New Project – Late 1970’s Premier “Elite” Drum Kit (#2). Rebuild from parts – Assessing and prepping a set of spare shells

I’ve already begun to put together a basic 22, 16, 14 kit (#1) – using some of the “natural” shells I acquired at the beginning of the year, but after taking my pick from the set – I have a couple left over, around which I could potentially build a second kit (#2). In the meanwhile – I’ve also managed to pick up a few reasonably priced “orphan” drums and drum shells. Depending on my chosen approach – as regards the final finish of this second kit – they may even prove adaptable enough to furnish an expanded, 22, 16, 14, 13, 12 configuration. As usual – their suitability will ultimately depend on the condition of the bare shells. The make-up and eventual chosen finish for the kit will depend heavily on how, (and if), these disparate orphans can come together, both technically and cosmetically.

Late 1970’s early 1980’s Premier “orphan” drums

I’ve already noted that the internal ply of one of the original, “natural” finish tom shells appears to be mahogany – wheras most of the other shells appear to be birch. Whilst there’s supposedly no dramatic effect on the overall sound produced by different woods, (the drum “sound” is actually produced by the heads) – the more “orphans” I find with mahogany plies on the outside – the less likely I’ll be able to match them into another “natural” birch set. I’ll have to consider either staining, painting or re-wrapping “mis-matched” shells instead, to form a visually cohesive “kit”. I may also have to consider limiting my choice of heads to opaque ones only – to ensure that any mis-matched internal plies are also hidden.

Different shell constructions – Different ply orders?

Two of the additional shells I have acquired, still have their original Premier wraps – but the coverings are aged and damaged. In removing them, I may be able to better see, exactly what provides the finish to my “natural” drums. Is it a thin veneer? Or are the natural shells merely stripped back to the bare birch of the drum plies, which has subsequently been varnished? Comparing the two drums in the image above, (the 22″ bass drum is on the left – a wrapped 16″ floor tom on the right) – I can see that they both have 3-ply construction, with the usual beech re-ring on the inside. (The wrap of the floor tom is shown split away from the tom shell with a thin blade to help show where the external ply is). If the “natural” finish of the bass drum is a thin veneer – then it’s very thin. I can see a couple of staples at the overlap – just as Premier place them when they form the bare shells. That tends to suggest to me that the “natural” finish is plain, varnished birch.

However – one thing which supports the idea of an additional, thin external veneer – (on the bass drum particularly) – is an apparent birch/mahogany/mahogany ply order, compared with the more “usual” birch/mahogany/birch of the floor tom. Perhaps there really is a very thin birch veneer on the outside of the bass drum after all? If so – it may be an impossible task to “match” another finish to this existing “natural”? The finish is old, and has probably yellowed over time – especially if the finish was a solvent-based polyurethane varnish.

Additionally – in stripping the wrapped shells to investigate – I realise it’s a “destructive” process. Once removed, the wraps cannot be re-applied. By “investigating”, I realise I’m quite possibly working them round for eventual re-wrapping anyway – but let’s see. Apart from a free education into the various manufacturing processes of Premier in the late 1970’s, there are other considerations too.

So let’s take the shells one at a time – and see what I’m getting myself involved in…

22″ x 14″ Bass Drum – “Natural” Finish (Serial #13461)

Late 1970’s Premier “Elite” Bass Drum Shell – 22″ x 14″ – Natural Finish

As assessed before – this 22″ kick drum is in pretty good condition. The finish is an attractive, honey-toned amber varnish or lacquer – which may once have been clear, and which may have darkened and yellowed with age. I think it’s unlikely to be a stain, since a few spots of bare birch are exposed here and there, where the corners of lugs have chipped away tiny pieces of the finish. There are a few areas where the general colouration has possibly lightened a little. (A bit like fading due to exposure to sunlight – but it’s very subtle). There are also a few visible variations in the sheen of the finish. A few matt streaks where, it’s as if a weak solvent has been allowed to attack the finish briefly. It’s hard to spot – but where it’s picked up, it’s patchy, and it spoils the overall “sheen” of the finish – especially when the light hits it in a certain way. The shell interior has been painted with a thick, chalky, white emulsion paint, which displays clear brushmarks, and which has become dirty and ingrained in places. But this matte emulsion can be quite easily scraped off – leaving a clean, and apparently sealed, birch interior underneath.

