Vintage Drums

The development of the drum set is largely rooted in American tradition and music, and therefore most of what are considered vintage and classic drum sets were made by American companies. Some of the famous early drum set makers include Slingerland, Leedy, Ludwig, Rogers, and Gretsch. Naturally, the vintage drums we recognize today carry the names of those pioneers.

The Slingerland company was started by Henry H. Slingerland in Chicago in 1916. As a fast emerging company, Slingerland took up drummer Gene Krupa’s request for a cutting edge drum set with tunable resonant heads on the tom toms’ bottoms. The result was the Radio King drum set. Gene Krupa went on to become a big star with the Benny Goodman orchestra in the 1930s, and consequently, Slingerland drums and the Radio King became very popular. The Radio King is one of the most famous and sought after vintage drum kits, and the Radio King snare drum is still considered by some to be the best snare drum ever made.

The Leedy company was founded by Ulysses Grant Leedy, an Indianapolis drummer, at around 1895. L.G. Leedy is considered a very important figure in the development of the early drum set, and is credited with inventing the adjustable snare drum stand. The Leedy company was bought by the Conn corporation in the early 1930s, and later sold to Slingerland in the 1950s. Under Slingerland, the Leedy drum set line was pushed into the sidelines, and continued only until the 1960s.

Ludwig is another name likely to be seen on vintage drums. The Ludwig company was started in the Chicago area in 1909, and is also one of the biggest names in drums today. The Ludwig brothers started out as agents for Leedy equipment. Like Leedy, the Ludwig company was also eventually sold to the Conn corporation. But the Ludwigs were able to regain rights to their brand and flourish once more.

The Rogers company was started in 1849 by an Irish immigrant from Dublin named Joseph Rogers. Rogers came to the United States and started crafting drum-heads. Rogers began making drums in the mid 1930s from a Farmingdale, New Jersey location and became a leading manufacturer. The company was very hard hit by competition from the Japanese, and by the early 1980s its operations have nearly vanished.

Like Ludwig, Gretsch is another company whose drum sets are popular in modern day, and therefore both vintage drums and many mainstream modern drum sets bare the Gretsch name. Gretsch was started by Friedrich Gretsch who, in 1872, immigrated to the United States from Germany. Friedrich Gretsch started a musical instrument company in Brooklyn, New York, in 1883, but died only a few years later. His teenage son then took over the company in the 1890s. Gretsch sold out to the Baldwin musical instrument company in 1967, but Baldwin went bankrupt in 1983, and Gretsch operations came back under family ownership in 1985.


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