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Gladstone Snare Gallery
Billy Gladstone Snare Drum Gallery

The drums pictured here are from my own personal collection and each has its own interesting history.

Billy only built @50 drums, many of which have not survived. His drums were prized possessions for serious drummers both then and now. In addition, they are the Holy Grail of the vintage drum collecting community.

Billys innovative ideas transferred directly to the instruments he built. He was a perfectionist and was a phenomenally talented drummer, as well as an inventor. Billys goal was to design the finest sounding snare drums with unique, practical features designed to make the drummers 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 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 muffling setting rather than having to guess. For orchestral work this feature is excellent.

Billy used thin shells made by Gretsch without 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 thought 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, but occasionally in a gold lacquer. Clear lacquer was used for the few birdseye maple drums he built.

(SOLD) - History of this Rare 5 x 14 Gladstone Snare Drum

The drum in our possession has a significant history and is an extreme rarity due to the fact that: a) the drum is a 5x14 snare drum and is the only known example in this size; b) the drum is finished in white marine pearl; and c) the drum has a significant history as follows:

The most recent owner of the drum has relayed the following information to us. It should be noted that the most recent owner?s input is the result of first hand accounts of personal conversations he had with the two individuals who owned the drum prior to him:

The drum was initially built by Billy at the request of a very good customer of his in Florida. (It is assumed that this customer was Ted Reed, although this can not be accurately substantiated because documentation does not exist to verify this). Billy was reluctant to build the drum at first, because he was of the opinion that the client?s preference for deeper drums would prevail, and that the smaller size would not satisfy him. As it turns out, the customer did decide that he preferred deeper drums and sent this drum back to Billy. The drum then made its way into the hands of Charlie Cordes.

Charlie Cordes is a critically important figure in the history of Billy Gladstone. Charlie was instrumental to Billy in that he assisted Billy in the building of his snare drums. Charlie was Billy?s closest ally in this regard, and was the only person who assisted Billy with the building of these drums. When the 5x14 white marine pearl snare drum was returned, Billy gave the drum to Charlie indicating that he would like him to have it, and that they would not be building anymore 5x14 snares. Charlie kept the drum for himself since it was a personal gift from Billy. (Note: Billy had made one other drum for Charlie Cordes, but that drum was a 6x14 gold lacquer drum with gold hardware. The gold/gold configuration for Charlie's 6x14 was the same as the color configuration used on Billy's own snare, but Billy's gold lacquer drum was a 7x14. It is interesting to note that Billy reserved his favorite color for his trusted right hand man).

In 1965, several years after Billy passed away, Charlie changed the name plate on the drum and inscribed it as: ?Charlie Cordes 1965?. The drum then made its way into the hands of Rick Holmes.

Rick Holmes was a student at Juilliard who had always wanted a Gladstone snare drum. (Holmes went on to become timpanist for the St Louis Symphony). Since Billy had passed away, Holmes contacted Charlie Cordes for assistance in acquiring a Gladstone since he assumed that Charlie would be the most logical person to know if a Gladstone was available. Cordes had only the 5x14 white marine pearl snare drum and he offered it to Holmes, who immediately purchased it and used it for approximately 20 years. The drum then made its way to the most recent owner.

The most recent owner acquired this drum from Rick Holmes in 1985. Holmes had used the drum for 20 years and loved it, but circumstances developed such that he needed to sell the drum. The most recent owner and Holmes were friends, and Holmes called him and offered the drum to him. The most recent owner has had the drum in his possession since 1985 and used it only sparingly. The most recent owner decided that it was now time for the drum to move to the next person who will enjoy and appreciate the wonderful craftsmanship and the rarity of this fine instrument.

Specifications and authenticity:

The drum is 5x14 and is finished in white marine pearl. All eight 3 way tuning tube lugs are present and functioning perfectly. The drum has an original Gladstone strainer which appears to be of the earlier Gretsch-Gladstone variety, and it appears that this strainer was custom made by Charlie Cordes since the extension arm, though fully original, is different from the earlier Gretsch Gladstone extension arm. There are two very small holes behind the strainer and these are covered in the same pearl wrap as the shell. This drum was built without the internal tone control. The butt plate is truly remarkable. It is constructed from the nodes used for the tube lugs, with a gently curved piece to connect to the nodes. The curve conforms to the curve of the shell. Truly a beautiful design. The snares are original Hinger cable snares. The word "Hinger" is engraved onto the end plate that holds the cable snares. Die cast rims are correct and original. The inside of the thin Gretsch shell is black lacquer coated. The original Gladstone 3way drum key is also present. Also, the hex screw used for tensioning the cable snare unit is also present. The pearl wrap is in excellent condition with very little fade and no seam lift. The chrome is in very good shape with only one small spot on one of the rims where a slight amount has peeled. When the drum arrived, the bottom head had a tear in it so we replaced it with a new clear head. The top head on the drum is a Fiberskyn and we left it intact. The drum tunes beautifully and as it is set up today, would be an exquisite concert drum. The response from the drum with cable snares is incredibly articulate and sensitive. Truly magnificent work. This drum would be amazing with wire snares as well. The condition of the drum is excellent. This drum is a fully original, authentic Billy Gladstone snare drum. NOTE: We will also include a copy of an article by Ted Reed on Billy Gladstone that appeared in the October 1981 issue of Modern Drummer. This article illustrates Ted Reed's fondness for Billy and his wonderful work, and also includes a quote about Billy from Charlie Cordes. Also, although not all drums that Billy built were catalogued, we do have documentation from Billy's records that lists the majority of the drums that he built, including the name of the individual and the size of the drum. The snare we offer for sale is not included in this list since it was a one-off experiment for a special order, and they were never offerred in this size. We will include a copy of this list with this drum.

