BY AJ DONAHUE | FROM THE FALL 2018 ISSUE OF DRUM!
Preston Parsons has a personal connection with his customers. “Most of the drummers who buy Vessel Drums have been to the shop,” he says. “I’ve met them.”
Parsons is Vessel Drums’ founder and sole craftsperson. “I have some help from friends here and there, mostly for website and social media stuff, but otherwise it’s all me,” he says. “I’m just one dude building in a small room with the door closed so I can get a little work done.”
You wouldn’t know that by looking at Vessel’s products. Over the past decade, the San Diego–based shop has produced a staggering array of classically styled snare drums and kits that share a simple and timeless aesthetic. Parsons offers wood and metal drums in a variety of materials, but prefers to work with certain types of shells. “I’m a ply-shell builder,” he says. “I don’t do segment or steam-bent drums. I build with either Keller VSS or Magnum shells, but I’m also using a company called Norse Custom Shells from the UK. They do 100 percent species builds. If you want all mahogany or walnut, they’ll do it. Or you can do hybrid species shells with several different woods.”
Parsons’ vision for Vessel is strong, and a lot of that is owed to his mentor. “I was lucky to have a Mr. Miyagi,” he says, referencing the guru from the movie Karate Kid. “I moved out to San Diego from Texas in 2004 because I heard about this drum builder named Paul Bleifuss. I studied under him and learned so much, but unfortunately he passed away in 2007. It wasn’t long before I bought his tools and remaining inventory so I could carry on what he taught me. The rest is history.”
That history includes a few less-common practices in the boutique building community. “I’m very systematic,” he says. “My tools are different from a lot of other builders in this field. I use a guide instead of a drill press. I use the original layout mats from 1996 that I got from Paul. These are all the tools he built, so I’m using some old-school techniques.”
It’s an incredibly labor-intensive process, but one that yields a product as unique as the man who made it. “I try to work with blinders on as much as possible so I don’t draw too many ideas from other builders,” he says. “I’m a builder, but I’m also an artist, and I want to keep that pure.”
Vessel kits are available in maple or mahogany, with snare drums in maple, mahogany, birch, aluminum, and brass. If you have an idea he doesn’t currently offer, just give him a call.