Friday, December 11, 2009

ACRYLIC DRUM SHELLS 101

A Drummer's Guide To Acrylic Shells

by Tom Meadows

This article was written to help the novice drummer and/or drum collector to be able to identify the different types of drum shell construction used in the making of various manufacturer's acrylic (plastic) drum shells. With so many drum builders, both well known major manufacturers as well as the small, custom drum shop enthusiasts, putting out their own unique versions of acrylic drums, it is easy to get confused with what is a vintage drum or a reissue of a famous drummer's kit or just what... Hopefully this will provide some basic information that will help prevent anyone from being taken by buying a "Vintage Drum" that was thrown together just last week or just simply buying something that you're not going to be satisfied in the long run.


Before I get too far along, let me just state for the record: I am not an expert on Vintage Drums by any means. I am simply a drummer who has enjoyed playing and collecting Ludwig Drums for well over 35 years and enjoy talking about drums with anyone who shares those same feelings. While there have been other major drum manufacturers, such as the Zickos Drums and Fibes Drum Co., who have put out quality acrylic drums over the years - I am only familiar with the Ludwig Vistalite Line of acrylic drums that many players - such as my personal hero, John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), Robby Bauchman (Bauchman-Turner Overdrive), Karen Carpenter (The Carpenters) and Johnny Jackson (Jackson 5) - have helped to make famous since Ludwig first introduced the Vistalite line in 1972.



Also... For a more in-depth look into the history of acrylic drums, one site that stands as the best source for information on all drums acrylic in my opinion is "VISTALITES.COM" and can be found at http://vistalites.com/



This article is just going to touch on the basics: who makes what and how, seams and mounts, known issues and how to tell them apart with about 90% accuracy at just a glance.



Who Made This Shell?
Even though most of Ludwig Drums were produced at the main Ludwig factory in Chicago, Illinois, the early Vistalite shells were actually produced by "Cadillac Motors Plastics Division" from the very beginning back in 1972. The same holds true with the new line of Vistalite Drums except that now they are made by a company called "Gold-N-Times Drums" instead.


There are basically two companies that make acrylic drum shells today and no matter what the badge says on it - you can bet money it was built by either Gold-N-Times Drums (http://www.goldntimesdrums.com) or RCI Starlite (http://www.rcistarlite.com/) and the easiest way to tell the difference between their shells and the Vintage Ludwig shells made by Cadillac Motors is to look at how the seam is put together.


* * Note * * - News flash which I just learned moments ago:
Gold-N-Times is no longer in business due to the death of Ray Ducoat (11/20/09). However, their website will remain online through January 2010.


I hate to say this, but Ludwig's quality control back in the 1970 - 1980's was pretty bad... Their seam process left much to be desired! It was joined together with a "V" type groove being filled (partially at best!) with the same acrylic as the shell... I have never seen a single Vintage Ludwig seam that was completely filled to match the shell thickness. Never! Here are examples of typical Vintage Ludwig seams:



Notice two things about these Vintage Ludwig seams:


1. The "V" groove is not filled completely. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess where the weak part of the shell is even if the seam were filled 100%. Early Vistalites - especially Single Headed Concert Toms with no bottom head/hoop to add support and reduce vibration fatigue - were notorious for splitting at the seam. The smaller the diameter, the greater number of ruined shells due to splitting.


2. The location of the "Sturdi-Lok Clip Tom Mounting Bracket". Ludwig always straddled the seam with their four bolt mounting plate to add strength to the seam and help reduce splitting. I have yet to find a tom on which Ludwig installed the mounting bracket that it was not placed directly over the seam.


Another common problem that I have found with Vintage Ludwig Drums with regards to their seam is how well they matched up on their bearing edges. I have sent Vistalite toms out to have new bearing edges done on several occasions due to as much as 3/16" variation at the seam! Trust me on this - you can tune, re-tune, tape, muffle, curse until you are blue in the face or any other personal remedy you may have... Without quality bearing edges your drum it will never tune right and it will buzz and cause you much aggravation!!



Briefly - the bearing edge is not the bevel on the edge, it is the surface which the head sits on when mounted on the drum. That surface must be perfectly flat so that 100% of the head will rest on the shell. Any spots that do not sit flat will vibrate and cause a buzzing sound. You can muffle the buzz away until the drum sounds like hitting an old log, but if the bearing edges are not in good condition, your drum will always sound like sh*t! Ludwig apparently wasn't aware of that back in the '70s!



(But in all honesty - I have often wondered if Ludwig's Development And Research Team was working hand in hand with Timothy Leary during the 1970s because they are not know for their consistency on parts nor for their records keeping skills during that era! Just my own personal observation...??)



Here are examples of Gold-N-Times typical seam construction:



You can easily see how they have added a thin back-up strip on the inside of the drum over the seam to add strength to the seam. It may help with the shell's strength, but takes away from it's appearance (in my opinion) as well as affecting the resonance with the protrusion rather than being a smooth surface as is the overall optimum design for drum shell construction.



Due to the uneven surface, mounting hardware location has also had to be relocated from it's original position.



Here are photo's of RCI Starlite seams:

It is my firm belief, based on personally owning drums made by all three acrylic drum shell manufacturers, that RCI Starlite shells are the absolute best quality beyond comparison. Each seam is filled 100% without any flaws such as bubbles or pinholes as in the Vintage Ludwigs, their shells are always perfectly round and they have the cleanest, best quality bearing edges of all of the acrylic drums that I own.



I recently put together a large kit that was identical to a Ludwig Octa-Plus Outfit, but was assembled using half Vintage Ludwig shells and half RCI Starlite shells. At a quick glance, you can't really tell who made what in that kit:

Even side by side at a closer look it's often hard to tell. The bass drum on the left is made by RCI Starlite and the bass drum on the right is a Vintage 1970s Ludwig Drum. With a closer look you can easily spot the Vintage Ludwig shell by it's seam!



I hope this bit of information will help prevent someone from being fooled by the many schiesters and con-artists out there who will stop at nothing to sell their fellow drummers a genuine, gold plated turd claiming that it is a "Vintage, Rare, One Of A Kind" (which is probably the only truth in the description - one of a kind). Usually, unless you are at a really, really large social function, you never see more than just one turd in a punch bowl so they have not lied to you - technically! But if you look close enough...



Take this "Vintage 1970s Ludwig Amber Vistalite 10" x 14" Concert Tom" that was recently listed on eBay. Given the small bit of information that I have shown you in this article, take a look and see if you can spot anything fishy in this listing:







Who do you think this drum was made by? Ludwig Drum Company as the seller would like you to believe... [The answers are above... Scroll up if you are still confused!!]

Rock-n-Roll
~Tom "Bonzo" Meadows



3 comments:

  1. Great info and photos Tom - thanks! I am a bit confused by the photo of the Gold N Times tom: is the back up strip just to the right of the (2 bolt) lug receiver? And you write that the "mounting hardware location has also had to be relocated from it's original position". Does that mean after market someone did that, or that that is how Gold N Times made them at the factory? Thanks again for the tips! I too have been drumming professionally for 30 years and my first kit was a red Ludwig Vistalite which I sadly sold after college for money to buy a newer kit - bad move ... I miss the sound of my old Vistalites - that floor tom was unbeatable!

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  2. Ben -
    Sorry to have been so quick to respond! I wasn't even aware this article was still available as the Dungeon is closed down I think?

    On the mounting hardware - that would be how they were originally drilled by Gold N Times to accomodate the hardware with that backing strip located over the seam. They used to straddle the seam to add strength to it!

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