Friday, January 17, 2020

It's here: The Deco pad

The new pad arrived in today's mail.
I unwrapped it carefully and examined it for a long time before trying it out.

The pad is about the same size as many factory-made, mass-produced pads of the era.
It has thin-walled wooden sides and a curved plexiglass top mounted on a wooden base.
The pad mounted on the plexiglass is made of rubber that is quite cracked with age.

There's a steel rod running through the middle of the pad, that can be tightened or loosened to change the pitch of the pad. The notes from my research say it was originally able to change by as much as two whole tones. I won't attempt such a stretch now because of the pad's age (and the wooden sidewalls seem pretty thin).

 The sidewalls, slightly warped from use and time, do not reach the platform. There's a tiny open space at the bottom of the sidewalls to allow for the adjustment.
The thumbscrew could easily be turned farther than I feel comfortable.

I will have to guess at what other pitches might be possible. I don't mind at all.The pad is in amazing shape considering its age.
There appears to be an imprint from a decal or badge. I thought they might be lettering from a logo, but it could just as easily be squiggles of thinkly-applied glue. I just don't know.

The rubber circle, not quite 4 inches in diameter, shows a lot of cracking -- but it's also still very pliable. I played with sticks and was surprised at its bounce and response. In fact, I decided to make a little video so you can all see how lively the thing is, over fifty years after its creation.

This is one of the coolest finds ever in my quest to research and learn more about practice pad design and development. I'll keep looking to see if I can find a patent (which would be cool, since it would fill in some blanks historically and mechanically).

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Research project: "Deco" pad, 1940s

I will be taking delivery on a very distinct vintage pad sometime next week.

In advance of receiving it, I decided to begin researching its history.
I ended up going down a cool little rabbit hole, and thought I'd share.

Here's the pad.

The pad, which doesn't seem to have a brand or model name that I can find, was designed and made by Robert I. Woods in the 1940s, and sold through his local music dealer in Liverpool, NY.

What's interesting about this pad, besides its distinctive design and looks, is that it can be adjusted to change the pitch using the bolt that runs through the middle -- tightening it will give you a slightly higher pitch; loosening will lower the pitch. According to the seller, later models in the 1950s included another adjustment that allowed one to open or close side panels for a change in tone. This is an earlier model from the 1940s, before that feature was added.

Some of the pad's historic info was provided by the seller; the rest I had to go looking for.
What I found included stories about the music shop's origins and the sale of the building for conversion into condos (sigh); some hunting to determine which Robert Woods actually invented this pad (Robert I. had a son named Robert F, who was not a musician); and the history of the business where Robert I. did his inventing.

Most of this info was found by scouring the web for obituaries. You can find out quite a bit from reading someone's obituary about how they lived and what they did with their time on earth. And you don't need to pay for an Ancestry subscription, either. Many newspapers keep records of obits going back into the late 19th century. You just have to be willing to do more digging on your own, which for my money beats paying Ancestry to do it. It's more fun to do it myself, anyway.

Here's what I found about the music dealer that sold Woods' pads:

From Syracuse historical site:

Business started in 1935.
Owners Dave Gersony,  Howard Gersony
Location- 119 So. Jefferson, later moved to So. Clinton Street.
Lines- Gretsch, Martin, Fender, Haystrom, Yamaha, Ampeg,
Marshall Amps, Peavey, Polytone, Korg, Crown, JBL,
Malatchi, various sax, trombone lines, Vinyl Records (45's, Lp, 78, EP's)
Recording tape & accessories, Vinyl Records (45's. Lp, EP, 78 RPM)
Musical Instrument sales & lessons, a full serve music store.
Huge selection of Jazz Recordings
Sadly our good friend Dave Gersony passed away Aug 31, 1997

And here is what I found out about Robert I. Woods, who was an inventor, the local school band director and a lifelong musician (obituary from 1984):

Finally, digging a little further I was able to learn about Woods' employer, the Lipe Machine Shop:

(from Wikipedia)

The building became an industrial incubator after Charles E. Lipe, 29, a young Cornell University engineering graduate of the Sibley College of Mechanics in 1873 and son of a German-born farmer from Fort Plain, Montgomery County, New York, moved into the building in 1880 and set up the C. E. Lipe Machine Shop. The building was commonly known as the Lipe Shop.
The Lipe Shop was a "haven for inventors and an incubator of industries" and Lipe himself was a prolific inventor. He had invented a cigar-rolling machine, a broom making machine, motion picture equipment, automatic looms and time recorders.


Now, I didn't absolutely have to go digging this far back to get the basic facts. It would have been enough to know who invented and sold this pad. But going back further gave me a richer picture of the environment in which Woods was encouraged to innovate and invent things that would make something better out in the world. As a high school music teacher, he certainly would have seen his share of cheap practice pads that offered nothing other than a flat surface to practice on. His design added in some adjustability, and some nice design elements as well.

