Late 1970’s vintage, Premier “Elite” Drum Kits. Sourcing and cleaning some fixtures and fittings

The ” natural” finished, wooden, “Premier “Elite” drum shells had been totally stripped of all of their hardware by the time I got hold of them. In order to get the drums back into a playable condition – I’ll have to source replacements. Now, I’m aware I may just end up buying back all of the old stuff, (which has presumably been stripped off and moved on already) – but I’ve got no other realistic option. The fixtures and fittings I need aren’t in production any more. The market for used, vintage drum fittings is, at the moment, a lot like any second-hand car, or motorcycle, parts market. If you have a vintage kit to sell – you may actually get far more money for it, if you break it down into components, and sell it on for spares. It’s a reality you accept if, like me, your hobby is building project builds from parts. If it were just about obtaining and owning the instruments – then I’m able to buy from a selection of “one owner only” or “lovingly restored” pieces that are out there already. Instead – I get a great deal of pleasure from researching the right parts, hunting them down, and then fitting it all back together. Bringing an old broken down instrument back to life – “getting a tune” out of a forgotten, vintage example has a real sense of accomplishment. It builds a deeper, personal connection. There’s a whole lot of stuff to learn along the way, and a real sense of achievement at the end of it all.

Many of the the parts I need in this case are, already, probably over 50 years old. They therefore have a commercial value built upon rarity, to people like me who need them. Most simply aren’t made any longer, since the instruments they adorn are long out of style. What’s more – any supplies of “new, old stock”, (NOS) fixtures from when Premier closed their Wigston factory, now appear to have dried up. Vanished, along with the machines and processes which originally made them. I recently came across this film from 1985 – not that long after the estimated date of manufacture of my 70’s drum shells. It’s really interesting to see the tools and processes which went to make the very things I’m now trying to restore – and the people who originally made them too. Stranger perhaps, to see the workplace, and some of the working practices of the day. (I can’t help but watch the drum shell plies being manually fed through the heavy, heated rollers, and molten metal being deftly poured into moulds, and wonder just what today’s Health and Safety bods would make of it all).

Vintage drum fixtures in “used” condition. It can mean a number of things…

There’s a particular section of the film which shows the rough casting of some drum lug boxes, and I know that much of the components I’m looking for went through that exact same process – in that same location – before being fitted to a kit, and then manhandled for 50 years through a succession of rehearsal rooms, Church Halls, bedrooms, recording studios, night clubs, and what have you. Naturally – I expect that much of what I’ll unearth on the second-hand market, will display the evidence. When restoring or rebuilding a vintage kit, I want to acknowledge this history and patina – but then I also want to show parts – and especially chrome parts – at the best they can be.

The thing about Premier chrome, is that it was supposed to be done “by the same people who put the chrome on Rolls Royce radiators”. Often referred to as “Diamond” chrome – the finish was a step ahead of some of Premier’s rivals, who often used inferior nickel plating in their mass-production processes. The use of chrome on small details like this, is just another thing which attracts me to the whole Premier “brand” of the 1950’s through 80’s. A historic, UK-based, family owned business, which was capable of producing such quality that, (as well-informed folk-lore would have it), even the prestigious, US based Ludwig company asked Premier to provide the chromed steel bodies for some of their famous Supraphonic 400s. Such quality, that Premier’s advertising used to boast that their drums were “played by all the stars”. The same quality, that Keith Moon famously chose to detonate, live on stage…

But I digress…

…but things always look better with a little chrome cleaner, and a good polish

As I say – there are still, apparently, plenty of used, vintage Premier parts out there – but they’re in widely differing states of condition. Since I’m gradually working on splitting the double bass drum, “Elite” shell kit into two, playable kits, (one a workaday “beater” – the other perhaps refinished in new wraps) – I have the opportunity to grade anything I source into two different lots. I’m calling them the “A” pile, and, (unsurprisingly) – the “B” pile. The “A” pile for components which are still in pretty good condition, (and a lot of the chromed components still polish up really quite well – even after 50 years). “B” pile components, however, will tend to show much more cosmetic wear and damage.

