BY PHIL HOOD
The announcement that Gibson had sold the Slingerland name to DW Drums caught the world by surprise last week. Don Lombardi, co-founder of DW Drums admitted to being astonished by the deal, which was presented to him as a birthday gift from his son and DW CEO Chris Lombardi. “I knew very little of Gibson and the guitar business,“ Don Lombardi told me. “But we had looked at the legacy brands in the drum business, Slingerland was clearly the one that still has a big following. Since the announcement I get messages every day from drummers who want to talk about their Slingerland kits including Radio King Snare Drum. And not just drummers I know from their association with DW, but from all over.”
DW, which took over Gretsch in 2016, has experience now at reviving iconic brands and recreating the sound of classic drums. “We decided we could do this,” says Lombardi. “[DW co-founder] John Good can cut the wood to the thicknesses they used on the classic drums“ he says, referencing the wood wizard who has created the company’s most notable drum shells. “So we want to start with the shells and the Radio King snare drums.”
The original Slingerland company was founded in 1912 by H.H. Slingerland, as a banjo company. Later, they added drums and the brand became synonymous with jazz drummers such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. Radio King was the company’s flagship drum line.
Family ownership of the company came to an end in the 1970s, and after that time a series of desultory owners drove the brand to near-extinction. Gibson bought it in 1994 and for a few years made some good drums before the company’s attention drifted. The drums have been out of production for two decades.
Chris Lombardi made the purchase announcement on November 25, and the company will not have Slingerland products until sometime in 2020. The company says we can expect more announcements at the NAMM show in January.
For Gibson, this divestiture is part of a dramatic turnaround in company fortunes, and in their efforts to make a positive impact with customers and fans. The company declared bankruptcy in 2018 and immediately people began asking what might happen to the many musical instrument brands, from Oberheim, to Tobias (basses), and Slingerland, which languished under the previous President Henry Juskiewicz.
As soon as the new team led by JC Curleigh, formerly president of Levi Strauss, took over, they began to make plans for divesting their wide range of businesses in consumer electronics and musical instruments in order to focus on Gibson and Epiphone guitars. As part of that process they have sold some brands and returned others without charge to their original owners.