Prism Restoration - An Exclusive Interview
Hello everyone! My name is Sharee. Prism Products was kind enough to grant me an interview on their restoration techniques, which I’d like to share with you today. I’m not super knowledgeable on drums, so first I did some research on my own about snare and bass drums. I gathered enough information to feel like I could at least have a clue about the definition of some of the terms I might hear, but thankfully, Prism did a great job of explaining the process in an easy to understand way. Some parts of this interview have been edited -- partially to keep this article from getting too long and partially to further clarify a thought. Let’s get started!
Sharee: What is it that you do as far as restoration, what is it that you’re restoring, what kind of techniques or methods do you use? Maybe talk me through an example and tell me how you would go about doing it. Maybe one for the acoustic snare and perhaps another one for the bass drum. I guess just give me a general idea of what you do and how you do it.
Prism: Alright. Pretty much from start to finish, I go through the following process. I start out by trying to find a snare, with hardware that is intact, for a very low amount of money. The search includes checking the condition of the lugs and looking for any cracks in the rim. I also check the snare side batter, which is probably the least of my worries, as well as the resonant head. I do prefer a wood drum over a steel drum because I can do a lot more with wood than I can do with steel. Pretty much the only thing I can do with a steel body is to attempt to remove any pitting that may have occurred from oxidation. A wood drum is typically covered by a wrap that can be removed -- taking it down to the natural wood finish with the pre-drilled holes. I utilize apps like Letgo and 5Miles, or peruse Craigslist. From there it’s just negotiating with the buyer and picking it up.
The restoration process starts with making sure all the parts work. I turn the snare throw on and off. The snare throw is the mechanism that controls the sound, so it’s important for that to be in working condition. I also grade the rest of the parts -- going a bit more in-depth than the initial walk-through done before the purchase. Next, I remove the drum wrap and all hardware. Usually hardware is chrome or plastic. Either way, it can be spray painted, if needed. I like keeping chrome because chrome pretty much matches with any color.
I strip all the parts down and put them into bags. That includes the lugs, the snare throw, gaskets, snappy wire, etc. I take the drum down to its basic form which is just a wooden or steel shell. The first thing I usually do is clean the rims. They’re often filthy. Most of the time I throw away the top side head, which is the batter head on a snare. (That would be the one you hit.) Usually, that’s worn and it doesn’t make sense to sell a drum with worn heads. So, I’ll put a new one on. I have a batch of those in size 14. That’s another thing. I do look for 14-inch snare drums. They usually run between either 13-inch or 14-inch, with 14 being the most common. I have 14-inch heads in stock. I also have 13s in mesh. I choose which head to put on depending upon where I want to go with that conversion. I can convert it to a silent e-snare drum or keep it like a regular big band snare.
So, to recap, thus far I’ve purchased a drum, taken it apart, and cleaned it. Now I can get a good look at the wood itself. Is the rim bead damaged or cracked? If it is, then the drum head that I put on top of that is not going to sit flush, thereby causing a problem with tuning and tensioning. I’ll probably take a few pictures of the inside, after cleaning it, to show the quality of it. Then, I’ll tape it. What I mean by taping it is, I’m going to be refinishing a drum that already has holes. Well, it’s a refinish if it’s wood. If it’s steel, it’ll be spray painting. But if it has holes, I want to keep the inside of the snare drum as clean as possible. I might also plug the pre-drilled holes within the body with something like small pieces of paper towel or a napkin. That’s to stop whatever I use from getting all the way through and soaking the inside. With some snare drums, if you use a clear head, you’re going to be able to see inside of the drum and you want that to be as clean as possible.
Sharee: When you say the drum has holes -- as I was looking at diagrams and pictures of drums, I noticed that there is a little hole and I think they called it the breathing hole. Are you speaking of that or do you mean a drum that is so badly damaged that it actually has holes in it, like an old cloth?
Prism: HAHAHA! Good question. The breathing hole does need to be covered, however, I usually suspend the drum by that hole so I can work with the shell. But the holes I’m referring to comes from taking off the hardware. The hardware is everything you see on the outside of the drum. The hardware is drilled into the shell body. Once you take the hardware off, there’s a hole for each of those items. Those holes must be covered or plugged so that anything I do doesn’t leak through. Every drum will probably have at least anywhere from 16 holes to probably about 28 to 30.
Sharee: Thanks for answering that question!
