Where are Ludwig's epic drums made?

The history of the drums

by Timo Ickenroth,

The history of drums as we know the drum set today is just 100 years old. Its components come mainly from China, Asia Minor, the Middle East and Turkey.

With the Turkish wars in the 16th century, cymbals and bass drums came to Europe, where snare drums and kettledrums had already arrived 300 years earlier as a result of the Crusades. In order to get a clearer picture of the history or the development of the drums, we have to start in the second half of the 19th century in the United States of America, and especially in the south and southwest of the USA with the most important city of New Orleans.

New Orleans was not only shaped by French and Spanish influences, but especially by the cultures of the numerous slaves from the West Indies and Africa. Many of these slaves were followers of the vodun or voodoo cult. Their voodoo ceremonies with tribal dances and music had a great influence on new musical developments. In the second half of the 19th century there was an enormous mix of cultures in New Orleans: European music in all its styles and forms mixed with African cultures, and this is how ragtime and skiffle bands emerged.

In these bands all kinds of house, garden and kitchen equipment were played, but instruments made by the company were also used. Kazoo, washboard, pans, pots and trash cans can be cited as examples. After the end of the American Civil War in 1865, impoverished military musicians gave many instruments for little money, including to pawn shops, and as a result poor black people were able to purchase these instruments cheaply.

They taught themselves to play, and as a result, an incredible number of orchestras were founded in a very short time, which, due to the great popularity of the military bands, initially took over their repertoire. Typical instruments were the cornet, trombone and clarinet, but also banjo and guitar. In these often marching groups there were also at least two, sometimes even three drummers. One played the bass drum - which was about 26 to 30 inches tall at the time - one played the cymbals, and the third played the snare drum.

If only two drummers were present, one drummer operated the bass drum and the cymbals at the same time by mounting a cymbal on the bass drum. The drummer then held the drumstick in one hand and the second cymbal in the other. The so-called “Traditional Grip” also comes from this marching formation, as this was (and is) the most comfortable way to play the snare drum while marching.

In the late 19th century the bands began to limit their music to dance evenings, at performances on river steamers and of course in the pubs and brothels in the notorious “Storyville” district of New Orleans, and since some bands lived exclusively from these events to save money on a drummer. The bass drum, at least 28 ”in size, was now set up to the right of the drummer (the cymbals were attached to it) so that the sticks could hit the first and third beats, followed by the“ afterbeat ”, often with a small vortex , on the small drum, which was placed at an angle on a chair or some kind of stand.

In addition, the deep marching drums were replaced by smaller orchestral snare drums. This type of playing was called "double drumming". This required good hand coordination. With the help of various “doublesticking patterns”, which were to be of great importance for the jazz drumming of the following generations, the drummer was able to cope with his work.

However, many drummers felt constricted and tried to develop methods to be able to play the small drum with two hands. To do this, the feet had to be used for the bass drum part. It is believed that some drummers used a homemade wooden foot pedal as early as 1894, which was probably invented by Dee Chandler.

However, there are also reports that allegedly a foot pedal was used by drummer Cornelius Ward as early as around 1850. Around 1920, when appearances in "minstrel shows" and performances in silent film theater were commonplace, all sorts of small percussion and rhythm instruments, the so-called "contraptions" (or "traps"), began to be added to the drums expand the sound palette of the drums. “Contraption” means “unusual combination of material” or simply “strange apparatus”.

The variety of sounds contrasted with the monotonous sounds of two drums with cymbals. Sometimes it even went so far that the size of the "trap drums" became more important than the quality of the drummer (... and isn't it sometimes the same today?). This fad quickly became obsolete, especially because the drummer was more and more degraded to a musical clown. Another reason was that drummers were getting tired of lugging around so many instruments.

During the early days and especially in the 20s (not for nothing called the “Roaring Twenties”) a lot was experimented and tried out on the arrangement of the drums, the materials, the transportability, the sound, etc. In the 30s (the swing period) the beat was shifted from the snare drum to the hi-hat, which had become popular, and the two-beat was replaced by the 4/4 pulse.

The big bands also began to use more instruments again. A common setup was, for example: bass drum, snare drum, approx. Four cymbals, which were now slightly larger, one or two kettledrum to the left of the drummer, vibraphone or xylophone to the right, tubular bells behind the drummer, gong to the left behind - sometimes a hanging tom- Tom on the right behind it -, four to five temple blocks with a stick holder underneath, on the bass drum and to the left of each a tom-tom. The floor tom was often used to feature the drummer by soloing on it.

The first drum manufacturers

During this time, some drum manufacturers were already on the market. The oldest were the company founded by Friedrich Gretsch in 1883 and the Excelsior Drum Company, founded in 1885.

This was followed by the Duplex Manufacturing Company, founded in 1887, and around 1900 Ulysses Grant Leedy began setting up his company for percussion and percussion instruments in Indianapolis, Indiana. The most important company that followed was the Ludwig & Ludwig Drum Co., founded in Chicago in 1909.


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