by Billy Brennan
The throne is the foundation of any player’s groove and is an incredibly important purchase for any prospective customer. As is a common theme in drum-related products, there’s no right or wrong choice—round versus saddle style, soft versus firm, and spindle versus hydraulic are just a few of the myriad options. In December 2006, Modern Drummer only scratched the surface in examining twenty-eight different thrones by fifteen companies—a useful resource if you can get hold of a copy.
Some companies are consistently looking for ways to add new twists to throne design. Gibraltar’s Workstation model, for example, takes a traditional round-top design and adds a nifty hook-and-loop fastener strip for keeping sticks, towels, or a cup holder within reach. Other companies, like Roc-n-Soc, abide by an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” credo.
To offer some insight into what makes a top-shelf throne a worthwhile purchase, we spoke with two of the most respected manufacturers in the business: Roc-n-Soc founder Steve McIntosh and Pork Pie throne production manager Gus Ciceri.
DB: What are the foundational aspects that every throne needs?
Steve: A comfortable seat is the main thing, and then hardware that’s not going to break. You need to make sure that you’re building something that is going to last. Period.
But it’s all about foam. And that’s where [other companies] go cheap. They always try to figure that it’s something you see, not that you feel. So they’ll flash it up. Everybody’s always trying to change the wheel.
We felt like Harley [Davidson motorcycles] designed the wheel a long time ago, so we just rode with it. Our seat is actually styled after the old Harley seat. In fact, the first one I built had that shape: I was re-covering a Harley seat for a guy in my upholstery shop and I thought, Yeah, that’ll work. So I just duplicated those, and there it was. And we haven’t changed it.
Gus: Comfort and durability are absolutely essential. Without either of those aspects, the throne isn’t worth it. I get a lot of phone calls from customers with back problems and sciatica. Those are just some of the standards that our thrones have to meet. So comfort is the most important aspect of a well-made throne.
We take a lot of pride in our craftsmanship, while having fun with style and design. We use high-quality memory foam that keeps our thrones durable and extremely comfortable. Our thrones are a hundred percent handmade, and aside from stock orders for our retailers, we’re a made-to-order company. So when a customer places an order, that throne is being made exclusively for them. When the throne is ready to go, it has to be right or you have to start the process all over. When you can’t just pull another one off the shelf, you pay greater attention to detail and care.
DB: What are some of your landmark thrones?
Steve: The Motion Throne was first. It was designed for feel, and it rocks with you as you lean into it. We’ve had drummers say, “Man, I have a bad back, and I got a Motion Throne and my back doesn’t ever hurt anymore.” A few guys out there, like Stephen Perkins, have to have them. Every time they go out on tour they need a new Motion Throne because once you get used to it, nothing’s the same.
But the Motion Throne is bulky and heavy, and some people don’t want to haul them around. They want something light and portable, so we went with the Manual Spindle. Dealers called it the “mack saddle” because at that time it was like the mack daddy of saddles.
That kind of led to the Nitro, which is a gas-hydraulic throne. Once we got the Nitro launched out there, we started seeing sales, although the Manual Spindle was still stronger because it was portable. Dealers look at something and say, “What do I have to say to sell that”? With the Manual Spindle, they didn’t have to do anything but sit on it. They didn’t have to explain anything. It’d been on the market for thirty years. The Nitro was a little harder to get the dealers to buy, but once the dealers got them in there, the customers loved them.
Sheila E is adamant about the Nitro. I think she hurt her back in an accident seven or eight years ago, and she’s been using our Nitro and just raves about it. She comes to me at every trade show, and that’s the thing she has to have. The people who travel with her say the same thing: She will not accept anything less wherever she goes. It’s because of the cushion with the shock.
With the Lunar, we wanted something for taller seating. Backrests were becoming popular, so we added ours. You can use the backrest with any of our thrones. But the Lunar, which is our five-leg base, is stable. You couldn’t turn it over, even if you weighed 500 pounds. You could throw it off a building, and there’s a good chance you could go down and dust it off and be good to go.
And for guitar players we have the Tower, which is kind of like a barstool.
Gus: The first landmark innovation for Pork Pie was introducing sparkled vinyl and other choices. Before that, we were just another drum company that had a throne line. Our style piqued people’s interest and made them want to sit on our thrones. Once they did, they were sold. Another was the Gel Throne, which we introduced about two years ago. It’s an all-vinyl throne that features 4″ of high-grade memory foam with a therapeutic gel pack on top.
DB: What sets your thrones apart from the competition?
Steve: The foundation is the foam, and that’s what separates us from everybody else. We do have good, quality construction—we eyeball every stitch. But that’s aesthetics, and that’s what every other company always looks at. Then they’ll buy a piece of cheap foam to stick in it, because you can’t see the foam. When they need to cut corners, that’s the first place they cut. The throne ends up being too hard and never softens up to fit your butt, or it’s too soft and you sink through it.
Also, we were the first to make saddle thrones. The saddle has been what everyone has settled on, and all of our competitors have copied it. But you sit on some of them, and it’s either too hard or too soft. Like the mama bear, papa bear, baby bear thing, it’s got to be just right.
Gus: For us, it’s options. There’s not another company out there that offers what we do. You’re not only ordering a well-made throne, you’re actually accessorizing with it. You can create any color scheme you’d like, using any of our available vinyl and fabrics. There are literally thousands of color combinations possible. Not to mention a handful of animal prints as well.
DB: How do your thrones continue to develop in response to customers’ needs?
Steve: You find what the customer wants, and you make that. You see what’s working and make more of that. We’re not worried about a lot of things that other companies have to worry about. People have asked how we can survive like that. And I say, “Well, there are about ten major drum companies, so there are ten chances that we have of putting a throne behind each one of those kits.”
Gus: Feedback is very important to us. Our customers are the real designers. We basically just set out to give people what they want. The Gel Throne was an idea by a gentleman who rides a Harley and suggested we make a seat that felt like the gel seat on his motorcycle. So we did, and it took off. As long as people continue to have opinions and ideas, there will always be room for innovation and design.
Originally published in the January/February 2012 issue of Drum Business.
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