Prism: Alright, so from there, it’s a matter of looking at the hardware. If it’s chrome, then I usually leave it as chrome, if it’s not too oxidized. Rust does set in over time. If I must, I’ll try to change the color. Changing the color isn’t the easiest thing to do with chrome. It’s usually a plating and stuff doesn’t really adhere to it very well. I have yet to spray paint over chrome, and I’m really not looking forward to doing it.
The next thing I do for the drum, if it’s a wood drum, is sand it down and make sure everything’s smooth. Then, wipe it down. From there, I can either do a stain or I can paint it. In most cases, drums are not painted unless it’s the hardware. Usually, I do a natural wood finish, using colors that come from the hardware store or colors that I’ve produced by mixing different cans together to create my own pigments. I normally apply at least two coats of the finish and let it dry in between coats. I can probably come back in an hour, but if I’m really busy, I might come back in three, four, or five hours to do the second coat. I let it dry fully for about a day, if I’m not rushing things.
Now it’s time to review the finish. I think about sanding it, depending on how smooth the finish came out. Is it light enough, do I like it, do I need another coat? The more coats you add, the darker it should get, for the most part. The last part is to seal the drum with a wood veneer. It’s kind of like a satin finish so that the drum will hold its color over time. That’s pretty much it for the refinishing part.
Then, it’s time to reassemble the drum. I put on any new hardware that I decided to buy or decided that I needed to make the sale. I might need a new snappy wire – that’s the little thing that rattles the drum. If the bottom head is in pretty good condition, I’ll keep that. If the wire is in pretty good condition, I’ll keep that. If I only need to replace the top head, I’ll do that. I make sure it’s clean and then take pictures.
Sharee: Would you say the process is pretty much the same for the bass drum?
Prism: The process is pretty much the same. The only issue with the bass drum is the size. The size of the bass drum makes it a little bit harder to redo. The hardware is pretty standard and comes off fairly easy. It’s actually really easy to get most of the hardware for a bass drum. One problem, which comes when you’re actually doing the refinishing part, is turning it because it’s so big. Usually they run from about 18 to 20 to 22 inches in diameter. I may also need to determine which head to keep, if I’m going to keep a head from the bass drum. #expensive! The bass drum needs sanding when the original parts are removed. It requires even more sanding after I’m done refinishing it. The refinishing process is a little longer when compared to a snare. I can turn a snare around in probably a day, if I have time. For a bass drum, it will probably take me about two weeks if I am constantly going at it. It could take less time, but for the most part I’d say about two weeks.
Sharee: About how much of your time would you say is spent on restoration? In other words, as an overall for your business, about how much of it is restoration and how much of it is just regular equipment sales?
Prism: I would say it’s probably about 1% of the business right now. Restoration takes time. It takes time in terms of procuring the right drum, it takes time to take it apart, it takes time to refinish it, it takes time to take good quality pictures, and the refinished products definitely take time to sell. For now, it’s a really small portion of Prism, but I’m looking forward to eventually having a line-up of refinished snares just waiting for people to pluck. Oh, I guess a couple of bass drums too, but I probably won’t do as many of those since they’re so big. They take up a lot of space in inventory, so I’ll probably just keep one or two of those on hand at all times.
Sharee: What about customer requested restorations? What if a customer already has a drum that needs restoring? Is Prism Products open to receiving that type of item from a customer and doing the restoration for them?
Prism: Yes, we’re definitely interested in doing that at some point in time. We’re also willing to accept donations of snare drums. We are willing to pay for the shipping. The model or the brand doesn’t really matter. If you have an old vinyl snare drum that’s just laying around and it has most, if not all, of the hardware intact, we’re happy to take that off the hands of our audience.
Sharee: Alright. I think, for now, that’s about it. Do you have any final remarks, tips, or comments you would like to make?
Prism: One of the next things on our radar is the conversion of an acoustic snare drum to an electronic snare drum. We already sell mesh and we already know how to do conversions. Once we get into that, I feel like the sky's the limit!
Sharee: Thank you for taking time out to do this interview with me! There’s a lot of useful and interesting information here!
I hope you, the reader, enjoyed the interview and learned something new! I definitely want to give Prism Products respect and credit for all of their hard work and dedication. It’s not easy for small businesses to successfully compete against large corporations or giants in today’s world, so congrats on your successes and best wishes for your future endeavors!