I’ve managed to source, (though they’re hard to find these days), a set of 20 Premier #125-25 bass drum claws – together with a set of #125-24 L-rods. These clearly land in the “B” pile. There’s lots of wear and tear. A few of the rods are bent, and the chrome has been scratched, worn, and even chipped away in places – revealing the (nickel)? base plating layer, and casting metal beneath. However – even “B” grade Premier chrome will still shine up, and the components should still be perfectly able to perform the job they were originally designed to do.

“Instant elbow grease”

After the threaded ends of the rods have had a good soak in WD-40 – everything gets a proper rub over with Autosol liquid chrome cleaner. Then – although mechanical polishing can be a little harsh on thin, soft chrome plating – careful use of a mechanical bench polisher, together with an ultra-fine polishing abrasive, does bring back a little bit of the “fire” that has been lost over time. In some places where the chrome has now completely worn away, a mechanical polisher can even impart a little shine to the underlying metal.

Well-worn Premier L-rods, after polishing

The overall effect is to bring the, rather tired-looking chrome, back to a bit of a shine again, although most of the pitting and heavy wear is still all-to evident, if you look close enough. Mechanical polishing is an approach which might, even still, be a little bit too harsh for some more “sympathetic” type restorations – but for these chrome claws, (some of which are also showing signs of a few fine cracks around the edges of the castings), and for these particular L-rods – after cleaning up, it’s probably the best they’ve looked in 20-odd years. I hope there’s still plenty of life in them yet.

Any bent rods are carefully straightened out with the help of a bench vise, and a couple of wooden “dogs”. The claws – I’ll have to take a punt on, and see if they’re still serviceable despite the evident cracks. At the moment – examples of this particular, 70’s style fixing seem particularly hard to track down. If I can’t get them to work – I might have to look at an alternative, (though less vintage-correct) set of claws instead.

Disassembling and cleaning the tom and leg mounts

The tom, and leg attachment mounts used on the 70’s Premier “Elite” kit, are the ubiquitous #392-35’s. Two of these will act as leg mounts, and need to be fitted to the bass drum – three for the legs on the floor tom. Others will have to be mounted to any toms later added to the set. These attach the toms to a central mount, which in turn slots into a housing fitted to the top of the bass drum. The #392-95 mount is a simple, but surprisingly sturdy and effective bit of kit – but it’s prone to a lot of handling knocks, over time. It was used on Premier kits for such a continuous period of time that examples in good condition are still quite easy to come across. Even the rougher examples seem to work perfectly well though.

Tom and leg mounts after cleaning

Five “B grade” examples are dis-assembled, and then given the treatment. The fixing plates, captive nuts, washers and threaded clamp nuts are all given a good soak in WD-40, before a scrub with an old toothbrush, or some wire wool and Autosol metal polish paste, if required. The main chrome parts clean up reasonably well with Autosol liquid chrome polish – but a little extra mechanical polishing helps brighten them up no end. Once re-assembled – (and these mounts still show a multitude of battle scars) – some of the worst of the damage is now largely lost in the reflection from the chrome. As the components are re-assembled, a little gun oil or lithium grease is applied to the moving parts, as required.

Premier “Elite” Floor Tom, and Bass drum legs

The actual legs for the kit seem to age quite well, and I’m not actually sure if they even undergo quite the same chroming process. A couple of the floor tom legs show a few spots of rust – but the legs polish up nicely after a careful rub over with some Autosol metal cleaner and a bit of 0000 grade wire wool. A quick buff up with a polishing cloth – and the legs are good to go.

