The Current State of Affairs
Johnny Craviotto repaired and restored drums for decades before the Craviotto Drum Company became official in 2004. But the player, collector, and one-time boat-maker’s apprentice is best remembered for handcrafting exquisite single-ply drums using the classic steam-bending technique. Although Craviotto unexpectedly passed away in 2016, the group of craftsmen he had thoughtfully assembled continues to uphold his precision, standards, and artistry.
Craviotto Drums are admired worldwide, but the team behind the name is modest in number. Under the leadership of president/ co-owner Steve Maxwell and co-owner Elizabeth Cabraser, the company’s five employees—all hired before Johnny’s passing— are devoted to preserving the unique and expert drum-making methods Craviotto established fifteen years ago. “Johnny took his art and craft very seriously,” says David Victor, who has been the company’s vice president of operations, sales, and marketing since 2010. “And although many times he wanted to do things his way and by himself, we were fortunate that he shared all that information and knowledge. Still, we had to ask ourselves, What are the next steps? How do we continue the business? Are people only going to want drums that Johnny made?”
There are twenty-one steps involved in handcrafting a Craviotto solid shell, and the team has stayed true to that intricate process established by the founder. Eric Gunn, who’s in charge of quality control and assembly, was with Johnny Craviotto from the beginning, when the two first set out to develop the bending process. “While Johnny eventually left the heavy lifting to the younger guys,” says Gunn, “he passed along his knowledge and kept a watchful eye on us as we learned, grew, and mastered those skills. Johnny loved to bend wood, and he took great pride in how many shells he’d bent over the years. But he was proud to pass that art to the team. Though Johnny is no longer with us, Craviotto Drums still has the mojo; that has never left.”
Production coordinator Saul Rocha misses working closely with Johnny but says he’s determined to maintain his mentor’s high standards. “People expect quality when it comes to Craviotto,” he says. “That quality starts at the beginning, with the wood selection and cutting. I took the knowledge that Johnny passed down and all the lessons I’ve learned from working next to him for so many years. We spent many days working side by side. Now it’s only me. It’s so important to start the process right, and I take pride in continuing that.”
Shortly before Johnny passed, David Lopez was brought on board to help oversee production and manufacturing. With his extensive woodworking background and familiarity with the drum trade, Lopez ensures that every component is constructed perfectly for drummers, no matter what genre of music they play.
Carrying the Torch
Craviotto wasn’t just the founder and head of his company; he was integral to the artistic decisions and the physical assembly of the drums. “Even though he was older, Johnny was doing a lot of the finish work, so it was difficult being a man down,” says Victor. “His spirit lives on, but not having his physical presence is tough. Lead times take longer, and we’re still addressing that. But he left us in a good place where the guys have the skillset and knowledge.”
Vice president of production and manufacturing Greg Gaylord adds that another obstacle is the perception from current and prospective customers that without Johnny, the drums won’t be the same. “This is simply not the case,” he says. “We have the same team in place making the drums as we did before Johnny passed. We’ve taken the information Johnny taught us and have continued with the formula he developed and applied that to new and exotic woods, always striving to find a new voice. I believe he would be pleased knowing that we are continuing to make art for other artists to be inspired by.”
Another test the company faced was the potential loss of the close relationships Craviotto cultivated with a multitude of artists. “We don’t have a dedicated artist relations guy, and Johnny loved reaching out to artists and interacting with them, so that role is unfilled,” says Victor. “But we’ve retained a family of artists that Johnny developed and cared so deeply about. That says a lot. And our artists are still acquiring new drums because they believe in the process, the products, and the team of people who make them.”
Along with maintaining relationships with professional musicians, the Craviotto team strives to reach out to a younger generation of drummers who are just discovering their drums. “These drummers may not have known Johnny,” says Victor, “but they’re keenly aware of the product he developed and how Craviotto solid shells perform. He enjoyed making drums but also loved hearing comments from those who could hear the difference in his instruments, even if they didn’t own one. As Johnny would say, ‘They get it!’ These musicians hear the passion and dedication that’s put into each drum. That’s what drove Johnny and continues to drive us.”
Tribute, Heritage, and Other New Offerings
To honor the late founder’s life and career, in 2017 a limited run of twenty-five Tribute snare drums was made available featuring components that Johnny Craviotto was particularly fond of using. These aptly named drums feature a single-ply maple shell, 30-degree bearing edges, chrome-over-brass hoops, and a three-point strainer. An abalone inlay was added to reflect Johnny’s love of fishing. In 2018, the Craviotto team developed the Heritage series for players who weren’t able to acquire a Tribute drum. Victor notes that they didn’t want to undermine the value and significance of the Tribute drums, but rather provide a more affordable option. Heritage snare drums feature single-ply 6×14 maple shells, eight Marquise lugs, 45-degree bearing edges, and a special new inlay.
Two new metal snares are available for those looking for a non-wood option from the company. Solitaire series drums are constructed from premium aluminum and are available in 5.5×14 and 6.5×14 sizes and in Matte Black or Aged Pewter finishes. The aerospace-grade Titanium Solitaire is perforated in the middle and has a walnut inlay. These distinctive drums come in 4.5×14 and 6×14 sizes.
Craviotto is also expanding its focus to include handcrafting more drums from exotic and rare wood species for its Private Reserve collection. Ambrosia, curly walnut, and bird’s-eye maple are some of the current offerings. Additionally, Stacked Solid snares and drumsets that utilize two or more woods offer players a completely customizable look and tone. The custom shop also remains in place for those who want to choose the wood type, inlays, bearing edges, and lugs of built-to-order drumsets and snares.
David Victor acknowledges that pressure exists any time a company founder—and a beloved one at that—passes. “We’re building drums as good as [we did before], if not better,” he says. “We’re pushing the envelope on new ideas and sounds. We’re continuing to be creative and build on the legacy [that Johnny] left us. We’re not stagnant. We talk about him almost every day in one way or another. I think he would be proud.
“Quality, detail, and passion are the cornerstones on which we were built,” Victor adds. “I love to spread the word about what we do, how we do it, and how we’re different, and to expand on the foundation Johnny laid.” Adds Elizabeth Cabraser, “We’re very proud of the continuity of the tradition and legacy, [while] keeping it fresh and relevant now and for the future.”
Three years after its founder’s passing, the Craviotto team is dedicated to upholding Johnny’s passion and fine craftsmanship for future generations. “All Craviotto drums are built to be both reliable workhorse drums and timeless collectors’ instruments,” says Steve Maxwell. “Sound, function, and classic beauty are the hallmarks of every Craviotto drum. Thanks to what Johnny created, the Craviotto Drum Company has shipped more than 800 sets and 5,000 snare drums to date, which is clear evidence that he got it right.”