BY ROB COOK
“How can you prove to me that it’s real?”
“Not just made up from some other kind of drum.”
I don’t remember exactly how I responded. This happened about seven years ago, and I can hardly remember conversations from seven hours ago. No problem recalling my reaction, though, because I was insulted and offended. “Right,” I thought to myself, “we are talking about a 1967 Ludwig 12″ x 8″ WMP (White Marine Pearl) going out the door for $45. The lugs, the badge, and the date-stamped interior are distinctively Ludwig. Is there any way in hell that it would be possible for me to buy those parts separately or manufacture them myself, assemble them, and make a profit on the newly created drum?”
What I probably said was, “Look. In my opinion this is not a drum that a person can put together himself and profit by selling it for $45. That’s all I can tell you about this drum.” Either I convinced that I was correct, or sensing that I was about to hang up and refuse to ever do any business with him, the guy said, “Okay,” and we did the deal.
Counterfeiters, you see, are bright enough to have a profit-driven business plan. The more successful ones manage to spend a little, and take in a lot. (The ones who spend a lot and take in only a little get discouraged and seek gainful employment.) The purpose of this column is to sound the alarm that prices of vintage drums have appreciated to levels that have attracted the attention of some of chose clever scam artists. The examples that follow in this column are meant to alert readers to the possibility of drum forgeries. I am not accusing anyone in particular of inappropriate or illegal activity. My lawyer has better things to do.
There has been, in the last two years, an increasing incidence of counterfeit Gretsch round-badge drums, both here and abroad. I was approached at the Chicago Drum Show two years ago by a Japanese visitor who tried to sell me “reproduction” Gretsch round badges. There was a buzz in England a few months ago about a tech in London who was presented with a round badge kit to refurbish. The owner, who had recently purchased the kit for pretty serious money, was shocked to find out that the drums were bogus. The shells were all wrong for the vintage they were purported to be, and were probably not even Gretsch.
Then there was the guy in the western United States who claimed that the only Gretsch drums he was “creating” were being done in the interest of filling out a vintage kit; making a 13″ x 9″ to go with a matching 12″ x 8″, 14″ x 14″, 20″ x 14″, etc. (One thing led to another in that little debacle, and in the end a big-time eBay power-seller got tangled in the controversy and was temporarily booted off the site.)
I recently discussed the increasing incidence of fraudulent historical drums with Jason Dobney, the National Music Museum’s music industry liaison. Dobney has significant expertise in Civil War-era rope drums. (Generally, the vintage drum community leaves these drums to antique dealers, museums, and traders of Civil War memorabilia.) Dobney explained that counterfeit Civil War drums are regularly listed on eBay. Genuine drums of that type are easily worth $4,000 to $10,000, while the ones on eBay are often listed with “buy-it-now” pricing around $1,500. Reasonably certain that there was a deliberate misrepresentation, Dobney convinced the museum to buy one of these drums.
When Dobney placed it in the hands of the museum’s experts, they immediately knew something was wrong. “This drum,” they told Jason, “has been rolled in graphite in an attempt to age it.” They removed the rope, hoops, and heads to find that the shell was plywood, while a genuine drum would have had a solid shell. The final indignity was finding a problem with the list of battles painted on the side of the drum. lt seems the North and the South often used different names for the same battles; this was represented as a Southern drum, but had one battle listed by its Northern name. Although this drum was documented by leading experts as being a forgery, there was no recourse beyond returning it for a refund. By now it has probably been resold to a less knowledgeable buyer, and the seller is producing more.
A great deal of speculation has circulated throughout the vintage drum community as to the possibility of Ludwig Vistalite drums being counterfeited. In particular, a number of kits have come onto the market that are in such immaculate condition that it’s as if they were removed from the factory boxes and immediately put into storage until now.
Every bit and piece appears to be new drums from that era that still have original heads here and there. What’s more, the badges on these eyebrow-raising drums differ from “genuine” Ludwig badges in three respects. Ludwig officials state that the company never produced badges with these departures:
- On official Ludwig Vistalite badges, the cop of the “U” in USA lines up with the cop of the “g” in Ludwig. On the suspect badges, the cop of the U is lower.
- The shaded area for the serial number on official badges parallels the right edge of the badge. On the suspect badges, the cop right edge of the shaded area swerves back toward the vent hole.
- On vintage Vistalite kits, the right edge of the badge has a rough area where the badge was broken off the strip it came on. The suspect badges are smooch all the way around. They are clearly individually diecut instead of “stripped.”
Keep in mind that there is no way to restrain a counterfeiter from correcting flaws such as these on future recreations. So how do you detect the counterfeits? Well, if you’re not an expert, you’d best enlist the aid of one. In the meantime, secure a money-back guarantee. It helps to have the pedigree for the drum, proof of original ownership, etc., but keep in mind that even those papers can be falsified. And finally, after all is said and done, the old adage is relevant: if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Rob Cook is the proprietor of Rebeats Vintage Drum Products. He has written numerous books related to vintage drums and has consulted on the topic for many of the nation’s top museums.