Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (2024)

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (1)

Vintage drum kits : 1900s ~ 1930s

Hello friends, Samm Bennett here. I am fascinated by the early drum kits: they were very creative assemblages that generally included Chinese tack head tom toms, wood blocks, China-type cymbals, the "low boys" or "sock cymbals" that preceded the modern hi-hat. And of course the big bass drums and snare drums on their spindly little stands. To me these first American forays
into multi-percussion setups are things of sculptural beauty. I've collected some photos from here and there around ye olde internets...

NOTE: This and all the other galleries here at my website feature images or historical items I find worthy of interest in one way or another, and I hope you will find something(s) here that interest you as well. I spend a great deal of time collecting and compiling these materials, which you are free to enjoy at your leisure. Should you want to support me in these efforts, and/or my musical efforts which you'll find plenty of here at the website, I do hope you'll consider making a donation (however small!) via PayPal to help sustain these activities. The PayPalMe link is HERE. Thanks!

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Here's a wonderful old drawing of a 20s-era drum kit: very accurate and faithful! I believe the two rectangular things at the base of the snare drum are sandpaper blocks. Rubbed together, sandpaper like that makes a fantastic percussion instrument: I love to use it especially in recording. (It's often not really loud enough for most live music applications). Also note the drum spur at the bottom of the bass drum. I've got some just like this: from the 20s or 30s, they have a pointy edge that gets right into a wood floor like a nail! Via a skew arrangement, they clamp onto the wooden rim of the bass drum. I've used mine quite a bit over the years, as I've often put together kits using an marching bass drum that's not equipped with its own built-in spurs. Ingenious, some of these old bits of hardware! And the threads? Not even a hint of becoming stripped out, after almost 100 years! That's back when metal work was METAL WORK, dammit!

Also note the cymbal mounted down low on the bass drum, to the right of the bass drum pedal. More on this later...

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Here are front and back views of a beautiful old kit from 1930 that features a "spider woman" design on the bass drum head. We see the familiar Chinesetack head tom tom, the small double wood block which was also somewhat common in kits of this era, the mysterious bass-drum mounted foot cymbal, a hanging China-type cymbal and a tambourine. And the snare, of course. Note also the bass drum mute and... instruction book!For much more info on this particular item, see the Olympic Drums page for this drum kit

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Another gorgeous old kit from 1929, made by Ludwig and Ludwig. Fabulous drum head painting (that's quite a peak in the distance: like Mt. Fuji on steroids) and what a beautiful finish: it's called "Peaco*ck Pearl". I'd love to see a closeup of that. And doesn't the red of that Chinese tack head tom tom just leap out at you? Fantastic! Looks like some kind of extra-large sleigh bells mounted on a wooden handle there, too, resign inside the tambourine. Interesting! And there's that cymbal mounted on the bass drum, just to the right of the bass drum pedal. Now, how was this played? See notes on the photo directly below!

This kit is from the wonderful Olympic Drums website, and was sold to some lucky drummer and/or collector for the princely sum of $5,250. Wonder if it's ever being played, or instead is sitting in a museum or warehouse somewhere?
More details on this kit at the original Olympic Drums page here.

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This old kit featured a very colorful windmill landscape, one of the relatively rare spring-type cymbal mounts, a woodblock and... a horn!A rather eccentric addition to a drum kit! This kit was being offered for sale at an online auction site.

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A winter scene adorns this very handsome old Ludwig and Ludwig bass drum.

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This is the only photo I've ever seen of bass drum heads being painted. This is obviously a drum factory, but I have no idea which company. There's that windmill, lake and boat scene, very similar to the one that we saw in the contemporary photo just above!
A popular theme, it seems.

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A totally snow covered mountain and lake adorn this old bass drum head.

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Of course, not *all* bass drum head painting jobs were done by professionals at the factory. Here is a custom job featuring a rather racy nude figure! Nice! Many thanks to my friend Diane Wanek for sending this one my way!

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Here's a modern-day photo of an old kit which has almost certainly been put together from distinct parts that weren't originally all together in this form. But whoever put it together has stuck with vintage items: four count 'em FOUR Chinese tom-toms (rather big ones, especially the one on that cool stand that's visible and in the position where we'd find a modern-day floor tom), a set of temple blocks (looking new or restored) a traps table for small percussion and whatnot, and some cymbals, including one China-type.
Note the glowing bass drum: inside is a light bulb, which, aside from making the drum look really cool, served the practical purpose
of keeping the bass drum heads heated, therefore tighter, therefore better sounding.

And on the subject of lights in the old bass drums, here's something of note: with the rig shown in the drawing below, the bass drum pedal acted as a trigger, making the lights blink on and off (in two colors) in time with the beater strikes. Wow!

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Chinese temple blocks and two cymbals adorn this old kit. Rather unusual design for a tom tom mount here.
The black color of the drum is unusual as well.

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This old kit has what appears to be a... 15 inch snare drum? And it's a rather shallow one. Also note the tunable tom, and the nesting set of 3 cowbells mounted on the corner of the traps table.

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You've been a BAD drum kit! Go sit in the corner!

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Judging from the way she's holding those sticks, my guess would be that actress Olive Thomas (read about her scandal-laced career here!) wasn't actually a drummer herself. One thing's for sure, she's sitting on the most comfortable (if not the most portable) drum stool in history.

