Billy only built approximately 50 drums, many of which have not survived. His drums were prized possessions for serious drummers when they were built, and they remain so even now. 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. The internal muffler uses two small suction-cup style pads which apply pressure against the underside of the batter head.
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 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. Billy?s work was truly superb. If you ever have a chance to see one of his drums in person by all means take the opportunity to play the drum and marvel at the simplicity of the strainer; the incredibly practical application used for the 3 way tuning, and above all, THE SOUND!