1960’s/70’s Premier “Elite” Drum Kit (#2). 3-ply, African mahogany shells* – Changing plans(*), and rescuing a late 60’s, 14″ x 8″, “tuna fish can” tom

I’ve already put together a basic 22, 16, 14 kit (#1) – using most of the “natural” shells I acquired at the beginning of the year, but after taking my pick from the set – I still 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, other, reasonably priced “orphan” drums, and drum shells. The original set of shells featured a single “rogue” mahogany one, but as I’ve acquired other orphans – more mahogany examples have turned up. As the trend continues – I’m beginning to reformulate my initial plans again…

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

The original “rogue” shell had been heavily modified over time – but that wasn’t initially apparent. A maple-looking veneer had been added at some point, but that had split and bubbled-up in places – delaminating from the shell entirely, around long stretches at both edges. The interior of the shell had also been (roughly) painted with a thick layer of gloopy, white emulsion paint, which showed marks and grime from many years use. After I’d stripped the veneer – the shell looked in a sorry state, and I wasn’t originally sure it would warrant any restoration at all. However – the 14″ x 8″ tom is a bit of an unusual rarity in today’s drum setups, and probably worth preserving, if at all possible. This ones’ dimensions and badge – together with the discovery of a filled-in “dagger” mount opening – date this to the late 60’s. Probably 1968 or 1969. Premier introduced the 14″ x 8” tom (sometimes referred to as the ‘tuna fish can’ or the ‘pancake’ tom) in the 1968 catalogue, and they were a mainstay of Keith Moon’s favoured setup – where he’d place a row of three – front and centre. With my “Elite” birch kit setup, I find that the later-dated, but now much more usual, 14″ x 10″ tom sits just slightly too high for my seated playing position. (I’m a 6′ 2″ player, but even if I sit up properly and don’t slouch – it’s easier if I angle the tom towards me). I became curious as to whether the slightly lower pancake 14″, might serve me better, and allow me to position it flatter over the bass drum? Worth pursuing the strip-down further, perhaps then?… but more on that later…

A second (approximately mirrored) 14″ x 8″ tom to pair with the first

As it happens, and somewhat coincidentally – I also recently got the opportunity to pick up a second 14″ x 8″ mahogany shell. Having excavated the rubbery, aged filler from the original dagger mount opening on the first – I was struck by how the second shell almost exactly mirrored it’s layout. (Although I may have to reposition one of the badges slightly). The dampener on the first shell had obviously been moved – so I wonder if the owner of one of the shells had, perhaps, been a “southpaw”, and had opted to hang the tom on the “wrong” side – playing left-handed, rather than going “the full Ringo”, and playing left handed on a right-handed kit?

Having mirrored layouts on the two drums means they could, potentially, sit side-by-side over the bass drum, (giving me two-thirds of Moon’s basic setup), OR – one could always be switched out with a smaller 12″ x 8″, OR – I could incorporate additional, stand-mounted toms, together with the twin 14″ setup, OR – I could just use a single, right-mounted tom in traditional, “stripped-back” style. The more I thought about it – having “left” and “right” handed options for the key 14″ tom, meant that I could think about building-in a level of flexibility to the kit from the onset, and then test it out with different setups, as I “grow” it, and develop myself as a player. The sort of thing I’ve done for ages with guitars. With drums – there’s one eye on flexibility – and another on portability too. If I should eventually get round to gigging one of my kits – I’d ideally want to be able to tailor it to the particular gig, and not necessarily have to cart the whole “Bozzio” around. Most vitally importantly however – a flexible layout would be better able to coordinate the placement of the dampener adjustment knobs, as well as the all-important, original “Premier” badges – (which as everyone knows, should always be placed front-on to the audience, or directly facing any attendant camera operators). You have to get some of these little details just right too.

The second pancake tom has a (replacement?), plain white wrap in place, (which I have yet to remove). But from what I can see of the shell, it’s in just as good a state – if not better – than the first. The bearing edges look to be in good shape, and the inside is pretty clean and relatively unmarked. I have a 13″ x 9″ mahogany orphan shell spare too… perhaps this second “Elite” kit is heading towards becoming an all Mahogany kit? That intrigues me. Most of Premier’s drums in the early 70’s used to be made up in mahogany. Proper African mahogany too. A beautiful, dark, rich hardwood – which is supposed to offer a deeper, bassier resonance than birch – (Birch gradually began to supplant mahogany in Premier’s production lines, through the following decade). Many Premier players will have, for years, unknowingly played with a mix of mahogany and birch shells. For a particular period – it seems Premier would make up kits using “whatever came to hand”. It all looked the same with wraps and opaque drum heads in place, after all. However – there’s something about the “vintage” sound of period drums. A quality of tone which may, arguably, be down to the actual wood used for construction. Since I’ve already restored one kit using most of my original, birch “Elite” shells – perhaps I should be looking to “ring the changes” and base my second kit, (#2), completely around mahogany shells?

