Dean talks about his journey making drums. If you are a gear head, you might want to skip this Q&A, as you will be tempted to have him make a snare for you (I certainly was!).
LL: Hi Dean! Thanks for taking the time to do a Q&A. Upon visiting the Diamond Drum site, I noticed that you only do stave shells, has that always been the case?
Dean Diamond: My pleasure! Yes, I have always built stave drums. There are several other construction methods – ply, segmented, steam bent – which I would love to try out someday, but many of them take much more specialized equipment. Thus far, staves have always been my focus.
LL: Can you give a summary of how you got to where you are with making drums?
DD: I was over at a friend’s house and he showed me this gorgeous snare drum. He then told me he built it and I was in disbelief. I knew at that moment I would be giving this a shot myself.
After doing lots and lots of reading on the subject, I acquired a few basic tools in my garage and started down the rabbit hole. Not having ANY previous woodworking experience, this was a daunting task, but apparently its a skill I have a knack for.
The very first drum I ever made is being used on a regular basis by a great jazz drummer named Paul Romaine. He fell in love with the snare – a 14″ x 5.5″ maple stave – from the first time he played it and says it gets better with every gig. Since then, I have had several other musician friends ask for a drum, and my hobby blossomed to the (very) small business I have now.
Its a great feeling when friends and strangers alike contact me asking for a custom snare drum.
LL: Was it a difficult decision not to keep the first drum you’ve ever made?
DD: Yes and no. I had originally planned to keep it for myself – either to play, or just keep in the house as a trophy so to speak – however, when I gave it to the drummer who currently has it, I was so thrilled to see it getting used that I didn’t care about having it myself anymore. Plus, he is local so if I wanted to see it in action its very easy to do.
LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as a luthier?
DD: Discipline is certainly part of it, but I feel luck also played a role in my success. I put in lots of time learning about the craft, but with no hands on experience, it was hard to tell whether or not I could successfully build drums. It worked out better than I had hoped, and I continue to refine and hone my techniques all the time in order to produce the best product I can.
LL: Were there times when you were frustrated with your progress?
DD: Absolutely. Although they never really slowed me down. I viewed the challenges as a learning experience and it made me push on. I cherish the mistakes I made and like to think I have learned from them all.
LL: What do you think is the most versatile wood?
DD: Maple. Hands down. It is my favorite to work with, and has all the characteristics to make an exquisite snare drum.
LL: Would it be good to have the same wood all throughout?
DD: I can’t say I see any immediate benefit to this, although I admit its something I have never thought about doing. The rim shot/cross stick sound is much more “woody” on a drum with a wood hoop though, so if a drummer is after that, I would certainly recommend a wood rim instead of metal.
LL: Are there certain wood types that you’re most excited about?
DD: I can’t say there is one I am more excited to work with than another. Every drum I build gives me the same excitement, and I’m always happy to start the journey again.
LL: Are there still specific wood types (or a combination of them) and dimensions you think drummers should embrace more?
DD: I think every drummer has a size they prefer. I have also seen some drummers who have 20 or 30 snares in their collection. There is always the right tool for the job – or snare for the gig in this case. Yet one snare can be tuned for most any sound should you have the appropriate drum heads for the application.
I have seen a lot of people wanting smaller, deeper snares recently, and I love the way they sound. But everyone has a preference.
LL: Are there certain materials you would avoid working with?
DD: I tend to stay away from softer woods such as pine, but there are companies that do build with them. In Colorado there is an abundance of beetle kill pine that has great character to its appearance, and I will be trying it at some point. I also love the idea of using reclaimed wood for drums. Having recently acquired a thickness planer, I will certainly be trying this in the near future.
LL: Do you aim to use fewer staves as possible for each drum?
DD: The number of staves in a drum is determined by the number of lugs the drum will have. This is so the lug can fall in the center of a stave, and be equally spaced all the way around the drum. For instance, a 10 lug snare will have 20 or 30 staves. I recently built a 13″ snare that had 8 lugs and 24 staves. This is not a requirement, but I prefer the consistent appearance it gives the drum.
LL: Is there a benefit having slightly more lugs compared to the norm?
DD: The general rule of thumb is the more lugs on a drum the better you can tune it.
