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There are times in life, usually after the 8th brandy, when I’m contemplating life, the universe and dry roasted peanuts in the cavernous mahogany panelled library of Ellis Towers, wondering about the minutia of ‘being’ and inner procrastination regarding the purpose of existence.


I drum, therefore; I am.


I know who I am, although there have been numerous occasions when the slightly dim looking hairy buffoon staring back at me from the mirror bears little resemblance to my true, Adonis like physical manifestation that men admire and women crave. Additionally, I have also in the past been called upon to identify myself formally and the illegible, infantile, spidery squiggle that my writing hand has produced, purporting to be my signature had as much in common with the one on my passport as Mother Theresa did with Attila the Hun’s accountant.


I think I know who I am although the border guards at Trieste appeared unconvinced and probably let me through out of pity.


Buying an identity, or at least a perceived one, is of significant importance in many aspects of the miserable concept called; life. Indeed, there is a chronograph currently being marketed claiming it says more about you than any other material possession you might choose to own. Drummers too are not immune to the hyperbole that leaps from glossy brochures and expensively photographed adverts inviting us to join the great, the good and the ‘exclusive’.


But just how ‘exclusive’ can you and more to the point, do you want to be?


Having recently perused at a leisurely pace, many of the recent brochures from the majors whilst floating in the lake on an inflatable Terence Conran chaise longue in the tropical arboretum to be found in the grounds of the Towers, I remarked to myself and the attendant masseurs that the word ‘custom’ is used with alarming alacrity. What is it? Is there such a thing?

Having dabbled in what I considered to be ‘custom’ drum building, I began to question the integrity of the claims in the lovely leaflets and following a bout of extreme extrapolation on the matter (at risk of serious personal injury), I began to question the validity of using the word to describe the tubs sporting the legend ‘custom’.


A drummer with a dream can go to any number of well known and not so well known ‘custom’ drum builders, specify their wants and all being well, a few weeks later, a unique drum or kit will hopefully be delivered. A ‘custom’ drum? But what if the supplier has simply met the needs of the customer by gathering the parts specified and putting it all together? Not a ‘custom’ drum? Merely an assemblage?


If this is so, where is the line drawn? A recent chat with some drummers at a store in London provided me with some guidance as to the definitive description of a ‘custom drum company’; “one that makes everything” came out as the conclusion. OK, shells (yep, sounds reasonable), lugs (not a cheap thing to do, but yes, fair point), hoops (what?), tension rods (huh?) and heads (now you’re just being silly!). What if the customer specifies a shell manufacturer? A specific lug design made by another company? What if……… nauseum. It would come as no surprise to discover many of the big names source externally the components for many (sometimes; all) of their drums and the same can be said of many of the smaller ‘custom’ drum companies.


I don’t have the answer, just the identity crisis. There are more similarities than differences between the production processes of the big boys and the little guys and both groups feel justified to use the ‘C’ word. Perhaps this anomaly needs clarifying, although I hope the vast choice of options offered by all those involved in manufacture, will simply provide drummers with the opportunity to own a personal, ‘perfect’ drum – regardless of description.


Or, we’ll just be no less confused and clueless than we already are. Cheers.


January 2005

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