Ludwig Drums – Pioneers of the American Drum Set

In 1964 Ringo Starr chose to play on a Ludwig drum set, greatly boosting the sales of Ludwig drums.

The Ludwig company was established in America by two German-born brothers, the older William F. and the younger Theobald Ludwig. Before they started their Ludwig & Ludwig company in 1909, the brothers worked as precisionists and also agents for another percussion and drum set manufacturing pioneer, Ulysses Grant Leedy.

Working as a vaudeville drummer in Chicago in 1908, William Ludwig became dissatisfied with the clumsy foot pedals of the day. He began designing pedals capable of fast tempos and high power, and had them made out of wood by a cabinet maker. The Ludwig & Ludwig company started out by mass producing durable metal version’s of William’s pedals. Following the company’s launch, Theobald Ludwig died of the flu, when he was 28. William remained in the drum business until his death in 1973, when he was 93.

Ludwig drums were selling strong throughout the 1920s, but the invention of the talking movie, which decreased demand for live percussion, and the US market crash in 1929 severely curtailed Ludwig sales. William Ludwig then sold his company in 1929 to the GC Conn Manufacturing Co. of Elkhart, Indiana, which by now also owns Leedy drums. Ludwig continued working under GC Conn until 1937, when he became dissatisfied and left to start a new drum manufacturing operation with his son, William F. Jr. They name their new company William F. Ludwig Drum Company.

The Ludwig & Ludwig name was owned by GC Conn, therefore the Ludwigs had to choose a different one for their label. They used their initials, WFL, until 1955 when they bought the Ludwig & Ludwig name and all patents back from GC Conn.

In February of 1964, Ringo Starr appeared on the Ed Sullivan show playing a Ludwig drum set that he picked out at a central London location of the Drum City store. The words “The Beatles” were centered on the bass drum, with the Ludwig logo printed above. This exposure gave Ludwig instant recognition and it became the number one drum manufacturer in the world until Japanese manufacturers started making major headway in the early 70s.

Facing tough competition from Japanese drum makers and the appearance of electronic drums and the drum machine, William Ludwig Jr. sold the Ludwig company to the Selmer Company, where it remains till this day. Ludwig drums are manufactured in Monroe, NC, with other percussion instruments in LaGrange, IL.


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