Renovated, Late 1970’s Premier “Elite” Drum Kit – “Natural” Finish. Stands, cymbals and setting up…

Whilst I’ve been refurbishing the drum shells – I’ve been on the lookout for some 1970’s Premier cymbal stands, and other hardware, to match with, and complete the kit on it’s first setup. Premier “Lokfast” stands of the period are well-built, and are still perfectly serviceable – especially for a practice kit like this. The chrome may be a bit knocked about here and there, but most of the bits I’ve sourced will have already had a busy life. Despite all that – chrome can be cleaned, joints oiled, and worn-out parts replaced. After a little bit of TLC – there’s loads of life left, and the stands have a stylish look which complements the chrome hardware on the individual drums. There’s something slightly “Deco” about the design – but it still looks clean and unfussy. The “leaf” shaped, height adjustment levers are attractive, unusual and surprisingly effective. The squarer shaped wingnut is a standard “Lokfast” form, and echoes the nuts used on late 70’s Premier “Elite” tom post mounts and the ubiquitous #392-35 mount blocks. I particularly like the oval stand sections, which complement the tom mount post on the bass drum. The bases are solid and elegant, and even the feet are sculpted – with the oval profile rotating 90 degrees along the length. Simple – yet stylish and effective. There’s even something of quality in the way that the stacked sections are capped with an angled piece, and how the sections get thinner, higher up the stand. The thing stretches and reaches upwards, without ever looking over-complicated or over-engineered. It has something about it which reminds me, in equal parts, of high rise buildings and Streamline trailers. And with the snare stand… I can’t help but be reminded of the Starship Enterprise too.

Premier “Lokfast” Snare Stand – New basket sleeve protectors required

I’ve managed to get hold of a snare stand in great working condition. A little bit of pitting in the chrome here and there – but the vast majority of the plating cleans up well, and looks as good as new. There’s no troublesome corrosion anywhere, and no obvious flaking of the chrome. All the “bits” are there – and functional. The only thing that’s missing are the sleeve protectors on the basket arms. Unfortunately, NOS replacements prove impossible to find these days. The modern-day equivalents are usually chunky, moulded bits of black plastic which slot onto flatter, (cheaper/easier to produce?) arms. With the late 70’s Lokfast snare stand – the arms are pre-bent into a supportive position. As they are deployed from their folded, storage positions – the two, lower arms rotate around so that they’re ideally placed in relation to the static arm at “twelve o’clock”. With the tilt mechanism slightly pivoted toward the player – the folding arms stay where they are thanks to gravity alone – until the basket is tightened up around the snare drum, and they lock into place. Tightening the basket is achieved by turning a separate wing nut on the tilt mechanism. This moves the static arm upwards – tightening the circle scribed by the three arms, until it’s reduced in diameter enough to gently clamp around the bottom hoop of the snare drum.

All works just as it should in this case – but it’s still, perhaps, just a little bit too risky to drop a favourite snare drum in there without a little bit of “padding” on the ends of the basket arms. All it takes on a vintage basket like this – is a little sleeve of plastic or rubber – sized to slip over the bent ends of each arm. It’s what the original would have had, but they’ve presumably perished over time and have been discarded. It’s not much to ask – but no-one seems to make replacements for many old pieces of kit like this, these days. Ludwig once did – presumably for some of their sought-after, (and pricey!), vintage gear – but the only Ludwig examples I can find anywhere, are a few remaining NOS items in a small guitar shop in the USA. Unfortunately – the owner doesn’t want to ship a few bits of PVC, which each sell for less than a dollar, and with all of the hassles of International post – and who can blame him? Mike Ellis at Blenheim Drums would, no doubt, normally have something suitable in stock – but unfortunately, BD seems to be “closed until further notice”. (I hope all’s well. Mike is something of a drum fettling inspiration and also appears to be the sole remaining UK source of many hard to find, original, vintage Premier parts).

So – with “official” products and parts off the menu – I’ll have to “improvise”…

It makes sense to use something like shrink tubing. The bent ends of the basket arms are a quite simple, serpentine shape, and something like shrink tubing should be able to cope with the curves without wrinkling too much. However – normal shrink tube is quite thin, and the actual size of the arms is too big for most of the sizes that are regularly available. A thicker-walled type – made to seal telecommunications electronics underground – provides more “padding” after shrinking, and this type additionally comes with a meltable glue inside the sleeve. This particular bit of “overkill” will hold things firmly in place, and should prove more than enough to prevent the finished sleeves from accidentally slipping off.

