1971 SS V2

1971 Ludwig Super Sensitive Chrome Over Brass

In recent months, I’ve been bitten by the vintage drum bug. I suppose all drummers are naturally collectors – there’s always another cymbal, drum or toy to add to your arsenal. And while I certainly don’t need another drum at this point, the hunt for rarities and curiosities, the chance to own a small piece of history, is proving to be pretty irresistible.

I got pretty lucky the other day with my latest acquisition. The local drum shop (which is a fantastic place) has a steady stream of used and consignment drums for sale, and a very nice 1971 Ludwig Super Sensitive (SS) popped up on the store’s Facebook page last week. It’s essentially the same drum as the Supraphonic, which many consider the most-recorded snare drum in history. Ludwig sold thousands of these snares, and you see them for sale all over the place.

1971 SSI stopped by the store after work to check it out, and the drum looked practically brand new. The chrome on the shell didn’t have any of the usual pitting or flaking that you often see with older SSs and Supraphonics. I’ve seen a lot of these drums on eBay over the past few months, but none of them looked this good.

I didn’t buy it immediately (because I’m an idiot), but after an evening of obsessing about it, I returned the next day to pick it up. It’s a classic drum that should be in every drummer’s collection, so I figured I might as well buy it now as it was unlikely I’d come across one in better condition anytime soon.

This is where things get interesting. I took the drum back to my office and looked it over more closely. In particular, I looked behind the muffler knob, and was stunned by what I saw:

Muffler KnobIt turns out that little “B” is pretty important. It indicates that instead of being aluminum, the shell is actually made of brass. What I thought was a fairly common SS is actually a significantly more rare Chrome Over Brass (COB) SS.

1971 SS V2A bit of sleuthing online sheds some light on its history. In the early 1970s, Ludwig made a small number of Supraphonics and SSs out of spare brass shells that were left over from the 1960s. They look exactly like their aluminum counterparts, with a couple of exceptions:

  • Small “B” or “BR” stamped on the shell – usually behind the muffler knob
  • The bottom part of the B/O badge is cut down to fit the shell, which had been made to fit the older 1960s badge (important to note that not all drums with the cut down badge are COB)

BO BadgeThese brass-shelled versions don’t appear in the Ludwig catalogs in the early 1970s. Some say they were special orders for Ludwig endorsers who wanted the sound of a brass shell instead of aluminum. I’ve also read that a few were made solely for L.A.’s Professional Drum Shop. In fact, a quick search of the Pro Drums page on Facebook turned this up:

Hollywood Pro Drum“Behind Maurie are the famous Brass Ludwig chrome snare drums that Bob made Bill Ludwig make us after bitching about not making the brass shells since 64’…only 100 made in 5 and 6.5 x 14 ..they have a “B” under the tone control with the blue and olive badges…still see a few every now and then….. circa 1972”

A few more facts about this drum:

  • It weighs 9.0 pounds – definitely heavier than the aluminum version
  • The label inside indicates a date of November 16, 1971 – one day earlier than another Supraphonic COB someone wrote about earlier this year in this post
  • The model number on the label is 416 – same as the brass-shelled Black Beauty. The aluminum SS is LM410

LabelNot a bad start to my hobby as a collector.  Hopefully the next drum I pick up will be equally as interesting…but I doubt it.

Deagan Century of Progress Marimba No. ?? & No. ??

About a year ago, I impulsively purchased a Deagan Century of Progress marimba.  It’s one of the 3.5 octave models that Deagan made back in 1933 – a total of 75 were made for the 100-piece Century of Progress marimba orchestra.  For those keeping track, mine was made for Harold August Maves, and is serial number 78.

Since that time, I’ve been looking on-line pretty regularly for other CoP marimbas to show up on eBay.  In January, a 3.5 octave model popped up at an antique store in Wisconsin.  Bidding started at $0.99 and rose gradually over the week until nearly tripling in the final hour to end up at $1,799.  Little information was given about how it ended up there (estate sale?), but it looked like it was in pretty good condition.  Unfortunately, the front brass plate is missing, so no idea who the original owner was or what serial number it is. 

