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Vintage View - Brady

To get straight to the point, Brady were different in more ways than just the fact that they made drums a suburb of Perth, in Western Australia, called Armdale. They were far from the first to build drums in ‘the land down under’ - Drouyn & Drouyn were producing drums there in 1932, and after that of course in 1971 there was Don Sleishman with his double foot-pedal, blow-up drum shells, and later totally free floating drums. What was different about the Brady Drum Company though, was the materials they made their shells from, and indeed how they were constructed. 

Chris Brady never saw fit to make shells from mahogany, beech, birch, maple, basswood, or even bubinga like everyone else. Instead he used up to 10 plies of indigenous Australian woods, and for a good reason - he wanted a broader tone than that offered by the industry-standard woods. He also used a process called HAV (Horizontally Applied veneer), which originated in Australia, where all the layers were all placed in a dry mould so their grains all lay in one direction, ie circumferentially. A later unique move was to thin the shells out beneath the nutboxes to make them ‘sing’ more. However, rather than do it on the inside to make the shells look like they had reinforcing rings, Chris did it on the outside...

To begin at the beginning, he’d started out experimenting with making drumsticks from local Australian woods instead of the obvious hickory and maple and when these became accepted decided to move on to making drums from many otherwise unknown (to most people) indigenous Australian woods like jarrah, wandoo, sheoak, spotted gum, marri and lemon spotted gum. The reason that these wood were perfect for drum making is their hardness -  the well-known and very useful ‘Jankah hardness scale’ shows jarrah to be twice as hard as maple and wandoo to be four times as hard.

But, as I remember it from my halcyon days with International Musician, how it progressed after the drumsticks was Chris Brady would literally ‘go walkabout’ in the outback of Australia and select various trees to cut seamless, solid, hollowed-out shells from. In principle with the right tools, a single 24” diameter tree could be cut down to an 18” deep section and would provide 9x two inch thick even-number-sized consecutive shells from 8” to 22” (provided you could get the saw in to cut them out and there were no problems with the growth rings within the tree itself). This would have been relatively easy to do with a laser had Chris had one, but all he had were an axe, chainsaw, chisel and eventually a lathe which would have made it a laborious job to hollow the centres of what we already discussed were the worlds’ hardest woods. Also, I seem to remember being told when I wrote about them first in June 1989 that you couldn’t be too ambitious with odd-sized diameters like 13 and 15 if you used that method. 

One of the early 12x7

I’ve seen photos of one of Chris Brady’s very first ‘hollowed-out’ drums complete with Remo heads, triple-flanged hoops, cast throw-off and ‘generic’ wedge-shaped nut boxes which I’m guessing were provided by ‘Reliance’ in Taiwan. It looks like a regular dark-wood drum and even though I never held it, it’s a fair guess it not only ‘feels’ different, it sounds different too.    

Of course this method wasn’t exactly the quickest way to make a drum but it really made a good story for drum magazines to write about (and in the back of my mind a remember a story about setting fire to the middle of trees for snare drums before hollowing them out in the same way people make dug-out canoes all over the world). 

Once he got started, his snare drums became accepted because they were both unusual and unique with never-been-seen-before deep-shelled 10 and 12” diameter drums. To give some ‘body’ to their attack they made them ever-so slightly deeper than everybody else’s at 5 and 7” to keep them edgy but still sounding like regular snare drums. There was even a snare boasting a 16” diameter which outside of Marching Bands was really, really unusual. 

So Brady was making unheard-of snare drum sizes ahead of the competition and these caught the discerning public’s imagination. Because of their non-standard diameters they also caught the imagination of pros like and eventually had a very useful users roster for marketing purposes. It included Will Calhoun, Steve Ferrone, Larry Mullen jnr, Mick Fleetwood, Chad Smith and Thomas Lang.

Block drums have a quicker decay and a thicker tone, mainly to do with the fact that the shells are thicker than usual, possibly because of the manufacturing process. Often stave drums are made rather like barrels with chamfered edges which are first glued then held together while the glue sets. But Chris Brady wasn’t having anything like that – the various segments of his drums had tongued-and-grooved long edges, so they would key together more successfully before being machined inside and out. The bearing edges were angled at 45 degrees and these drums had a distinctive cutting sound and were available in 10 x 5.5”, 12 x 7”, 14 x 6.5” and 14 x 8” dimensions. 

Things went ahead nicely for the company and they carried on producing snare drums and some complete drum kits although Kelly Brady (Chris'' daughter) says the emphasis eventually moved on to kits. The bass drums were 3/8” thick, toms were ¼” and all drums were fitted with low mass, cast posts joined by tubes, fixed around the nodal points, and ‘generic’ spurs. As you’d expect bass drums had wooden hoops and everything else had pressed-steel triple-flanged hoops and stainless steel square-headed tensioners. Sizes were normal for the time 10 x 10, 12 x 12, 22 x 18 and so on, although as you’d expect tom and bass depths were tinkered with as time went by and fashion dictated. 

There’s no doubt that Brady produce beautiful drums and over the years they’ve given us Natural satin, Cherry Red gloss, Black gloss. Walnut Satin, Piano White, Silver Gimlet and White Gimlet. More recently though they have much more exotic outer veneers for their drums which look absolutely fabulous. 

The early badge

In 2006 they also changed their badge which for a long time had been a rectangular piece of metallised cardboard much like the one Pearl (and various others) used at the time Brady drums began. So, the ‘Colonial drummer’ badge/house sign was born and eventually came to be made from pewter. BTW Brady thoughtfully put a label inside each drum which details when it was made. 

In 2008 Chris threw his lot in with Dixon to produce some unusual snare drums as far as the parent company, Reliance were concerned. Joe Chen, who owns the Reliance operation and therefore Dixon, commissioned them to come up with the goods to produce ‘Artisan’: 5.4mm thick, 9-ply Rosegum shells, with 45 degree bearing-edges, tube lugs, cast hoops, and one of Ronn Dunnett’s celebrated throw-offs. So far so normal, but what was radically different from any other Dixons was that, as I already said, like all Bradys instead of the shells being made from crossed-plies they were all laid in the former so their grains all lay in one direction, circumferentially. This made the edges of the drums look like one solid piece of wood. Dixon/Brady drums were available with 14 x 5.5”, and 14 x 6.5” along with a 13 x 6”.  

A new line called ‘Walkabout'' was born in 2011 made from even more salubrious rare timbers that Chris had found on his travels, a ‘Trick’ throw-off, tube lugs and stainless steel tension screws. The full list of timbers used are somewhat difficult to nail-down (pun intended) due to the adverse circumstances which have overtaken the Brady family but certainly at least the following were once available: York Gum, Goldfields Gimlet, Karifiri, Cedar Wattle, Brown Mallet, Marri, Sugar Gum, Spotted Gum and the Western Australian tree which started it all - Wandoo. Block, or ply shells are/were available when they began.  

Sadly in 2015 Chris’ health was deteriorating and rather than allowing the company to be acquired by someone else, he and Kelly decided to call it a day. It seems Brady drums may have ‘Gone Walkabout’ for the last time. 

Hold the presses! I’d already turned in the copy for this month’s Vintage Views and I was rehearsing for a couple of days in Bournemouth, prior to gigs I’m doing with Russ Ballard, and you’ll never guess what I found somebody had left behind in the studio? An original Brady set with a cardboard badge, the sort which had once come with a tom holder fitted to its bass drum. Spooky or what? 

Bob Henrit

February 2016

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