There are a few interesting points to explore in this oldLibrary of Congressphoto. First, note that this is an old rope-tension bass drum, a marching bass drum. The tuning system on old drums of the type was ingenious: you se where the rope splits off on the top two segments, forming the shape of the letter Y. At that point, there is a fan-shaped leather sleeve that the rope is passing through. This sleeve can be slid along the length of the rope, to tighten or lessen the tension, thus raising or lowering the pitch of the drum. Note that the third segment down, below the two Ys, the sleeve is all the way down. This might be intentional, or not. Generally speaking, it is probably best to keep an even tension all around the drum, but with drums like this it can also be handy to quickly adjust the pitch by bringing just one or two of these sleeves down. I do this from time to time with my bombo drum (from Peru), which has this kind of rope-tension tuning arrangement.

Now, one more point of interest, and that's where this photo sheds some direct light on a certain obscure technology that was in use on drum sets of this era: take a close look at the bass drum pedal. Specifically, at the metal rod running from the pedal to the beater ball. There you'll see a little curved piece of metal, about a third of the way down the rod from the beater. This would strike the little cymbal that you see mounted onto the bass drum just to the right of the bass drum pedal. Ingenious! The drummer could get two sounds with one stroke of the foot. But, thinking a little further, you could imagine that the drummer could get four sounds. How so? It al depends on whether the drummer's foot strike is a quick rebound (which makes the bass drum and the cymbal resonate and ring, respectively) or whether his strike "stays put" on the drum and cymbal, which results in a more muted tone from the bass drum and a choked (more like a closed hi-hat) sound from the cymbal. I'm also thinking that perhaps that little bit of curved metal could be swiveled in or out of playing position, so that the cymbal wouldn't sound at all if the drummer didn't want it to.

Finally, let's note the various percussion items included on this kit: there's a hanging China-type cymbal and two (or is that three?) cowbells plus a woodblock mounted atop the bass drum. Then there's a triangle hanging in front of the bass drum head to the left side, and, attached to the right side is a percussion item whose design has remained virtually unchanged through the decades: it's a ratchet, played by cranking a small handle. Thy are really loud! The ratchet is affixed to the bass drum rim by means of a screw attachment.

Note also the gong stand beside the wall. But... no gong! Perhaps it was being used as an hors d'oeuvres platter in a party in the next room...

Now let's take a closer look at that bass drum pedal attachment we talked about justabove...

The image to the right is taken from a Ludwig drum company catalog, and clearly shows the design of that curious little beater that could strike the strategically mounted cymbal at the same time as the bass drum hit.

I plan to rig up some kind of version of this and attach a cymbal to the bass drum like they used to, or maybe a pie plate, a cowbell, some piece of scrap metal... could be fun!

Just belowis a patent illustration for the WFL bass drum pedal, showing two different views. Here again we see the little attachment for striking the cymbal attached to the bass drum. And check out the period shoe! I notice this happened to have been patented on my birthday. Hmm...

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Below: Bass drum pedal, with cymbal beater attached.

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The photo below shows the cymbal beater with cymbal attached to the bass drum. The foot pedal is missing.

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And here we see how the cymbal was mounted to the bas drum rim...

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And just for good measure, below are two complete views of that old bass drum...

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Above we see a mounting apparatus for attaching the cymbal to the bass drum hoop.

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Here's a handsome old Ludwig pedal. Love that old Ludwig logo, very charming. Thanks to Doug Wygal for this photo.

Take a look at this early bass drum pedal from the Nokes and Nicolai company of Boston. Interesting design, eh?
I haven't been able to find any period photographs of a bass drum with this very early type of bass drum beater in use, but below is an illustration from the same period, showing a very similar pedal design, being played by an elephant, of course. Note also the wooden wedge-shaped blocks being used to keep the bass drum stable. I have seen at least one old photo showing such an arrangement. It might be here on this page, actually, but I can't remember just now, as I definitely do not have *elephant's memory*.
And by the way, this image is borrowed from my Musical Animals vintage illustration gallery here at the website.

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Now, here's an old postcard photo I came across, with, again, a somewhat rare side-view of a drummer at his kit. Aside from being a good representation of what an extreme (by today's standards) drummers often kept their snare drums tilted at, two other things interest me about this. One is... hey! Lean back in your chair while you play! Why not? Haha! And the other is this: it's pure speculation on my part, but, you see this gent's left foot? The tip of his shoe seems to rest on the bass drum head. Might he (and, well, other drummers of the time) have been muting and unmuting the bass drum head with his left foot, achieving a varied sound result in the process? Interesting possibility, no?

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Ludwig drum kit, 1918 - note the hand tunable (with wing-screws) lugs on the snare drum, and hanging China cymbal

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An "Oriental" scene is pictured on the bass drum of this Ludwig and Ludwig kit!
And on the reverse view we see a double bass drum muffler and mounted cymbal

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Here's a handsome old Ludwig and Ludwig kits from the 1920s, on offer from the folks at Olympic Drums

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Speaking of Ludwig and Ludwig, here are some old badges.