When lugs are spaced closer together, you have more control over the tuning. A 10 lug snare is much easier to tune than an 8 lug – in theory. I must say though, that die cast hoops kind of make up for that. The rigidity of the die cast makes it very simple to tune, and produces a very nice tone. No wonder they are 4 times the cost!
LL: Did you have to experiment with different glues as well?
DD: The glue most drum builders swear by is titebond 3. It has worked great for every drum I’ve built so far and have no plans to change.
LL: What was the process of getting the DD logo plate?
DD: The logo was designed by a graphic designer/ web developer friend. There was just a small production run of the plates, and I am still looking for the best material to print them on. But to be honest, I prefer to have my drums without any badge at all. The fewer holes the better, so the sound is not affected in any way.
LL: How about your other drums that don’t have the logo on them?
DD: Although this is something I have thought about doing, I have not actually done it yet. The people that buy my drums certainly know where and who they got it from. As I never really intended on this becoming the business that it had, I kept saying, “Oh, I’ll start doing that on the next one”.
But since orders keep coming in, I should probably start looking into actually making this happen. I have kept a log for my personal information, of all the drums I have made and sold over my tenure. Its hard to believe its been so many, and I hope to keep filling those pages as time goes on.
LL: I visited your Etsy store and at the moment the only option is to custom order. Are you looking to lessen selling ready made shells (with hardware), and would like to focus more on service those who would like little tweaks on their drums?
DD: My business is 100% custom. If someone has an idea for a drum, I work with them to build exactly to their specifications. If I happen to have a spare shell laying around the shop, I may offer it to a potential customer, but I do enjoy the fact no two drums I build will be the same.
LL: What’s the minimum shell depth you’d be open to work with?
DD: The smallest I have done is a 3″ deep piccolo snare. Not sure how much shallower I would like to go, especially since the hardware would be cutting it very close. I do love the shallow piccolos though.
LL: What would your approach be for maintenance?
DD: I pride myself on having great customer service. There is no written policy, but should anyone have an issue, I try to make it right to the best of my ability.
LL: Do you use software when you design and make your drums?
DD: No, I don’t use any software to design my drums. As I mentioned, the customer usually comes to me with the design, and its just math and woodworking from there until the finished product.
LL: What would you say to those who would hold to the view that ‘in the studio it all sounds the same’ or ‘it could all be made to sound the same with effects’?
DD: I think there are arguments for both sides. The diameter, depth, thickness, construction technique, and material of a snare shell certainly help determine its sound, although with the right heads and tuning you can achieve nearly any sound from any drum. Of course you can add any effects and really tweak it to get the sound you want too.
LL: If you were to guide someone who’s keen to start making his/her first snare, how would you go about it?
DD: Read, read, read and read some more. There is an abundance of information on the internet and in books, but its up to you to be prepared with the knowledge to build. After that it is trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
LL: What are your three most used tools?
DD: Table saw, orbital sander, and my hands. Before I had all my jigs and tools set up, this is what I used to build my first drum. It took a very long time, but was incredibly satisfying, and made every drum after that seem much easier.
LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics when you are at working on new shells?
DD: Unfortunately, no. This is a labor of love, and sometimes that means poor ergonomics in the shop. Being 6′ 2″, I am used to counters and worktops being a bit too short, so its something I have learned to live with. I am always looking for ways to improve my setup though, and its something I keep in mind when its not too difficult or invasive to implement.
LL: How about regular breaks?
DD: Breaks? What are those?
Really, I can literally spend a full day – from morning until night – in the shop and not even realize it. This has changed in recent months as my wife and I had our first child. It certainly limits my shop time, but that’s not a bad thing at all.
Nice to give myself a time limit, and then continue where I left off the next day or weekend.
LL: How did this collaboration turn out?
DD: The friend who inspired me to make drums asked if I would be willing to collaborate. I built the rough shell, and he did the finishing work. It was a beautiful 14″ x 8″ walnut shell to which he added some brass inlay. Came out very nice, but I do enjoy working on a drum from start to finish.
LL: Are you a collector yourself?
