Vintage drum gear: George Way kits

28th Sep 2011 | 11:40

Vintage drum gear: George Way kits
George Way Aristocrat Kit in White Marine Pearl
Circa 1960

Each month Rhythm Magazine tracks-down and checks-out vintage gear in order to marvel at a bit of drum-making history.

Here we have two kits made by the most intriguing figure in American drumset history. George Way’s name is not known so well as Messrs Ludwig or Gretsch, but his contribution was equally special.

He devoted decades of unparalleled marketing and design service to Leedy, Ludwig and Slingerland, devising the first self-aligning die-cast lug with swivel insert, the first pearl drum coverings, the floating head concept and much more.

He also brought Leedy drums to the UK where its designs were nicked by Carlton, Premier and others during the ’20s and ’30s.

You’ll notice that this kit looks like a DW. That’s because the round Aristocrat or ‘turret’ lug is a George Way design, dating back over 50 years.

By the early ’50s Way was employed by the Conn Corporation, who had merged Leedy and Ludwig. Around 1954, Conn sold off its drum business and Way managed to lease the former Leedy manufacturing plant at Elkhart, Indiana. From 1957 to 1961 he produced small numbers of his own line of quality drums.

Vintage drum gear: George Way kits
George Way Aristocrat Kit in White Marine Pearl
Way's 'turret' lug may look familiar because its design is still used by DW drums to this day

This first kit belongs to Sheffield be-bopper and collector John Good. He says: “The drums are three-ply with white sealer paint inside, similar to Leedy and Ludwig. The hoops are chrome over brass… the finest ever made in my opinion, but doubtless expensive to produce.

“Way was a brilliant engineer but lacked prowess as a businessman. In 1961 his company was taken over by John Rochon, president of the Camco Drum Accessory Company, who’d been supplying him with hardware - pedals and stands.

“Camco moved production to Oaklawn, Illinois. The drums retained the look, but the winged brass badge with black enamel became the Camco badge with white enamel.”

Camco drums are essentially Way drums. They too are rare, but not so rare as Way drums.

Vintage drum gear: George Way kits
George Way Aristocrat Kit in White Marine Pearl
George Way spent years offering design services to Leedy, Ludwig and Slingerland, and introduced Leedy drums to the UK.

Where did John Good find this one? “I did a deal with a bloke from London about 15 years ago,” John explains.

“He wanted a Gretsch kit and I did a straight swap. A bit of forethought on my part. My ears pricked up because I’d never seen another one… they’re so rare, particularly in White Marine Pearl.

“We did our dealing in the car park of a Cambridge college and we were both happy. The snare drum I found later, in Chicago. It matches beautifully and is in fantastic condition. I had to pay a lot because of the rarity and the colour.”

Vintage drum gear: George Way kits
George Way Aristocrat Kit in Black Diamond Pearl
Circa 1959

This classic kit is a 20x14-inch, 12x8-inch, 16x16-inch, with 14x5½-inch snare drum, exactly 50-years-old and in mouth-wateringly mint condition. Lucky owner, Plymouth drummer Alan Drew, got the kit from America in 2005.

“The shells are all stamped inside ‘3 October 1959’,” says Alan. “They were originally supplied by the George Hamilton Drum Shop in Detroit, Michigan. Apparently the first owner bought them for his son, who never used them.

“A friend in Ohio told me about them coming up for sale. He phoned and said they were in unbelievable condition. When I received the kit, it had the original Waybest small tom ratchet fitting.

“This has knuckle joints that you can add extensions to, but they just push the drum away from the bass drum and don’t really increase the height.

“There was also a Ludwig consolette rail fitting, but no extra holes were drilled because the consolette fitted exactly into the Waybest holes, which are now capped with the original Way bolts. I prefer to use a snare drum stand for the small tom.”

Vintage drum gear: George Way kits
George Way Aristocrat Kit in Black Diamond Pearl
Inside of the snare drum gives indelible proof of the heritage of this kit, showing an original date stamp of October 3, 1959.

The only other change Alan has made is to swap (temporarily) the inlaid Black Pearl hoops for Rogers silver glitter ones.

“The original hoops were designed to be used with calfskin heads and when I tried to fit Evans EQ1s, the bass drum tension rods were rather short,” he says. “The Rogers hoops, being slightly narrower, allow the rods to catch better. I have all the original calf heads except for the bass drum and snare drum batters.”

The matching wood snare drum has a Way Paramount ‘beer tap’ style strainer. “The lever pulls away from the shell and you have to be careful, because it could easily get damaged,” explains Alan.

“The lever was later modified on Camco snares to go side-to-side. The floor tom leg brackets are Leedy designs, I think left-over from the Leedy factory that Way adopted to make his own drums.

“The spurs are the Waybest retractable curved type and all the lugs and rims are solid brass with ‘Triple A’ chroming.”

Vintage drum gear: George Way kits
George Way Aristocrat Kit in Black Diamond Pearl
Calibrated floor tom legs, with Leedy design bracket, superbly-chromed brass rims and Aristocrat lugs.

The shells have the familiar white painted interiors and reinforcing rings, as Alan explains, “The rings on the bass drum are bigger, about 2½-inch deep. The bearing edges are rounded, giving a really warm sound.

“I regularly gig with the kit, but I’m the only one who touches it and I keep it in bullet-proof cases! I play all sorts on it - big band, jazz quartet, rock, a bit of funk and soul.”

Vintage Gear continues each month in Rhythm Magazine.

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