The tubing is 20mm in diameter before it’s heated, and shrinks to about 33% of it’s original size. After measuring the metal arms – I reckon that should just about allow sufficient shrinkage to conform to the shape, without leaving any “baggy” excess, which might cause wrinkling. The glue is a bonus, but it does mean I have to work carefully – to avoid having to remove a bodged job. I cut a longer sleeve than is required and work, with a heat gun – outwards along each basket arm. This allows me to control where the sleeves “start” on each arm, and also leaves slight crimps around the finished ends. Wrinkles are ironed-out by using a piece of dowel to “roll” the curves out towards the ends whilst the tubing is still pliable, and the glue remains hot. Excess is then carefully cut off the sleeves, at the end of each arm, with a sharp knife – once the plastic has cooled, and whilst it’s still a little bit soft.

Premier “Lokfast” Snare Stand – With new, improvised, basket sleeve protectors

The resulting protective sleeves prevent direct metal to metal contact between the snare basket and the reso hoop, and they should also do the job of protecting the sides of the snare drum from any accidental contact too.

Heads tensioned “taught” are measured with a DrumDial

Before I begin to set the kit up, (or, rather, as I’m doing it), I need to tension the heads properly so that the kit sounds “cohesive”, and begins to somewhat resemble the vintage 70’s kit that’s playing in my head. I’ve previously set the heads to “tight”, and put the drums aside for a while. With guitar strings – it always helps to “stretch out” the strings first. I just figure it might be the same with drum heads – although it’s just a personal thing, and may actually have no real effect whatsoever. Of course – with little experience in drum “tuning” – I’ve got no real idea if my idea of “tight” is actually “tighter” or “looser” than anyone elses’. Looking for a suitable benchmark – I recently got old of a second-hand DrumDial to try and “quantify” my tensioning approach. The first thing I do is check what value I actually set the heads to initially. A reading of 100 is akin to a marble slab. I’ve taken mine up to about 87. The helpful manual which comes with the Dial suggests a tension more around the 75 mark. I’ll have to re-tension all of the heads accordingly, and as I do so – I’ll be able to begin to hear one against the other, as I build the kit up, and “balance” all of the drums accordingly.

Starting with the 14″ rack tom – I slacken the heads off completely, and then re-centre and re-seat the batter head, and adjust the bolts to equal “finger tightness” all around. The dial allows a quick check to confirm the tension is set even across the head – although I don’t get too obsessed with the exactitude of the dials’ read-outs. It’s there as a guide. readings can depend on the precise placement of the device in relation to each tension bolt – but it’s also equally important to assess how the adjustment of each bolt affects the tension of the head at all other points across the surface. Adjustment at one bolt often requires tiny compensating adjustments elsewhere, and the DrumDial helps work out where the main lines of tension, across and around the head, run. (Consequently, I’ve pretty much ditched the use of the positioning clip, and now just “eyeball” the placement of the DrumDial – using the dial to give a visual confirmation of how equally I’ve managed to stretch the head, using tried and tested “manual” means). Ultimately – I try to tension the heads “by ear”, as much as I possibly can. The dial is there to double check on my efforts, and to help me “read” the head as it’s stretched out.

By working evenly around and across the head, and by checking the tension of the head at each bolt position by “sounding” with a mallet – I gradually manage to ease the head towards, what is probably an “average” sort of tension (according to the DD leaflet). For the batter heads – I’m looking for something around the 75 to 78 mark, and I eventually get the 14″ tom batter head to even out at about 76, all around.

Heads re-tensioned

I’m going to practice, with this kit fitted out with some dampening practice pads – so I’m not too worried about “tuning” the reso heads exactly to the batters. However – now that I’ve got a “value” for the batter on the tom, I can turn the drum over and get the reso head evenly tensioned, and at just about the same tuning as the batter. The DrumDial is used, again, to keep a check on things as the tension is raised. When I’m in the region where I’m getting the same readings for the reso, as I was getting with the batter – I rely more on my ears and on small, equal adjustments to the tension rods, to fine-tune the bottom head. When I play the drum – there’s a little bit of a “ring”, but I can live with it. It sounds like a typical Premier tom. Besides – this isn’t Abbey Road or Wembley. I could probably iron out the ring entirely by upping the tension on the reso a little, or perhaps by tweaking the built-in dampener – but using a dampening practice pad will do much the same job anyway. Once the drum is “muted” – there will be hardly any, “ring” left – if any at all. I’m really just tensioning the heads here to produce a reasonably pitched “thud” under the additional muffling. “Average” settings all round, seems to make the most sense.

Once the tom is tensioned to my liking – the floor tom gets the same treatment. Once again, I manage to get the batter to a tension indicated as around about 76 on the batter side – and the same again for the reso.