DD: Ironically no! I still have the same beginner drum set from when I was in middle school! I hope to build myself a full stave kit someday soon though. At this point my collecting is focused on more tools for the shop 😉
LL: Since middle school!? Wow! I’m interested to know the details of your kit now! 🙂
DD: Haha, this is really funny since it has stayed exactly the same over all these years. In fact I don’t even have it at my house any more. It is set up at my nephew’s house since he has been learning to play, and I am happy to have it getting some use.
I do keep a set of Roland V-Drums at my house for practicing though.
LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting on Twitter and Instagram?
DD: No regular schedule. Sometimes I remember to post, other times I don’t. The social media will be especially quiet when I am not currently working on a project. You can tell its been quiet recently…
LL: What would you like to learn about next?
DD: Anything involving wood working. metal working has piqued my interest recently as well. But again, free time is rare and valuable nowadays.
LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?
DD: All things creative. I love making things with my hands, cooking, photography, and music, both listening to and creating.
LL: Are you a big listener of music?
DD: Indeed I am! I really have an open mind, so I don’t limit myself to any specifics. I was raised listening to classic jazz. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, etc, and continue to listen to all that today. I also enjoy newer artists, like Lake Street Dive 🙂 But I will listen to classical, pop country, punk rock, and lots of other genres as well.
LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new things?
DD: Yes and no. I certainly enjoy learning about all kinds of new things, but I find that when I look into one thing, I then follow down that path and have too many things all at once. Its not a bad thing though, never a dull moment.
LL: Where do you go for inspiration?
DD: I am a very creative person. I wouldn’t say there is a single outlet I go to for inspiration. It is a combination of things I have seen other people do, as well as what mood strikes me while I am in the shop.
LL: What makes you smile?
DD: As long as I can remember, my father said the best thing in the world is his children’s laughter. Now that I have a baby boy of my own, I can fully relate to this sentiment. It is truly incredible. Although there are many other things, most of which involve my family (and my workshop)
LL: What’s your view about social media?
DD: Without social media, I could not have made the (albeit very small) name for myself as a drum builder. I was initially very reluctant to involve myself personally on social media sites, but they are great for keeping in touch with friends and family you wouldn’t normally interact with.
LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?
DD: ghostnote drum building forum, woodworking talk forum, and youtube are always sites I frequent. Lots of great informative and entertaining things out there
LL: Are there websites that you like to visit just because you like the design?
DD: Can’t say I am that drawn to any sites purely for the web design.
LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?
DD: As they say, laughter is the best medicine, and I tend to agree. Although music certainly helps as well
LL: Are you interested in technology?
DD: Yes and no. I am very much drawn to the latest and greatest (insert name of tech thing here), but in the end I use whatever will get the job done. Computer wise, I have a Dell desktop, which really doesn’t get much use anymore. Mainly photo editing. Otherwise I have a Macbook Air I use for pretty much everything else. Hard to beat the portability of it.
LL: For someone playing a snare of yours for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?
DD: As a drum builder, I am my biggest fan, as well as my biggest critic. Can’t say I am much of a sales person, but I like to think the drums sell themselves. I have found that good customer service goes a long way as well.
There was a guy who found me through a post on the Evans drumheads facebook page, who had a vision for a drum, and said no one else would build what he wanted. Me being the naive overzealous builder that I am, took the job not knowing how it would work out. In the end, he was very satisfied, and I was too. Everyone who plays my drums says there is something special about them. That they can tell I put my heart and soul into the instrument, which is very true.
I like to have people play the drums before they buy if possible, and like I said, they will sell themselves. It also helps that I am not motivated by money. This is a labor of love. If I can sell a couple drums a year, make enough that it is sustainable, I am a very happy camper.
LL: What makes your soul sing?
DD: Music, making things (in any form or capacity), and family.
LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with your audience?
DD: Social media has been a great way for me to connect and get my name out. I have a website but Facebook has been the greatest tool for me to use as a business man.
* Dean Diamond is a drum builder currently based in Colorado. You can learn more about him via his Twitter or Facebook feed. Also, see things with his eyes through his photos on Instagram.”
Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (September-December 2014) between Dean and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.
Leigh Lim is a musician based at Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so via this form or a direct message through YouTube. (Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her tweets and personal entries.)
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