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Restoring a 1953 Field Drum

With everybody still quarantined, it seems like everybody I know is finally getting around to some of the projects they've wanted to do for a while so I hopped on the bandwagon and pulled this old drum out of my closet where it's lived for much longer than I'm willing to admit ( was a year. A WHOLE YEAR)

Luckily along the way I did my best to take pictures of the process and hopefully this will help somebody get their old drums in tip shop shape. Thanks to some of the guys over at the Restoring Vintage Drums Facebook page, particularly Randall Dearlove, for helping so much!

Let's jump in to the process!

Here's the drum, just after I bought it

As you can see, it's definitely a cool little drum. In fact, a lot of people might see a drum like this and not even dream of touching it. But, it obviously had a lot of scratches and discoloration, especially on the hoops. It also sounded absolutely terrible because the snares weren't set right.

The Hardware

So the first step was to take the drum apart and see what we were looking at. All the metal parts have to come off so they can be cleaned and polished and so that we can remove as much rust as possible.

Here's the metal parts before a WD40 bath.

After the WD40, I used 0000 steel wool and a little metal polish. Unfortunately, I don't have any side by side pictures but you can tell in the finished product that they look much better.

The Shell

After the metal is off, I sanded the shell with a medium and fine grit sand blocks. The goal isn't to get down to the wood, just to get past any clear coat or sealer

After it's sanded down a bit, add a few coats of Minwax Red Mahogany stain and let it dry before adding all the hardware back on. Don't forget to put some petroleum jelly or equivalent on the lugs, it's probably been decades since they've had any sort of lubricant! Especially on a single tension drum, you'll want as much ease of tuning as possible.

Head Choices and Snares

By the way, the bottom head on this when I got it was real calfskin, which was cool, but it was so much thicker than the top head that I found it really hard to get the bottom head high pitched enough to activate the snare wires while keeping the top head low enough to sound like a field drum. The heads I'm using for the time being are an Evans Calftone on top and Remo Renaissance RA on the bottom.

I thought I'd have to upgrade the snare wires themselves after seeing the condition they were in, but after messing with it for a while, I was able to get a great sound. The trick is to make sure every single wire is completely in straight and in order. It also helps to have somebody else tighten the bolts down while you hold the wires straight.

After adjusting and tuning and restoring the drum, I added some homemade moongels (go to the dollar store and buy a sticky hands toy, you'll get enough moongel material for a whole drum set, you can also use them on a headed tambourine that needs a little drying out) and after that the drum sounds great. Here's the final product, for your viewing pleasure!

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