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Vintage View - Roxy Drums

While my knowledge of Roxy drums is not exactly exhaustive, the rest of the world’s awareness seems to be a great deal worse. It has long been suspected they were simply more-affordable drums made by Trixon since both marques were purportedly made in Hamburg. The truth is Roxy were actually made by a company called Tromsa and mainly sent to North America from Hamburg. Certainly the rectangular badge fixed to them says Roxy and Hamburg or Hamburg-Wandsbek but we know that Tromsa weren’t made there, they were made 500 kilometres further south in Russelsheim. The fact is that Rudolf Linek, the guy responsible for the Roxy company and owner of the name and trademark (curiously not registered until 1968), lived in Wandsbek which was simply a Hamburg suburb and the drums were expedited mostly across the Atlantic to the US from there.  To set the story straight, in those days Trixon were made in another Hamburg suburb called Bramfeld.
There are at least two different rectangular badges for Roxy but the one which simply says Hamburg, without the suffix Wandsbek is the earliest.  By the way Tromsa is an acronym for ‘Trommelbau Sattler’ and they began life as upholsterers and first made drums in the thirties. By the sixties they were producing identical OEM (Original equipment manufacturer) drums labelled Kings, Hohner, Concorde, Voss, Luxor, Korri and Lindbergh and interestingly they didn’t seem to bother to badge their own Tromsas. In their day Roxy/Tromsa drums were made in Western Germany along with Sonor, Trixon, Rimmel and Lefima.  Of course East Germany had its own drums too as did many countries behind Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ including Russia. Those from the DDR were called Trowa and Tacton but contrary to public belief Tromsa (and Roxy) were not made there – Russelsheim sat firmly in the West.   
Roxy-badged drums were originally a product of the fifties and their shells were made from 3-plies of poplar with beech glue rings - as of course were Tromsa’s. But there is a school of thought which says Roxy’s could also be built from beech with beech glue rings. This anomaly may have come about because only the Tromsa bass drums were made completely from beech, so they’d be strong enough to take the weight of even a lightweight poplar tom mounted on them and often there was  a piece of beechwood glued inside the shell directly below the receiver block on the bass drum too to further strengthen it! As far as sizes were concerned the originals from the fifties were indubitably metric sizes, what we would now call pre-international but once plastic heads came in, and since RKB heads (Reichelsheimer Kunstoff Betriebe) were also made  in the Tromsa factory, a certain amount of standardisation had to come into play.

With natural heads the flesh-hoop, which the animal skin was wrapped around, needed to be fitted to the drum shell precisely and was certainly not suited for mass-production. So the obvious solution was to standardise the shell sizes and the dimensions of the counter-hoops which meant the head manufacturers could turn them out in their hundreds.

This early shell normalisation had the added advantage that you could also use standard, square-sectioned, mass-produced,  metal instead of the original wood for the flesh hoop and ‘lap’ animal skins to them which would arguably enable them to fit any modern, post-sixties drum.

This standardisation brought in Tromsa German-built drums with genuine 22, 10, 13, 16 and 14” diameters but prior to that they produced slightly larger than 21” basses just like all the others in mainland Europe. If it really exists there is a suspected pedal tom out there somewhere which must be highly collectable if you can find it.

Neither Roxy nor Tromsa went over the top with the amount of nutboxes they fitted - if they could get away with six tensioners per head on a bass drum or snare drum they would. However in the end they also offered those drums with eight tensioners to bring them in line with what the rest of the world was doing. They made their snare drums with wood or metal shells and with (or without) parallel snare actions and their Slingerland-type nutboxes were offset from one another. They may well have used triple-flange hoops towards the end of their production in Germany although the originals looked very like Slingerland stick-choppers.  Ultimately you could get Roxy drums in 10 x 8, 12 x 8, 13 x 9, 14 x 14, 14 x 16 and 16 x 16” sizes. Snare drums measured 14 x 3.5” and 14 x 5” (with six or eight nutboxes).  It appears only 12 strand snares were ever supplied with Roxy drums. 

Roxy’s finishes were no different to any others on offer in Germany and some (maybe all) of them would be available on other makers’ drums. You could have pearls in white, blue, ruby, grey. Black marine, black diamond, blue mahogany, white mahogany, or sparkles in blue, turquoise, red, green, silver and gold. My favourite was a very spiffing black with long white/silver lightning slashes going randomly and sparingly everywhere.

Tromsa by the way owned a foundry and were said to have made hardware for all the German manufacturers and all of the nuts, bolts, stands and accessories appear to be common to the Roxy  line. The original lugs were made from cast aluminium and nickel plated and identical to those on Deri which was another company in West Germany which seemed to use Tromsa’s fixtures and fittings. Eventually there were more salubrious, spring-less nutboxes somewhat like Ludwig’s ‘Classics’ which finally disappeared in the seventies.

The cymbal, snare and side pull hi-hat stands were generic for the era with legs which sprung into the ready position much like Trixon’s and probably also suffered from the same malaise which rendered Karl-Heinz Weimer’s stands unstable over time. The stool was very like Premier’s dangerously unstable tripod-based one where the down tube with the saddle on top of it was actually the front leg. The bass drum pedal was also very Trixon-like with a cast horseshoe frame a thin expansion spring and a one-piece pressed steel  footplate.  There was a telescopic cymbal arm inserted into the bass drum with a ratchet cymbal tilter much like the cast, splined ratchet which set the angle on the disappearing tubular tom-holder which was again uncannily like the one Karl-Heinz Weimer used for his Trixons.  There was a receiver block attached to the bass drum for this adjustable holder and another fixed onto the shell of the tom.
To put things into perspective there were actually two different Roxy kits - one from Germany and another, a ‘stencil’ kit, later made in Japan from Philippine Mahogany (aka Luan) by Pearl. The oriental offerings were deemed to be a great deal worse than the Teutonic ones. Frankly only the German drums should be of interest because from what I’ve seen the others were amongst the first generics produced in Japan. Unless of course you happen to be a collector of ‘stencil’ drums and I know there are some because I saw them at Rob Cook’s Chicago Drum Fair. While neither of the Roxy offerings were the greatest of drums because they were made to a price, the German versions were part of a mini-revolution where Tromsa had gone out of their way to find ways to produce good drums more cheaply rather than cheapening good drums simply to hit a price point.

Other than the name of a dancehall, cinema, theatre and a ‘Soap Opera’ character, the word Roxy has a meaning which is ‘dawn light’ which obviously explains everything!

Bob Henrit

September 2015

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