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This fellow in the photo above was NOT messing around! He has three, count 'em THREE small Chinese tack head drums mounted on that big bass drum, PLUS a very large oneto his right where the drummers of today generally keep the floor tom. He's got a mute arrangement rigged up on that drum to dampen the resonance a bit, too. Smart! Note also, two China-type cymbals (each with "sizzle" rivets, and each broken!) plus another cymbal and a hi-hat. Now, the hi-hat here (as opposed to a "low boy" would suggest that this picture was taken at a time when the drummer *should've* moved on to standard tom toms, but he was either too broke to upgrade or he liked the old school kit. Either way, this anonymous drummer (his name seems lost to history, sadly) looks like he's cooking on that kit!

By the way, concerning the Chinese tack head tom toms, it should be noted that they virtually always featured painting on the drum heads, virtually always a dragon or phoenix. I have a few of these old gems myself, and in addition to sounding great, the paintings on the heads are wonderful. You can view a big collection of them at my Chinese Tack Head Tom Toms page.

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This gal is just having a heckuva fine time. Perhaps she was an early exponent of the four mallet technique for marimba? Well, as concerns her drum kit, the ship silhouette on the bass drum head is a nice one, and that's some collection of Chinese tom toms she's got. Set of wood blocks (both Chinese and "western" type) and a hi-hat (up high, that is) which, along with the wrap-around hardware over the bass drum probably places this kit somewhere in the mid-1930s?

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Well, now! In terms of sheer amount of tom toms, this 20s-era drummer was the Neil Peart of his day! This custom-made single mount for SIX Chinese tack head tom toms (!) and one very large Chinese tom tom is most unusual. Also emerging from that rack are three cowbells, two cymbals (one of which the drummer can be seen choking with his left hand) a gong and a large bell. Adventurous!
Like many of the drummer photos included on this page, this one is cropped from a larger band photo, which I've also added to my
Early Jazz and Jug Bands page. Here is the source.

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As someone who has spent a great part of his life tinkering around with multiple-percussion setups of various kinds, this old photo really warms my heart. Whoever put this together was all about extended percussive sound possibilities! What a setup! Shows that some folks were experimenting and getting creative with it from the very beginning. Aside from the familiar items we've seen so far, this kit sported a ratchet, triangle bike horns, a big hanging bell, tambourine, a couple of tuned mallet percussion instruments (probably one metal, like a glockenspiel, the other wood?) a couple of small gongs, and… a bunch of alarm bells mounted? Wow! And that's gotta be the biggest China cymbal I've seen from this era.

NOTE: I've been contacted by a nice gentleman who saw the photo above here on this page. Here is a screenshot of the note he sent:

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How about THAT, eh? His great aunt Emily! Wonderful!

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Came across this amazing old photograph being offered for sale on eBay. Early-to-mid-1920s-to-mid-1930s, I'd say. This proud percussionist has the standard trap set of the day, with all the typical accoutrements, such as the little cymbal mounted in front of the bass drum head (the early bass drum pedals featured a little extra metal beater that would strike the cymbal along with the bass drum), plus the standard Chinese tom, woodblock, China-type cymbal hanging from the top, etc. He's also got a couple of mallet instruments and two snare drums. But...
What's REALLY interesting is the very large set of angklungs to his left! This guy was really adventurous! He had quite possibly been to Java and procured them there. This percussionist owning (and presumably using) these instruments was, especially for this era, very, very unique.

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Ludwig & Ludwig Co's proudly displayed wares at the 1922 Chicago Pageant of Progress! Yup, that's what I call progress!

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That placid lake, surrounded by evergreens on the bass drum head: just wanna dive in, don'tcha?On this old kit we find the ubiquitous Chinese tack head tom tom, three Chinese temple blocks, one China-type and one regular cymbal, a cowbell and a trap table mounted on thebass drum. Also the bass drum mounted cymbal, playable with the little metal arm attached to the bass drum beater rod. Might that be a hi-hat stand there on the right? Looks like it. Although in the back view shot on the right side above, that stand is gone. Oh well. A handsome drum set, from 1924 (although the snare is much older), and it looks quite at home there, somehow, onthe Oriental carpet. More info on this kit at the photo source.

Wow, here's a relic! Take a look at that kick pedal! Note the snare, which is not on its own stand but rather attached to the bass drum! Now, that couldn't have been terribly stable. That snare drum, by the way, is very old. Only five tuning lugs, and hand-cranked ones at that. Also note that it has wooden rims and calfskin heads. Old, baby, old.

There's a T-arm mounted on the bass drum (clamped to the rim) doing triple duty, holding a small hanging cymbal, triangle and woodblock. Also a tambourine is mounted on the bass drum.

Oddly, the bass drum-mounted cymbal to the right has its own dedicated pedal, which means the drummer would've had to take his right foot OFF the bass drum pedal in order to sound the foot cymbal. Not a particularly elegant idea. I'd imagine that a right-handed drummer would've mounted this cymbal and pedal on the left side of the bass drum. Well, at any rate, at a certain point the whole 'foot cymbal on the bass drum' went the way of the dodo. People started coming up with alternative ideas like, oh... the snowshoe! Read on...

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Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (47)

Above is the same Ludwig snowshoe as the one I own, one that Olympic Drum company had on offer at their store. It went for $550 dollars more than I paid for mine! Check it out!

