The terms "custom drum builder", "custom shop" and similar terms are phrases that are widely over-used these days. In fact, most people offering "custom" drums are not true drum builders, they are "drum assemblers". Most of them use commercially available parts and shells and assemble a drum with their own name on it. That's fine, but we need to be clear as to what that is. That is "drum assembly", not drum building in the true sense. Here's a great example and it hits right here at home, with me: I have my own line of Maxwell Drums, but I would never in a million years claim to be anything more than a drum assembler in that regard. We make a nice product that fits a niche and we're happy with it, but we are who we are and we're not pretending to be anything more. We tell it like it is.
There's another small group of boutique operators who are taking it a step further, and that encompasses the folks who are working to do their own shells either with stave construction, block construction, ply shells or some steam bent. I applaud all of those individuals because it shows a desire to do something more than just assembling a drum from readily available components. Some of these individuals are also crafting their own parts, and that's great as well. These folks would, in my view, qualify as being "drum builders" rather than "drum assemblers", and I applaud their efforts and hope they continue. The interesting thing is that many of these individuals, if you ask them, will tell you that their inspiration comes from none other than Johnny Craviotto, and that gets me to the next tier, which is the ultimate, and that would be the definition of a "drum master" or "master builder". This is where we separate the men from the boys, because to reach the level of "drum master" there is NO shortcut. You can't just throw money at equipment and technology and get there overnight. This is a slow, painful, and financially un-rewarding task. It takes decades to learn what is necessary and even then, VERY few people have the ability to take that knowledge and actually turn it into a superb finished product. This is something that requires a lifetime of dedication and, even more importantly, a true passion. This is not a corporate initiative. This is something that only comes from a person who wakes up each day and knows that this is absolutely what they MUST do because they love it and it is their passion. In most things in life, when you want the very best you seek out those who have mastered the process. It's no different with drums. In the case of solid, steam bent, custom drums there is only one master and that's Johnny Craviotto. Take a look at the hands in the photo I attached here. Those are the hands of a master. And, don't just take my word for it, just talk to anyone who owns a snare or drum set built by hand, by Johnny. And, take a look below at what Ronnie Vannucci wrote about Johnny in the foreward to the 2014 Craviotto book. Ronnie sums it up beautifully: