Interview with Custom Drum Builder Ryan Voight

In Drum Building 101, Drums, General Updates, Podcast by Philip1 Comment

Interview with Drum Building Ryan Voight

Philip: I’m here with Ryan Voight, who has recently built some pretty amazing snare drums and I’ve actually covered some of his progress on the blog, if you read down below you can see a couple of the posts and check out the drums he’s built. How’re you doing today, Ryan?

Ryan: I’m good, man. I’m happy to be talking about this stuff. I love building, I love working with my hands and this opportunity to build snare drums and use the book has been really awesome, it’s been excellent. I’m glad to share it with everybody.

Philip: Thanks, man. Well, I just wanted to ask you a couple questions, kinda give our Make Drums readers some insight into who you are and how you got started in the drum building. So, how long have you been a drummer or how long have you been interested in drums?

Ryan: I’ve been playing the drums since 1997, so, that’s what, 13 years I’ve been playing. You know, it’s kind of funny cause it started out, I’m a preacher’s son and it just so happened that we had moved to this little town in Kentucky. Our youth group needed a drummer and at that time I had taken about four years of piano, but the drums just seemed like, especially to an 11-year-old kid, seemed way cooler than the piano. So I just kind of went for it and man, never looked back. Ever since then I’ve loved playing the drums. I played in church, played for our metal band, the hardcore band, and more recently and preferably, played for some more, I guess, pop rock kind of stuff. Of course I’ve done worship, been doing that for about 13 years.

Philip: What made you want to get into drum building? How did you find out about making your own snare drums?

Ryan: Actually, it was from you. When I was playing with Day, we played with you guys I think in Pampa, Texas.

Philip: Yeah, I remember that.

Ryan: I know we played with you guys when you were with the Rocketboys, or I guess then it was Homer Hiccolm and the Rocketboys, but I actually know we had met before then. But anyway, I met you and I’d seen that first kit you built that was stained blue, I think.

Philip: Uh-huh, yeah.

Ryan: You know, it looked cool and sounded even better, you know and so, I had just talked to you about it and ever since then, that had been a few years ago, I just – it was always in my head that that’s the way to go instead of buying some big mass-produced-every-drummer-has-one kind of kit. The next time I was ready for something new, I was just going to build my own and I finally got the opportunity earlier this year.

Philip: Awesome, man. Well, can you tell us a little bit about the drums you’ve built? Have you only built those two snare drums that are on the blog?

Ryan: Yes, those are the only two I’ve built so far. Right now it’s still kind of in the hobby phase, especially with all the other stuff I’ve got going on. I also have a 7-month-old son so he’s keeping me busy. But yeah, just built those two snare drums so far and I’m the kind of person, I find myself being obsessive so I’ve actually probably got about 10 or 15 Word documents on my computer of different kit designs I want to buy or that I want to buy the parts for and stuff like that. I’ve got tons of ideas bouncing around in my head, but so far yeah, I’ve just built two snares.

Philip: That’s great, dude, that’s the exact same way I got started building my drums. I built the first drum set and then I just got really addicted to it, I guess you could say. I just wanted to keep building different types of drums and pushing the limits and find out everything there was to making custom drums. It’s contagious, man, once you build that first drum, it’s like Pringles, once you pop, you can’t stop.

Ryan: Man, it is. And you know, there’s a fine line between being proud of what you’ve done and obsessed with what you’ve done. And I’ve found myself just sitting on the couch looking at my snare drum, looking at it like, “Wow!” I’m not gonna brag, but I’m pretty impressed with myself.

Philip: I’m very impressed. The pictures you took look amazing, the snare drum looks amazing. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of building those drums? What were some of the obstacles that you had to overcome when building that, and what were some drawbacks to getting started?

Ryan: Yeah, definitely. Before I’d even started, the biggest drawback was just, even though paying for the parts to build your own drum is cheaper than something pre-made, my biggest obstacle was just having to save up for the money. The first snare drum I built was just a natural wood with a satin finish and then I used regular tube lugs with all chrome hardware. I wanted to do something simple and standard because I figured, if I get halfway into this and hate it, I don’t want to be halfway into something that’s just huge and complex. So with that one, definitely the biggest obstacle for me was cutting the snare bed. I definitely understood the concept of the snare beds, but I hadn’t thought through every detail. What I ended up doing was I cut the snare beds too deep and too wide the first time around. And so I didn’t realize they were too deep or too wide and I remember, the first Sunday that I had the snare drum ready to go, tuned up, and by the time we were finished with just practice, two of the lugs on the bottom head had just fallen out right by the snare bed. And it was because the shell swooped in too far out and so those tension rods just weren’t getting any tension. So it took me a while to figure out what I had done and so, actually they had to take the shell and sand the bottom all the way flat again and recut the edges of the snare bed. It was work, but just like you said in your book, you’re thankful for all the mistakes you’ve made because you know now not to make them. And now you know how to do it more efficiently.  And so I think that was probably one of the biggest obstacles with that snare drum. But once I got that figured out and re-cut the beds, that snare stays consistently in tune all the time. If anyone’s listening and they’ve got maybe an older kit like I do, my toms, I have to re-tune them fairly regularly just because they’re older equipment, but with this new snare, it’s always in tune and it always sounds great.  And then the second snare drum I built – I stained it black, put a flat satin finish on the wood and then it’s got two stripes of pearl inlay.

