Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Possible Eli Brown Drum - What Do You Think?

Matt Ailing wrote:

I have a drum in my shop that is perplexing me and so I was hoping that each of you might take a look and give me your opinion. Here is what I know, the drum has an "aftermarket" label with the last date on it of 1937, 100 years after the drum is claimed to have been made by Eli Brown. The drum measures 18 11/16" in diameter and 17.5" in depth, which isn't outside the realm of possibility for a Brown drum. There is an ivory vent grommet which is very similar in style to other Brown vent grommets and the shell is made of tiger maple, which was used on many Brown drums that I have seen.

Having inspected the drum closely and having a couple of other local guys that know quite a bit about Brown drums look at, the initial reaction by everyone is that this is not number "8" a Brown drum for a number of different reasons. The bottom reinforcement ring doesn't quite meet up so there is a small wedge placed in between the two ends so that they match up. The tack design does not look like any other Brown tack design that I have seen to date, I have seen quite a few over the last few years but by no means all of them. The two rows of tacks on the outer edges of the design both have 20 tacks, this is inconsistent with Eli Brown and other Brown tack designs. On classic tack designs on drums of this size, there are between 19 and 22 tacks on the seem side and 13 to 16 on the opposing side, never the same number. The spots where the diamonds in the tacks designs would be (usually with half of the diamonds turned on a 90 degree axis to the rest) are more like ovals and all face the same direction. The tiger maple, while a wood that the Browns used, does not seem like the grain pattern is up to the quality of comparable Brown drums. The scarf seem is about 8.5" wide and comes across the back of the face but is only under about 80% of the tack work but in other drums this size the scarf comes across the back of the entire tack pattern.

This being said, the one thing that is giving me pause on all of this is the size that is hand written on the inside of the drum. The number "8" in the size is in a handwriting that is very much like the numbers written inside of several Brown drums that I have expected. I have included pictures on the numbers inside the drum as well as the numbers from inside of one of Leo Brenan's Eli Brown drums for comparison.

The drum has been refinished, which is common for this area because we have a lot of players here in CT. The back of the tacks look aged as I would expect from a drum of its claimed age and the hoops are definitely not original. Please let me know your thoughts on this when you have a moment, any insight offered would be appreciated.

Matt Alling CT Pro Percussion 203-228-0488 - Phone Calfskin, it's the new plastic!!!

Possible 18th Century Militia Drum

A reader recently wrote with the following information and photos:

I am trying to identify an old drum.  I have George Neumann's book and it shows a picture of a drum almost exactly like mine on page 197.  Neumann dates the drum to 1746.  If this is a militia drum, how rare are they and what could be a ballpark value of it.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.

George Naviskas


Date: c. 1770
Dimensions: 16" high x 14 1/2" wide
About this artifact
The most important military musical instrument of the 18th century was the snare drum. It not only provided cadence, but also transmitted the basic orders to troops in camp and on the battlefield with specific beating which the soldier was trained to recognize. The drums were fashioned from wood with skin heads, catgut snares, and ropes for tension that required leather pull-down "lugs" to help tighten the heads. When marching, the common step was about 75 per minute. (Modern marching cadence is 128 steps per minute.)  Source:

Saturday, March 19, 2016

CFD - Charles “Shang” Wheeler, A Different Kind of Champion
by Matt Alling
CT Pro Percussion
203-228-0488 - Phone

What would you say if I told you that the man who played this drum won so many championships that he stopped competing? Okay, the truth is, the championships in question had nothing to do with the drums but it makes for a great story which we’ll get to in a minute. The drum in the picture is one of three drums on display at the Company of Fifers and Drummers Museum that was used by The Cupheag/Stratford Pioneers fife and drum corps in Stratford CT, from 1938 to 1946.

The drum itself has no maker's label inside and has a mahogany shell that is 32"x 12" with a single-ply mahogany shell. The calfskin heads read "Cupheag Pioneers, Stratford CT," and one head is painted with an Indian wearing a head dress. There is no visible artist signature. There is a single point-of-carry eyebolt on one side of the drum and rope hooks that are screwed into the rims. The heads on the drum have recently been repaired to prevent further splitting and to preserve the artwork on the head.

This drum was played by Charles “Shang” Wheeler and, if you are like me, you have no idea who he is, or at least I didn’t until I started to research the drum and the drum corps. After a bit of research I learned that “Shang”, who was born in 1872 and died in 1949, wore a lot of hats in his lifetime, including prize fighter, accomplished artist, political cartoonist, CT state senator, Native American rights activist and, as a hobbyist was a wood carver. As a wood carver, Shang carved duck decoys and birds and it is my understanding that he carved at least one of every bird on the Eastern seaboard, from Maine to the Florida Keys. He never took money for his carvings, liked to give them away as gifts and is revered in many circles as the greatest decoy carver to date. It is not hard to believe this, knowing that he also used to enter decoy carving competitions and won so many times that he stopped competing and started to only display his carvings in exhibition at competitions.  In recent years, some of Shang’s decoys have sold at auction for over $100,000.00. 

