Vintage View - Gary, Metjazz and Sonic
Vues d’epoque - Gary, Metjazz et Sonic (We are so cosmopolitan here... honest!)
I wasn’t planning to write about three drum sets but as soon as I started investigating the French Gary drums for this month’s Vintage View, three other names came up too - Metjazz, Sonic and ASBA. So after a great deal of time invested pouring over various French forums and websites, and since I’d already written a great deal about Alfred Boudard’s company ASBA company, I decided to pool my resources and write about three other French drum sets made in and around ‘La Belle France’s’ capital city - Paris.
It’s not difficult to pinpoint Gary’s origins - we know they were made in Paris because it says that on their badge. Ostensibly that would appear to be close to being the sum total of what the internet knows about them – other than the fact that they were always mentioned in the same breath as Metjazz, Sonic and Asba. There would appear to be some physical similarities to ASBA but not enough to say they were made by Alfred and Simone Boudard and extensive digging has revealed they were made by a Frenchman called Cascade (Casadel) in the Rue du Faubourg de Saint-Antoine - an area where possibly un-coincidentally, they specialised in making wooden furniture. The factory was close to the Bastille which may have accounted for the castellations at the top of Gary’s brass badge. The company usually made accordions and evidentially the reason for them getting into building drums was simply because one of their customers (who was a champion accordionist) requested they made a set for his drummer. I suppose there’s always got to be a reason.
Time-wise I have seen a set of Gary drums dated 1940 which seems a little odd to me since at that time the French were overrun by the Germans and since Paris was first occupied on June 14th of that year, drum-building should have been the last thing on anybody’s mind.
I have seen just two different Gary nutboxes the earliest of which was clunky and could well have been machined from solid stock, while the more modern versions seem to have been cast and fluted with chamfered edges - vaguely reminiscent of the ‘Imperials’ which Ludwig had been making for years and which several other drum manufacturers ‘borrowed’ for their own products.
The finishes were very much like those which ASBA were supplying with their drums at the time and that too may not have been by accident. (BTW the market for accordions was at least the equal of that for drums and both instruments were covered in what have become ‘retro’ sparkles, glitters and marine pearls – even to this day. There was a time when I was dealing with Italian accordion makers to get hold of these coverings at source to stick them on to Arbiter drums.)
To the best of my knowledge there have been two (possibly three) diamond-shaped tin badges for Gary, the earliest being painted red and the newest from the sixties painted black. The third badge is evidently the most rare and painted brown. I initially thought perhaps this was a tarnished red one but doesn’t seem to be the case from what I’ve read on the subject. As I said there was also a castellated brass badge which was coloured black and said ''Gary'' with ''Paris'' below it. Like the diamond-shaped badges it was attached to the shell by way of an airhole grommet.
I can’t find much info on the material of the drum shells but typically I do know that French drums were fitted with glue rings. At the time ASBA shells were made from poplar and Okoumé and formed inside a zinc tube with the glue rings ‘screamed’ in later. So it’s reasonably safe to assume Gary too were made from 3-plies of Okoumé (or possibly Acajou) both of which are French words for species of mahogany and the knowledgeable among you will no doubt be aware that DW made drums from Okoumé too.
And, even though I’d like to say the shells came from the ASBA factory, I couldn’t in all honesty say they did. However some of the forums I’ve been on attest to the fact that even though ASBA were in competition with Gary, Sonic and Metjazz they did make the hardware for all three drum marques. Gary’s gas tap T-rods were very like ASBA’s as were the cast hoops with neat ''ears'' to accept the slotted tension-screws.
Gary’s metal shelled caisse claires (snare drums to you and me) were available with a parallel-action snare mechanism with a unique rotary knob to adjust snare tension. The metal shell had twin trenches to stop it buckling. These were set a half-inch or so from the bearing edges and the shell was fitted with an internal damper.
Interestingly, as far as sizes were concerned according to ancient catalogues you could buy sets with an 18” bass, 12 and 16” toms and a 14 x 3.5” snare. It took a while to get corroboration of whether they were metric sizes but as you’d expect the snares were 35.3 cm in diameter and 8.8 cm deep.
Gary had what appears to be a sophisticated bass drum pedal with twin posts, a cast one-piece footplate, a single fine-gauged expansion spring and a solid metal linkage. Their height adjustable tom holder receiver block joined to the shell via three petal-like pieces and the block affixed there to hold the cymbal arm had not one, but two wing nuts to hold it still. The other end of the holder was composed of a ratchet to change the angle of the tom. (There was also a disappearing cymbal arm which penetrated the shell with three ratchets to help get the cymbal into the required playing position.) The disappearing spurs also penetrated the shell and some models were fitted with four of them. There was a knob fixed to the outside the shell to lock the spike into the optimum position.
Gary stopped making drums at the end of the sixties when France became swamped by Oriental drums, but prior to this I read their sets had been the same price as US and UK equivalents. During my research, it was funny to see the acronym ''FEPOS'' on a French website. It doesn’t scan so well but surely it should read MDMDEO - “une Morceau De Merde D’Extreme Orient”.
I don’t know if it’s significant but perversely French drums seem to be fitted with an odd number of tensioners and floor toms could have nine tensioners.
I thought when I began researching the three marques that Gary would be the most important but I found there was considerably more information on Metjazz and they appeared to have been more popular with players than the other marques. Metjazz was the work of a guy called Henri Metzger who began to build drums and banjos with a chap called Paul Benscher in 1918 immediately after the Great War. From 1940 Jean Metzger went ahead on his own in Sucy-en-Brie (a Paris suburb) with his three sons and by 1952 was making 20 sets a month with 3-ply shells from Okoumé/poplar/okoumé. Metjazz introduced intricate patterns in their finishes which were called nacrolaque which seems to include sequins and often what appear to be beads to jazz them up.
They had a very good-looking metal snare drum in 1946 with a nickel-over-brass shell, a parallel action with a beam to join the snare attachments through the drum, a dropped gate, an internal damper and stick-chopper, single-flange hoops. They had a somewhat unique throw-off with a clamp which held single snare strands.
Their fixtures and fittings were made by ASBA but unlike the others Metjazz adjusted theirs to improve them and tailor them to their drums. The Metjazz badge can best be described as a stretched hexagon which was riveted to the shell and was ornately engraved with ‘Metjazz’ and Paris.
The company was somewhat unusual in that it produced a three-legged vertical bass drum with wooden hoops and a drum pedal striking underneath the bottom head. From what I’ve read Metjazz drums were popular and evidently the same price as those imported from America and Britain but they ceased production in 1964 when ‘affordable’ Japanese drums arrived in France.
Sonic drums are the last of the trilogy and were first made by the renowned Capelle family in the 1930’s. Jacques Capelle went on to make first his own drums and also Orange drums in more modern times. Sonic drums had some unique things like 15” toms which is very Gallic along with an odd number of nutboxes and tensioners. My guess is they too were made from one of the species of African mahogany with a rounded bearing edge. The Sonic badge was shield-shaped and held in position with an air-hole grommet. I’m afraid that’s all I could find out about it.
Sonic actually had an egg-shaped bass drum around twenty years after they began (and before Trixon’s Speedfire), but due to copyright reasons we cant show you a picture of it. However, just Google 'Sonic Drums France' and scroll down and you'll find it.
Alors mes braves, that’s a little background to some unusual, interesting and not particularly mainstream French drum marques . I hope it goes to prove that drums, fittings and accessories are basically put together in much the same way wherever they come from - the only real difference being in the amount of expertise used to accomplish this.
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