Archive for March, 2011

March 7, 2011

The Restification of a Radio King Snare

What you see here is a beautiful example of a snare that has been resurrected from a near death experience.  The drum is a Slingerland Radio King circa 1936.  It came in to Main Drag from a customer who had salvaged it off the street. It was a mess.  Glenn Maryansky is the lucky owner and here’s his part of the story:

I’m guessing it was fall of 1995 or so and I was working at Angelica Kitchen on East 11th Street in the East Village [NYC] and after our shift my friend Scott and I were walking home in the rain, I believe it had been raining for a few days, when across the street we saw a pile of furniture and boxes piled outside of a senior citizens home so as we would do in those days we went to have a look. As we walked up I immediately saw what was unmistakably a snare drum and almost as unmistakable a Radio King… Upon picking up the soaking wet drum i saw the Slingerland cloud badge and nearly jumped out of my skin, luckily Scott was a bass player or a brawl may have ensued. Granted it was in pretty rough shape (broken lug, half missing strainer/throw off) and waterlogged but i took it home and tried to clean it up as best I could and made a meager attempt at putting weight on one side of it while it was still wet to try to get the warp out of it. These were the early days of ebay and I had no luck finding any replacement parts so it went into storage about a year later and stayed there until about 4 moths ago when I decided to bring it by Main Drag to see if it was even worth salvaging. Upon showing it to one of the drum department employees and John Fell, they both had the same wide-eyed response… “You know what that is, right?” Indeed I did, but little did I know just how much life that old drum had left in it until John got his hands on it. The rest of the story is all his…

Basically the snare that came in was a basket case.  The hoops were bent beyond usability. The strainer was missing parts.  Oh, and did Glenn mention that the drum was in the rain?  The shell was pretty warped, though he probably saved it by “putting weight on one side of it.”

For the unenlightened few of you who don’t know the power and the glory of the Radio King, it’s one of the most revered snare drums in history.  There’s an ongoing debate about what actually constitutes a Radio King but this one is indisputably the deal. And therein lies one of the inherent problems.  Almost all RK’s are built with a single, steam-bent maple plank that has been formed into the cylindrical shell known rightly as a drum.  This is a blessing and a curse. The single ply has a resonance that creates a very pleasing sound but often goes out of round. Which is a big drag.  Glenn’s drum was out of round but for a different reason than usual. Inside the drum are glue rings that attach to shell at the bearing edge on both the batter and resonant side. They’re also made from a single ply, and I’m going to break off the description here because if you’re still reading, you probably know about glue rings already.  So anyway, what happened to this drum was that the less massive glue rings shrunk more than the shell and pulled the shell out of whack.

*   *   *

And so begins the repair.  Borrowing a little technique and technology from the guys in the guitar repair shop, I hooked up with their steam injector which is a primitive, medieval torture device looking thing consisting of a steam maker with a long rubber hose that terminates with a hollow needle.  In guitar repair this tool is often used to separate the glued neck and body joint through drilled holes that are later filled.  Fortunately, the gap between the glue rings and the shell had opened up just enough that I could get the steam in under the ring and sloooooowly release the glue. It took over an hour to get both rings out and it was an hour of burned fingers, lots of gentle prying and even more swearing.

With both rings out, I allowed the shell and rings to relax from the steamy end to their 75-year marriage. After a week or so they were ready to be reunited and so out came the Titebond (yes purists, aliphatic resin, not hide glue…they would have used it if they had it….), about 40 teeny c-clamps, and some very careful gluing up and positioning. It was easy to determine where the rings were placed by marks I’d made prior to their removal and also from the residual glue that sort of left a fingerprint. The shell was actually very close to perfectly round.

The first step was to wrap the glue rings in wet towels an let them soak for a while to help soften them up a bit as they’re very brittle, especially at the razor thin end of the scarf joint.  Next, I dampened the gluing surface on the inside of the drum to help the glue penetrate the pores of the wood and applied a thin, even coat to both surfaces. Then, using the guidelines for placement the rings are worked into the shell. Lastly, the clamps are applied starting from the bottom lay of the scarf joint and chasing the gaps around almost 360 degrees until the two ends join again at the scarf. This part is the second biggest pain in the ass after getting them out. You’re working against time with glue oozing out all over the place and fighting the bad habits and whims of some very set in their ways, very, very hard pieces of wood. It twists and it bends, it shimmies and and it shakes, and every one of the clamps goes on with relief as you work your way around the clock a few degrees at a time.  When it’s done, you get something like this.