At right is a snowshoe that has made by the Premier drum company of England. Note the handy latch, like one you'd find on an old screen door. This was to keep it closed for transporting.

The "Snowshoe"

Here we see the very first invention for playing two cymbals with the foot. I am fortunate enough to own one of these rare old items, which I foundat a New York City flea market going for the grand sum of TEN DOLLARS!. Thisarchaic device was the predecessor of the "low boy", and was called "the snowshoe" or "sock cymbal". The one I own was made by the Ludwig drum company in Chicago: the original cymbals were stamped with a Ludwig logo.

Directly below is a photo of mine (those aren't the original cymbals, though: I use the snowshoe quite often and prefer the sound of these smaller ones) The photo can be viewed in larger format here at Flickr.

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Left: A 1934 promo shot of an English dance band drummer. There's the good ol' Chinese tack head tom, trap table (upon which rests a pair of big, bulbous maracas), three Chinese temple blocks and two cymbals. And, wait... what's that peeking out from behind the bass drum, on the floor? Yep, he's using a snowshoe! This is one of the only drummer or drum kit pictures I've seen that actually includes the snowshoe! If you missed the snowshoe info and photos just above, scroll back up!

Otherwise, it's curious how he has his snare situated to his
right, which is standard for left-handed drummers, but keeps
his snowshoe on the left, as a right handed drummer would do. Looks like he had his own unique way of setting up his kit, and
if it worked for him and the band, hey, that's the way to go!

One other point of interest here. To his left, note that he has a kind of closed hi-hat arrangement: two small cymbals together Looks to be mounted off the bass drum. In this way he could have gotten the characteristic "chik" sound of a closed hi-hat, and still have another "chik" plus open sound from the snowshoe. This guy was thinking!

Photo source here.

Right: And there it is again, friends, the fabulous snowshoe! This is clearly not the Ludwig one we've seen above. Wonder who the maker was?

But it's part of an elaborate kit that includes a some of the usual suspects like Chinese tack head tom toms, triangle, cowbell, woodblock, China-type cymbal, bass drum mounted cymbal (with dedicated pedal), and Chinese temple block (hanging off the T-arm, hmm...) but also features some decidedly vintage-looking timbales, and a large Chinese tack head tom tom.

This kit was put together by Roy C. Knapp, who had an illustrious career as a performer and teacher in the Chicago area. His better-known students included Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, George Wettling, Baby Dodds, Sid Catlett, and Louie Bellson. Knapp’s performing career spanned 1910 to 1961. In addition to performing in theaters, television, and with the Minneapolis Symphony, Knapp spent much of his career performing on WLS radio in Chicago, where he played on this ‘trap’ set that is now in the Percussive Arts Society Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana. More here.

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Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (52)

Hey, here's another "spider woman" bass drum motif! This kit includes a cowbell, two Chinese temple blocks, one double wood block and two cymbals, one with the hanging mount, on its own stand, and snare drum. Note also the "traps" table-top mounted on the right-hand kit. This was a relatively common feature, and made it easy for the drummer to grab different sticks or brushes quickly, as need be. Probably used as a resting place for other small percussion instruments as well, if the drummer went in for extended percussion usage.

Last but not least, we see a "low boy", to give thatlonely left foot something to do! Much more on the low boy now...

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Above is a Ludwig low boy from the 30s. More info on this item at the original Olympic Drums page here.

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Here is a unique design for a low boy! From the 1930s. I'd like
to include this photograph here as an introduction to the very wonderful website Hide Hitters. The particular photo above is from their vast, very inclusive Crazy Pedals page.
Their site as a whole is highly recommended for anyone interested in vintage drums. I'm definitely stopping by their
shop next time I'm in Amsterdam!

The "Low Boy"

After the "Snowshoe", the "Low Boy" was invented. As can be seen, it is essentially similar to the modern hi-hat, except it was... a lot lower.

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A top view showing the deep bell cymbal that was so characteristic of low boys as well as the early hi-hats.
Photo source.

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Here's an image from an old catalog showing how the low boy could fold up for easy portability.

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Gretsch Low Boy, ca. 1920

'Now, here's an interesting old creation of yesteryear, and related to the Snowshoe and Low Boy inventions we've looked at above: two patent drawings of a hand-held device for clapping cymbals together! Guess it never really caught on, but... it's interesting. And if you scroll down just a wee bit further, to the photos of drummer Chick Webb on this page, you'll see that he is, in one of the photos, holding what appears to be this or a very similar device in his left hand!

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Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (59)

OK, then, back to some drums...

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A reader of this page kindly sent me this image of an old bass drum now residing in Vancouver, Canada.The rather stark scene of a little cabin in snow-covered surroundings with barren trees is somewhat unusual, I think!

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Love the custom, black cat motif and Art Nouveau lettering on the bass drum of this handsome old kit. The Low Boy is there, along with a lovely old snare with hand tunable lugs along the bottom rim. Can't say as I've seen too many triangles hanging on old kits shown in photos that are from the 20s and 30s: this might've been the restorer's idea.

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Another snow-covered mountain and placid lake adorns the 28 inch bass drum in this 1920s Ludwig and Ludwig kit.
And check out the low boy: kinda different. Found this on offer from the folks at Vintage Drum Center.

