Just as the storied city that is home to Bryson Nelson’s vintage and boutique drum emporium has experienced significant growth in recent years, the twenty-seven-year-old California native’s shop has been expanding right along with it. Since he arrived in Nashville in 2015, Nelson has gone from playing on the contemporary Christian scene and selling the unique drums he’d amassed while by appointment only from his garage, to setting up shop in a 2,700-square-foot space he purchased in the thriving Inglewood neighborhood.
Prior to moving into that larger space, Nelson was shoehorning his growing inventory into a 500-square-foot space in East Nashville, where he had trouble making space for his computer among the Trixon, Radio King, and Sugar kits. Now he has ample space to display his wares, which include a fleet of boutique and vintage rental kits that have been used by players like Matt Chamberlain, Jay Bellerose, Steve Jordan, and Fred Eltringham in recent months.
“It’s very exciting and very scary at the same time,” says Nelson, a self-professed vintage drum nerd, of the expansion. “I’ve never bought a commercial property, so it’s intimidating.” In the midst of setting up the new shop, Nelson talked to Modern Drummer about his evolution from drummer/collector to drum retailer.
“My wife and I moved to Nashville from California so we could afford a home—that was the number-one reason. And then the shop kind of happened organically. I wasn’t planning on opening a retail shop. Sales-y things just kind of grossed me out. Whenever someone starts talking about “sales,” it just sounds so yucky. I was afraid of opening up a retail shop because a few of the shops I used to go in growing up, they always felt cold, and they only really cared about your business. I just hated that.
I’d gathered a big collection of vintage drums. I’d been doing that for six or seven years. I was always very excited by studio drummers, and how you could use different tones and drums for different things. So I’d always have fifteen snares at a time or five or six kits at a time, and they were just constantly flipping. I never held onto things for very long. I was really addicted to the hunt of vintage drums. Since I wasn’t too sentimental about any drum in particular, it was an easy transition into retail. The most exciting part is hunting down the drums, playing everything that comes in, then watching somebody else play it and get excited about it.
There are only two drum shops in Nashville, my shop and Fork’s Drum Closet. What we do is very different. They don’t really mess with vintage at all or the boutique thing. And our thing is just vintage and boutique. Locally, my shop is known as a hang shop. Guys want to come in and hang out and talk drums, have a coffee, maybe walk across the street and get tacos. I’ve tried hard to cultivate that vibe. And we get a lot of different types of players coming in. We get a lot of guys that are on different country gigs that couldn’t care less about vintage drums, but they come over just because they want to hang out. And we get a lot of out-of-towners that like what we do online and want to come and check out the shop.
Nelson’s staff of four includes restoration expert Lucas Aldridge, who is the son of well-known drum tech/historian John Aldridge. “I used to do all the restoration myself, but the shop got busier so I hired Lucas,” Bryson Nelson explains. “He’s ten times better at restoring than I am. He grew up restoring drums, and he’s extremely attentive to detail.” From left: Lemuel Hayes (shop employee/shop tech), Nelson, Aldridge, and Asa Lane (shop manager).
This circa 1940s Sparkling Gold finish Slingerland Radio King kit is typical of the type of gear that can move pretty quickly through Nelson Drum Shop. Note the early ’40s Rolling Bomber snare with wood lugs and hoops, a response to the rules regulating the use of certain manufacturing materials during World War II. The set is outfitted with vintage A and K Zildjian cymbals. The kit in the inset photo is a rare Radio King set that was only made with wood hoops at the end of the Great War and for a short period of time after.
“People should really have an idea of what they’re looking for,” suggests Bryson Nelson. “Know some tones you like from a certain song, know what genre you’re looking to use drums for, what environment you’ll be using the drums in. Are you playing live in a small room or on a big stage? Is it going to be in a studio? Those are the questions we ask.”
I try to stay really aware of what everybody else is selling (vintage) things for. I don’t necessarily want to out-price everybody, but I want to stay competitive. I started a shop to sell to my friends, so it’s not about having prices people can’t afford. I want people to take the drums, even if we end up making less money. I’m always happy to work with people, especially when they’re on a budget. I want to sell to people that are really excited about these drums, versus just getting top dollar for a drum I sold online and shipping it off to Idaho or some place where there’s no relationship with the buyer. That helps with the business, but the part that really excites me is selling to the guys that are excited about what they’re getting.
My shop feels like an antique shop in a way. People come in and if something’s $600, they’ll say, “I’ve got $400, but I really want this drum.” People don’t do that all the time, but it’s totally cool with me; I never take offense to that.
In a town like Nashville, there are so many drummers here. Every day I check my email and somebody local will write and say, “Hey, this is what I have,” or, “I have this old Rogers kit….” We buy drums on the spot, so people bring in their old drums all the time. And I’d say every week someone brings in something from some iconic drummer or some great recording. We (recently) bought drums that one of Paul Simon’s drummers had used, we have some drums from Aaron Sterling and Alabama Shakes, a snare from Steve Jordan…. There are so many legendary players here and so many cool bands, so there’s a great selection of stuff coming in.”