By Phil Hood
I love instrument builders. They start with a piece of wood, a bronze ingot, a chunk of metal, and sometimes a pile of parts. Then they forge, rip, cut, bend, file, sand, drill, and hammer until they have fashioned something that can make magic: a snare drum, a gong, a bell, a stick.
But that’s just the beginning of the journey.
Think about the lot of a custom instrument builder: He or she has to design a drum, manufacture it, find distribution, and market it. Many builders are one-person shops, so partners are crucially important. Communicating via many channels to get potential customers to pay attention can be the most daunting and expensive part of the startup process.
Having famous drummers appreciate your product can help. I’ve never seen a builder go from zero to one hundred in this regard as quickly as A&F Drum Company. A&F started in May of 2016 and in 17 months has attracted serious fans and famous drumming clients. Ramy Antoun, the drummer behind A&F, seems a bit surprised. “I really thought this was a more limited market when we started,” he says.
It’s easy to get why the drums grab attention. Unique hardly describes their singular appeal. They look ancient, even distressed. They’re offered in radical widths and depths. They’re made by hand using painstaking processes. And customers love their sound. Expensive, vintage sounding, high quality, and produced in small quantities, these are precisely the kinds of drums that professional drummers can afford a bit more easily than the kid just starting out at the all-ages club.
That’s the why. But I’m interested in the how. How did A&F capture the attention of some big-name clients and serious players in such a short time? As it turns out a lot of early success came from getting their tubs into a couple of key drum shops: Revival Drum Shop in Portland, Ore., and the Chicago Drum Exchange.
It was at Revival that Matt Chamberlain came in and played a 14″ x 6.5″ snare owned by Jose Medeles, the owner. As Ramy tells it, “Matt loved it and emailed me wanting to order one and I asked him to place the order through Revival. A few days later Matt sent me an email saying he had bought one that was in Chicago and used it on a few sessions already.” Chamberlain loved the drum, telling Ramy that he couldn’t get it off his stand. Ramy adds that after that he ordered everything they make. For the record Chamberlain bought a Gun Shot Snare, 12″ and 14″ Pancake snares and a 4″ x 6″ Raw Brass. [The pancake snare is a tasty 1.75″ deep drum Antoun invented when he was working with Seal years ago. That’s a story for another day.]
While still basking in that praise Ramy’s life got even better. Paul McCartney’s drum Buddha, Abe Laboriel, Jr., reached out to the company after playing a 6.5″ snare belonging to Glenn Kotche. He wanted one right away and told Ramy, “I need it in three weeks. Paul even commented on it.” Not bad.
A&F was just getting started. Not long afterward, Don McCauley, the longtime tech of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, walked into Chicago Drum Exchange. He asked if he could set up a private time to review the drums. That led to an order, too. Later, they heard that the drums were being played some in the studio and on the road with the Stones. Quite a thrill.
One of the most recent celeb clients is Jason Bonham. He went into Revival Drum Shop and — you guessed it — bought two A&F snares.
Ramy is probably right. The audience for odd, expensive 4″ x 6″ snares may be exceedingly small. But A&F seems to be serving that market of top-flight pros very well, thanks to getting the drums in shops where they could be seen. When your first act goes this well, you become your own tough act to follow. We’ll be watching.
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