By now it's clear that one of the most endearing and wonderful features of so many old drum kits of the 20s was the hand painting of the bass drum heads. I'd like to direct your attention here to a nice video from drummer Jim Messina, where he discusses the drum heads and talks about the lights and heating elements that were often put into the bass drums for aesthetic reasons and to keep the calfskin heads tighter in humid weather conditions. In the video he shows us some of the hand painted bass drums from his personal collection: view itHERE.

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This snazzy, bow tie-sporting percussionist's bass drum features a native American
in full headress. First and only such design I have ever seen. Note the small
Chinesetom-tom on his right, and the larger one, partially obscured by the Hickville
penant, on his left.

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Ol' Victor here was styling for sure, with TWO tympani, xylophone, tubular bells and a big gong thrown into the mix. With his snare at that angle and height it's difficult to imagine how he could've done much with that Chinese tack head tom tom, though! That's a stretch!

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You'll note that many of the early drummers kept their snare drums at some pretty steep angles. The fellow above kept his snare drum positioned at one of the sharpest inclines I've seen! This was a h holdover from parade and marching drum positions. As the years went on, though, and the drum set itself took center stage (with less and less relation to marching drum traditions) the snare drum got more and more level.

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Here are two early pictures of the Great Chick Webb (from the same photo session), before he modernized his kit: we see a set of Chinese temple blocks, two hanging cymbals, plus the bass drum-mounted traps table. The hi-hat had been invented by this time, though: no low boy! Note his caricature on the bass head: with that gesture maybe Chick was the first drummer to really say "hey, I'm a STAR back here on these drums!"

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Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (68)

Above: the great Baby Dodds, a seminal figure in the history of American drumming. His kit features a Chinese tom tom and cowbell.

Perhaps this bass drum head was the inspiration for John Fogerty's line from Creedence Clearwater Revival's tune
Green River :"barefoot girls dancing in the moonlight..."

Or maybe not. At any rate, it's got four Chinese temple blocks (painted white and gold as opposed to the more standard red),
a cowbell, a traps table and two cymbals. This arrangement is quite similar to the one we see on the early Chick Webb promo shots directly above.

This drum kit is one of many in the extensive collection of an English drummer and vintage drum collector named Sir Alan Buckley. Here is his website.

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We've seen quite a few pictures so far in this collection of old drum kits that include a "trap table", but this shot shows very clearly, from the drummer's perspective, what these setups were like. On this table top, then, a drummer could keep a variety of sticks, brushes and mallets available for quick and easy access, as well as some small percussion items like sandpaper blocks, "slapstick", etc. This particular set is from the Olympic Drums website: read more about it here.

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We've seen a lot of these Chinese temple blocks lined up on top of these old bass drums. Let's take a closer look at one. On the left-hand photo (top view of the block) you can see the wing nut, washer and felt used to mount the block onto a threaded metal rod.The side view shows how the lacquer eventually falls off!

Here's a contemporary photo of an old drum kit clearly showing two clamp-on cymbal holders, a trap table and a set of white, black and gold-painted temple blocks. The early hi-hat (not low-boy) would place this kit from the 1930s, I suppose. Note also the bass drum mute on the front head.

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Here's a handsome kit represented in a Slingerland catalog from 1930. Chinese temple blocks, traps table, Chinese tom-tom, bass drum-mounted foot cymbal, and a double mute attachment for the bass drum. One thing really catches my interest here, though, because it's something I've done for years with the various drum kits I've cobbled together, and that's the double cymbla mounted to the left. Now, I could be mistaken, but that sure does look like two cymbals, one on top of the other, for a "closed hi-hat" sound. Looks like the bottom cymbal is a China-type (same "bell" shape at the center as you see on the China-type cymbal on the right side). So...I kinda thought this type of closed-hat arrangement, using a couple of small cymbals tightly joined together on a stand was, well, my original idea. But noooooo! Someone at Slingerland thought of it in 1930. Nothing new under the sun, as they say.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (75)

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (76)

Look at that fabulous painting on this 20s-era Ludwig bass drum! A winter scene, but surely this old drum warmed plenty of revelers
on the dance floor back in the day! This too is from the fabulous Olympic Drums: details on this drum at their page here.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (77)

Those tall, curved cymbal stands certainly added visual flair, didn't they? And having everything on wheels, man, that's really pretty cool! Just wheel it onstage, then wheel it off when it's time for the
trained dog act to come on!

Note the early hi hat, with those deep cup cymbals. This kit features four Chinese temple blocks, and that biggest one is quite big indeed. Also has a cowbell.

(The originalsourcefor this photo happens to be a good, informative page on the history of the drum kit.)

Now, when I first saw this photo, I didn't have a clue as to what this drummer might be doing with his left foot. What IS that pedal? It would appear to have a cable of some sort coming out of it, but leading to where, exactly, and for what purpose? Well... I found out... it would've been something like the unlikely little contraption explained on these pages from an old Ludwig catalog:

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (78)

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (79)

Like, wow, eh? Some of this old drum kit technology just knocks me out! What an idea!

