Vintage Ludwig 2nd Life
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
During the winter of 2017 I decided to find what I always wanted; a vintage 3 ply '60s kit. Specifically a 14x20" kick and a 16x16" floor tom. I wasn't interested in a mounted tom. I wanted to keep it simple and ultimately build a 3-piece kit consisting of the kick, floor and a snare. My purpose for this drum set was to record with the option to gig.
Both shells were from the same seller and without any hardware. The kick didn't include hoops. The interior date stamp shows December 29, 1961. It's a 14x20" 3-ply with reinforcement rings. The plies look like mahogany/poplar/maple. These shells had white interiors except for 18" shells and larger. Although the 16x16" floor tom has no interior paint or stamped date which means it was made between 1960 and 1961 or 1968 according to this. The silver sparkle wrap was very brittle, faded and torn in many areas. Much of it was already separating from the shell. The tom mount was missing 2 out of 4 bolts, the original rail mount was gone and several additional holes drilled. But the original badge was still intact which was the most important part of this drum's history. After further inspection it was evident a previous owner literally hacked their way through the kick drum shell in an effort to bolt on a different kind of tom holder. They drilled and punched several small holes through the top of the shell in order to create a much larger hole about 2" in diameter. This was one of the laziest mods I've ever seen. They could have used a hole saw or in the very least, traced a perfect circle around this misshapen mess and smoothed the hole with a file. Or better yet, don't drill!
The 16x16" floor tom was in worse shape than the kick. A previous owner hammered small nails through the shell along the reinforcement rings in an attempt to secure the torn and brittle blue sparkle wrap. SMH. There were also several extra holes drilled but the worst damage was where the lugs used to be. It looked like a couple of lugs were literally torn from the shell. If only these drums could talk. I'd love to hear their sad stories.
Wrap Removal & Stripping
Both wraps took seconds to remove. They pretty much fell off the shells. But as seen in the photos, the wrap was applied differently back then. It was literally layered into the plies as you can see under the scarf joint area. Before the shell is formed, all of the 3 wood plies were laid flat and then the wrap placed on top, But one edge of the wrap is slid underneath the top mahogany ply to integrate it with the shell. Removing it entirely is not an option unless I want to try and separate the top ply which probably means destroying the shell in the process. I decided to leave well enough alone and deal with the scarf joint in the following steps. I removed as much of the wrap as close to the scarf joint as I could. Paint stripper was applied with a brush to loosen the 56 year old glue. After about 15 minutes, a plastic putty knife was used to scrape off the now soft gooey glue. With most of the glue removed, I washed the shells with warm soapy water and let dry.
Time to repair the shells by filling unnecessary holes and repairing areas where some of the wood was literally torn off. This was going to take some time and a lot of sanding. Wood epoxy proved to be the best option because it's very easy to shape and the set up time is relatively quick once the 2 parts are mixed together. I simply rolled the epoxy together like bread dough and then worked it into each damaged area with my hands. The epoxy sets deep into the fibers of the wood which helps integrate with the shell. Once dry, the epoxy is super strong and easy to sand. I had dried up epoxy under my fingernails for about 2 weeks.
Sanding & Smoothing
After allowing the epoxy to set overnight, I then sanded the shells smooth. In many areas I had to apply a 2nd layer of epoxy to fill in deeper holes and cracks. Once hardened, the epoxy was strong enough to drill through to create new holes for the hardware to be bolted on in their factory locations. I also took the liberty of using a generous amount of epoxy at the scarf joints in an effort to smooth out the noticeable indent that the joint creates from the factory. This also helped seal the plies from ever coming apart, especially since the old wrap is still integrated within the layers. With the scarf joint smoothed out, the new wrap would fit better.