…add a mahogany 22″ x 14″ bass shell…

The clincher came with the chance to pick up a clean-looking 22″ x 14″ mahogany bass shell. In an apparently early 70’s configuration – the Premier shell had already been stripped back and sanded to clean mahogany throughout, although it has no surviving marks on the inside, and no serial stamped, Premier badge. It did however come supplied and fitted with some marked, but quite useable, chrome lugs, and a “Lokfast” oval tom mount, which displays the usual stress marks from overtightening without its’ butterfly clip. I have already sourced, and set aside, some “A” grade, better examples, of what I’ll need – but it’s always useful to have a few spares in the workshop… The shell has obviously been used with a cymbal mount of some type attached externally – and that begs the next question… “how to effectively and flexibly bring together different vintage Premier mounting systems, and avoid having to butcher too many vintage shells in the process”… I’ll be working on that one while I prepare the various shells, and will prepare a dedicated post, when I’ve done a bit more research on the various options. I’ll be trying to keep an “authentic-looking” approach, whilst looking to exploit anything I can, to combine fixings from slightly different periods of Premier’s production, and incorporate different shells without too much modification. The 60’s and 70’s were periods of great change in drum technology – and this is reflected in the changing layouts, combinations and sizes of the kits offered. The technology used to mount and break down the kits also evolved with the changing demands of the players, and this particular restoration will probably have top reflect something of that era. A kind of “sympathetic restoration”, if you like – but personalised to an extent, and built to expand with my own playing development.

Whilst I research the hardware options – I’ll also need to source and obtain the wraps I’ll need, to eventually re-cover the kit. Since it’s all a bit of a personal “deep dive” into vintage 60’s and 70’s Premier kit – I’m minded to use a wrap which has a little bit of an authentic, “period” look. At the moment – I’m considering using a “Black Oyster Pearl” type wrap by Walopus. This is a slightly cheaper option than using an “authentic”, (hard to get hold of, and expensive), “Delmar” type wrap – but should still give me the “feel” and durability of proper celluloid, over the more usual, modern, printed plastic options – which seem to increasingly dominate the market these days. A little bit of Ringo in the wrap… a little bit of Moonie with the “tuna can” toms… So far – so Sixties. It also strikes me that 2022 would have been the 100th anniversary year of Premier drum production, if only the Wigston factory had kept going that little bit longer. I’m already upgrading and re-building my “62” Jaguar guitar project as a nod to the Jaguar’s, (and my own), 60th birthday – and so why not add a personal, Premier “Centenary tribute” project to the list of things to do? Of course – progress may blur into next year… Inevitably – plans will change – so things may yet take another turn. But for now, at least, I have a few things to progress, and keep me busy.

Stripping and sanding the first 14″ x 8″ tom

Late 60’s Premier 14″ x 8″ “pancake” tom – What’s underneath the coverings?…

So – my first 14″ x 8″ is in a bit of a state, and really needs a complete strip-down, to clean mahogany, inside and out. The arrival of the already stripped and sanded bass drum confirms my approach – although, in actuality – I’d already embarked on the job before I spotted the 22″ for sale. There was more than enough to clean up with the shell as it was, and at the time – the whole progress of the “second kit” project, depended on the success of this initial clean.

On examination – the bearing edges have a couple of small dints from stick strikes here and there – and these will need filling later. I’ll check the level of the bearing edges too at that point. I don’t really want to have to recut the edges – but I need to make sure they won’t be “out” enough to cause issues. For now – I’ll just be concentrating on getting all of the various “coverings” off cleanly. The veneer has already gone, (with the help of a heat gun). Now, I need to get to grips with the sticky glue residue.

Late 60’s Premier 14″ x 8″ “pancake” tom – Dissolving left-over veneer glue

I don’t know what sort of glue was used to attach the previous veneer, but since it looks like a retro-fit job, (not a Premier factory job) – I’d guess it’s some sort of animal hide wood glue. The sort that bubbles away in the corner of old workshops. Thick and sticky – with all sorts of ancient gummed-up brushes stuck in the pot. The recent warm weather has softened the glue up a bit already, and the surface now noticeably picks up more dust and crud from handling. Just sanding the glue off really isn’t a sensible option. It would only clog the paper, and it would take a lifetime. I could probably heat it up again with a heat gun, and then scrape the glue off – but that would be hugely messy, and I may easily char and discolour the wood. Frankly speaking – I can’t be bothered with all that faff in today’s temperature anyway. The workshop regularly heats up to five degrees over the ambient, and there’s no way I’m using a heat gun in this weeks’ record temperatures… “Where did I put that “Goo-Gone”??”.