Opinion of rarity:

Of the 50 snare drums Billy built, many examples did not survive. The remaining surviving drums have largely been accounted for. Of the remaining examples, we have personally handled 6 of the drums, and have been involved in transactions on several others. In addition, we have knowledge of the location of most of the other examples, none of which are currently for sale. This drum is the only known example of a 5x14 Gladstone snare drum. The rarity of the unique size, combined with the rarity of the finish and the significant history of the drum, makes this snare drum one of the most desirable Gladstone snare drums known.


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 Billys drums is definitely incomplete, and occasionally original examples turn up. We have two such drums in our collection already, and this drum represents another very historic find.

The 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 hasnt 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 lightening 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. 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.

(SOLD) 6 x 14 Black Lacquer, chrome hardware: This drum has an interesting history. The drum came to me from Harry Cangany?s collection, and Harry had gotten the drum from Chet Falzerano, noted Gladstone expert. This drum was unfinished when Billy died. Chet acquired the parts (excluding the strainer and rims) from the same person from whom he purchased the S.L. Beimel Gladstone kit. He later found rims, and then acquired an original Gladstone shell from Dick Koff in 1993. Dick knew Gladstone but didn?t order a drum from him. He found this shell sometime after Billy passed away. Chet contacted Arnie Lang, another noted Gladstone expert and builder of the Lang/Gladstone replicas. Arnie has built Lang/Gladstone replicas for 10 years, making the molds for the parts from his own original Gladstone snare drum. Arnie supplied the strainer and the nameplate that has Chet?s name on it. This is the first Gladstone I ever owned, and it is also the first one I ever saw in person. I knew that my friend Harry Cangany had this drum, and on one of my trips to his shop I remember staring at it in the locked display case. I mentioned to Harry that if he ever decided to sell the drum I?d be very appreciative if he?d call me. I actually never thought the call would come, but one day it did. Thanks Harry!!!
(NOT FOR SALE) 6 x 14 Gladstone BDP, gold hardware: This drum is very interesting. Billy did not favor pearl wraps since he felt that they interfered with the sound of the drum, but he did use them if a customer requested them. This particular drum is unusual in that the shell is from the earlier Gretsch/Gladstone era, and has reinforcement rings. Reinforcement rings were not typically found on Gretsch shells, but they were used on some pre-war Gretsch/Gladstones. The Gretsch/Gladstone drums were a collaborative effort between Gretsch and Billy. It was on these drums that Billy?s 3 way tuning system and his snare strainer and muffler were first seen. Billy generally didn?t like to use shells with reinforcement rings for the reasons mentioned above, and another unusual feature is that the lugs on this drum are of the ?double post? design that Billy created after the ?single post? lugs of the Gretsch/Gladstone period. The hardware was all gold plated, but the plating had started to wear thin. The rims for these drums did not hold plating well at all, and the example in the photo illustrates this clearly. The rims do have some remnants of the plating remaining in certain spots, but for the most part it had flaked off. The drum also has an odd grouping of extra holes that required some research. My thought was that the holes were from an internal heater mechanism, however, the pattern of the holes did not match any heater I was familiar with. Arnie Lang provided the solution. The extra holes match a pattern that was used for a particular brand of internal heater. Arnie recalled the hole pattern as being the same as those for a certain type of heater used on Timpani.
This drum presents an unusual and unique combination of features, and much work was done in the process of authenticating it. Chet Falzerano knew of this drum and was of great help when working to authenticate it. In addition, the owner who sold me the drum also had information that authenticates it. The nameplate on the drum was not engraved, suggesting that this drum might not have been built for a customer, but may have been a special project that Billy had undertaken. My friend Arnie Lang is currently in the process of providing expert restoration for this drum.

(SOLD) - 7 x 14 Pascuzzi Gladstone Snare Drum: This snare drum was built by Billy for Wayne Pascuzzi, a noted orchestral percussionist. This is a superb sounding drum with remarkable sensitivity. Arnie Lang provided some restoration work on this fine original example of Billys craftsmanship.

The drum came to me from one of my close friends who knows of my fondness, (and weakness), for these drums.

(NOT FOR SALE) 6 x 14 Birdseye Maple, Gold Hardware: This drum is my favorite. The nameplate on this drum reads Billy Gladstone, Radio City Music Hall. This is reputed to be the last drum that Billy built. Billy brought the drum with him in 1959 to perform a clinic at Roy Hartes Drum City in California. Billy left the drum on consignment after the clinic. Billy died not long after, and Roy kept the drum since Billy had hand delivered it, played it for a clinic, and it looked and sounded beautiful. In 1963 Roy sold the drum to Frank Clayman Cook. Cook was a student of Murray Spivak, who was Billy's star pupil. Cook went on to perform with the 60-70's band Canned Heat, and actually used the drum on some of the band's performances. In 1993 Cook sold the drum to Liam Mulholland, noted vintage drum expert, and he owned this drum for many years before selling it to the person who owned it prior to me. The drum has a complete history of all previous owners and an autographed photo of Billy.

There were only four drums built by Billy with birdseye maple and gold hardware. Of the 50 drums that Billy built, the only other drum with Billy's name on the nameplate is the gold lacquer drum that he played most often.

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