ImageThe brass, frame and keys look to be in great condition.  Painful to see the incidentals set up like that, though.

ImageThen just a couple of weeks ago, a 4.5 octave CoP marimba appeared on eBay.  While Deagan made 75 of the 3.5 octave models, only 25 of the 4.5 octave versions were made, so I was pretty excited to see one for sale.  The seller provided some interesting details about the instrument:

I got it and the massive original packing cases (see photos) from an original member of the orchestra back in the 1960s when I was a student of Jim Salmon at the University of Michigan. His name was Carl Bailey, an undertaker in Huntington, Indiana. He, his sister, his parents, and I believe some cousins or aunts and uncles were all in the group.

He had 2 World’s Fairs, 2 King Georges, a couple of 1920s xylorimbas all set up in the basement of the funeral home when I walked in. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime moment! I tried them all, and picked the best instrument of the 4 marimbas.

That’s a pretty great story – it would have been incredible to see those great instruments all gathered together in the basement of a funeral home.  As with the previous marimba, the front brass plate is missing – the original owner’s mother asked if she could keep it as a reminder – so again, no way of knowing which serial number it is.  Given the rarity of the instrument, the price tag was significantly higher – serious collectors only need apply.

ImageThose brass resonators must weigh a ton.


ImageThe original cases look pretty solid.

Incidentally, I searched online for Carl Bailey, and sure enough he owned the Bailey Funeral Home in Huntington, Indiana.  The mortuary was opened by Carl’s dad Frank back in 1910 (Steve Weiss’s list of CoP instruments includes a Frank Bailey, who owned serial number 44).  Carl took over the business in 1952 when his father passed away.  In an funny twist, the mortuary was purchased in 1990 – by a guy named Christopher Love. 

Century of Progress Marimba Ad

In doing a bit of research in the Deagan Century of Progress marimba, I came across this fantastic photo, which I imagine came from a brochure in 1933 or 1934.


This is the 4.5 octave model (C to F) – Deagan made 25 of these for Musser’s 1933 Century of Progress marimba orchestra.

I love everything about this ad.  The well-dressed couple ascends the red stair case, where they are greeted by a dashing young man in tails.  I wonder what he’s gong to serenade them with – a little ragtime?  A transcription of something from the classical period?

Sadly, my own Century of Progress marimba isn’t nearly so shiny these days.  The brass resonators are tarnished and dull, and the green crosspiece has yellowed with age.  Of course, I’m not dashing or young, and I don’t wear a tux when I play it, so I guess we’re even.

Music Monday – Brian Blade

One of the summer’s highlights was the Joni Mitchell tribute concert at Massey Hall.  While I’m not exactly a Joni fan, I certainly respect the profound impact she’s had on a couple of generations of great musicians.  It was definitely exciting to see her live and to witness the reaction of the 2,700 people who had come with the hope that she’d sing a song or two.

The line-up was pretty fantastic – Glen Hansard, Herbie Hancock, Esperanza Spalding, Kathleen Edwards, Rufus, Cold Specks, and a kick-ass band.  For me, though, the stand-out artist of the night was Brian Blade.

I’ve heard Brian on recordings, but this was my first opportunity to see him live.  It was a revelation – he struck me less as a drummer and more as a musician who chooses to express himself on the drums, if that makes any sense.  His playing is grounded, sensitive, and authoritative.  It also looks like he takes great joy in playing, which seems to be infectious.

I’ve picked up a couple of recordings since then, and I hope to do some more listening to his earlier stuff over the rest of the summer.  I really love this video of him and the Fellowship Band performing Stoner Hill earlier this year at the Chicago Music Exchange.  Terrific song, and I can’t think of a player who has better sounding cymbals.