On May 12, 1963, Ringo Starr received a 5.5×14 oyster black pearl Ludwig Jazz Festival snare. This drum was seen and heard by millions of Beatles fans, and it became an object of obsession for many generations of drummers that followed. One of those drummers is historian Gary Astridge.
Astridge—who wrote the piece on Ringo’s late-’60s maple five-piece kit on page 44 of this issue—idolized him in every way, from his playing style to the gear he used. Over the years, Gary has meticulously researched Ringo’s drumkits and assembled exact replicas of the ones used with the Beatles. He became a de facto expert. Gary said, “I realized that I had accumulated a lot of information that people didn’t know about, and I wanted to share it, so I created a website, RingosBeatleKits.com, in 2006. It became a blueprint for each of Ringo’s kits.”
In 2012, Gary got a surprise phone call from the Grammy Museum. They were doing an exhibit on Ringo’s life called “Ringo: Peace and Love” with some of Ringo’s gear, but no one knew how to assemble the Beatles-era kits. It was all in disarray, and some parts appeared to be missing. They had seen Gary’s website and asked him to help. Gary was flattered and agreed to set up the exhibit. He quickly identified what was missing and replaced them with parts from his personal collection.
Astridge used that time to chronicle Ringo’s gear up close, as some of these kits had not seen the light of day for decades. In particular, he knew that Ringo’s 1963 oyster black pearl Jazz Festival was a rare configuration. The snare was 5.5″ in depth instead of the typical 5″. Each drum had a Ludwig pre-serial number keystone badge, bowtie lugs, baseball bat muffler, and P-83 throw-off. However, Ringo’s Jazz Festival snare had an unusual hardware arrangement. The keystone badge was located one panel to the left of the throw-off, and the baseball bat muffler was placed one panel further to the left. On all other Jazz Festival snares, there was a blank panel to the left of the throw-off.
According to Astridge, “In 1964, the Jazz Festival went from 5.5″ to 5″, the red muffler pad was changed to white, the chrome-over-brass hoops were replaced with chrome-over-steel, the snare gate size on the bottom hoop was reduced, and serial numbers were added to the badge. To my knowledge, there are only about fi ve snare drums like this surviving, including two that I own but not counting Ringo’s. Ringo’s is stamped April 18, 1963.”
Gary decided to commission a custom snare to the exact specs as Ringo’s original 1963 drum. He went to Bernie Stone, of Stone Custom Drum Company, to make a prototype 3-ply mahogany-poplar-mahogany shell with a scarf joint and reinforcing rings. He then harvested the necessary hardware from other 1960s-era Ludwig drums and had them replated in chrome. He also designed a keystone-inspired logo for the badge. When Gary showed the badge logo to Ringo, he suggested adding crossed drumsticks and his name. The decision was to make that the outer badge and have a numbered keystone badge on the inner side of the grommet. Two prototypes were built, and Astridge took them to the 2017 Chicago Drum Show. The response was overwhelmingly favorable.
Astridge kept Ringo’s drum tech, Jeff Chonis, and personal assistant, Scott “Scotty” Ritchie, informed on his Starr Festival snare. Upon Ringo’s approval, Gary presented the idea to reissue the snare to Ludwig. He recalls, “We had a meeting in their conference room, and the Ludwig team was sold on the idea. Ludwig made the shell, the oyster black pearl wrap, the eighteen-strand snare wires with the script logo, and the heads. I did the final assembly. I originally thought maybe we could do sixty-three drums, like the year, but we realized that wasn’t going to be possible. Ringo thought we should do fifteen, so that’s where we wound up.”
Fifty-five years after Ringo obtained his 1963 Jazz Festival, Gary presented him with the first production Starr Festival snare drum (#9, at Ringo’s request). Each of these drums is hand-signed by Ringo and comes in a custom 1960s-style case with a special Starr Festival drum key, tea towel, drumsticks, a personalized book on Ringo’s drums, and a signed certificate of authenticity. Each drum costs an impressive $30,000, with part of the proceeds going to the Lotus Foundation, a charity founded by Ringo and his wife, Barbara.