Of the two original bass drum shells, this one has the most accidental gouges, chips and scratches to the external finish – but they’re not too noticeable generally, and may be relatively easy to deal with – either by touching-up, or even by drop-filling with cyanoacrylate. However – even if they turn out to be permanent and “un-disguiseable” – the very worst of the damage will be physically covered by the main tom mount. (Of course – if the shell is to be re-covered – all this is of lesser importance, and any noticeable gouges or other damage can easily be filled and smoothed as necessary, under a wrap).

Otherwise – the bearing edges look good, and appear consistent. The two beech hoops which have been set aside with this shell are “serviceable”, although they’ll need a fair bit of work if they’re to match the condition of the bass shell. If the shells end up getting wrapped – I’ll have to source a suitable replacement pair of painted hoops, which will each require a shallow groove to accept a thin strip of my chosen wrap.

Late 1970’s Premier “Elite” Bass Drum Shell – 22″ x 14″ – Removing the interior paint job

As has been shown before – the hand-painted, white “emulsion” paint job on the inside of the shell, can be painstakingly scraped away to reveal a smooth, sealed birch finish underneath. When carrying this out on the previous shell – I didn’t come across any disfiguring damage or staining – so fingers crossed here too. It’s a time-consuming job, slowly scraping the paint by hand, and so this will be gradually undertaken over a few sessions in the workshop.

14″ x 8″ Rack Tom – “Natural” Finish (Serial #Blank)

60’s/70’s(?) Premier “Elite” Rack Tom Shell – 14″ x 8″ – With apparent maple veneer, in poor condition

This shell appears to be a real “odd one out” in the original set, and it’s the one which is in the worst overall condition. Although the colour and tone of the finish initially appear to match the “natural” finish of the others, quite well – it’s obvious that the surface wood grain is completely different. This is much straighter and more pronounced – and it runs vertically, rather than swirling round the shell. At a few places around the edges, and midway in-between, the veneer has de-laminated, swollen and “blown”, leaving behind pockets of crusty and powdery dried glue between the veneer and the shell.

60’s/70’s(?) Premier “Elite” Rack Tom Shell – 14″ x 8″ – Mahogany construction

Looking closer at an exposed area of the inside surface, (presumably hidden from the white paint by a mount bracket), and by also checking the ply construction at the bearing edges, it’s pretty clear that this is a mahogany shell – not birch like the others. It appears that the applied veneer must have been added and stained at some point – probably to visually match the mahogany shell with the rest of the “natural” birch set. Taking a look at the Premier badge, (which is an older, pre-number version of the usual 70’s format), it looks like it’s been removed at some point. (It may not even be the original badge). This all points towards a likely re-finish – perhaps of a 60’s or early 70’s drum. Checking the diameter against an old 14″ head – this doesn’t appear to be an odd “pre-international” size, and so this sets the earliest likely date to approximately 1968. The 14″ x 8″ form isn’t a common combination, but I can find examples in old Premier catalogues up until the late 70’s. This “#444” drum corresponds to the dimensions of Keith Moon’s favoured “Tuna Can” Premier toms, three of which formed the first row of his usual setup.

60’s/70’s(?) Premier “Elite” Rack Tom Shell – 14″ x 8″ – Removing the wood veneer

It’s an interesting novelty, but one thing is clear. If this shell is to have another life – it’ll have to lose that veneer. There’s no way I’ll be able to repair it well enough to get heads to seat properly again. Looks like the next thing for this shell, will be to peel the knackered veneer away, and see what’s underneath.