Philip: Nice. That’s my favorite.

Ryan: Yeah, it came out nice, I’m proud of that one and that pearl inlay. I’m not going to lie, obviously I got the color scheme idea from that kit that you made. But I actually built that for this really cool kid I met when I was doing worship for a youth camp in New Mexico. He really liked my snare and we had kind of gone back and forth on ideas. The biggest obstacle I had with that one was with my inlay strips – I actually ordered the wrong sizes. I needed a half inch and an inch and a half, but for some reason I ordered one-inch and two-inch strips – so I actually had to hand-cut those strips and that’s just hard to do.  I did it, and there were a couple places on those strips where I put them into the groove I’d cut on the shell, they looked a little jagged and so I just actually spent a lot of time on those strips, sanding the edges to make it look like they were perfectly flat. It actually ended up working out. I just burned a lot of time doing that. If I had just ordered the strips in the right sizes, then I could have just taken them out of the box and put them on the shell. But again, I’m glad I learned from those mistakes.

Philip: Yeah, that’s one of the things – whenever I do any kind of inlay, I’ve actually just cut all the inlays out by hand and yeah, it does take forever because you have that jagged edge and you want it to be perfectly flat, you want it to be perfectly flush. I guess one of the things I haven’t been able to find, at least not for the right price, is just some kind of cutting table to where I can actually cut perfectly straight lines through that thick wrap and it actually be the correct size and everything. But that’s definitely one of my obstacles as well, trying to get those flush and perfectly trimmed.

Ryan: Right, and it seems like there’s got to be something out there – I’m thinking just a big industrial paper cutter, because I’ve used paper cutters before where it’s almost like a pizza cutter on the top, so you put the paper in there and you just roll this pizza cutter type thing on a track. That would be cool – I tried using scissors and that just bends the wrap in towards the scissors and then you lose your straight line. I actually did it all with a razor blade, that was the way I cut them.

Philip: Awesome. Well, what are some of your favorite drum companies out there, maybe some of the mass-produced drums, but also some of the custom drum companies – what are your favorites and why?

Ryan: I would have to say that as far as modern companies go, DW has always had my attention.  I’ve never personally owned a DW kit, but I’ve had the opportunity recording in studios and just playing different places with different drummers, I’ve gotten to mess around with DW kits and those seem to be one of the best bridges between fully custom and mass-produced kind of kits. In my personal opinion, some of the bigger mass-produced companies, they seem to not really be too concerned with the individual drummer.  It’s just about getting their product and getting as many kits out there as possible. Unless you’re willing to spend 7, 8, 9, 10 thousand dollars for a pearl masters custom kit.

Philip: Which is not going to happen, at least for most musicians, because musicians don’t really make money.

Ryan: Yeah – DW is probably definitely my favorite big, modern company. Their products are always consistently sounding good. I’ve watched video and read up on how they select shells and stuff for customer kits and stuff like that. It’s really interesting. There’s always the human element from beginning to end with DW, and that’s what I appreciate. Personally, I’m a vintage kind of guy – I play a 1967 Ludwig downbeat kit, it’s just a little jazz set from the 60s. The thing looks pretty rough and beat-up, but sounds phenomenal. I get on Ebay all the time and look at vintage Ludwig stuff, even though I can’t buy it, just to see what people have and what people are selling.

Philip: I do the same thing, I just got done reading that autobiography of William F. Ludwig, who’s the son of the guy who started Ludwig Drum Company and he’s kind of taken over the company and it’s been really, really interesting just reading up on the history of Ludwig and about just the different artists, and to hear it from the perspective of a guy who is in the middle of the whole business of drum making.

Ryan: Yeah, man, he grew up with that. What is the name of that book? I’ve actually seen you tweet excerpts from it and comment on it and stuff, I’ve been meaning to ask you, what’s the name of that book?

Philip: The Making of a Drum Company: The Autobiography of William F. Ludwig

Ryan: OK, awesome.

Philip: I was going to ask you, where did you order your supplies from?

Ryan: I actually went to a few different ones, a few different vendors so I could get the best price so that I could give Ryan, ironically that’s the name of the guy I built the other snare for, I wanted to give him the best price and I also wanted to save the most money.  I used Drum Foundry and Drum Factory Direct – they were the two I got the most stuff from.