Dampening the bass drum with traditional felt strips

Unlike all of the other drums in the kit – the bass drum does not have a built-in dampening device. I’ve already noticed that the sound of the bass drum tends to be quite “boomy” under it’s present (high) tensioning, and although I’ll be muting the drum for practice – I’d like to at least try and “tame” the sound so that it doesn’t reverberate for quite as long, and blur with the sounds of the other, individual, pieces of kit. Earlier drummers might have used a bolt-on dampener, which works much the same as the usual built-in type – differing only with the size of the pads, and the fact that it literally bolts onto the outside of the bass drum tensioning hoop. However – another “traditional” method, is to use strips of felt – laid so that they’re trapped against the vibrating head. These stifle the vibration of the head, and gently muffle any reverberation. Since I’m re-tensioning the heads anyway – I may as well take the opportunity to install a couple of strips here. It’s probably only really necessary to dampen the reverberating head – but, again – since I’ll be muffling the whole thing anyway with a practice pad, I may as well take the opportunity to dampen both heads now. If I ever get to “free-up” the drums without the practice pads – I can easily remove the one from the batter side, if required.

Dampening the bass drum with traditional felt strips

I’ve got hold of a couple of pre-cut, white felt strips – specifically produced for the job. There are two strips in the pack – each long enough, if cut economically, to fit a 22″ bass drum like this, and still have a large enough off-cut left over to, perhaps, experiment with the muffling of an errant tom reso head. Received wisdom from various online sources says that the effect of the strips will differ, depending on how they’re positioned on the head. I’ve seen pictures of strips like this mounted both vertically and horizontally. Centrally, and out towards the edges. I opt to position mine horizontally, and slightly below centre. No real reasoning behind this – other than it doesn’t interfere with the Premier logo this way – and also, I once saw John Maher of Buzzcocks with a similar strip across the front of his Premier kit in just this position.

The front hoop and reso head are removed from the bass drum, and the felt laid so it remains in close contact with the inside face of the reso, once the head is re-seated and tensioned. The retaining hoop and bolts are reset, and the head tensioned up using the same procedure as before, and with the help of the DrumDial.

Tensioning the bass drum reso head, with a dampening felt strip in place

It might be something to do with the thickness of the felt causing a slight variance on the level of the front bearing edge – but I can’t seem to get the head to an equal tension anywhere under 80 on the dial. Any lower than that, and there are a couple of bolts which remain slack – below even “finger-tightness”. There’s probably some unevenness on the drum bearing edge somewhere. I may have to put that on the “to-do” list. In the meanwhile – to avoid any unwanted rattle from loose, vibrating bolts – I want to ensure that every bolt is at least under some, slight tension – even if it’s only just finger tightness. Consequently – the head is set at the lowest tension where I can get that positive tension on all of the bolts, and where that applied tension is equal, all around the head.

Tensioning the bass drum batter head, with a dampening felt strip in place

Turning the drum over – I can now install a similar felt strip on the batter side, and repeat the tensioning process once again. This time – I manage to get the head to equalize at about 76 on the dial. It would be good to get the two the same – but I’d rather have the “slacker” thump from the looser batter, and the reso is set to 80 where it’ll partially help to control any resonant ringing. If the mutes ever come off – I’ll re-evaluate how the whole kit sounds again, and I may even choose to ditch this dampening strip on the bass batter. For now – the dampened kick provides a sharp, but distinctly less “boomy” thud. Finally, the excess felt is trimmed away behind each hoop, at each side, and the left-over strips stashed away “just in case”.

Fixing grip strips to the batter hoop, for the kick mechanism

While I’ve got the bass drum wrestled to the ground – I take the opportunity to place a couple of grip strips on the faces of the bass batter hoop, where the kick pedal will grip. These are original, Premier-produced strips, which are a sort of self-adhesive abrasive cloth. A bit like really coarse micro-mesh pads. These are positioned between the two bottom tensioning lugs – on the outside and inside faces of the hoop, where they’ll grip the attachment mechanism of the kick pedal.