The grommet on the badge is badly anchored to the shell, and it just pushes out with a firm shove from inside, using a tapered centre punch. I may be able to use the badge again – (although it is in pretty bad condition, and I might ultimately be able to source a better version as a replacement). I can get a prying knife under quite a few sections of the veneer, around the rims – but it’s so much easier if I warm the surface of the veneer with a hot air gun first. This softens the adhesive enough to be able to unwind, and peel the veneer off relatively easily. The glue is grabby stuff, however, and a lot of it remains on the surface of the drum – where it immediately re-hardens.

60’s/70’s(?) Premier “Elite” Rack Tom Shell – 14″ x 8″ – Veneer removed, but is the shell still useable?

It doesn’t take long to strip the whole drum of the veneer – but the glue leaves a mess on the outside surface, (which by it’s colour is now confirmed to be mahogany). There are also some additional signs of previous repairs to the shell, (made with smoothed red filler) – so this drum has obviously had a full and interesting life. It’ll take a good amount of sanding to clean up and level the surface again, and I’ll obviously have to scrape out the inside emulsion too, as with the other drums. If I’m honest – looking at the state of the bearing edges, I’m not sure if this particular patient will make it – but I’ll reserve judgement for the time being, and press on with the other shells. It may be possible to get this drum into a “playable but unfinished” state, reasonably quickly – and then do a basic check to see how it will play and sound with new heads on. I’m just not sure, at the moment, if it’s going to be worth the all extra effort, to fully refurbish it. Out of all the shells I originally scored – this, (along with the wrecked “2000” snare shell), was one I had reservations about. On the one hand – it’s a rare and interesting size, but on the other… it’s going to take some serious work. Now, if a different, 14″ birch tom shell were to come this way?…

16″ x 15″ Floor Tom – “Polychromatic Silver” Finish (Serial #6140)

1970’s Premier “Elite” Floor Tom Shell – 16″ x 15″ – With original “Polychromatic Silver” wrap

This floor tom shell appears to be a good match for the other “natural” floor tom shell, which has now found a home on Kit #1. Even the serial number on the Premier badge is close in sequence. The original, “Polychromatic Silver” Premier wrap has done a good job of protecting the wooden shell – but it’s looking a little dirty and tired now, and I have no other drums in a similar finish to match it with. If I end up re-covering the bass drum shell – it should be straightforward to match this floor tom with the same covering. Alternatively – I may be able to experiment with some clear polyurethane varnishes, and see if I can match the finished birch with the mellowed finish of kit #1. If the match doesn’t work – I’ll still be able to re-wrap the drum regardless.

Premier “provenance”

The original badge grommet is still well seated – so rather than pry away at it, and potentially damage the shell and the badge, I opt to drill the grommet out from the back, with a countersink bit. Once the securing flange is worn through and separated – the rest of the grommet can be pushed through with no collateral damage to the surrounding wood. The inside of the shell is quite clean, and I can easily spot the original stamp by the inner seam. Just how this number relates to a particular period of construction, or to the serial number on the badge – no-one appears to know these days – but it’s all potentially interesting “provenance” for vintage drum enthusiasts, and well worth preserving – however the shell eventually “evolves”.

1970’s Premier “Elite” Floor Tom Shell – 16″ x 15″ – Original wrap removed

The original Premier wrap is easily removed, with a little bit of help from the heat gun. The wrap appears to have only been secured at either end, and at the overlap – so once the glue here has been softened – the wrap easily strips away. However – I discover that “Polychromatic Silver” actually appears to be a colour painted to the inside of a sort of clear, celluloid wrap covering. Unfortunately, even the softened glue is much stronger than the applied silver colouring – and two brushed areas are left attached to the bare birch of the stripped drum. That will need cleaning off – but otherwise, the shell appears to be in excellent condition.

1970’s Premier “Elite” Floor Tom Shell – 16″ x 15″ – Cleaning up the inside of the shell

The only real signs of age on the shell, are small, discoloured areas under where the lug washers once sat. Here, the sealer has become discoloured with rust from the washers, but the staining hasn’t penetrated the wood, and it’s easily scraped away – similar to the white paint on other shells. Once the surface has been cleaned up – the whole interior can be regularised and given a more even finish, by rubbing over lightly with a piece of 240 grit paper. This removes the previous sheen of the original (polyurethane?) sealer – but doesn’t entirely expose the bare wood. A light application of Renaissance Wax to the prepared inner will be of benefit here, before any re-wrapping and re-assembly.