A sign of dedication: blood. Now these drums and I share DNA. They are mine forever :)
Plug That Hole
The most challenging part of this restoration was repairing the hole in the kick drum that was crudely executed by its previous owner. It was obvious they didn't have the correct size hole saw and instead drilled several smaller holes to create one large hole. This resulted in a very non-symmetrical tom mount hole that was too big to fill with just epoxy. I needed to plug it with wood. But the shape of the current hole was going to pose a problem. I needed a clean hole so I could cut a perfect wooden circle to use as a plug for a clean finish and secure 360 degree bond. I happened to have an old '80s Ludwig maple shell from a 14" snare drum I used to play back in the '90s that I was no longer playing due to it being out-of-round and bad bearing edges. It was stripped of its hardware a long time ago and since been gathering dust under my work bench. I decided it would become my sacrificial lamb by donating a portion of it's shell to help fix the hole in the kick drum. At least a small part of it would live on inside this kick drum. I measured and traced a perfect circle around the crude hole in the kick drum shell and filed it down to achieve as clean an edge as possible. I then used a hole saw of the same diameter to cut into the old snare donor shell. The result was a perfect match to plug the kick drum hole. With a little sanding I got the plug to fit nice and snug. I then removed it, applied glue to both the edges of the kick drum hole and the plug I cut from my old snare and secured them together. Once the plug glue was dry, I filled the center hole and any tiny gaps between the plug and the kick shell with more wood epoxy on both sides. I let the epoxy dry and then sanded until smooth on both sides. The 6-play snare shell was a little thicker than the 3-play kick shell which allowed me to sand it down until it was flush with the kick drum shell.
Ready For Wrapping
A little more sanding and cleaning and the shells are structurally sound ready for wrapping. I drilled new holes for the areas where the factory holes were now filled with the wood epoxy. I used painter's tape, a right angle and pencil marks for alignment and accuracy.
Black Oyster Wrap
I get my wraps from the fabulous people over at Precision Drum Company because of their high quality and true to genuine as possible. I wanted to pay tribute to Ludwig's legacy and use a wrap of the same era these shells were made. I requested 2 samples to help me decide (Precision sends free samples!). The obvious choice was the black oyster also known as the same finish that Ringo Starr made famous.
Once the wraps were applied I drilled and filed the holes for the hardware. The original Ludwig badges were saved and reinstalled using new grommets and an eyelet installation tool from Precision Drum Co. The bearing edges were lightly trued and sanded and the wrap was filed down at the edges to blend them into the shell a bit more. The only part of this restoration where I went slightly off the rails was with the kick drum spurs. I didn't go full vintage by using early '60s style hardware. I thought about doing that but also considered the fact it would be better to use spurs that were beefier and would do a better job of supporting the kick and lasting longer in the event I start using this kit at gigs. I did some research and ended up opting for the classic curved disappearing style Ludwig spurs. Using these spurs meant I had to determine a location on the shell to drill all new holes and mount them. Considering all the damage they've been through and the amount of time and effort it took me to repair them, it was worth it to drill new holes for a spur upgrade. I think I spent more time test fitting, measuring and test fitting the new spurs several times before committing to drilling. I didn't feel like going back to the epoxy stage to fix more holes :(
Wood shells over half a century old tend not to be perfectly round. Time, moisture, heat, cold, pressure, it happens. Applying the wraps revealed a few areas along their edges where tiny gaps appeared. Using a syringe and some epoxy glue I was able to squeeze glue in the voids where the wrap simply couldn't come in contact with the shell due to low spots. Left to cure overnight I was able to file and sand the residual glue along the bearing edges for a seamless fit.
The Final Result
The final touch was custom hoops for the kick drum built and finished by Calderwood Percussion. These shells now have a new lease on life and spend most of their time in my home studio where I frequently record with them for various promotion projects and new product releases from the companies I endorse. I have gigged with these drums as well and I might someday consider adding a high tom if I ever find one from the same era in need of being restored.
How much did this all cost?
The kick drum shell was $50 and the floor tom shell was $65. $30 to have both shipped from New Jersey to Boston. The wrap was $260 for both drums and that included the 1/2" inlays for the hoops. The custom built hoops were $110. Grand total not including my labor: $515 The kick and floor both needed hardware. Some of it I had already and I don't recall what I had to buy. I'd say about $50 to find the remaining pieces (lugs, tension rods, etc). The drum heads were probably another $50 but I have plenty of heads in my studio from over the years. Was it worth it? Hell yeah! I love this kit. The kick drum has a great punchy tone and the floor tom has resonance for days. When I got the floor tom assembled and tuned up, I gave it a mighty thud with a stick and was floored (pun intended) by the resonance of the 3-ply shell! I even timed the sustained note to over 11 seconds! Will I add a mounted tom? Probably not unless one from the same era falls in my lap someday. I like the sparse groove oriented setup. Having so much space in front of me allows for placement of all sorts of cymbals and percussion instruments.