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (80)

Chinese tom tom, triangle, bass drum-mounted foot cymbal, ratchet, woodblocks, hanging China cymbal, plus tambourine and castanets, for that flamenco flavor! But... needs more cowbell! The original of this image, by the way, from an old drum catalog, can
be found just a little bit further down on this page. But someone at this drum page at Facebook took it and did a wonderful job of
adding some color, so I've featured it here.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (81)

Here's a very colorful (some might say garish) old Leedy kit from the 20s, featuring two cowbells, Chinese tack head tom tom, set of four Chinese temple blocks (on their own stand, not bass drum mounted as was more usual), two cymbals, snare, hi-hat and tambourine. And how 'bout that moonlit windmill scene, eh? A little Dutch touch...Like so many other beautiful old kits here in this collection, this one is from the wonderful Olympic Drums website.The original page (with lots of interesting info on the kit) ishere.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (82)

Here's a handsome (albeit stripped down) drum kit (love the musical notes/bandleader motif on the bass drum head), described as follows by the folks atOlympic Drums:

"Very rare collectible trap set with Gold sparkle Covering. Made by Leedy, as all Wurlitzer drums of the era were, but labeled Wurlizer on the snare drum. The original Gold sparkle covering has no fade or marks and is in excellent condition."
Year:Late 1920’s early 1930’s

This kit sold for $1400.Olympic Drums website

Let's look now at some more illustrations from old drum catalogs...

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (83)

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (84)

Above: Love that red diamond-on black design, very sharp!
Left: Note the crank ratchet mounted on the bass drum. Remember the lovely lady on the couch above? She had one!

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (85)

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (86)

We saw a photo above of someone playing a wheeled kit rather like the ones shown in this pictures above.But what I find really interesting abut these particular, very similar kits is the mix of old and new. The left image is from a Slingerland catalog of 1936, and here we were right on the cusp of big changes in drum kits: we see the familiar old Chinese tack head tom-tom, set of Chinese temple blocks, hanging cymbal, woodblock, trap table and that bass drum-mounted foot cymbal, but there on the right, like they've arrived from some other dimension, are two BIG and, importantly, tunable toms that are virtually identical to the floor toms you'd find in a standard drum kit today. They were attached to a pole and could be swiveled into the drummer's preferred positions.

These kits then, represent that relatively brief moment when the old and the new coexisted, but it wouldn't be long before all the old stuff was swept away and the drum kit became the more streamlined and focused collection of instruments that have remained the essential elements of the drum set to this day: bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat, tom-toms and cymbals.

Now, folks, once I give you the source for these catalog pictures I've included above, and you visit that page and explore that whole site, you will have entered, well, vintage drum HEAVEN. No way this little page of mine can compete with the amazing collection you will find once you go to Cooper's Vintage Drums. I'm just happy to introduce anyone to it who didn't know them before. It's an amazing site, so full of detailed information about the history of the drum kit and SO many great images, you'll be in awe!

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Hey! One of those wheelie kits! Nice looking big Chinese gong, too, although I think I'd prefer that he'd centered it properly in the ring holder... This (as well as the photo to its right) is one of those pictures that remind one of just how BIG these old bass drums were! Note also the low boy.

I've seen this picture here and there on the web, and I've seen at least one person suggest that the photo print is reversed. Could be, or... this fellow was left handed. Perhaps we'll never know for sure.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (88)

A nice clean kit here: the basic bass drum and snare, plus Chinese tom-tom, cowbell, woodblock and cymbal. One big innovation here, though: Instead of a snowshoe, low boy or hi-hat, this guy had... a trombone player.

By the way, this is drummer Tony Sbarbaro (aka Spargo) of the famous "Original Dixieland Jass Band". They first recorded in 1917. Some interesting insights into Spargo's (and other early drummers) drumming (with some snippets of audio examples) from jazz scholar Dr. Lewis Porter can be found here.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (89)

This patriotic drummer has a US flag emblazoned on the bass drum head, and his kit features the Chinese tom tom, wood block and hanging cymbal. Interesting base he has for the bass drum, too, first time I've seen something like that. Homemade, perhaps.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (90)

Well, what have we here? This very shallow bass drum, I love it! Looks very old, and I'll bet it sounds fantastic! That spring cymbal mount is a very interesting item as well: I've only seen it in one or two other old photographs (one of which is directly below). They've attached a little washboard to it, seems like a good idea. Plus a woodblock. Then you've got a ratchet, but not exactly like the others (much more common ones) that we've seen previously. I guess you'd have to twirl the body of this one around to get the ratchet sound, as opposed to cranking a handle. Interesting! This photo shows very well, also, the attachable bass drum spurs that I mentioned way up above. I've got an old pair like this, and they've come in very handy over the years. Photo source.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (91)

This obviously proud and happy drummer's kit sports a set of temple blocks, and his bass drum is positioned with those little screw-on spurs. Note also the bass drum muffler, to deaden that boomy resonance. Many drummers found mufflers on the bass drums to be a necessity: some positioned theirs on the front head, some on the player's side.via

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (92)

Above: This jolly and snazzy fellow has a Chinese tom-tom, woodblock, China-type cymbal on a spring mount and another hanging cymbal, and in his right hand is holding a slapstick. The signed photo is dated 1926.