12″ x 8″ Rack Tom – “Black” Finish (No Serial Badge)

Premier (APK?) Rack Tom Shell – 12″ x 8″ – With original Black wrap

A small, 12″ x 8″ tom like this would have been an integral part of many a “basic” vintage kit, and if the mahogany “Tuna Can” 14″ x 8″ doesn’t make the cut – this tom may well be a suitable alternative for a basic setup. However – although it’s clearly a Premier shell, and the inside stamp is “comparable” with others seen previously – this is clearly not originally from an “Elite” kit. (Perhaps, instead, from an “APK” kit of similar vintage?) The mounting holes for the lugs certainly don’t match the usual standard for “Elite” pattern drums. Instead of a single, centrally located mounting hole per lug – the ones here are paired, and set towards the top edge. This example clearly started life as a “concert tom” – with only a top batter head, and with no lug fixings for any lower, resonant head.

That said – although the drum hasn’t had the protection offered by a hoop – the bottom bearing edge isn’t that worn, and it may still be possible to fill and re-cut the lower bearing edge to suit top and bottom, “Elite”-type, lug fittings, and to add a reso head. With a pair of cast hoops, the right lug boxes and a new wrap to match the rest of the kit – this may convert easily enough. If I’m careful with the re-filling of the existing mounting holes, and with a fresh wrap on the shell – I might even be able to hide the work from all but the most inquisitive viewer.

Premier (APK?) Rack Tom Shell – 12″ x 8″ – Showing shell plies

Checking the shell construction – it’s remarkably similar to the other birch shells – with a 3-ply birch/mahogany/birch sequence, and vintage section, beech reinforcement rings. The original wrap is a plain, black plastic – and may even have been glossy at one time. However – it’s now tired and extremely chipped and scratched up – especially on one panel – where it looks like it’s probably rubbed up against the hardware of another drum. Once stripped of its’ wrap – it will be interesting to see how well the bare birch exterior, matches that of the stripped 16″ Floor Tom…

Premier (APK?) Rack Tom Shell – 12″ x 8″ – Removing the original wrap

There’s no original badge this time – so for any re-build, I’ll have to source a period replacement which reflects, at least the style, (if not the number), of those on the rest of the shells. With no badge to remove beforehand – a heat gun and knife help to pry up the strip of adhesive which anchors the wrap at the overlap. The heat easily distorts the plastic, (and I’m pretty sure that too much heat will just as easily cause it to combust). It smells pretty bad too – so I’d recommend a mask and good ventilation at all times when heating plastic wraps – and don’t apply too much heat in one place at a time, and risk the piece overheating). Once the glue at the overlap is softened, the stuck-down end pries up, and the wrap peels off easily enough.

Premier (APK?) Rack Tom Shell – 12″ x 8″ – Bare shell with original wrap removed

Left with a basic birch shell – this may actually prove to be the ideal candidate to test any polyurethane varnish, for potential matching with the “natural” birch kit (#1). It has a much smaller surface area than the larger floor tom, and by the time the existing lug holes have been filled and smoothed over – a thin extra layer of varnish might even help the durability of the filling material. Inside the tom, the same repairs will remain visible – so it will be good to try and use a filler which closely matches the natural colour of the birch, and to keep any applications neat and tidy. It may be possible to use some birch sanding residue, mixed with wood glue, to make a properly matched filler.

