changing the fundamental tone of the drum. The control is so sensitive that you can literally dial it in to just barely touch the underside of the top head. It is amazingly versatile and a great design.

Billy even included a variable vent hole scenario. There is a small knob that when turned, reveals small holes that will allow more air to escape and therefore vent the drum if you desire. 

2) SOUND. Normally I would list this as the number 1 reason, however, I wanted to list the innovations first because those innovations also help to craft the way the drum sounds. Billy's drums were built with thin 3 ply shells that he sourced from Gretsch. These shells have no reinforcement rings. Billy generally finished the drums with black lacquer on the exterior and he also generally finished the drums on the interior with black lacquer as well. He felt that the lacquer drums allowed the shell to breathe better, and while he did not favor wrapped drums he did make some, as evidenced by the Benny Goodman/Cozy Cole kit/snare as well as a few other snares and of course the Saul Leslie Beimel kit. Billy's drums were highly prized by orchestral players, but, even drum set players loved them. Think about this: Cozy Cole had one, Louie Bellson had one (and said it was the best snare he ever owned), Gene Krupa had one. Tell me this: What other drum have you ever heard of that appealed equally to orchestral and drum set players? Billy's drums sound incredible whether they are outfitted for orchestral use with the likes of nylon, or cable, or gut snares, or whether they are outfitted with modern day wire snares. The thin 3 ply shell resonates beautifully and the interior lacquer helps to craft the resonance of the sound chamber by providing a reflecting surface for the sound. Personally, I am a wire snare player, but, I can tell you that every one of the Gladstone snares I played was absolutely superb whether fitted with gut, nylon, cable or wire. One of the Gladstones I sold previously had been fitted with calf and gut. That's a straight out orchestral set up for the drum and theorectically it would never work for a drum set. But, I could take that drum and set it up with my kit and play a big band gig with it as is. It was truly remarkable.  

Note: Billy had his own personal drum done in gold lacquer, and, he did make four drums in natural birdseye maple with 24k gold plated hardware.

3) RARITY. As with most things, rarity also drives value. In terms of rarity these come in high on the scale. There were only about fifty snares made. Approximately half of those are gone, either destroyed or now unaccounted for and have never resurfaced. As a result, about twenty five drums still exist. Between the drums I have owned/brokered, and the drums owned by my friend Chet Falzerano, that represents more than half of those twenty five snares. Two more are in the Percussive Arts Society museum (Shelley Manne's drum and Buster Baily's drum), and the others are in personal collections and currently not for sale. Condition of the drum is also a factor when it comes to value. I have never seen a Gladstone that isn't in excellent original condition and that is generally because these drums were so highly prized by their owners that they took great care with them. 


So, now it gets down to where prices have gone and where they might go. I tend not to focus on this aspect of Gladstone snares because I truly feel that these drums should be bought by people who will use them, promote them to keep Billy's legacy alive, and become the curator for the drum so as to preserve it. But, pricing is still an important factor so we'll visit it here.

History is easy here since you're looking back and recapping the past. Looking forward is another matter entirely and no one has a crystal ball. But, I can say this: The rarity, quality, desirability and the history behind these great drums has made them a key collector's piece for decades and I don't see that changing.

In terms of past pricing I can say this: I bought my first Gladstone about 15 years ago. When I sold that drum about 8 years later it sold for three times what I paid for it. Prices for Gladstone snares have continued to climb. Gladstone drums owned by a famous artist will always carry a premium, but my first drum was not one owned by a truly prominent household name and it still increased dramatically. The white marine pearl Gladstone set that I just brokered is a set that I could have purchased outright nine years ago for literally about one third of what it recently sold for. All of the Gladstone snares we have brokered have sold for strong prices and both the sellers and buyers have been extremely happy. Will the prices continue to go up? Again, no crystal ball here, but if the trends of the past continue to prevail, then the future looks good.

Once again, if you buy one of these drums buy it because you have the passion for preserving the history and because you love what you are getting. Then, any financial gain you might realize in the future will be icing on the cake.




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