A test application shows that the “Goo-Gone” softens the glue when applied liberally and left for a few minutes to do its’ work. At this point – the glue softens to a slimy, “snot-like” consistency. It’s disgusting stuff, and it sticks to literally everything. My approach will have to be careful and methodical. Gloves, apron and protective coverings over the workbench highly recommended…

Late 60’s Premier 14″ x 8″ “pancake” tom – Removing left-over veneer glue

I gradually work around the drum. Applying a good amount of “Goo-Gone” to each panel in turn – I work it in using a paper towel – extending the area of focus from the bearing edge, to just beyond the mid-line, where the lug mounts are located. Once the “Goo-Gone” has had a few minutes to soften the glue – I scrape what I can away from the shell using a Stanley Knife blade, held flat and perpendicular to the surface. The glue comes away in sticky gobs, and the blade needs constant cleaning with – what eventually amounts to – rolls and rolls of paper kitchen towel. It’s more effective to work constantly in the same direction. I’m always working “away” from my starting point – so the job amounts to constantly “pushing away” at the line of a “sticky horizon”. It’s important to work methodically, and to avoid just endlessly re-cycling the same effort.

Removing the glue with a scraper blade actually ends up as a kind of grain filling process. A little glue tends to remain sticky on the surface after each pass with the blade, and so it takes a few goes until each panel begins to “feel” completely clean again. Even then – there’s still some glue remaining in the pores on the surface of the mahogany. After a while, this remaining glue appears to begin to thicken up and solidify again – losing some of it’s “tack” as it does so. Although the surface does begin to feel “dry” again and “no longer sticky” – another application of “Goo-Gone” softens up any residue, and another pass with the scraper blade lifts yet thinner glue – However, the scrapings are now beginning to darken, with some fine, loose particles of mahogany mixing in. The approach seems to lift the glue, fill the grain AND smooth the surface simultaneously – but it’s going to take a few passes at least. For now – I concentrate on working my way around the drum shell, until it’s all in a similar, “cleaner” state. The surface looks much smoother, and appears more like bare wood. Having scraped one “side” of the cylinder, all the way round – I flip the shell, and repeat for the other “half” of the cylinder.

Late 60’s Premier 14″ x 8″ “pancake” tom – Smoothing and cleaning the outside surface

Once most of the glue has been removed from the entire shell, (this takes a few sessions, set over a few days, to achieve) – further applications of the “Goo-Gone” are used in combination with a fresh, clean, scraper blade – to lift as much of any remaining glue as possible. The image above shows the approach – working across the full width of the drum, with the shell suspended over a padded beam. This is repeated until the blade begins to scrape away increasingly drier and drier residue. The blade is now mainly smoothing the outer layer of mahogany, and the only glue remaing is left down in any “low-spots” on the surface. The usual “step” at the overlap is nicely filled-in, and the transition is completely smooth. Filled areas of repair, also previously visible, are also nice and smooth – with filler-to-wood transitions nicely “feathered-in” all over. The surface of the mahogany has been worked at the same time as all of the various fills and repairs – so the whole surface is now much more uniform. Once dry – the shell feels silky smooth with, perhaps, a slight waxy touch. All-in-all – a huge improvement…

Late 60’s Premier 14″ x 8″ “pancake” tom – Cleaning and inspecting the bearing edges

The beech re-rings, and the bearing edges, have all been covered over with the same, “slap-dash” white emulsion paint. This scrapes away easily enough, using a scraper blade. I usually run a Stanley knife blade down a solid piece of angled iron. This “hooks” the very edge of the blade over – like a tiny spoke shave along its’ entire length. This “shave” quickly removes any paint, and also scrapes the surface level, with a very fine tolerance. If you keep the blade flat and perpendicular against the work – it’s actually difficult to gouge, or otherwise damage the surface of the wood underneath. Instead – the blade reveals just another slightly deeper level at each subsequent pass, as you work through, and remove, the coatings and irregularities. This eventually reveals a few more areas where stick strikes have slightly dented the bearing edges. These will require some filling – but for now at least – I can work my way around each edge, and discover just what the paint has been hiding all these years. Once the bearing edges themselves have been carefully scraped clean – the insides of the reinforcement rings are also given the same treatment. This exposes clean, stable, beech wood again, and once I’ve cleaned both rings – I clean and regularise the surface by gently rubbing over with a Mirka Mirlon sanding pad.