What's interesting (to me, at least) is that Woods doesn't appear to have registered a patent for his invention. This could be for several reasons:

-- he may have attempted to file a patent claim that was rejected because his design either copied too many aspects of someone else's or because not enough of Woods' design was considered "new" and/or "original" to be granted a separate patent;

-- he may not have had the means to file -- it costs more than applying for, say a simple copyright for a song -- but that's not likely considering his lines of work;

-- he was making them on his own time and selling them through his local music shop, which means this product was never produced on a large enough scale to go forward to patent registration and marketing beyond the Syracuse area. If that's the case, it also suggests that relatively few were made, and therefore even fewer exist today.

My money is on the last possibility.

I am hoping to find out more about this pad, but like all my vintage pads, information can be difficult to come by because practice pad innovation wasn't as big a deal as new drum designs (Remo Belli's tunable practice pad excepted).

But if any of my readers have ever seen another one of these, I would love to know about it.

I'll share more pictures and, if the pad is safely playable, a short video after it arrives.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Old-modern sticks: Cooperman "Lemley" model

Today's curiosity: Cooperman "Lemley" model 20 drum sticks.
I got these in an online auction from someone who was trying to dump them at a low price. No one else wanted them, so they were mind with a winning bid of $5 plus postage.

Cooperman Drum Company have been making drumsticks and rope-tension drums for over 50 years, primarily for the fife-and-drum crowd but also more recently branching out into concert sticks as well. The US Army Old Guard fife and drum corps uses Coopermans, as do most fife and drum units around the country. They're turned one at a time and matched for both pitch and weight in their Vermont workshop. Some years ago, the company divided into two divisions: Jim Cooperman focused on repair, restoration of rope drums and handed the manufacturing over to Dave Loyal Drums. Dave, a former member of the Old Guard brought years of playing and woodworking expertise with him to take on making Cooperman drums and sticks, and so far the transition has been  going well.

I cannot yet figure out exactly how old these sticks are, but since they are clearly older than what's being turned out since Loyal took over production from the Cooperman family a few years ago, I have to assume that they are some kind of older; my guess based on the available company history is that these date from before 2000 and probably before 1990. I hesitate to call them "vintage" at this point. The Cooperman "Lemley" model as created to pay homage to Ed Lemley, a champion rudimental drummer of the 1930s who wrote numerous rudimental solos (including his famous "Crazy Army," found in the NARD solo book).

The Lemley stick is currently out of stock at Cooperman's web store. It has been made in both persimmon and hickory. This model measures 17' long and 11/16" in diameter. The taper is medium-short and unlike many modern marching sticks, there is no taper at the butt end, meaning that the balance feels odd and some adjustment is needed to get used to playing with this stick.

Based on my practice time with a shorter modern stick (Jeff Queen solo model by Vic Firth, my regular practice stick), I found the diameter of this longer stick to be almost too small, especially with the large bead. I tried playing the sticks and switched back and forth between them and the Queens to get a feel for how they were different and why. Not sure if you can gain anything from these videos but here they are.

I am hoping to obtain a very special vintage pad soon.
If I'm successful I'll let you know about it here (after I research it, of course!).

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

drumming and grief

I've spent the last two weeks in California, where my father-in-law was dying and finally passed away. We nursed him and loved him to his end, helped to bury him, and helped my mother-in-law begin to sift through the mountain of responsibilities that stretched out before her, including paperwork and going through her husband's clothes and much more.

During breaks in the family time together, and the tasks I heped to carry out, I took a lot of short little breaks to chop out on a practice pad I'd brought with me, primarily for meditative purposes rather than to actually practice any music in a meaningful way.

Setting the little pad in a post of the porch rail, I'd play eighths, sixteenths and so on; switch to paradiddle ladders and shifts, and occasionally lapse into an old cadence from my high school or college days. Mostly it was the physical act of moving the sticks up and down on the rubber pad, rather than the sounds I made, that soothed me and helped me calm my insides.

Being around someone who is dying is emotionally draining. Burial, mourning and greeting friends and family after they've died is really hard and demanding and takes a lot out of you.
So when I needed to chop out a little, I had my pad and sticks and I was so glad I'd brought them along. (Turn the volume up for this one.)

(Note to self: Next time, bring a bigger pad that won't move around with every accented note.)

Now that I'm home again Im looking forward to rejoining my community band. They start rehearsals again next week so I have some time to prepare. They've also asked me to facilitate a drum sectional, for the purpose of readying some street beats to play between songs when we march. Since most of the drummers are new to this kind of drumming I'll need to start with some really simple things, but they all have good ears and hopefully will catch on quickly.

Working with new drummers is really good for my humility right now.

Stay tuned. I'm working on an acquisition of a special vintage pad if I can swing it.
Up next, some vintage sticks and a little history.