Premier, oval post, top mount #392-50

The toms are secured to a post, which in turn fits into a unit which is mounted on top of the bass drum. The mounting units seem to come with either one or two “Lokfast” type wing bolts, and are secured to the bass drum shell via an internal fixing frame, 4 dome headed bolts and a felt gasket. Old, vintage units often display cracks in the casting – but this one seems to have escaped reasonably unscathed. There’s still plenty of wear and pitting to the chrome however – but again – things clean up reasonably well. The nuts and bolts get a good soak in WD-40, and then a scrub with an old toothbrush to clean out the threads. The fixing plate gets a wipe over with a rag, which has a few drops of gun oil soaked into it. Finally, all of the chrome parts are given a clean, and a manual polish with the Autosol liquid.

Premier 392-50 mount – showing replacement “butterfly” clip, in-situ

Before re-assembly and final fitting – the top mount needs to be re-united with a butterfly clip. The clip, missing from the mount as sourced, is supposed to spread the pressure applied by the two post-securing bolts. This design, although it’s meant to fit around a post set into the casting, seems to have a nasty habit of working loose and dropping, (potentially into the bass drum). That’s probably why so many of the surviving oval tom-mounting posts show evidence of the wing nuts being over-tightened – resulting in a rash of dents where the wing bolt tips have dug in. It’s probably also why so many of the vintage mounts display cracks in their castings. Over-tightening of the wing nuts seems to be responsible for most of the damage.

I have a few spare butterfly clips set aside – so drop one in place here. However – the clips I have seem to have the wing “tabs” folded down tight at the sides. I have seen some clips with the folded tabs on the “wings” spread out horizontally. I’m not sure if this is supposed to help retain the clips in place – so I still need to do a little research and, perhaps, a bit of trial and error on re-asssembly.

Vintage Premier 392-50 mount after cleaning and polishing

The current felt gasket is looking a little bit tired now and, whilst it’ll still probably work OK, I have a piece 3mm black felt in the workshop, and I should be able to trace off, and cut out a fresh one from scratch. Once the mount is polished up and re-assembled – despite the visible wear and tear – the unit should still be quite serviceable. I have also managed to source another better, “A” grade condition, single-nut version, to set aside for any subsequent, wrapped kit.

Vintage Premier 125-20 Bass drum lugs

Then, of course, come the drum lugs. The 1970’s bass drum shells each take ten #125-20 fittings. These, each, need a couple of swivel lugs, a pair of insert plates, two attachment screws and a back washer. I’ve managed to source a load of the right pattern, (earlier 60’s lugs have three attachment screws each, and seem to be “carved” a little differently), and I’ve sorted what I have into the usual “A” and “B” piles. These “B” grade fittings are the dirtiest examples, and some show obvious pitting and evidence of scratches and scrapes. Even so – on a bright, sunny day like today – they shine well enough even before cleaning.

I strip out all of the loose components, and drop them in a bath of WD-40. Each lug box also gets a drop of oil down the screw holes at the back. For some reason – and it may be bi-metal corrosion, (where different metals react with each other) – there’s some obvious corrosion to the visible heads of the attachment screws. The lugs themselves are given a clean with liquid chrome cleaner, and the mechanical buffer makes short work of polishing them up. All of the other components, after a good soak in the WD-40, are cleaned off as best as I can with wire wool and/or fine grit paper. They are then given a quick wipe with a very lightly oiled rag.

With all of the parts – once cleaned – I re-bag all of the small parts up in batches, and wrap anything that’s chrome in tissue paper. It’s all too easy to leave fingermarks in the newly-polished chrome, and so I tend to use a pair of cotton gloves. It’s a bit fancy, treating the stuff with clean, white, cotton gloves – but it keeps the parts looking as good as possible – right up until they’re fitted.

I have to prepare a set of lugs for every drum in the kit. These will get exactly the same treatment before they can be fitted – but frankly – having now cleaned up all of the components for 10 lugs, and all of the rest of it – I’m well over chrome cleaning for a while. It’ll be good to start to see how the cleaned components look against the cleaned-up, “natural” wood finish. I can then concentrate on getting the rest of the kit up and running. I’ve got the parts to re-fit the bass drum, and am still sourcing some fittings for the other shells. I’ll aim to build the kit up drum by drum, as it all comes together.

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