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  • Ford Drums

    By hcadmin |

    Definitely NOT Off The Assembly Line


    by Rick Van Horn

    photos by Jim Esposito


    • Outstanding craftsmanship
    • Different bearing edges on differently sized drums for maximum shell-to-head contact
    • Exceptionally full tom sounds
    • Cast Iron snare not as heavy as it looks


    Ford is certainly a familiar name in American manufacturing—just not for drums. Nevertheless, Ford drums do exist, and they're touted as nothing less than "the Ferrari of drums" by their builders.


    One of those builders is company namesake Jimmy Ford. Jimmy played with Lionel Hampton for six years, entertains guests at Disneyland Park regularly, and plays throughout Southern California with big bands, trios, and quartets. He's also a perennial favorite at custom & vintage drum shows, where he impresses audiences with his tribute to Buddy Rich.


    The other builder, Jay Gaylen, has been drumming since the age of seven. But for most of his adult life he's been involved with the creation of award-winning advertising campaigns for some of the biggest brands in the country—including Gretsch and Legend drums, and Toca percussion.



    Jimmy and Jay believe that they know what it takes to build drums that sing together harmoniously within a set. They also believe that no drum is right for every drummer or for every gig. So they build drums to meet each customer's needs. Drumset choices include maple or birch shells in five to ten or more plies, with or without sound reinforcement rings. Drums are available with round-peaked bearing edges cut at 30° or 45°, and with either solid brass or cast lugs. They're finished in eight coats of high-gloss or satin hand-buffed lacquer, in any color the customer can imagine. Fades and other special finishes are available, as are classic wraps.


    Custom snare drums are another specialty at Ford. In addition to a wide variety of wood-shell models, they also offer drums that feature Potyondi metal shells.


    For this review Ford sent us a five-piece kit that was built for a customer who wanted to honor his father, a fallen firefighter. We were also sent a 10/5/10-mil 51/2x14 cast iron snare drum, and a 51/2x13 maple snare finished in olive ash burl veneer.


    Between calling themselves "the Ferrari of drums" and using a slogan like "Have you driven a band lately," Ford lays the automotive analogies on a little thick. But what the heck...I'll play.


    So let's take these Fords for a spin.



    The Firehouse Kit

    This isn't Ford's name for the kit; it's mine. What with the fire-company logo badge on each drum, and the fiery look of the finish, the set visually captures the intensity that goes along with firefighting. As such, I'm sure the drummer who ordered it to honor his father will be pleased. The finish itself is described by Jay Gaylen as "Inferno-Cinder Red Fade." It features a gold metal flake within a translucent-fade finish, as opposed to metal flake over an opaque finish. It's artfully done, and it reflects Ford's claim that "If you can dream it, we can do it."


    The kit featured 8x10 and 9x12 rack toms and a 12x14 floor tom (with legs), all of which featured 8-ply maple shells. All of the toms and were mounted via suspension systems. The legs on the floor-tom were adjusted by drumkey bolts, which we found to be an inconvenience. Hand-operated wing bolts would be more user-friendly.


    The 18x20 kick had a 10-ply maple shell. The 6x14 snare featured an 8-ply maple shell with 10-ply reinforcement hoops. It came finished with a bird'seye veneer, with die-cast hoops.


    Ford cuts different bearing edges for different-sized drums. Jay Gaylen explains, "As drumshell size increases, the collar of the drumhead also increases, so one edge does not work for all. The bigger the collar, the rounder the edge, the more head-to-shell contact that's required. On toms and bass drums we tend to cut an inner 45° with a 3/8" round-over, depending on the ply configuration of the shell. On snare drums we cut a sharper edge and move it toward the outer perimeter of the shell to bring out the highs, increase the sensitivity, and boost the overall projection."


    The snare and toms came fitted with Aquarian Satin Finish Texture Coated single-ply batter heads and clear bottom heads. The bass drum was equipped with an Aquarian Super-Kick batter and a black logo front head.


    Workmanship on the drums was excellent, helping to make tuning a breeze. I'm normally not a fan of the sound of coated single-ply heads on toms. But I was pleasantly surprised by the full-bodied sound of the Ford toms with the Aquarian heads. The drums had all the attack, clarity, and sustain that you'd expect to get with single-ply heads. But they also had excellent depth, punch, and warmth. And, just as Jimmy Ford and Jay Gaylen said they would, they sang, individually and as a trio. It was a truly sweet sound.