Philip: How long did all your parts actually take to arrive to you? I know in the drum-making business, national back-orders are kind of a problem, at least they have been for me when I’ve tried to order different parts or whatever to complete a drum set, I’ll get an e-mail back from one of the suppliers and they’ll say, “Hey, we’re waiting for a shipment to come in on a ship from Taiwan, it’s going to be another month before we get them.” And so I’ve always been just frustrated and I’m wondering if I’m the only one that that happens to.

Ryan: Man, you’re not. Believe it or not, I’m actually still waiting on some black chrome tension rods that I ordered from Drum Foundry back in July. I still haven’t got them. And I actually ended up just contacting Drum Factory Direct and saying, “Hey, you know, Drum Foundry has still not sent me anything and I need these because I’m selling this snare drum to a guy and I need to get it built.” And they were actually really cool, they rushed me an order. Obviously, I paid for them, but they rushed me the order with standard shipping just to be cool to help me out so that maybe hopefully they’ll get more of my business. But honestly there were some things I ordered and I got the order processed and I got it in a week, and there were some things that took a little bit longer. I actually got the shell from Drum Foundry also, and when I ordered it they sent me the wrong size shell. Not to – I don’t want to badmouth any companies on your website, so if you need to edit this out, feel free, but they actually made that right because they sent me a 13-inch shell and I called them and they said, “You know what, just keep the 13-inch shell. We’ll send you a 14-inch.”

Philip: No way. So you got to keep both of them?

Ryan: Yeah, so I have a 13-inch shell still so I’m trying to figure out which of my many designs I want to apply to that one so I can make an unusual 13-inch shell. But it’s just like purchasing from any online company – they all have their pros and cons.

Philip: Yeah, and the fact of a tension rod being out of stock – it’s really not their problem, at least it doesn’t look like it to me to be their problem. Stuff like that happens and honestly, it’s going to happen to all drum companies at some point, no matter where you get your stuff from. I’ve tried switching different suppliers and that’s happened with every single different supplier I’ve tried to get stuff from.  At some point in our relationship, it’ll happen to where they just run out of stock and it takes a month or two to get something in. But that’s great about Drum Foundry giving you a shell for free, I’d say that definitely makes it right.

Ryan: Yeah, definitely. was the other site; I got a throw-off from them. But yeah, they were really cool about it. I’m still waiting for the tension rods, which are probably on some container in the South Pacific, making its way slowly to the States, but they’re definitely all great companies.

Philip: Definitely. So where did all the actual drum building and customizing your drums take place? Did you do it in a garage or a building or what?

Ryan: The first snare I made, the natural maple one, I actually did – I went to a friend’s house to cut the bearing edges. But everything else – my wife and I were living in an apartment at the time and I did it up on the balcony at our apartment, just kind of sitting out there and I had some stuff stacked up to keep the wind out because it was in February when I was building it. But I did almost everything just sitting on our balcony or in the living room sitting on a blanket trying not to get wood shavings all over the place.

Philip: That’s awesome.

Ryan: The second drum – I built myself a router table and I just got an extra piece of melamine to set on top. I would pull the router down so that wasn’t sticking up out of the hole and I would put a piece of melamine on top of that and I had a 2×4 kind of mounted onto the side of it so I could actually use that as a work table and then also kind of hang the shell on that 2×4 for doing work like the inlay work and stuff like that. And that was in my garage in the house that we live in now, so definitely a lot more space and resources at that time.

Philip: Yeah all that stuff sounds familiar to me from when I built my first drum set in college. I lived in a house with seven guys and I just took over the living room for about a week to stain my drums and to do all that work on there. It was fun because it was a pretty trashy house to begin with so nobody really cared.

Ryan: I actually remember seeing a picture of one of the shells hanging on a mic stand to dry, and I thought, “Hey, you got to use whatever resources are available.”

Philip: Well, is there anything else that you’d like to share? Maybe a little piece of wisdom or a quick tip or a recommendation of a tool of any kind that might help anyone else build drums?

Ryan: Man, all I would say is that you’re going to mess something up. There’s going to be something where you didn’t measure perfectly or you have to back up and re-draw everything, you know. But the small frustrations that come throughout the building process – they don’t in any way compare to the joy of knowing that you built something that looks good and is actually usable. To be able to build something that you can take and however often you play the drums, you can play that thing that you made by hand – the pride that comes from that far outweighs any frustrations or speed bumps that any of the listeners right now might come in contact with.

Philip: I definitely agree with that statement because it’s true – you’re going to mess up, and then you’ll get really mad and you may blow through some money by wasting a shell or something, but hopefully it’s not that drastic to where you have to scrap a whole shell, but it’s happened to me and it’s not fun. But yeah, definitely when you’re done with something that you play on and it looks amazing and it sounds amazing, it far outweighs the frustrations that you had, definitely.

Ryan: It absolutely does.

Philip: Well Ryan, thanks for being on this call, man. I wish you luck in all the drum building and photography stuff you’ve got going on.

Ryan: Well thanks man, I really appreciate it. I enjoyed talking to you.


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