1960’s Premier “Speedster” kick pedal

I’m using a 1960’s vintage Premier “Speedster” kick pedal on this setup. The Speedster was Premier’s version of Ludwig’s famed and revered, (at the time), “Speed King”. A survivor from the period in time when kick pedals were no-nonsense, minimally engineered and lightweight. A simple linkage, and just a single, adjustable tension spring. Nevertheless – this little fellow works just fine for a beginner like me, and it’s tendency for it to respond quickly and accurately to varying foot pressures will hopefully help me focus on what my right foot is actually doing. The mechanism really doesn’t add much to your actual foot movement – so the pedal responds just as it’s “told” to. Things like this expose your technique – but you can always use that to your advantage and work on your technique, rather than let a pedal “iron things out” for you. This vintage kick has obviously been well looked-after, and has been well cleaned and maintained before I got the chance to purchase it. It replaces a slightly later era, Premier “Model 250” pedal which I also sourced – but which has a bit more age-related wear and tear, and which consequently has a bit of play in the mechanism. The double-sided beater on the 250 is, however, in perhaps slightly better condition than the felt beater from the Speedster – and swapping them over may offer further options as regards the particular character of the “thump” produced. The beaters are interchangeable – although the retaining wing nut needs adjustment to get the beater to hit the right spot on the batter head, and a little dab of thread-locking compound, to stay where it’s set.

The pedal attaches to the bass drum hoop, where I’ve previously installed the grip strips. The pads on the pedal’s adjustable grip clamp are obviously well worn – so a couple of strips of rubber help the metal jaws of the mechanism grip the abrasive strips without leaving indents on the hoop. With the pedal in place – the back hoop of the drum is lifted just off the floor, but the lower side lugs are still in contact. That will probably explain why some of the salvaged lugs I’ve managed to obtain are so scuffed-up.

Setting up the kit for practice

The bass drum is set up in the playing position on an old carpet, where I can use the spiked legs to lift the front of the drum, (and the bottom lugs) clear of the floor, and resist forward motion from the kick. If required, I can source an additional, clip-on spur for the base of the front reso hoop, which will act as another point of contact, and resistance, against forward movement. But as it is – the legs are naturally angled so they point slightly forward and out, and on the carpet – they’re surprisingly effective. Although, in this position, the tension L-rods towards the bottom of the drum are lifted up slightly – they are still quite close to the ground and may potentially foul if they ever need to be tweaked. I figure that’s why so many set-ups seem to replace these bottom two rods with regular, straight rods. Another thing for the “to-do” list, perhaps.

I’ve got about 5′ square to set the kit up in. That’s about a sixth of my total workshop space – so I’ve had to clear out some excess storage, “russian-doll” a few bits and pieces, and lay down at least a token floor covering. As it is – I’ll have to sit with my back in a corner, and squeeze past whenever I need to access one particular part of the work bench. It’s not ideal, but honestly – I’ve seen much smaller spaces, and witnessed more cramped and elaborate access rituals at some of London’s “prestigious” indie clubs. I think the whole band, (with equipment), fitted on a smaller stage than this when we played the Windmill in Brixton…

With the bass drum in position – the tom post is raised from its’ storage position in the mount block on the top of the bass drum, and is locked-off by the two adjustment wing nuts. These are not overly-tightened. (The internal butterfly clip in place, and doing its’ job well). I have a tom post fitted which will accommodate just a single tom, (variants were manufactured for one, two or even three toms) . With just one tom – it’s positioned on the “stage-left” side of the mount, and the L-rod is adjusted so the the tom sits roughly at the correct playing level – with the batter head slightly angled towards the player.

Setting up the kit for practice

The snare drum sits behind the tom and the bass drum – positioned so I can sit with the drum between my legs, with my right foot on the kick pedal, and my left foot on the pedal of the hi-hat stand. I’m using my restored Premier “1026”, with it’s new gut snares. Once muted under a practice pad, the snares – already slightly muted with their reduced treble response – should still sound dry and “crunchy”. The snare stand is the 1970’s “Lokfast” survivor detailed above, and the hi-hat support is from roughly the same era – with an excellent working mechanism. Still responsive and crisp after all these years. When I’m sat at the kit, I want the hi-hat pedal to be positioned roughly 45 degrees anti-clockwise from the kick pedal – so I can sit up straight, and cover both pedals comfortably with the snare between my knees. The snare stand is adjusted to the correct height for my seated position, and then locked off so the head is slightly angled, and it suits my left hand position. Finally – the floor tom is positioned to the “stage-right” of the kit, with the head at roughly the same level as the snare. There’s a bit of further adjustment inevitable – and much seems to be concerned with placing the tripod base of the snare so it doesn’t conflict with other bits of kit. Something which will become even more apparent with the addition of the cymbal stands.

