5.22.2014

Restoring Vintage Drums - The Basics

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One of the many benefits of living in Nashville is the abundance of used music gear.  The hubby and I love a good bargain and have been able to pick up a couple of cool vintage drum kits on the cheap. There is only one drawback…  Drums that have been stashed in an attic or garage for fifty years aren't always in the best shape.  

Ask any Nashville drummer and they will tell you that the place to go for drum restoration is Fork's Drum Closet.  Not only is Sam Bacco a world-class percussionist, his drum restorations are unparalleled.  Unfortunately, the price of Mr. Bacco's restorations is not in the Ha family budget, but he and the wonderful guys at Fork's have been kind enough to give us a few pointers.  Today, I would like to pass these tricks along to you.  

The kit we will be working on is a 1964 Slingerland with gorgeous mahogany shells.  Let's get started…

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Step one is to remove the lugs, washers, metal rims, wood hoops and drum heads.  I like to work on one drum at a time so I don't accidentally mix up any parts.  

If you are lucky enough to find a vintage kit with the original drum heads, don't throw them away. The heads can be washed with a soft cloth and soapy water and either placed back on the drums or stored in a safe place.  Remember that drums with all their original parts are more valuable.  

Drum shells with wood veneer like this Slingerland kit should be wiped down with a damp cloth to remove any grime and then polished with a gentle furniture polish.  Shells with a lacquer finish can be cleaned with a soft cloth and soapy water.  Just try to avoid wetting the inside of the drum.   

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Once the shells have been cleaned it is time to tackle the chrome hardware.  Here's what you will need: #0000 steel wool, rubber gloves and toothpicks.  Do not use anything other than #0000 steel wool or you will risk damaging the hardware.


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Despite being wiped down, you can see that this lug is still covered in grime and a few tiny spots of rust.


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Make sure you lay a cloth or old towel underneath the drum before getting started.  The steel wool will splinter as you work and, not only is it messy, the shavings can potentially harm your work surface.  

After putting on a trusty pair of rubber gloves, tear off a small piece of steel wool and use it to polish the chrome.  The steel wool is soft enough to avoid scratching the chrome finish while still removing the rust and grime from any crevices.  Use a soft cloth to gently brush off any steel wool shavings.

A word of caution…  Try to avoid rubbing the shells with the steel wool as it will scratch the finish.


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Check out the finished lug.  I am always amazed by how some steel wool and a little elbow grease can restore the chrome hardware's shine.


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While you are working you may find that some of the nooks and crevices are simply too small to be polished using your fingers alone.  In those instances, I like to use a toothpick with a little steel wool wrapped around the end.

I chose the picture above specifically so that you can see what happens when you fail to remove rust from drum hardware.  The rust has caused the chrome plating to flake off of this tom mount.  There are two ways to handle this problem:  Have the piece replated or remove every trace of the rust and use a dab of 3-In-One Oil to prevent further rusting.


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Take a look at that shine!  As you can see in the picture above, the slight pitting caused by the rust is still slightly visible under the bright lights.  It is best to avoid allowing rust to form on the hardware in the first place.


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Now for the easy part…  polishing the rims.  Make sure you give both sides of the rims a good rubdown with the steel wool and then wipe off any dust/shavings with a soft cloth.


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Good as new!


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The last and most tedious part of the restoration process is cleaning the tension rods, washers and bass drum claws.  In my experience, these are the pieces that usually have the most rust.  My advice is to take your time.


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As you can see, the slight pitting remains but the shine has been restored.


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Remember, when restoring a vintage kit, it may not be possible to return everything to it's original state.  This bass drum tension rod lost a portion of it's chrome plating due to rust.  The goal is to restore the shine and prevent further damage.


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A little time and elbow grease is all it takes to restore a vintage drum kit to it's former glory.  As you can see, it is well worth the effort.  

Check back next week to learn Sam Bacco's secret for removing excessive rust from tension rods and washers.  

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