New Project(s) – 1970’s Premier “2000” Chrome on Aluminium Snare Drum. Restoring a vintage classic from spare parts

Whilst I’ve been working on cleaning up my Premier 1026 Chrome snare, I’ve also been sourcing parts for the restoration of some Premier “Elite” drum shells. With those shells, came a battered and distressed, chrome on aluminium, Premier 2000 snare shell. Just the shell – but with it came the possibility to rescue an overlooked, “classic” vintage snare. The 2000 is recognised in certain circles, as a bit of a closet design classic. Metal body snares aren’t new by any means, and by the Sixties, they had evolved into, pretty much, a standard sort of configuration. But it was a configuration which helped produce the characteristic whack that the early Jazzers and Popsters danced to. Ludwig refined that configuration and created the much admired Supraphonic snare – “the most recorded snare drum in History” – and in doing so, set a benchmark which others quickly followed. Premier in the UK also had a long history of metal snare construction. Like other manufacturers – they saw Ludwig’s direction, and looked to innovate further themselves. But, whilst most of the competition concentrated on copying Ludwig – Premier came up with a whole new concept, which itself went on to became iconic for its’ design and characteristic sound. The following is a excerpt from Nick Hopkin’s 2014 article on the 2000 snare:

The 2000 was both stylish and highly functional for its time, when many other brands were copying Ludwig.  The unique ‘flo-beam’ snare mechanism with a central bar and snare brackets that are detached from the shell, allow full resonance of the drum. Twin, 12 strand snare wires remain at full tension even when ‘thrown off’ preventing bounce back on the resonant head.  The throw lever was, and still is, like nothing else on the market.  Beautiful and sleek from a design perspective, and smooth in its action.

The 2000 snare was available as a 4”, 5.5” and 6.5” shell, with the 5.5” being the most common.  Premier also produced a 14 x 12” concert model.  The aluminium shells are the most common and preferred by players, although with these drums the chrome is prone to flaking off. Most don’t care too much as this doesn’t affect the sound of this drum. This snare drum was famously endorsed by the late Keith Moon.  I’m assuming that the 2000 that Keith moon played was a 60’s brass shell, but I could be wrong. Other earlier players include Clem Burke (Blondie), John Maher (Buzzcocks), Rick Buckler (The Jam), Billy Doherty (The Undertones), although the snare remains hugely popular today.

Premier “2000”, Chrome-on-aluminium snare shell (#3301) – Beyond rescue? or the start of a new restoration?

So, along with the Elite shells – I have a “free” 2000 shell, (clearly recognisable by the rectangular “Flobeam” attachment holes near the bottom bearing edge, and bearing a relatively early(?) #3301 serial number). I think it would be a great learning experience to try and restore the shell to some kind of working order and, by comparing it to my 1026 snare, learn something about how the innovative construction helps produce such a distinctive, “quality” sound, at the same time. Surely – all I need to do, is source some relevant vintage parts, and then get stuck in?…

…or so you’d think. The thing is – the shell is, (technical term) “completely shagged”. Although the 2000’s chrome work was notorious for pitting and corrosion, (apparently something to do with the difficulties of trying to chrome plate on top of aluminium), this example is taking the problem to extremes. Although, from a purely cosmetic point of view, I am intrigued by the idea of a highly distressed shell set against fully functional and polished components – this shell is positively dangerous. Shards of flaking chrome protrude like tiny razor blades, and even careful handling is best done with the added protection of gloves. Potentially even worse problems affect the bearing edges, where a few patches of corrosion have eaten into the metal – resulting in severe pitting, which may ultimately make tuning the drum difficult. These will, most likely, need stabilising and then filling with an epoxy compound, to provide a suitably firm, consistent edge. First, however, I’ll need to try and stabilise the finish on the body.

If this were a better example – I’d avoid doing what I’m about to attempt. Chrome – despite being used as a protective finish – is actually quite a soft finish, and it quickly loses it’s “fire” if abraded – even with ultra-fine abrasives. However, I really need to get rid of some of those lethal, sharp edges and strip back the corrosion to a point where I can better assess the condition of the underlying shell. I opt for an exploratory rub over with a fine, grey Scotchbrite pad, lubricated with some WD-40. If it ruins the finish, then that’s that – but it won’t be the end of the world.

However, before I begin to set about the shell – I need to remove the original Premier badge. It’ll be impossible to work around it without damaging its’ edges, or without leaving directional swirl marks in the finish around it. Premier badges are usually attached via a secure grommet, located in the roundel of the red “P” – a bit like one of those hammer-on eyelets you get for leather work, or tent canvas. The best way to remove the badge without damage to it, or the shell – is to drill out the back of the grommet with a countersink drill bit. This eats away at the hidden, turned-over portion of the grommet – but leaves the front portion intact, so it can be withdrawn without any danger of damaging the badge itself. However, the badge is also usually glued to the shell underneath – so once the grommet has been extracted, a length of fine nylon line is slipped under the edges of the shell, to gently saw away at the small spot of glue, and lift the badge with it’s natural curve around the shell body intact. (Careful though! – It might just come away with some of the chrome plating attached!)

