Home » Drum Restoration » Drum Kit Restoration, pt. 1: Cleaning up an old kit.

Drum Kit Restoration, pt. 1: Cleaning up an old kit.

This will be the first of several posts about cleaning up and restoring vintage drums. I’ve restored a dozen kits in the last few years, starting with a 1952-3 Radio King kit I picked up in Cleveland, OH for $200. (You can see it in the photo above- it’s the white marine pearl kit.)

Here are the steps I take to restoring a kit:

Step 0: Plan- Have an idea of what sort of restoration you want to do. Are you going to try to save every part and do a completely faithful restoration of a ’60s Gretsch bop kit? Are you going to grab hoops and tension rods wherever you can find them cheap and get the kit up to playability ASAP? How you source parts is going to be heavily influenced by this. I will eventually write an entry about parts sources and who is good for what.

Step 1. Disassemble- get the hoops off, the chrome off, throw the old, shitty heads away, make a list of missing parts, figure out what you want to upgrade, have a good, hard look at those bearing edges.

Step 2. Soak the chrome (or nickel) plated parts – I put all of the chrome parts in a resealable plastic container and put a generous amount of Dawn liquid in there, then cover everything with hot water. I know that I am on-record elsewhere saying to use Simple Green and Barkeepers Friend for the soak. I now think that the nicest thing you can do for the skin on your hands is to use Dawn and hot water for the soak. I put the container on a high shelf and leave it for couple/three days. You may want to have a container for each drum- that way if you’re working over a period of days, you only have to keep track of one drum’s worth of parts at a time.

Step 3. Clean the shells- Are you going to rewrap the drums? (You poor bastard. I’ve come to hate the thought of rewrapping for a lot of reasons- I’ll get into that later.) If you are you need to strip the old wrap and get the shell smooth enough to stick new wrap to. You have a world of hurt in front of you. Stripping drum shells sucks. Don’t over sand the shells and wreck the profile at the edge or they’ll never true up for a good bearing edge. Good luck.

cleaning regular drum wrap: The stuff is just plastic, so once you’ve gotten all the hardware off the shell, give a fast once-over with Formula 409 or something to get the dust and grime off. If there’s tape residue or pant spatters or something, go easy on the commercial solvents- some of them dissolve plastic. Do no use acetone, toluene, benzine or lacquer thinner. This can dissolve mylar.
I highly recommend Novus polish #2 to clean the shell and buff out light scratches:

http://www.amazon.com/NOVUS-Plastic-Fin … _ai_ps_t_1

And then used Novus polish #1 to give the drum a little extra shine and make them a little more fingerprint resistant:

http://www.amazon.com/Novus-Plastic-Pol … sim_auto_6

Cleaning Vistalite shells, particularly those that are heavily scratched: My experience here is limited, so I’ll defer to my friend the Great John Houlihan here-  he talks about using 1000 grit sandpaper and then moving to 2000 grit to buff out, then finish with Meguires #17 and #10:

http://www.amazon.com/Meguiars-10-Plast … ic+cleaner

Cleaning stained shells: A lot of companies use stain or lacquer on their high-end drums. I find that lacquer responds well to plain old furniture polish and wax. I have cleaned shells with a solution of Murphy’s oil soap and warm water (careful with the water around the holes in the shell- raw, old wood can be pretty thirsty and the drum will swell and warp) on a slightly damp sponge. Then I’ve followed up with some sort of furniture wipe with wax in it, like Old English furniture wipes. This worked great for my rosewood Gretsch kit:

Zoom in (real dimensions: 1200 x 900)

Step 4. Clean the chrome: rinse the Dawn soap solution off the chrome. I use a green Scotch Brite pad and Barkeeper’s Friend as I’m rinsing to get any residual rust or gunk off the chrome. With nickel, you’ll find that there are sometimes bits of black where the plating has cracked and the metal underneath has tarnished. I have found that scrubbing this can do a little good, but sometimes you have to Embrace the Suck, as The Code is Almighty sometimes says, and be ok that your metal parts look old. Chrome will also sometimes flake.

5. Put your metal parts on a towel to dry. You will want to go through with a paper towel and wipe the grease you missed off the insides of the lugs and the springs/etc that are inside the lugs. It’ll be there, trust me, and it’ll be obvious.

6. (Optional) Polish your chrome/nickel- Sometimes I use Turtlewax chrome polish to brighten up dingy chrome. Sometimes the chrome-plating on the Ludwig or Rogers stuff is so good that it doesn’t need it.

Nickel almost always benefits from Cape Cod polishing cloths.http://www.acehardware.com/product/inde … agpspn=pla

(Cape Cod polishing cloths smell pleasantly of gingerbread when you first open the can. This smell will get on your hands and permeate everything and eventually drive you insane, since it never goes away. Wear latex gloves. Trust me on this.)

Cape Cod cloths are the only thing I have ever been able to get to work on nickel and it works like a million bucks, despite the horrible smell.

Step 7: (also optional) Wax the shells- Sometimes sparkle, glitter and/or pearl finishes look better with a coat of wax on them to throw a little more light. I use Turtle Wax Ice liquid polish:

http://www.amazon.com/Turtle-Wax-T-468- … turtle+wax

Before you reassemble is a good time to take stock of what you want to replace and what you want to repair and whether you want to hit the bearing edges or not. I’ll take those on in future posts.



4 Responses to Drum Kit Restoration, pt. 1: Cleaning up an old kit.

  1. Paul Montineri Reply

    January 31, 2013 at 11:35 am

    NEVER NEVER use Pledge or “furniture ” polish
    on lacquered instruments!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    It can penetrate old varnish and shellac!!!!!!!!!
    Aresols contain propellants that harm finishes
    and wood.

  2. Rob Reply

    May 9, 2014 at 8:45 am

    I just acquired a Slingerland Radio King set at a local estate sale. White pearl set. 14×7 Radio King snare, 28×14 bass, 13×10 tom with permanent resonant head on tom. First I have ever seen of that. Tom and bass have wood lugs. Indicative of WWII era, save the metal days. All drums still have the original heads on them.
    Question. I took the batter head off of the snare to find a non finished looking inside of the shell. The wood feels dry and ever so slightly fuzzy feeling. Nothing horrible, but no real damage done over the years due to aging. How do you properly address restoring the inside of the drum to preserve it for the future without changing what it should be? My head is spinning from all of the opinions out there and I just don’t want to screw this up. I have read about all kinds of oils and poly and blah blah. I have waited too long to find one at a regular guy price and I finally got it. I just want to do it right.
    Side not is that there was a road case for the snare that was labeled as “Bob Allen And His Orch. Quick research shows Bob Allen did have a legit touring and recording band back when these were made and later he also sang for Tommy Dorsey. Original hardware etc. Bass drum head is painted with the BA logo. Pretty cool.
    Thanks for any assistance you can offer!

  3. Dan Meyers Reply

    March 25, 2016 at 9:43 am

    I have a 9 piece pearl cb700 drum set, I bought it brand new in 1982. It has seen america and a few drum techs. The shells are black and they look like a spider put her web on them. I’d like to put that clean deep look back into them, any good ideas I’d like to hear them. Feel free to call if you’d like 517-726-0028

  4. Dan Meyers Reply

    March 25, 2016 at 9:48 am

    Oh, and Heinz catsup to clean old cymbals, haven’t done it on any new ones, but old ones that just don’t want to ring no more, it does bring them back to life.

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