Take a short four-hour drive north out of Los Angeles up I-99, and you’ll find yourself in the little big town of Fresno, California. It’s the fifth largest city in the state, with a population of more than half a million, and it’s where Dana Bentley decided to set up shop and start his drum and percussion business.
“I grew up in Arroyo Grande, California, and started playing drums in the fifth grade. I was in the concert band, jazz band, and the marching band through elementary and high school. I was into playing, but also into the gear and how it worked, tuning the drums and fixing the drums for the junior high and the high school bands. After college I was able to [work at] my first drum shop, Drum Circuit in San Luis Obispo, and then I went to Mike’s Drum Shop in Santa Barbara.
I was always in love with vintage drums and the history of them. So I was out looking, buying, and trading, trying to upgrade my gear and acquire things. I had a regular day job, but I also helped Steve, who owned the Drum Circuit, as his business was growing. About a year and a half later, in 1992, I made the decision to move to Fresno to open up my own store. At that time, Fresno was among the top ten cities in the nation in terms of growth, and based on what the other music stores were doing in town—and more importantly what they weren’t doing—it led to the natural decision to open a store in Fresno.
Getting Modern Drummer magazine and seeing famous drummers playing kits from the ’60s and ’70s as their main kit, I was curious: how do those sound, and how do they work? So I’d find something at a garage sale and take it apart to figure it out. And there were people advertising vintage drums in the back of Modern Drummer, so that got me more interested. The wave of interest in old drums, and communicating with people across the U.S. about them, started in 1986, 1987. I had to back away from playing and really focus on my goal in the next year and a half to move here.
At that point, I was buying, selling, and trading, but then I decided to keep buying but stop selling, to accumulate some inventory. When I moved here, I had eight drumsets, only one of which was new, fifteen used cymbals, a couple of sets of congas, a bunch of hardware and pedals, and some used cowbells. Then I got a small loan from my mom and put some money into some new gear. If you saw the pictures, you would think that was barely anything, but it was the second largest inventory in town. And away I went.
“I always wanted to incorporate a museum into my store,” says Dana Bentley. “Ours has a variety of drums from the early teens to the ’70s. You can see a really nice lineage of how this instrument has evolved over the decades. A lot of the items I’ve had for more than thirty years—and some I’ve only had for thirty days, including a ’60s-era Slingerland kit in Mardi Gras finish. Some things we sell and trade, and some we don’t. There are several items that will be passed on to family members as time goes on. They have sentimental value.”
Among the items in Bentley’s museum is the Silver Sparkle Rogers set that Ed Shaughnessy played on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson when he started with the band.
Our first location was 2,200 square feet. I bought half carpet because I didn’t have enough money to carpet the whole thing. Four years later we added a small warehouse that was 1,200 square feet; three years after that we added a second warehouse. In 2008, I started looking for a larger location—we only had two teaching studios so we were turning away students, and the back-and-forth between warehouses was becoming a burden. A location became available, we got the keys in July of 2010, and we opened our doors in September. This was during the recession, but it was a great deal, we needed the space, and the business was still growing, though not by much. Now we have 11,000 square feet, with five lesson rooms, ample parking, a loading dock, and a warehouse. I started this business because it was an extension of a hobby. If I could take my love for the instrument and make that my day job, how much better could that be? And it is fantastic, really. But no matter how much you love something, you need to get away from it for a bit to recharge. So after ten years we took our first family vacation. Now we take a family trip once a year.
Our motto is “modern retail and historical retail for drummers.” We do lots of repairs, customization, modifications, and bearing edges on vintage drums, but we also have new drums starting at $299 and going up to $10,000, so we have something for everybody. I take what I saw at drum shops when I was growing up and combine that with modern retail, and have the best of both. And this shop was never about “buy a drum and leave”; it’s always been a place where drummers can come and hang out. I’ve been very fortunate in that all of our employees and customers are our friends. It’s really rewarding to see customers who now have children who are playing drums as well, so we have second generations coming in. That’s really rewarding.”