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Wooden Drum Finishes

The finish that is applied to wooden drums is a major selling point. Shells are either ewrapped’ with a plastic covering or they are finished with stains, lacquers, acrylic paints, oils and waxes, or even, very rarely, French polish. Wraps or covers have the advantage over natural finishes that they are often harder wearing and less likely to scratch. They also involve less labor and specialist equipment since the outer veneer of the shell need not be finished to anything like the standard required by a sealed wood or paint finish.

For this reason the cheapest drums are always covered in single colored wraps. The more decorative wraps like pearls and, in particular, sparkles can themselves be quite expensive. Most of the up-market plastic finishes are made in Italy and imported into the USA by the Delmar company based in Berlin, Connecticut.

Cheaper plastic finishes are also made in the Far East. The process by which pearl finishes are produced involves casting a big block of plastic, which starts in a liquid state with the flakes of pattern running right through it. This block is then sliced into thin layers, like wood veneers, which are laminated onto a plain colored backing, usually black, white or blue. The backing colors the pear and strengthens it.

A clear protective sheet is also applied to the surface. Sparkle or glitter finishes are produced in a similar way with real metallic specks floating in the material. Vintage Champagne Sparkle is the most luxurious and expensive, with very fine specks of real silver and copper mixed in together. Other colored wraps include flames, swirls and moirE finishes, which are made from polycarbonates, which hold little prisms of light giving a 3D effect. When a plastic wrap is applied to the drum shell, it acts as an insulating outer coat.

It would seem likely that it must dampen the shell to some extent, although the general consensus is the effect is negligible if the wrap is applied properly. On cheap drums the wrap is stuck on with double-sided tape or with patches of adhesive. This can leave air pockets, which further insulate the shell. With better drums the wrap has adhesive applied over the entire area and the wrap is heat rolled onto the shell, so there is no chance of any air pockets and bubbles. In fact, as Sonor state, if you were to try to remove the wrap you would destroy the shell first.

Natural and lacquered finishes became very popular during the 1980s, while covered finishes were almost totally absent from high-end drums. But in the past decade the pearl and sparkle wraps have returned, while stained, lacquered and painted finishes have become ever more exotic and hi-tech. Applying many layers of paint or lacquer, etc. to the outside of the shell must also affect the shell’s resonance, though perhaps to a lesser extent.

Pearl says its Masters drums go through a 31-stage finishing process. But, as with other companies, it maintains this actually enhances the resonant and timbral qualities of the drums rather than diminishing them. One major reason for buying a top class kit is to get a beautiful finish. Lacquers in satin or high-gloss lustres than enhance the grain of the wood are extremely hardwearing and easy to keep clean.

Polyurethane lacquers are sprayed onto the shell resulting in a transparent finish that dries very hard, giving extra depth to the color when polished. As well as plastic wraps with sparkle finishes, some drum companies use sparkle finishes which are lacquer or non-lacquer urethane. Again the actual sparkles are metal flakes and the finish may involve a dozen or more layers. This is a difficult and painstaking process that is unsurprisingly expensive. Oil and wax finishes are also popular, though not so common.

The oil seals the shell, which is then waxed and buffed to a rich, satiny sheen. As you will have noticed if you’ve done any home decorating lately, there is a major movement towards water-based stains, paints and lacquers and away from pungent solvent-based materials. Environmental legislation is getting stricter in the West and the drum world has benefited. Water based finishes are clearer and more resistant to yellowing and cracking. Some finishes are also dried using an ultra-violet light process that is incredibly fast, completed in a matter of seconds rather than hours.

The technology of wood finishing is evolving constantly, and there are literally hundreds of different materials, processes, paints, lacquers and stains, both water-and solvent-based. During the 1980s and early 1990s, most top-end drums had natural finishes showing off the wood grain.

These have a natural appeal, but sometimes drum sets looked more like suites of furniture than instruments of rock and roll glamour. It’s heartening today to see at least a partial return to the lack of taste epitomized in the 1970s, with gaudy, colorful and brash finishes more widespread again.

drum_techniuqes/emails/wooden_drum_finishes.txt · Last modified: 2007/07/26 12:19
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