In this section the goal is to provide some basic information so that readers can understand the differences in shells, bearing edges, and sound quality for the great vintage drums built by USA companies from the 50s through the 70s. Please note: This is an overview of the basic designs and sound qualities. In the section on sound quality, I reference what I think ends up being the most sought after configuration and sound. For example: I say that Ludwig from the 60s is a great, fat sound and in larger sizes like 13/16/22 tuned medium-to-low, it is excellent for rock, big band etc. That doesn't mean that the smaller sizes aren't good, nor does it mean that Ludwig from the 60s isn't good in higher tuning . What it does mean is that Ludwig in larger sizes from the 60s is generally the configuration best suited to that fat, full sound, and that sound was key to that era.
There are always some exceptions and this brief article is not designed to address all of that. Instead, it is designed to give the reader a fundamental understanding of the differences from these manufacturers during this period so that they can choose the manufacturer, model and period that might best suit the sound they are looking to achieve. As always, I am happy to answer additional questions and provide more detail so just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my cell at 630-865-6849.
FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCES IN SHELLS AND SOUND QUALITY FOR USA DRUM COMPANIES 1950s – 1970s.
Ludwig and Slingerland:
We’re covering these two companies together since their drums in the 50s and 60s were very similar in terms of shell construction and edges.
1950s: In the 50s: mahogany/poplar/mahogany with reinforcement rings and rounded (baseball bat, BB) edges and triple flanged rims (chrome over brass).
Sound quality: VERY fat. The BB edges take out some overtones and these sets are best in medium-to-low tuning with larger sizes such as 13/16/22. Ideal for rock, blues, big band.
1960s: maple/poplar/maple with rings and same edges as above and same triple flanged rims (but chrome over steel).
Sound quality: Still open and fat but a bit more "edge" than with the mahogany since the maple is harder.
Ludwig in the 70s: Moved to all maple 6 ply shell with no rings and a 45 edge.
Sound quality: Brighter and cuts better. Designed for cutting through higher volume rock. Brighter sound.
Slingerland in the 70s: Same 3 ply as in the 60s up until circa 1977 when they went to a 5 ply maple with no rings and 45 edges for same reasons as Ludwig made the change in the 70s.
From late 50s through late 60s (and then onward to the current day) the shell was maple/gumwood in 6 ply configuration with no rings, 30 degree edges and die cast rims.
Sound quality: The Gretsch sound is a tighter more focused sound with fewer overtones thanks to the slightly rounded 30 degree edges and the heavy die cast rims. Great for jazz in small sizes. Still good for rock and the like in large sizes, but not as fat as the 50s/60s Ludwig/Slingerland.
In the period from 64 thru 72 I feel that they made their best drums. This era is known as the “swivomatic era” named after the hardware design used during this time. Prior to 64 the shells were different and the lugs were the problem-prone B&B style. From 64 the shell was 5 ply maple with reinforcement rings and 45 edges with triple flanged hoops. Sound quality: Generally a brighter sounding set, but still tunes down to be warm. Not as fat as the 50s/60s Ludwig and Slingerland but very versatile. My favorite brand from the 60s era for larger sizes. My personal kit is 13/16/16/22/5.5 wood dyna in WMP.
In the 60s they were made in Oaklawn, IL. Usually a 4 ply maple shell with reinforcement rings and a more rounded edge but not as round as the BB edge. More like a 30. The rims were triple flanged but they were chrome over brass and had a higher profile.
Sound quality: Great drums. Smaller bop sizes sound a lot like Gretsch but more open due to the shell and the rims. Large sizes can be fat and warm and still nicely articulate. Great stuff but hard to come by.
They migrated to Chanute, KS in later 60s and then finally to LA up until the company was sold in 79. Chanute and LA are still great as well, but the tall COB rims went away after Oaklawn.
A great and innovative company up until around the later 40s, but by the 60s Leedy was owned by Slingerland and relegated to a "second tier" line even though the shells were exactly the same as Slingerland shells. Very low resale. Good drums, but low demand.