Speaking of which, below and at right are some old slapsticks. The one at right was sold by none other than the Ludwig drum company. The genre of slapstick comedy originally got its name, of course, from the slapstick.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (93)

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (94)

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (95)

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (96)

The drummer in this swinging little combo also positioned his bass drum muffler on the front head. He had a Chinese tom tom, a woodblock and a new-fangled, "up high" hi-hat as well. via

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (97)

So yes, here again we see that unusual cymbal mount: a big spring, clamped to the bass drum rim. This drummer is using it for a China cymbal, which he's mounted "upside down". Now, interestingly, that way of positioning China-type cymbals has become the norm in modern times. What's old is new again!

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (98)

I'm told that this is none other than a young Jo Jones, many years before he became known as Papa Jo Jones. At any rate, he is clearly ready to SWING! Now, you'll note his China cymbal, mounted on the bass drum, is not "upside down" like the fellow to the left. That may well be why he's got not one, not two but THREE holes along the sides. China type cymbals were actually designed originally to be hand held and played as a pair, so that the edges wouldn't actually be struck from that direction. So our man on the left, from the George E. Lee Singing Novelty Orchestra, had the right idea. By the way, these two images (and several others here at the Vintage Drum Kits page) are cropped from photos featuring full bands. You can find the uncropped photos here at my Early Jazz and Jug Bands page

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Above: this New Orleans drummer's kit boasts a rather large Chinese tom tom, which he's mounted on its own stand. Rather unusual for the time/ Nice hula girl on the bass drum!

Right: this fellow's bare bones kit sports only a hanging China-type cymbal and the bass drum-mouned cymbal. No frills!

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Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (101)

This lady is sitting behind a drum kit sporting a set of five Chinese temple blocks. Note that the drums are covered
with cloth. The neighbors often prefer it that way.

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Judging from this young man's clothes, I'd guess that this photo is from the 1940s, but the drum kit is pretty old school. One thing you'll note from this picture and from so many other photos in this gallery is the sharp upward angle the snare drum was positioned at. This was a holdover from marching drums, parade drums. Little by little, though, the snare drum was angled more and more "flat". These days it's very, very rare to find a drummer who would tilt the snare drum in this way.

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The photo above was kindly sent to me from Marc Rosenberg, whose grandfather is the drummer pictured here in this 1920s promo shot of the Northland Dance Band of Schenectady, NY. By now we've firmly established that the Chinese tack head tom tom was the standard *extra* drum in use in virtually all kits of this era, but this fellow's kit sports a cute little tunable drum instead. First one like it I've seen! The entire band can be seen in the un-cropped version of this photo, at my Early Jazz and Jug Bands page.

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Dancing girl silhouette adorns this old bass drum. Photo from
the Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University, New Orleans

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (105)

Gotta love those notes someone penned on the photo! Looks like a bit of an amateur job on that bass drum head painting. Two hanging cymbals, a woodblock and a Chinese tom tom round out this kit. Wonder if there's a snare drum back there? I've got a feeling this guy isn't actually a drummer, though, by the way he's holding that stick! Note also the unusual string instrument at the right. Perhaps a 1-stringer, with a bow sitting beside. The megaphone was for the singer, most likely.

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Hey, some drummers like to sit really high, don't they? This fellow had a little back rest on his drum stool, too. Posh.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (107)

It's not often at all that we find a side view picture of a drummer at the kit. It's a little hard to tell what's going on with that bass drum pedal. Maybe he has two pedals there? Anyway, it's cool how he's got that little cymbal mounted on the bass drum to his right. Note that he has a hi-hat. This is from 1937. Traps table and Chinese temple blocks still in use, though.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (108)

Here's a dapper fellow, a drummer named Buddy Mawson, posed infront of his drum kit with an old microphone atop his snare drum. Note the relatively large Chinese tom tom and the spring-type cymbal mount. And the spats!

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This dapper fellow playing an outdoor gig had one of those cool spring mounts for his china cymbal, plus woodblocks, a couple of cowbells and a ratchet. And... a large glockenspiel! Styling, for sure. From Pennsylvania, 1920s.

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Here we have none other than
drumlegendBuddy Rich, seen
here as a child (obviously).
Waaaaay before he went and
got sodarned steamed up
and cussed out his band on
his tour bus.

The little tyke's kit includes
Chinesetack head tom tom,
hangingChina-type cymbal
and double woodblock, and
of course bass drum and snare.
What more does percussion
prodigyneed? And heck, that
bass drum could've doubled as
hisbedroom! Those sticks are
longerthan his torso!

It's a pretty cute picture.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (111)

Bandleader, vocalist and drummer Carleton Coon of Kansas City: purveyor of *aristocratic* jazz! He has a relatively deep Chinese tom mounted on the bass drum, and what appears to be a suspended drum of some sort (probably Chinese as well) on that unusual stand. Interesting!via

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This drummer from Jack Howard's Midnight Follies Orchestra, aside from looking freakishly small in this photo, had a rather
thin Chinese tom tom!

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (113)

This kit looks a bit pieced together fromhereand there, perhaps. Its got three, count 'em three Chinese tack head
tom toms, two Chinese temple blocks andtwo cymbals.
The cymbal on the left is yourold school deep cup cymbal,
the one in thecenter looks suspiciously new! (Actually it's impossible to tell...) Note thebass drum mute.Photosource.