Late 60’s Premier 14″ x 8″ “pancake” tom – Cleaning and smoothing the inside of the shell

Finally – I move on to the inner surface of the shell. The paint comes away easily enough – revealing all of the various fills and repairs that have been made, over the shell’s fifty-year lifetime. Holes from an original “dagger”, #389 fixing have been partially filled, with a “Lokfast”, #392 block fitting supplanting it later – using one of the original attachment holes. A second hole has been drilled for the new mount – with another of the originals left unfilled, but hidden from view by the new fitting, (and the veneer over the top). Clearly – the original position of the dampener has also been changed early on – the repair seemingly made with a white filler, dressed-over with another, darker, coloured filler – (presumably intended to visually disguise the repair). At some point – the white paint has obviously been applied to hide all of the “butchery”, and various mis-matched fills. Perhaps even to unify the mahogany shell with it’s previous, birch counterparts.

Late 60’s Premier 14″ x 8″ “pancake” tom – Cleaning and smoothing the inside of the shell

I continue to work my way around the inside of the shell. Most of the paint comes away from the inside surface – but there is a fine haze left trapped in the mahogany grain. This necessitates another sanding – this time with 180 grit paper – working with the grain. After a little work – all but the deepest grain is cleaned or sanded away – leaving clean mahogany, which can finally be scraped once again, to a perfectly smooth finish. Any deep, fine bits of grain where paint remains can be picked and scraped clean with the sharp end of the Stanley knife blade. After a final, gentle sanding with a Mirlon pad to regularise the finish – the mahogany is clean, super-smooth, and feels silky to the touch.

Most of the areas of repair are still solid – although they will obviously still be quite noticeable. At the moment – I’m not sure what kind of mount I’ll be using – so am also not sure how many areas of repair will ultimately remain, and just how dominant they might be, visually speaking. Whilst the majority of the repairs are still solid – the large fill for the “dagger” mount now feels somewhat “rubbery”, and will likely push out without too much effort. This may be down to the action of the “Goo-Gone” – although the filler may just have failed naturally, after all this time. The filled central patch simply pushes out cleanly. I’ll repair this again, if necessary, with a dark two-part filler – sanded level. Although I have also been collecting the mahogany sandings from the final, regularising, sanding and scraping processes. I may be able to mix some of the sawdust with a suitable wood glue, to provide more accurately colour-matched “overlays” to any repairs I eventually need to make – especially to the inside surface.

Late 60’s Premier 14″ x 8″ “pancake” tom – Poorly executed fill requires some repair

One repair that will require eventual attention becomes apparent, as I complete the stripping of the interior paint. A sizeable repair has been effected at some point – using the same white filler – again, with some brown filler spread over the top. Presumably another half-attempt to disguise the damage. This must have been quite a dent – to have propogated through three plies of mahogany! Scraping-back the interior has revealed even more of the underlying, white filler – so on the inside – I file away just the surface of the fill, back to a level below that of the surrounding shell. The end result won’t be visible from the outside with a new wrap in place – so the levelled fill there, is left as-is. However – inside – I’ll attempt a better, colour matched fill layer – using some of the mahogany sandings, and some clear, hard-drying wood glue over the original filler. Hopefully the new material will sand and scrape back level again – and the repair will appear much better matched to the surrounding wood on the inside. If the process works well, I may consider revisiting some of the other, smaller repairs – to provide as “clean” an overall result as I can manage. As it is – I’ll probably have to move the badge on at least one of the “tuna cans”, and so will also have the original hole to fill – together with at least one unused mount hole here, which will no longer be required.

If I should happen to end up with many more repairs on subsequent drum shells, and they don’t repair “invisibly” – I still, of course, have the option to re-paint all of the shell interiors with a flat paint. This seems to have been common on some makes of vintage drums, and original white, or even silver, painted interiors are not uncommon. A flat caesein paint would probably do the job nicely. However – given how good a condition the bass drum is in, and how clean the second pancake tom is – I really would like to try and repair the dodgy fills I’ve discovered so far – rather than just paint over more perfectly good African mahogany. If I can match the shells with hardware in good condition – and together with a brand-new wrap – I’d hope to restore all of the shells to an almost “as-new” – certainly playable condition. Good enough for another 50 years – at least.

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