Sunday, January 31, 2010

Evaluating, Cleaning and Restoring Vintage Drums

Collecting snare drums (or any drums for that matter) requires:
  • Some knowledge of drum history to identify when and where the drum was made
  • An approach to evaluating the drum's condition
  • Knowledge of materials and how to restore a drum or at least clean it up - safely (it is easy to wreck a vintage drum using the wrong techniques and products)

Resources for History and Identification

In my Wednesday, January 13, 2010 post I covered a list of books that are essential resources for drum collectors, and in my Tuesday, January 26, 2010 post I provided a list of essential web sites that provide identification and history of drums. Both lists will provide you with the tools for research.

Evaluating Drums

Ned Ingberman has an excellent article titled, How to Inspect Vintage Drums, which includes an inspection checklist that can be printed out. The article and checklist are 'must reads' for anyone who collects vintage drums.

Another resource I recommend - only because the issue frequently comes up on various drum forums - is how to tell a chrome over brass Ludwig Supraphonic from one made from Ludalloy. Go to this article for a quick overview.

Cleaning and Restoring

My personal approach to restoring is to be as unobtrusive as possible. Cleaning, to me, is better than a complete restore to a pristine, like new condition. This philosophy comes from my days of restoring vintage fountain pens, where the wrong technique or material could forever ruin a piece of history. Some excellent tips are given by Ned Ingberman in his article, Restoration Tips, and I am also going to provide some of my personal experiences below.

General Cleaning. For metal parts, especially rusty ones, it is hard to beat an overnight soaking in Dawn dishwashing detergent. I use a combination of 1 part Dawn to 3 parts warm water. Let it sit overnight, then carefully dry each part. In almost every case the rust just falls away, as does grime. Update 02 February 2010: A member of drumforum who goes by the screen name Torydrum recommends The Must For Rust, which is water-based, biodegradable and non-flammable, and according to Torydrum, effective. For difficult to reach places a small, soft bristle toothbrush works wonders. For cleaning most wraps I use Pledge furniture polish. I also use it on wood drums.

Polishing. Before I begin - I strongly recommend against mechanical polishing. Period. As far as I am concerned, using a buffer or any other mechanical device to polish is a recipe for disaster.

I am a fan of Maas Metal Polish, which is easy to apply, gentle enough to use on thinly plated nickel over brass shells and parts, and is in keeping with my approach to clean rather than restore. Some folks swear by Simichrome, and it is an excellent polish for modern chrome plated parts. I would not hesitate to use it in that context. I personally believe it may do more harm than good on vintage, thinly plated parts, especially nickel.

When polishing fails, such as pitted shells, lost plating, etc., I recommend some of the solutions offered by Caswell Plating Products. If Caswell's solutions seem to exceed your skills, then there is always a professional plating service. The best way to find one is to go to a forum, such as Drumforum and ask members if they know of any in your area that they would recommend.

For heavily scratched wraps and acrylic shells, consider using Novus 1, 2, 3 Kit Plastic Polish and Scratch Remover. This system works on wraps as well. One of the Drumforum admins, troyh, recommends Scrubbing Bubbles for satin flame wraps. Those wraps are a bear to clean, and are easily scratched. According to troyh this product is non-abrasive and will not destroy the wrap. Also, for regular wraps, such as pearls, that have lost their luster Gibson's Guitar Polish works well.

For wood restoration, I am a firm beliver in not refinishing a shell. Again, this is from my days of restoring vintage fountain pens where the goal was to avoid altering the original finish. I prefer to use protective coating that is as close as possible to the original formulas used when the shell was first finished. I had been using various wood cleaning products, but recently came across Tried & True Original Wood Finish that looks promising. See my Saturday, January 30, 2010 post for more information about the Original Wood Finish as well as another product from the same company called Tried & True Varnish Oil. For touching up scratches on wood shells you may want to consider Beeman Tibet Almond Stick. This product will not repair deep scratches, but will mask them. The scratch repair products I have researched and tried all use epoxy as a component, and I am unwilling to go that far.

Other Materials to Have on Hand. Here is a list of other essential materials to have on hand for restoration work:

  • Meguiar's X2020 Supreme Shine Microfiber
  • WD-40 and 3-In-One oil for lubricating moving parts and tension rods. I usually shoot WD-40 on moving parts like strainers, then wipe and lightly lube with 3-In-One oil.
  • Clean, lint free wiping rags
  • Snare cord (I use Ludwig Snare Cord, which can be purchased inexpensively in 10 yard rolls.) Most old strainers will only accept cord, but when possible I use gosgrain ribbon
A quick note about calf heads. Often a vintage drum will come with calf heads. Here is some excellent advice about restoring and maintaining those heads if you intend to keep them (author: Karl Dzioba):
The single best thing from them would be plain old water. If the heads are on wooded flesh hoops the hoops can warp from being subjected to the water after a time from being so dry. The key is regaining the "collar" on the head.

My advice would be to use an old plastic head, several sizes larger than the calf heads. Put some warm water into the old head (head is upside down) and place the calf head in it to soak up the water. Let the head slowly dry in a dark place and repeat as necessary. If you wet it enough, you can remove the head from the flesh hoop and re-tuck it. If you don't want to do that, make sure if you want to use the heads, to make sure that the tucked part of the head gets some hydration. I would start with just enough water to cover the plastic head, and gradually add water per a cycle or wetting the head and letting it dry. I'd leave the calf head in the water for like an hour or so before removing it to dry. Doing this a couple of times slowly should hopefully restore the pliability in the head.

As for the pinhole, you can probably ignore it, or I would use a small circle of moleskin (no larger than a dime) on the underside of the head. I'd perhaps use a concert tom or something to bring the head to just above finger tight before adding the moleskin, this way, the moleskin can move with the head as it is tensioned and released.

I know of some orchestral musicians, who will take a freshly tucked head, and install it on the drum they intend on using it on (still wet) and tension the head a little bit so the collar of the head forms to the bearing edge of the drum. Not sure if you need to do that, but it has worked for others.

1 comment:

coletterolo said...

I have (have had for years and years) a 4x14 wood snare with the "ludwig and ludwig chicago" burn on the inside of the shell. Your blog is the only place I can even find a picture that looks like it. Has 14 single tension claw hooks. Heads are broken (calf skin) I have always wanted to restore/clean and put back together......but haven't. Looking for information on options. Thanks!