My grandfather used to say, “Every board tells a story.” This is my story of three boards that found their way from a tropical forest into some very special instruments.
My grandfather, Edward Perazone Sr., emigrated from Italy to the U.S. in the early 1900s. He worked hard and eventually saved enough money to acquire a small woodworking shop in New Jersey, where he turned bocce balls from lignum vitae wood (“wood of life”).
After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, my father, Edward Perazone Jr., joined the family business in the 1950s. Dad set about expanding the company’s product line to include pool cues, police batons, judge gavels, chairs, and many other designer items turned from exotic hardwoods.
The company’s claim to fame was manufacturing the stern bearings that housed the propeller shaft in the first United States nuclear submarine, the Nautilus. Made from lignum vitae, these bearings are still in use today in a wide variety of submerged applications.
Much of the exotic wood species that were used to make these items were imported from Central and South America. My father and grandfather spent many years scouring tropical forests procuring species such as cocobolo, zebrawood, canary wood, and the most prized exotic South American hardwood species of them all: Brazilian rosewood. Brazilian rosewood is highly prized for its tonality and has been used for woodwind and stringed instruments as far back as the Renaissance.
As a youngster, I was drawn to the family business and spent my weekends sweeping sawdust from the shop floor and painting walls. It was around that same time when I was introduced to drumming through my school music teacher.
After I left Berklee College of Music in the 1970s, I worked as a professional touring and recording musician. During that time, my interest in high-quality instruments began in earnest.
The winter of 2013 was bitter cold. A water pipe in my parents’ home froze and burst. While a crew was busy recovering various precious items, I reacquainted myself with my father’s exotic wood off-cuts that had been collecting dust in his basement for six decades.
As I sorted through the chunks of wood, I discovered a few hidden gems: a piece of select-grade canary wood, a crazy-looking chunk of eastern black walnut, and two thick boards of genuine, old-growth Brazilian rosewood.
I brought these boards home that day and, after a thorough cleaning, stacked them in my basement, thinking they’d stay there until one of my own children or grandchildren stumbled upon them in the same way that I had that day.
I pondered what to do with these beautiful boards for another year, and then it hit me: Why not make some drums? Thus began a very personal journey to fulfill my dream of turning my father’s rare and precious wood into heirloom-quality instruments.
I spent a year researching drum-building techniques. I communicated with craftsmen from around the globe with the hope that a conversation would resonate with me in such a way that I could embark on this journey with unfettered confidence.
What I wasn’t hearing from these conversations was the language of wood spoken in a way that I inherently understood it. Having grown up in a family with a long history of woodworking, I knew how things like moisture and oil content could impact a glue joint. I’m also familiar with grain direction and seasonal movement and how to make necessary accommodations when joining two boards together.
I conferred with a handful of boutique makers. I’m sure many of them make fine instruments, but it wasn’t until I spoke with Jefferson Shallenberger of Sugar Percussion in Santa Cruz, California, that I felt I had found the craftsman who could create the three stunning hand-made custom drums I wanted built from the boards I discovered in my father’s basement.
Jefferson spoke my language. He respected the story each board had to tell, and he was as anxious and excited as I was to hear them speak. The goal was to craft one drum from each of the different species. To complicate matters, there was barely enough yield of each to make a single drum without any mistakes. If the material fractured or split, this entire effort would be for naught, and the boards my father had treasured for six decades would be rendered useless. But Jefferson, in his calm, understanding, and caring manner, put my concerns to rest.
As the months passed, Jefferson and I had numerous conversations, talking our way through each step of the project. Decisions needed to be made, from hoop types to shell dimensions, exterior and interior finishing, and what type of glue was to be used to ensure shell integrity.
In May 2016, I shipped my prized boards to Santa Cruz. Over the course of several months, Sugar Percussion began making these amazing heirloom-quality snare drums.
The finished drums arrived on December 22, 2016. The first box I opened was labeled “walnut.” Pulling the drum from its thickly padded case, the unusual grain pattern of the shell grabbed my attention. The source wood didn’t have a straight grain, so rather than attempt to make the shell appear seamless (as is often the goal) we decided to accentuate its unique character. The result is a shell that appears to be in constant motion.
Accouterments include single-contact lugs designed by Jefferson, die-cast hoops, and gorgeous hand-cut bearing edges and snare beds. A Trick GS007 multi-stage throw-off and a satin hand-rubbed finish complete this stunning instrument.
The canary wood drum has a brown and gold grain with a lush visual appearance that elicits a “wow” every time I show it off. It’s best tuned low for a big, fat sound, with just enough overtones to distinguish it from other wood species.
The star of the three is the Brazilian rosewood. Its appearance is punctuated with a dark, exotic richness that only a rare species of timber can exude. Sonically, this drum does it all with style and grace. It’s articulate and luxurious, with a tuning range that’s ridiculous.
I hadn’t intended this story to sound like an endorsement for Sugar Percussion. I received no preferential treatment from Jefferson, but I have to give credit where credit is due. In that sense, I owe my deepest appreciation and gratitude to the craftsmen at Sugar Percussion for turning my dream into a reality and exceeding my wildest expectations in the process. Addio!