Glued and clamped.

Then the next day when (hopefully) all of the glue has set up you take off the clamps and have at the other side.  We got lucky.  When the clamps came off I’d had enough for a while so I handed the cleaning up of the joinery to a man with ten times the patience of my own, Mr. Norman Westberg.  Norman as you may know is something of an anomaly in that he’s a remarkable and storied musician, but his instrument is the guitar. How many guitarist drum techs do you know?  Anyway, Norman meticulously filed, sanded and cleaned up the scarf joints and most importantly the bearing edge.  Between the careful gluing/positioning/clamping and the fastidious cleanup, the only thing that the ever-important edges required was little dressing with 400 grit sandpaper – a huge accomplishment and we were psyched. In spite of the warpage and subsequent repair the edges were PERFECT when placed on the always honest granite machinist’s table. Perfect!  This was welcome but very unexpected.

Next, hardware was sourced to replace the grenaded zinc alloy (pot metal, to you) lugs.  These lugs are famous for crumbling like a cookie in a child’s hand when under normal tension.  What fit the bill perfectly were some reproduction Streamline Lugs as they were called, sourced from Precision Drum. While the lugs lacked the mojo of the original they are perfectly cast reproductions and made of much a more stable alloy, guaranteed not to explode while being played.  Easy decision – bought 8.  Hoops were a trickier problem.  I was being teased by the availability of reproduction stick chopper hoops, reproduction stick saver hoops, as well as some clean early ‘60’s chrome on brass Slingerland hoops I had sitting around.  My decision was to put on some die cast hoops in homage to a very similar Radio King that I had 25 years ago that had Gretsch hoops on it. It sounded absolutely incredible and I sold it to buy a 12-bit sampler, my only excuse being that it was the 80’s and at least I never had a mullet.  My RK was a sonically perfect snare and I rue the day I parted with it. So piss-off, purists; I did what I could to make this drum sound like what I heard.

The strainer was a pretty easy choice. There’s a Gibraltar strainer, made of course by the same folks that make the very similar Pearl – hopefully not in some apartment building sweatshop in East Asia.  Functionally it works better than anything vintage with a generous throw and aesthetically the shape of the main casting and throw off lever mimic some later Slingy forms. The original strainer was the so called “3 Point Strainer” due to the three screws that mounted it to the shell.  Here was the first moral dilemma:  To drill or not to drill.  Drilling requires, well, drilling one new hole, the alternative being making an adapter plate that attaches the new strainer to the old one’s holes. For the first and last time in my life I took Sarah Palin’s advice muttering “Drill, baby, drill” as I knocked the first new hole in this shell since it’s birth three quarter’s of a century ago.  Satisfied that I’d done the right thing, the old holes were plugged appropriately with polished out cymbal rivets, sort of as an inside joke.  While nothing looks factory about a pair of cymbal rivets flanking a snare strainer, it somehow looks better than a vain attempt at doweling and, what, painting out the end of the dowel?  Or worse, that old trick of using a little circular plug cut from a similar wrap?  It just looks desperate somehow….like a kid trying to hide that prom night zit with a way too pink dollop of Clearasil.

The snare butt required only the machining of a new clamp bar as the original, stamped butt was missing this part. If there was a new shiny chrome part that would have complimented the strainer and lugs I might have gone for it so long as it required no drilling, but I couldn’t find anything. The piece was milled down from bar stock and then tapped and threaded.  No sweat. Now it was time to throw some heads and snares on and see if all the work was worth it.

Ready for hoops and heads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drum Roll Please……..

Awesome. Amazing. Powerful and sensitive. It tracks ppp ghost notes all the way up to a fff walloping and has that distinctive, woody sonority. It turned out better than I could have hoped for. This is an excellent drum. Aesthetically it looks really nice as well. Glenn, you’re a lucky guy!

John Fell

Finito

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