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Here's a big ol' bass drum that's gotten a bit misshapen!
Perhaps this kind of warping was an early inspiration for
the wacky Trixon drums! But pictured here behind the hanging China-type cymbal, Chinese tom tom and cowbells is the great and influential (he taught Baby Dodds, among others) New Orleans drummer Louis Cottrel, Senior, aka "Old Man" Cottrell.
Here's a nice article with more info on Cottrell.

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This drummer from a 30s-era jazz band has the Chinese tom, hanging cymbal and what looks to be cowbell and woodblock. I'd say he moved that snare drum over to his left so that the camera could catch it. Either that, or my man had a looong reach! Again, the entire band photo (uncropped) may be viewed at myEarly Jazz and Jug Bands Photo Gallery.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (116)

Circus drummer? Well, he's got all the gear: hanging cymbals, Chinese tom tom, bass drum-mounted cymbal, etc.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (117)

Here's a man after my own heart. Mr. Louis Mitchell, in a shot from 1919 (wow!) is seen surrounded by a very creative multi-percussion kit of his own devising which includes an overhead row of cowbells and a shovel! Fantastic!

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Ah yes, the ladies love a drummin' man! via

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (119)

Rag-A-Jazz, eh? Um… OK. Mallet in one hand,
stick in the other. A wild and crazy guy!

This German drummer from the 1920s, a member of "The Piccadilly Four", was kind enough to turn his kit around for the photographer, so we could know exactly what he's playing! As with many of the cropped drummer photos on this page, the full band photo from which this was taken can be seen at my
Early Jazz and Jug Bands page.

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Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (121)

Once again it'sdrummer Tony Sbarbaro (aka Spargo) of
the famous "Original Dixieland Jass Band", but this time
he's brought along his monkey friend... via

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (122)

This young drummer had a lovely river gracing his bass drum head, plus hanging Chinese cymbal and Chinese tom tom.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (123)

Here's a drummer from an Australian band, whose kit sports two Chinese tom toms and a fabulous silhouette style painting on the bass drum. View the whole band at the photosource (Flickr).

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (124)

Mr. Gilmore wanted to be SURE you knew who was behind the drums. But as for that"Not wonderful, but good", may I respectfully suggest that you hire another publicist, Buddie?

Otherwise, I'm curious about those horn items there to the right of his kit...

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Here's that same German drummer from the Piccadilly Four, this time in, er... comedian mode.
Note his THREE cymbals, each mounted on that wonderful old spring mount. Image courtesy of
Dr. Jonathan Wipplinger, Assistant Professor of German at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (126)

Take a bow, Mr. drummer! Enjoy your brief moment in the spotlight! via

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (127)

Don't know how common those pancake-thin drums shown here might've been, but having very rarely seen anything like them from photos of the 20s and 30s, I suspect not very. This is Hebrew writing, of course, but not sure what country it was from. Possibly Germany, Russia? Might that be a string of sleigh bells or suchlike adorning the front bass drum head? The whole thing might have been simply a photo studio prop, and not exactly a real kit. Anyway, I include it here cause it's kinda charming.

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Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (129)

The old drum kit above was spotted in the window of a New York City antique shop. What's interesting here, of course, is that the kit is painted, all one color, so as to have a uniform look. This kind of uniformity, of course, became the norm for drum kits of the late 1930s and after,but whoever painted this kit was a visionary at the forefront of a new aesthetic! At left is a closeup of the descriptive plaque in the shop window. Thanks to Krystyna Olsiwisz for sharing these photos.

The plaque reads: "...most of the kit components and then 'customized' with painted exteriors...", but this is the only all-one-color customization I've ever seen.

Ah, but look here! From an auction site, presumably not part of the same kit as above (although it *might* be), here's a similarly painted, large Chinese tom tom. Perhaps some drum company produced a line of kits (a handful?) with this all-one-color look!

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Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (131)

Above: This handsome bass drum is from a kit used by a drummerof the Fletcher Henderson band. Read more about ithere.
Below: The same drum is seen in a promo shot of the Henderson band, 1925. via

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Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (133)

The "Perfection De Lux" drum kit. Read all about it here.

Vintage drum kits (1900s through 1930s) (134)

I know, I know, this is a toy kit, but it's got just enough of the 'real' to include here: an actual triangle, a genuine cowbell, and genuine (toy) cymbals. And look at that pedal! Two beaters! Man, I want one of those! But that poor clown, wow, he gets socked in the eye with every stroke! Still, he looks happy enough... And hey, if you want more (lots more) toy drums, see Toy Drums and Percussion.

Congratulations for making it all the way to the bottom of the page! Now I've got a special treat for you: here's an old film, from 1929, that in addition to featuring a very entertaining drummer by the name of Freddy Crump, also features the kind of drum kit we've been looking at here in our overview of early drum sets. You just gotta see this! Thanks to Mr. Bill Hamm, who dropped me a line here at the contact form of the Polarity site, pointing me toward the YouTube link from which I edited this clip. Anyone wishing to see the entire clip (although for my money, Freddy Crump is far and away the best talent on display there) the YouTube video can be seen in its entirety here.

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