The problem with rubbing back a damaged chrome finish – is that tiny pieces of detatched chrome, together with a slurry of dissolved, (nickel? or aluminium?), corrosion, creates quite an unpredictable and coarse abrasive. No matter how carefully you try and work away at the shiny chrome – the “fire” quickly disappears amidst a sea of swirl marks and general scratches. Whilst the finish still looks relatively shiny in ambient light – any strong directional light clearly displays a mist of scratches in the reflected highlights. The chrome layer is also so thin, that it’s all too easy to completely rub through the finish entirely. The underlying metal polishes up well too – but it doesn’t have the same character as the chrome, and this just continues to add to the “patchiness” of the overall finish.

After a little bit more work – and once most of the loose edges of the flaking chrome have been knocked off – what’s left of the finish does clean up reasonably well, and I do manage to reduce the effect of some of the worst swirl marks. Undeniably however – the character of that famous “Diamond chrome” has been muted.

But – “it is what it is”.

The result isn’t totally unuseable – in fact it has it’s own visual “charm” and character. Although it does, in parts, look like a lunar landscape – none of this will affect the actual sound produced. The shell remains useable, but perhaps only as a “players instrument” – where it’s the sound that counts, and not the look. There’s still a lot to be gained by getting it into a playable condition.

So, as I’ve been working on the shell – I’ve also been sourcing whatever other spare 2000 components I can find. Then – all of a sudden – everything changes. Along with a rare, complete Flowbeam assembly, some half-decent lugs and a couple of die-cast hoops – I also manage to unearth another, completely bare, 2000 shell. A bargain – this time, stripped of everything, including it’s badge. This one, however, is in a slightly better condition.

Premier 2000 snare shells. Cleaned and polished chrome, (left) – “Rubbed-back” (right)

The new shell, although showing a few areas of corrosion, has virtually no damage to the bearing edges. The areas of chrome loss are smaller, and nowhere near as widespread. A couple of stains will completely wipe off with chrome cleaner, and the rest of it should buff up to a classic shine again. Even in an unpolished state – set next to the original shell – you can clearly see the difference in the quality and “fire” of the reflections. The only real downside of this shell, is that someone has obviously had a go at cleaning it up beforehand, and there are a few areas where it looks a little bit over-polished. That, or the chrome plate has been applied a little too thinly over an already uneven substrate. In a few places, there’s a slight texture under the chrome that just shouldn’t be there. However – as it goes – it’s a bit of an improvement on the condition of the original shell. For a while at least – it looks like I have a slightly better option to push on with…

Premier “2000” Snare Drum (Serial #7633)

Then – virtually all at the same time – I happen upon yet another example. But this one is a different prospect entirely. It’s 75% complete. Now – all of a sudden – I have most of the makings for two complete drums – (and I still haven’t necessarily given up on the most, heavily distressed shell either. There may still be options – even for a third).

Missing strainer-end assembly, and minor damage to original reso head

This turns the project completely on it’s head. The new drum, serial numbered #7633 was offered for sale, mainly as “not working” and a “source of spares”. In reality – it’s a pretty good example, only in need of a little repair. The hoops do show a bit of heavy corrosion in places, (but can be cleaned up, or swapped for a better pair I’ve obtained). The lever side assembly on the Flowbeam is completely missing, (but can be replaced), and the batter head and corresponding slotted bolts are also gone, (also replaceable). All that said – the shell and lugs are in great condition for a nearly 50 year old instrument. There’s still the odd flake of chrome missing here and there, but overall – it looks like it just needs a good clean, to restore the chrome to it’s original, “diamond” condition.

Despite the missing batter head, the drum still has it’s original damper fitted, and even the bottom, Premier “Everplay” reso head is still in-situ, (although there’s evidence of a small hole on the rim, which has obviously been subject to a few “running repairs” with green tape). There’s even an original 24 strand Premier snare wire still attached to the butt-end side of the Flowbeam. It looks like someone has probably given up on the job of repairing the drum themselves. (Some of the spares can be rather hard to find). However – somewhat co-incidentally perhaps – I just happen to have already sourced most of what I’ll need…

…but damper and Flowbeam intact… both hoops, with shell and body in good condition for their age

So – the initial aim of the project has now evolved into the restoration of snare #7633 using the best of the various parts I’ve assembled. Having the original Flowbeam in-situ, means I have a hands-on lesson in how to remove and re-fit a whole new assembly. I can select the better set of hoops, clean up the chrome – even choose to retain the original reso head, and try to source a sympathetic, vintage batter. Even after all that – I’ll still have most of what I need to build a second snare, (and perhaps with a few additions – even a third). Although the parts – from a purely cosmetic point of view – may be considered “B-grade” options, if I can track down the few extra components I’ll need, I should still be able to re-build playable drums.

For the additional builds, I could also look at the possibility of dealing with, or perhaps even concealing, the damaged finishes in some way. Perhaps by having a shell bead-blasted – or perhaps even powdercoated? (I think re-chroming might prove too expensive). I’ve seen a few examples where people have used an angle grinder to provide a complete, artificially distressed, “decorative” surface to the shell. Another, less radical experiment, might be to try and “dress” one of the shells with some kind of “wrap”, (similar to the way wooden shells are decorated). This may ultimately affect the “ring” of the actual sound produced, and is a subject of discussion on some online message boards – but it might be interesting to find out exactly how it affects the sound. With enough spares to perhaps try a few options – I can use the best for the restoration job, and then have a bit of fun with the rest. An A/B/(C) comparision of the results, might prove very interesting…

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