“Shang” played with the Cupheag Pioneers which, according to the Stratford Historical Society, was formed by members of the now defunct Cupheag Social club. There is also a bass drum in the museum that is painted with the words Stratford Pioneers, which are believed to  be the same corps because they were both active from 1938 – 1946 in Stratford Connecticut. It is my theory is that the drum head on the Cupheag drum was painted by Shang, this is supported by several sketches and political cartoons done by Shang that depict Native American Indians, for which he was a big rights advocate for. Additionally, although there is less evidence to support this at this time, I believe that it is possible that Shang had a hand in making both bass drums. Both drums are of very similar construction, have no maker’s labels and have very good construction but also have a distinct homemade quality to them as well. It is not uncommon for fife and drum corps to have made their own drums and with Shang’s ability as a wood worker and artist; it seems entirely plausible that he was involved in making the drums.
Recently, as you can see in the final picture, there have been repairs done to the heads to help preserve them for future generations to enjoy.

For more information on this drum and the rest of the collection, please visit The Company of fifers and Drummers museum in Ivoryton Connecticut. Also, watch for the new Company of Fifers and Drummers museum website which will be going live very soon.
If you would like more information on Shang Wheeler, contact or visit the Stratford Historical Society in Stratford Connecticut. 
Note – Pictures 3 and 5 are taken from the book, "Shang. A Biography of Charles E. Wheeler," Merkt, Dixon MacD., published by Amwell Press for the National Sporting Fraternity Limited, 1984.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Word About Separate Tension, by George Burt Stone

Courtesy of Lee's Boston Drum Builders Blog, an extension of

A Word About Separate Tension, by George Burt Stone

One hundred years ago, separate tension drums were still something of a new thing. Single tension drums were perhaps slow to fall out of vogue because they had more in common with the traditional rope tension instruments used by drummers for the past century or two. In the case of rope tension drums, the simple pull of a leather tug tightened both heads simultaneously. The same principle was true of early rod tensioned drums, the only difference being the use of metal rods and claws rather than rope and leather to tighten or loosen the heads.

George B. Stone & Son - Catalog H, ca. 1915

George B. Stone & Son - Catalog H, ca. 1915

Catalogs of the 1910s often listed single tension drums and separate tension drums side by side making little suggestion as to which was preferable for any particular reason. A query posed to George Burt Stonein a 1915 magazine column then doesn't seem quite so uninformed. In response to a reader's question published in Volume 6, Number 1 of Jacobs' Orchestra Monthly, Stone chose to reprise his own article from the same publication in August of 1913. This topic was evidently so timely that he also reprinted the article in Geo. B. Stone & Son "Catalog H". The 1915 question and answer are transcribed here.

Q. What is your opinion regarding single and duplex strain on drum heads? I notice that many of the late drum makers are straining with a single rod from rim to rim instead of each head separately. This is, of course, in keeping with the old principle of rope strain but I have had much better results from duplex strain because you can use a heavy batter and a thin snare head.

A. In answer to your question, and to many other questions which I have received within the past month or so concerning the relative merits of separate and double tension, I will reprint below an article, entitled "A Word About Separate Tension." This article appeared in the August, 1913, issue of J. O. M. in the Drummer department.

     "There is at the present time considerable discussion among professional and amateur drummers as to the relative merits of separate and of double tension for tightening snare drum heads.

     "Personally, I think that separate tension is much the better for the following reasons: In a snare drum, the snare head should be comparatively thin, the tension being loose enough for it to vibrate freely against the snares. The batter head should be a certain degree thicker, for this head must receive the beating of the sticks and must necessarily be strong in order to stand it. The batter head should be considerably tighter than the snare head in order to properly transmit the concussion of the sticks to the snare head, also to properly rebound the sticks.

     "With ordinary rods (straining both heads at once), the snare head, being thinner and weaker, is strained much tighter than the batter head, which is the reverse of the correct adjustment.

     "In rainy weather or in a damp theatre pit where heads are bound to slacken, ordinary rods cannot begin to take all the looseness from the batter head without at the same time pulling the snare head to a high tension. Result - a drum with a "tubby" tone that "plays hard" because the batter head is loose; so loose that it will not rebound the sticks to the player's satisfaction.

     "Another point, suppose one of the heads begins to pull down on one side (this is possible with the most even heads obtainable) an attempt to correct the unevenness by tension with ordinary rods invariably results in the other head being pulled out of shape, which makes retucking necessary.

     "Separate tension rods control each head independently. These rods allow the correct relative adjustment of the batter and snare heads, giving the user the exact combination of head tension that he has found in practice to be the most satisfactory for tone and playing qualities. In damp weather, provided he is using separate tension rods, Mr. Drummer will find it very easy to strain the batter head up to a sufficient tension to rebound the sticks without even touching the snare head unless he thinks it necessary. If one of the heads starts to pull down on one side more than on the other, it is a simple matter with separate tension rods, to adjust the strain so that one head will be evened out without disturbing the other.

     "And last, but not least, if while playing on a separate tension drum, his stick goes through the batter head, the player simply turns his instrument upside down, and finishes the engagement playing on the snare head. If he has had the forethought to buy an extra head, tucked, stretched and dried on a flesh hoop, it is a matter of but a few moments to put the drum into first-class playing condition once more."