There are few drum shell manufacturers that offer boutique and custom drum builders their own voice, their own sound, and consistency in quality. The Minnesota manufacturer Nordic Shells feel they have taken drum shell craftsmanship to another level and are offering boutique drum manufacturers and consumers like you to have a unique voice in a drum shell.
The boutique builder has few shell options; this market is currently dominated by Keller Products Inc. – a furniture manufacturer that offers drum shells; as fantastic an option these shells are they are limited in configurations. Imagine; you’re a custom drum builder and you want to make your own, unique mark in the industry but the only tools you have are that of every other boutique/custom drum builder; same heads, same hardware, same shells. But now Nordic Shells has a solution; they offer amazing shell craftsmanship in configurations that are limitless only to your imagination and available materials. They will help a builder; or you craft a unique configuration allowing you to create your own unique sound.
Drum shell manufacturing has evolved over the past 30 years. When I was a kid many manufactures would equate the quality of their shells by talking about how strong they were, one company even released an ad with a big heavy guy standing on the diameter portion of the shell to demonstrate the quality. I used to hear the legend of the old drums and their quality but by the 1980’s drum shells were largely mass-produced.
Historically one of the companies who contributed to what some collectors and aficionados consider some of the best sounding drum shells is the manufacturer Jasper. Jasper was a furniture company who supplied shells to many drum companies of the day including Gretsch, Ludwig, and Fibes. As rumor has it; Jasper had a difficult time sourcing other woods, one easy source was gum wood that was commonly used in American furniture manufacturing in the first half of the 20th century. Gum woods real name is “Liquidambar Styraciflua” and is also known as sweet gum, red gum, hazel pine, sap gum, satin walnut and copalm balsam. These trees grow up to 150 feet tall from Connecticut to Florida, as far west as Missouri and as far north as southern Illinois. It is also lightly scattered in northern Mexico, Honduras and Belize.
The Jasper drum shell configuration to my knowledge were 2-inner plies of maple, 2-center plies of gum wood, and 2-outter plies of maple (at this point I cannot confirm) but the use of gum wood paid off creating some of the most sought-after drum sounds.
Starting in the late 1980’s I was introduced to Keller drum shells, they were manufacturing a high-quality drum shell using quality woods with almost a 100-year history of manufacturing with wood. As amazing as these were at the time there were some hurtles in creating a high-quality set of drums; the consistency of manufacturing quality, grain matching, ply gaps, and consistency of sound between similar sizes and plies varied greatly. Most studio engineers complained and still do about a set of these drums; not because they are not good, but because they are not matched. A boutique manufacturer really needs to have a large inventory of shells to tonally match a set of drums in addition to matching the grains. And another trick is to find the note of each shell, this was introduced to me by a boutique drum manufacturer in the late 1980’s; a process that had been used for decades in the manufacture of some of the finest drums.
Noble & Cooley have been hand crafting drums for decades but in the 1980’s they reinvented themselves by crafting their own shells in their unique way. To my knowledge it wasn’t until Drum Workshop decided to take the art of shell craftsmanship to a new level – rediscovering the art of quality shell manufacturing. This changed things; Drum Workshop literally inspired a renaissance in rediscovering the love of shell construction, and to existing manufactures – a wake-up call. Now we’re in a time where every key manufacturer has their own high-quality drum and unique sound to go along with it.
There are a number of ways to build shells; there’s the Stave shell that is built similarly to a barrel, the wood pieces are vertical with beveled edges arranged to form a shell. Steam bent shells where you build a steaming chamber, hydrate the wood so it’s malleable and then bent into a form. There’s a mandrel process where you build shells around a male die sized to the finished interior diameter applying wood ply-by-ply and clamping. And there is a cold press process where without using heat you build a female mold to the finished outside diameter, place your glued plies together into the mold, and using often an inflatable bladder, apply pressure against the plies for a number of hours to cure.
Nordic Shells feels it has developed a process offering an unlimited amount of wood construction options allowing the boutique manufacturer, the everyday customer; for the first time, to be able to develop (offered in manufacturing quantities) a unique, one of a kind shell distinctive to their brand.
Nordic Shells only focuses on the manufacturing of the shell and supports the drum builder. They are offering cold press drum shell manufacturers 2 and 3 ply woods in sheets for the cold press process. More about that here: https://www.nordicshells.com/2-and-3-ply-sheets
In my opinion Nordic Shells are not just making drum shells, they are crafting instruments.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Nordic Shells creator Pat Budnick – that interview will be released soon in our podcast launch.
In the meantime you can learn more about Nordic Shells and their philosophy by going to www.nordicshells.com .
Posted by: The Rög