13″ x 9″ Rack Tom – “Vintage White Pearl” Finish (Serial #13801)

“Orphan” Premier Rack Tom Shell – 13″ x 9″ – “Vintage” White Pearl Finish

I’ve now, potentially, got a developing row of toms here – already with a 10″, 12″, and 14″, and also a 16″ on the floor. (Oh, for an 18″ to complete the set!) But, then, separately – another “bargain orphan” opportunity recently cropped up – and with it, a chance to perhaps add a 13″ option to the growing “batterie“. (Although the prospect of a kit based around a 12″ x 8″ and 14″ x 8″ pair of toms doesn’t necessarily seem to warrant the addition of this deeper 13” one – it may offer an alternative should either of the other, “more involved” restorations not come off quite the way I was expecting).

Although it already comes with it’s “Elite-style” lugs, and also a serial number on the badge, which corresponds closely to both of the bass drums – this 13″ x 9″ tom, has a few differences to the other toms shells, and will require a little modification and repair.

Premier Rack Tom Shell – 13″ x 9″ – Showing original hardware

Firstly – I’ll need to swap those triple flange hoops for Premier, “Beer Barrel”, die-cast alternatives. Then, I need to take a look at those lugs. They actually look a bit shorter than I’d expect, and almost look like snare lugs. As they are – they’ll require longer tension rods. The existing wrap, (showing clean and white under the hoops), is now heavily yellowed over at least half of its’ circumference, and there are a few signs of “snare rash” here and there. The main thing to notice, is that the shell is mahogany – so a re-wrap is almost certainly on the cards whatever way I eventually decide to finish this #2 kit. But at least a re-wrap will help hide the repair required to the shell – where the mount will have to be changed for the usual “Lokfast” option, typically found on “Elite” kits.

Premier Rack Tom Shell – 13″ x 9″

The style of the Premier badge matches those on the rest of the shells, and it’s in great condition. However – I’ll have to carefully remove it first, before I can get to the wrap. That means drilling the grommet out from the back once again, with a countersunk bit.

Premier Rack Tom Hardware

Once the hardware has been removed – I can check the parts numbers on those lugs. There are actually six #2-20 lugs – as opposed to the eight #440-20 lugs which were, apparently, originally used on both of the “natural” 14″ toms. I can understand the use of six lugs rather than eight on a smaller drum – but the #440-20 lugs would probably still work well on this 9″ deep tom. These #2-20’s do look surprisingly short.

I’m minded to try this (rebuilt) 13″ with a set of reclaimed #440-20 lugs first, and then perhaps re-use these shorter #2-20’s on the re-fit of the 10″ x 8″ tom, (which will also require six lugs). I’ll check later on the actual lengths of tension rods required for each variant, and see if that further influences things. For the kit as a whole, I’ll try and find options which tend to keep the number of different lengths of tension rod required, to a minimum overall.

Premier Rack Tom Shell – 13″ x 9″ – Removing the wrap

With all of the hardware removed – I can remove the existing wrap. The adhesive softens, as usual, with the heat gun. However – the “adhesive” turns out to be double-sided sticky tape, and the wrap seems to be plain white, and smooth on the reverse. I was expecting something of a semi-translucent celluloid – but then again – I’ve not actually seen an actual Premier pearl wrap before. That said – the method of applying the sticky tape in two radial bands all around the circumference of the drum is not a technique I’ve seen on Premier drums of this, or any other vintage. As I peel the wrap off – the yellowed areas fracture in a blizzard of shards. This almost looks like yellowed clear coat applied over a white plastic covering. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m actually removing someone else’s re-wrap job? Perhaps this has additionally been given a bit of the “ageing” treatment, as part of a previous refurbishment?

Premier Rack Tom Shell – 13″ x 9″ – Bare (mahogany) shell

Underneath the wrap – it’s an unremarkable mahogany shell, but in good general condition. The lower, reso bearing edge will need a little bit of attention, but otherwise, the shell should clean up nicely. The existing mount holes need to be plugged and blended in, with new holes drilled for a “Lokfast” fitting – dependant on how the tom eventually needs to be mounted with others. For now – a general clean up is all that’s required, and this particular tom will take it’s place next to all of the other “things to do”. Meanwhile, for the rest of this second kit – I’ll concentrate on the birch shells first, while I check on refinishing possibilities, and perhaps, research some wrap options too.

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