    The bass drum had a more controlled character than did the toms. But that was to be expected, given the fact that Aquarian Super-Kick batter and Force II resonant heads each have built-in muffling properties. Don't get me wrong; the kick had a deep, solid, contemporary bass drum sound that would serve well in most situations (and this with no hole in the front head and nothing inside the drum). I just didn't think that that sound matched the liveliness of the toms. But that liveliness could easily be obtained from the kick drum by altering the head selection.


    I was also impressed by the sensitivity of the 6x14 maple snare drum, given its shell depth. With the batter head at a medium tension, I got outstanding snare response, even at very low volume levels. The die-cast hoops helped keep that response even across the entire surface of the head, and also helped to "dry out" some of the overring. When I increased the striking force, the depth of the shell came more into play, giving an underlying warmth and fatness to the sound—but without losing the crispness.


    I wasn't fond of this snare's sound when I cranked the top head up. The drum seemed to sacrifice some of its body in an attempt to achieve a "cracking" sound. But if you want a bullet-through-the-brain drum sound, you'd more likely opt for a shallower drum, and/or one made of metal. Why waste the earthy, warm characteristics of a deep-shelled maple drum?

    Cast Iron Snare Drum

    I've played drums made from a variety of metals, but cast iron is a new one for me. The 51/2x14 cast iron Ford drum featured a shell made to Ford's specs by Peter Potyondi, who specializes in "exotic" metal shells.


    The shell starts out at 10 mils thick, then is machined in its center to create a 5-mil shell with 10-mil "reinforcement hoops" top and bottom. The bearing edges machined into those hoops are slightly rounded to promote head-to-shell contact. The goal of this design is to provide "clarity without distortion, and far less weight than a shell that was all 10 mils thick." At 16 lbs., the drum was no lightweight, but it was considerably lighter than some thick-shelled cast-metal snares we've tested.


    The iron shell was given a brushed natural finish, with the "brush strokes" clearly visible in the metal surface. This slightly rough-hewn look was offset by the gleam of chrome-over-brass tube lugs and 2.3-mm chromed-steel Superhoops. Trick's high-tech GS007 machined-aluminum snare throw-off finished the assembly.


    The drum came fitted with an Aquarian Studio X Texture Coated batter head (which features a lightweight muffle ring on the underside). This was likely done as a way of harnessing some of the iron shell's overtones. And it worked: The drum had depth, power, and a reasonably wide tuning range, but it also had a surprising "dryness." There was some overring, to be sure, but not nearly as much as with a traditional chromed steel or brass snare. And that ring could be controlled easily (if desired) with the slightest amount of additional muffling applied to the drumhead.

    Olive Ash Maple Snare Drum

    This 51/2x13 drum featured a 10-ply North American maple shell fitted with brass tube lugs and rims and the GS007 throw-off. It, too, had an Aquarian Studio X Texture Coated batter. Its olive ash outer veneer provided a "natural wood" look with a distinctive grain pattern.


    Jay Gaylen told me that this drum's shell was designed to provide "a dirtier, woodier" sound than that of the iron drum. Well, "woody" isn't much of a stretch (compared to a cast-iron drum). And I might use the term "earthy" rather than "dirty" to describe the warm, fat character of the Olive Ash drum. With its steel hoops and single-ply head, it projected a quintessential high-end maple snare drum sound, with a crispness and cut that was abetted by its 13" diameter. I wouldn't say that sound was anything new, but it sure was satisfying.


    Jimmy Ford and Jay Gaylen don't lack for confidence in their products. Their Web site modestly states: "Why let a drum company's sound dictate yours? Don't settle. The drumkit of your dreams is a phone call or email away."


    Jimmy and Jay also aren't shy in saying that dreams (like Ferraris) don't come cheap. Their informational brochure states, "Ford drumkits will not be found at chain stores or sold at discount. However, Ford is competitive with other high-end manufacturers who don't offer nearly as many options." Given the quality of workmanship and acoustic performance represented by our review drums, Ford's claims may be justified. Just how valuable Ford's "custom options" are would, of course, be up to the individual.


    But then again, individuality is the whole point.



    • "Firehouse" Drumkit
    • 18x20 bass drum $1,610
    • 12x14 floor tom $970
    • 9x12 rack tom $850
    • 8x10 rack tom $825
    • 6x14 snare drum $825
    • Exotic veneer adds $800 to cost of kit, making total retail price $5,880
    • 51/2x13 Olive Ash maple snare drum $825
    • 51/2x14 Cast Iron snare drum $1,395


    (714) 744-2467, www.forddrums.com

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