It’s logical that the elevated interest in vintage drums that we’ve experienced in the past couple decades has focused largely on instruments of American origin. Jazz and rock ’n’ roll, the two most significant styles of music that have exploited our ever-evolving “contraption,” were both born in the States. And given America’s leadership in manufacturing and the arts in the twentieth century, it makes sense that its drum-making industry excelled in terms of innovation, quality, and distribution, at least until the rest of the developed world caught up in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
But as Italian Vintage Drums and Cymbals by Luca Luciano makes clear, while Slingerland, Ludwig, Gretsch, and Rogers were providing the beat that moved millions of American feet between the golden age of swing and the rise of arena rock, something strange and wonderful was happening on the other side of the Atlantic.
Far from being simple re-creations of American instruments, many of the Italian models featured unusual design elements that would tickle even the least gear-savvy drum fan. “It’s really true that Italian manufacturers were thinking outside the box,” says Luciano, a semiprofessional rock and jazz drummer who counts among his prime influences the idiosyncratic Stewart Copeland of the Police and the famed British free jazzer Tony Oxley. “At the birth of drum [manufacturing] in Europe, we looked at jazz drumsets, but even if we never saw one [in person], we looked at photos. Then was the beginning of the imagination! It follows that every country [developed] its own problem solving, following a universal idea but using its own materials, style, and engineering. The Hollywood by Meazzi company [in particular] was very rich in terms of that.”
According to Luciano, drum manufacturing in Italy began in full in the 1920s with Umberto Alberti’s FISMOM brand—an acronym for Fabbrica Italiana Strumenti Musicali per Orchestre Moderne, or Italian Factory of Musical Instruments for Modern Orchestras. Among the more successful Italian companies were Hollywood and HiPercussion. The former managed to attract jazz greats like Max Roach and Art Blakey to its kits—Roach even had a line named after him—while the latter appealed to players including Pete Gill of the metal acts Saxon and Motörhead. Today high-quality Italian drum manufacturing continues with companies like Tamburo and Le Soprano.
As in America, in Italy we also find well-regarded cymbal brands, like Spizzichino and UFIP, as well as electronic percussion products such as Davoli’s Drum Synth Effect and Hollywood’s Tronic acoustic/electronic drumkit. “The Tronic featured a rack, volume and tone controls, and piezo microphones—so many concepts of the future,” Luciano says. “But the price was too high and nobody was really interested in it.” In 1968 no less a drum star than Billy Cobham presented the instrument at Carnegie Hall.
But it’s the acoustic instruments in Italian Vintage Drums and Cymbals that ultimately draw our attention, largely due to the ambitious approaches to hardware, portability, and finishes exhibited by companies like Daila, Bariselli, Di Berardino, and Finest e Varie. Ranging from gorgeous furniture-quality instruments, which one imagines would sonically rival the best of American offerings, to futuristic sets that seemingly create more arrangement and setup problems than they solve, the drums featured in the book remind us of the unceasing desire of manufacturers throughout the world to apply imagination, innovation, and dedication to boldly move the art of instrument design forward—even as they find themselves being sidetracked by some fascinating detours along the way.
While Luciano is still working on getting worldwide distribution for Italian Vintage Drums and Cymbals, the book can be ordered directly through the publisher Wakepress by emailing [email protected] or visiting www.wakepress.it/ilvintagedellebatterie.html