Repercussion Drums isn’t a name you’ve probably heard of as yet since it’s pretty new.
RePercussion Drums is a small company based in the shadow of Glastonbury Tor in the south west of the UK, specialising in making bespoke stave construction snare drums and full kits. The idea is for quality and not quantity. It only uses the highest quality timber and fittings, enabling its clients to create drums with an individual and unique voice.
Founder, Andrew Johnston, has a passion for building hand crafted musical instruments from timber that has an interesting provenance and that has already served a relevant purpose.
RePercussion Drums has completed the first of a small run of the Sub Terranean Series – snare drums made from bog oak, sourced from the UK. This finite resource has been radio carbon dated at between 4,800 years and 5,200 years old, when the UK was heavily forested, woolly mammoths were wandering the plains and humans were still using stone axes!
The company has recently purchased a Douglas Fir beam from the refurb of the San Quentin Prison hospital in the early 2000’s (ref Johnny Cash and Merl Haggard). It plans to turn this beautiful piece of timber into a small run of drums, called the San Quentin Series. Douglas Fir has a beautiful natural tone and is used by acoustic guitar luthiers as sound board material.
Andrew Johnston is a firm believer that timber of this nature absorbs the soul and history of a place – it absorbs the historical patina, but sound – high quality sound – is front and centre to the RePercussion Drums ethos. Repercussion Drums is also in discussion to acquire timber form some of the UK’s most iconic music venues and from historically important locations.
Stave drums have a natural and pure tone. The wood is sitting in its natural state (not steamed or bent) allowing it to resonate naturally. The drums are also very versatile, with huge tuning ranges and different timbres, depending on timber type, shell thickness, bearing edge design, depth, hardware etc.
RePercussion Drums is on a mission to find wood that can tell its own story. They are making between 20 and 30 high quality instruments a year to customer’s personal specification. Each drum will be hand crafted and numbered and will carry the RePercussion Drums logo – an 8mm sterling silver bar let into the shell.
I recently spent some time with Andrew Johnston, the man behind RePercussion Drums. I asked him a few questions about his background and RePercussion Drums.
What is your own background as both a drummer and a builder?
I’ve been a drummer for the last 15 years. I’ve always been a huge music fan – growing up on punk in the mid 70’s. I’ve experimented with various instruments (guitar, sax etc) but settled on the drum kit after watching Stuart Cable (Stereophonics) at a gig in 2003. I loved the way he absolutely nailed the grooves, not particularly complicated but they properly drove the music forward. I bought an entry level kit and started to teach myself and would play until I could no longer hold the sticks. I’m currently playing with a group of mates largely for own pleasure, where we play covers of bands such as Granddaddy, Civil Wars, Ryan Adams, Massive Attack. We’ve played the odd gig but we mostly do it for our own pleasure.
What led you to want to build your own drums?
Having upgraded the kit (I now have a Mapex Saturn V, which was the kit played during a James Dean Bradfield tour), I wasn’t particularly happy with the sound of the snare. I went to Poole Percussion (RIP) and asked to look at five snares. Out of the five, I just loved the timbre of the stave snare that they put in front of me. It was loud, had a beautiful, and unique, tone and it just sung whether at low ‘boggy’ tunings or cranked up reggae style. The other drums were good but this was hand made and had a timbre unlike the other ‘traditional ply construction’ drums.
Having enquired about price (£1,500 – didn’t have the money at that time), I went away determined to make my own. I started to research into the origins of drums and the science behind a drum in terms of materials, shell dimensions, bearing edges etc and what makes them sound like they do. I wanted to make a drum that enabled me to get a fat 70’s style sound as well as being able to tune it up and get a modern rock sound. I wanted a drum that had a natural, pure tone, with plenty of attack. I had conversations with the world renowned audio facility at Southampton Uni ref sound and the relationship of drums with humans over the centuries and how exactly we get to hear the sound that a drum makes and how the modern drum construction methods affected sound. Whilst ply construction delivered drums at a cost effective price, there was a pay off in terms of sound in that they all sounded the same as opposed to sounding inferior in any way. I wanted a unique sound that was mine and could never be copied/reproduced.
My research into drums got me thinking about materials and I quickly latched on to trying to source wood that either had an interesting history or had some sort of musical relevance. I’m a firm believer that wood absorbs the soul and history of a place. Needless to say, all the wood that I sourced had to be a proven tone wood as sound was ‘front and centre’ to my ethos (you may have a piece of wood from HMS Victory, but if it sounds shit then it isn’t any good!!!). I’ve always loved the precision of good cabinet making and set about making my first drum (I used Ovangkol as I had access to a ply ovangkol drum as a comparative exercise). I loved it but needed a second opinion so took it to Real World Studios, who had it for a period of weeks to very good acclaim.
How do you go about sourcing your materials?
In terms of sourcing, I have developed contacts in Manchester and London who are developers/planners/action groups who make me aware of any houses and/or venues that are up for redevelopment in the hope that I can get in there and retrieve a piece of floor, bar top (I might have access to a piece of English Oak from a house in Manchester where New Order rehearsed before they got well known. I came across the beam from San Quentin prison during an internet search and thought how cool it would be to playing an instrument that may have witnessed Cash and Haggard playing their gigs!
I’m about to make my first full kit for an up and coming band (he’s not endorsed) from the bog oak.
The company also has a Kickstarter campaign going which you can find here, as well as a video with a bit more information on the company and its goals – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/334422624/stave-drums-and-full-kits-from-timber-with-proven