Slingerland Drum Company
|Formerly||Slingerland Banjo Company|
|Type||Privately held company (1913–late 1970s) |
Brand (late 1970s–present)
|Founded||1913Kalamazoo, Michigan, USAin|
|Founder||Henry Heanon Slingerland|
|Products||Drum kits, electric & acoustic guitars, violins, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles|
Slingerland is a US manufacturer of drums. The company was founded in 1912 and enjoyed several decades of prominence in the industry before the 1980s. After ceasing operation in the early 1980s, Slingerland was acquired by Gibson, who briefly revived it and owned it until November 2019, before selling Slingerland to DW Drums, who have announced the intention of re-launching the brand. Slingerland is strongly associated with jazz drummers, such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, who played signature instruments made by the company. Although primarily known for its drums, in the 1930s Slingerland also produced electric and acoustic guitars, violins, mandolins, banjos and ukuleles.
The "Slingerland Banjo Company" was founded by Henry Heanon (H.H.) Slingerland (1875–1946) in 1912. Slingerland had won a correspondence school of music in a card game aboard one of the gaming boats that once cruised Lake Michigan. He then opened a music school in Chicago, and soon turned to manufacturing musical instruments as well. As its name indicated, the company started out producing banjos while importing ukuleles from Germany, but set up its own production because it could not meet demand. Soon, they produced their own musical instruments and eventually, also guitars (including electric guitars from 1936 or earlier). Production of snare drums was started in 1926 in answer to the entry of the Ludwig & Ludwig drum company into the banjo market.
A resourceful and energetic businessman, H.H. established an extensive dealer network throughout the U.S., the then-territory of Hawaii (in the early 1930s) and China. After H.H.'s death from a stroke, the company was run by his wife, Nona, and one of their children, Henry Jr. The company's manufacturing plant was later moved from Chicago proper to Niles, a suburb in Cook County, Illinois.
Although the Slingerland company was best known as a drum kit manufacturer, it also made guitars in the 1930s. The Songster electric guitar, featured in a 1939 company catalog, pre-dates Les Paul's "log" guitar and is probably the earliest Spanish-style solid-body electric guitar model. The guitar's pickup includes individual string magnets as well as a large horseshoe magnet. Slingerland ceased making electric instruments in 1940 in order to exclusively focus on producing percussion instruments.
The company remained in the Slingerland family until 1970, but continued to be a prominent drum manufacturer throughout the 1970s. After introducing the Magnum series in the late 1970s, Slingerland lost its footing, and the company folded. Slingerland changed ownership multiple times until it was acquired from Gretsch (part of the Gibson Guitar Corporation by then) in 1994. Gibson revived the brand, but had limited success, because of its stipulation that in order to become a Slingerland dealer, music stores also had to carry Gibson guitars. This was not feasible because small independently owned music stores could not afford to carry both lines.
In 2018, much if not all of the remaining warehouse stock of Slingerland drums, including bare shells, hardware and complete drum sets, were sold to a private individual who proceeded to liquidate the remaining stock via eBay. This included drums produced in Nashville and in Taiwan.
On November 25, 2019 it was announced that DW Drums had taken over ownership of the Slingerland brand from Gibson.
Slingerland's most famous product line is the Radio King series of drums. These drums were introduced in 1936–37, and remained Slingerland's flagship snare drums and drum sets until 1957, when the Radio King model briefly disappeared from the product line. Between 1960 and 1962, Radio Kings were reintroduced. Older Radio Kings are obsessively collected by vintage drum enthusiasts. Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich were both Radio King endorsers.
The original Radio King snare drum is distinguished by its construction: rather than several plies of mahogany, like most snare drums of the era, a Radio King drum was created from a single piece of steam-bent maple with solid maple reinforcement rings to assist in keeping the drum round under the pressure of the metal hardware attached to it. Single-ply wood drums are known for their resonance and bright tone.
Radio King bass drums and tom-toms were made from mahogany, with maple reinforcement hoops. These drums are known for their "thuddy" sound; very warm, with quick decay.
The popularity of the old Slingerland Radio King snare drum is evidenced by a myriad of professional drummers who still used the snare in 2017, despite endorsing other brands.
A departure from the standard Slingerland product line occurred during World War II when wood was used to manufacture drum parts that had traditionally been made of brass, chrome, nickel, and steel. This was due to the high demand for metals needed for the war effort. These drums were named the "Rolling Bomber" series, and are highly collectible.
Rock and Roll
The Rock and Roll era of the 1960s and 1970s was a good time for many American drum companies, including Slingerland. Slingerland's main competitor, Ludwig, had the advantage of being endorsed by Ringo Starr, but Slingerland, too, produced drums in that era and had robust sales. Beside long time endorser Buddy Rich, Slingerland in the 1970s garnered drummers Danny Seraphine with Chicago and Nigel Olsson, the drummer for Elton John. Short-lived in the 1970s was Slingerland's version of Ludwig Vistalite drums. They stopped production quickly after their introduction due to a patent infringement suit and a cease and desist warrant from Ludwig regarding Slingerland's foray into acrylic drums. These drums today remain collectible.
Slingerland marching drums were produced as early as the 1920s. By the 1970s, the Slingerland line of marching equipment had become very popular in marching bands, colleges, and drum corps. During the late 1970s, Slingerland introduced its TDR marching snare drum, with a novel strainer and synthetic-gut snare that produced a distinctive sound. Another late-70s innovation was the Slingerland cutaway multi-tenors that were carried in trio, quad, or quint arrangements. The cutaway design was first used in 1977 by the Santa Clara Vanguard under drum captain Fred Sanford and the Oakland Crusaders under Tom Float. Famous drum corps such as the 27th Lancers Drum and Bugle Corps of Revere, Massachusetts under Charlie Poole, the Bridgemen of Bayonne N.J. under Dennis Delucia, the Chicago Cavaliers under Gus Barbaro and Brian Callahan, the Pittsburgh Royal Crusaders and the General Butler Vagabonds all used Slingerland equipment in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the early 1980s, Slingerland was gaining significant market share, but the company was sold, and corporate finances fell apart. By the late 1980s, Slingerland had fallen behind technologically, and Ludwig-Musser, and especially Pearl drums, began to pick up its market share.
For most of the company's pre-1970s history, Slingerland's manufacturing processes were not standardized in the way that modern large-scale manufacturing companies' are. Exceptions to nearly every strict product taxonomy existed. This is due in large part to the fact that parts would often be left over from year to year and would be used by workers even though some of those parts had been officially discontinued from the line.
- Slingerland is Acquired by Drum Workshop Facebook.
- ""Gene Krupa - Drum Kit Set-Up"". Archived from the original on 2014-04-20. Retrieved 2014-12-15.
- Slingerland History on Cooper Vintage Drums
- "The Slingerland stringed instruments" on Slingerland Guitars.com
- "The Legends Series Gene Krupa Signature Drum Kit" on DrummerMan.net
- Radio King drums on Vintage Drums website
- "DrummerBitch - Neil Hennessy Interview" on LawrenceArms.org, 22 Feb 2008
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