Setting up the kit for practice – adding the cymbals

The hi-hats are fitted to the hi-hat stand, using an original Premier clutch, and a couple of newish felts. I’m using a pair of 15″ Alchemy “Agop Professional” hats. Top cymbal 1217g – bottom 1357g. Faced with wanting to source good quality, but competitively priced cymbals – and after much research on prices and resale values – I decided it would be better to try and get hold of good quality, second-hand cymbals, rather than cheaper, newer alternatives which I might “grow out of” quicker, and then have to sell on. Better quality means I’m looking for alloys with a larger bronze content than most of the “budget” end of the new cymbal market. Individual cymbals which are more likely to be hand-cast, hammered and lathed – rather than turned out by a machine in a cheaper, “brassier” metal. At second hand prices – B20 cymbals like these old Alchemy hats become a realistic possibility, and they sound so much better, and have so much more individual character than some of their modern “brassy”. Of course – this approach means always having to look out for hidden cracks and flea-bites, or “keyholing” at the central spindle hole – but bargains are there to be had – especially if you’re willing to allow fate something of a hand in deciding your exact setup. With the second hand market – you never really know what might turn up at any particular time.

I came across a pair of hi-hats from an older incarnation, of what now has become Alchemy’s A.R.T. range. The newer versions have less bronze in a “specially designed” alloy, wheras the set I have come across date probably from the late 1990’s when Alchemy cymbals were produced in B20 bronze by the sons of Agop Tomurcuk, (ex Zilciler Kollektif Şti, with Mehmet Tamdeğer) – Sarkis and Arman. “Alchemy” seems to be the name of a spin-off series produced by the “Istanbul Zilciler,” set up by the two brothers. Alongside the hi-hats, I’ve also been able to purchase a couple of other B20 alloy cymbals from the same “Istanbul Zilciler” Foundry – but this time from their “Istanbul Agop” range. Both are from the “Traditional” range, individually signed by the maker, and stamped with the usual identification and quality marks. Both probably date from the 1990’s – perhaps into the 2000’s – displaying an older style, screenprinted, “Istanbul” logo and range information, (which is characteristically and authentically worn in places).

Firstly, a 20″ “heavy” ride cymbal, which is described as having a “clean and focused stick response with a loud, clear and relatively dark ping”. This is a seriously heavy, hand-crafted chunk of bronze, and positioning over the kit with the space I have available, means I have to drop it in with the help of a 70’s Premier “Lokfast” boom arm. A straight stand would just get in the way.

A smaller, Istanbul Agop “Traditional” 17″ medium-thin crash cymbal occupies another vintage Premier “Lokfast” stand – this time, a straight stand with a canted head, to help position the crash on the left of the kit – positioned, sort of above the hi-hats and rack tom. The crash is described as having “a classic crash sound and feel, delivering a wide harmonic and dynamic range with rich, warm tones”. Quite how the selection of cymbals will match together – I’ll only find out by playing them. I know the ride is particularly powerful, but I like the complex nature of the sounds made by the traditionally made cymbals, and I hope they’ll be helpful in shaping my learning of how to make them sound as expressive as their potential suggests.

Working out my ideal playing positions

Of course – getting down to actual playing on a kit for the first time is a lot like learning to drive a car, (which is one thing, at age 59 that, inconceivably, I’ve never actually done. Motorbikes, yes – cars, no). Co-ordinating four limbs and all the connecting bendy bits is confusing to begin with – but as I begin a few practice drills and remember how to count time aloud all over again, it’s remarkable how naturally modifications to the setup and organisation of the various playing surfaces suggest themselves. Getting the right posture seems to be key, and if the snare needs lifting a few centimetres, or the floor tom needs moving slightly – it soon becomes apparent. Gradually, I find my movement becoming a little less cramped and self-concious – resulting in the need to make a bit of room for my left elbow, especially. I’m not quite flailing like Animal from the Muppets just yet – but you never know, if the fancy takes me, I might need a bit more room…

All the while – with an element of “care” for my elderly neighbours – I’m trying to take it easy on the volume. (I think they’re probably deaf anyway – but my hearing’s not what it was, so I’m likely to be “limiting” myself at a significantly higher volume than I actually think I’m playing at). Plus – the workshop is a mainly wooden construction, and the only “soundproofing” comes from insulation I dropped into the frame, (All in order to make working in the Winter, a slightly more comfortable experience). It’s a shame not to be able to fully “let go” on the kit, and find out what it’s really capable of – although it’ll presumably sound slightly more acceptable once I learn a few basics. Regardless – there’s plenty of adjustment to my personal setup of the kit still to discover – and it’ll happen naturally as I begin to run through my various drills and practice manuals. There’s a radio in the shed, and I can easily resort to the old trusted method of “playing along to the classics”. But the sooner I can get the drums muted, – the better I’ll be able to relax into it. Although the house is detatched, and I can distance myself further from civilisation by drumming in the separate workshop – I’ll be much less self-concious without the potential prospect of a little voice over the fence… “can I have a little word…”

Time to see if the various “practice pads” and mutes available, really work…

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