BY AJ DONAHUE | FROM THE WINTER 2018 ISSUE OF DRUM!
The cornerstone of Todd LaBrie’s business philosophy is efficiency. Take one look at his company, Barton Drums, and you’ll see it in design, build, messaging, and pricing. That’s because LaBrie wants to put as little as possible between you and great-sounding drums.
“I come from a musical family,” says LaBrie. “My grandmother, Irene Lawrence, was an amazing guitarist and stringed instrument player back in the 1920s and ’30s, and she had music stores in Toledo, Ohio, and Chicago. She taught everything there, and even gave lessons to Les Paul and Leo Fender.”
Those are some heavy footsteps to follow, but LaBrie never shied away from his musical heritage. After receiving a drum set when he was four years old, he immediately fell in love and began learning how each component affected the sound. When his grandmother passed away, he inherited many of the vintage drums in her shop. That bittersweet bestowing cemented LaBrie’s love of simple, old-school design.
“Looking at drums today, I think we’re losing sight of what’s important,” he says. “I got sick of all the marketing; the stuff just goes around and around. I want to make the highest quality drums possible, and I just want to charge what they’re worth.”
LaBrie spent several years in R&D, taking factory tours and working alongside builders, all with an eye toward producing the kind of elegant tubs he grew up with. In the end, he settled on a simple shell to serve as Barton’s core.
“I made my shells a little thicker,” he says. “They’re only 5-ply, but I alternate with thinner and thicker plies so they’re almost as thick as 8- or 9-ply shells. And I wanted to make them out of the best stuff, from the very beginning. I use North American maple, German beech, and African ribbon mahogany.”
Rather than committing to certain lines or specific products, LaBrie offers small-batch builds using materials that balance top-flight quality with accessible pricing. That means the little mahogany bop kit you’ve got your eye on might not be available next year, but something equally intriguing certainly will be.
Speaking of the future, LaBrie is currently working on two new designs. One is a vintage-inspired layup of maple, poplar, and mahogany, while the other features smaller shell sizes to better suit shrinking stages and tight spaces.
Since the company’s official launch in 2016, Barton has seen a wave of devoted players who appreciate classic looks and clear sounds. LaBrie’s low-overhead pricing structure doesn’t hurt, either. “I just want to make the tools a little more affordable,” he says. “I’m trying to make the process of drum building as efficient as possible so people get the most for their money.”