Published August 27, 2010
Keith Larsen has been there and done that — a few times. In the ’70s he started repairing and customizing drums. He ran a retail shop and built add-on drums that people couldn’t easily find elsewhere, such as a 14" floor tom. “I got a tremendous response from drummers who were buying drums from me,” Larsen says, adding, “They would say my drum sounded better than the rest of their set.”
Eventually he started producing drums under the name Baltimore Drum-USA. Baltimore became a respected name in U.S. drums in the ’90s with big-name players using them. Business was good until 1998, when a new shop Larsen had moved into burned to the ground. That eventually led to him take on partners, and rename the brand. Maryland Drum Company. Maryland Drum Company drums were built from 2001 to 2008, but somewhere along the line Larsen’s and his partners’ goals diverged, and his vision of making great custom drums was lost. “To sell the drums to a major retail chain, you have to use imported parts to be able to wholesale them at a lower cost price,” Larsen explains. “That isn’t what I wanted to do. I believe American-made drums and parts appeal to a lot of drummers.”
Now it’s 2010 and Larsen is back in retail with the Mid-Atlantic Drum Shop, and is building again under the name of Baltimore Drum Company. We profiled him in our September 2010 issue.
He’s currently building kits and snare drums while continuing to work on new innovations and hardware designs. BD drums are all custom built of ply or steam-bent shells. “I try to keep it simple, based on what I know has worked in the past and what I think has some history that is easy to explain,” he says. I don’t make drums one way, I make them for the sound the customer is looking for. These are musical tools. Just like a plumber doesn’t have only one wrench, drummers need different tools for different jobs. That’s how I build my drums.”
Contact: baltimoredrum.com; 410-870-2649.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
DRUM! When did you start making custom drums?
DRUM!Who else was making custom drums when you started?
LarsenIn the mid-1980s it was primarily GMS, DW, and Noble & Cooley. I was also in music retail prior and during that time, from 1976 up until 1994, approximately 17 years. I started doing custom work for people in the late '70s, early '80s, and that turned into making drums. I was always selling brands of drums at the music store that were innovative and ground breaking. I was one of the the first DW dealers on the east coast. I had a lot of interest in people having drums built that they couldn’t find. For example, I would make a 14-inch floor tom that they wanted to add to their drumset that either companies didn't make or was extremely hard to find. I got a tremendous response from the drummers that were buying drums from me, saying that the drum sounded better than the rest of the set, and I should start making my own proprietary brand. I put a lot of thought into it and we spent several years formulating the brand and prototyping parts before building the first BD drums to sell in 1992..
DRUM! When did you make the leap into your own hardware?
Larsen I worked on the hardware for my drums from the late '80s until '92. I used the name Baltimore Drum USA because I wanted people to recognize that we’re an east coast company, and also US-made. I didn’t really care to use my name so I figured that was a good way to do it, just to get recognition for the drums. And Baltimore is one of the oldest cities in the country, there’s a lot of history here. It all worked out. We really started to do well in the mid '90s and then in 1998, the new shop I had just moved into burned to the ground. But at that point, a lot of key players were using my drums. I built a set for the Army Blues for use at the White House. They sent me a uniform to coordinate matching colors with the drums. As well as sets for the Air Force, Naval Academy and recently I completed a set for the Maryland National Guard. A lot of players from different genres were instrumental in getting the word out about my drums. At that point in my career, business was really booming!.
What happened to change that.
Larsen In 2001, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. I became involved with an investor. Because I was still dealing with a previous partner at my drum store and some other issues, the name was changed. He said, “I’ll come in and help, but we need to start fresh.” I'd been building the BD-USA brand for over 9 years. Customers liked the BD-USA name, logo and drums. I was concerned a name change would create issues with some of the established dealers and that we might lose some of our customer base. A lot of the dealers just wanted to sell the drums, they didn't want to have to explain the changes. Maryland Drum Company continued for 7 years and made a lot of really great drums. The people involved just didn’t have the same long-term goals that I had envisioned for the company. I think honestly, after 7 years, it became more than clear to me that we had two totally different agendas. It all just kind of fizzled away. But at that point I was ready to move on and get in my own corner and do it on my own again.
DRUM! So that phase ended. What led to the rebirth of Baltimore Drum Company?
Larsen That leads us to the year 2009, a little over a year after Maryland Drum Company had just disappeared. A lot of people were upset because there was no formal notice given to any publications, any of our artists or dealers clarifying what was happening. I honestly don’t know exactly what had happened. I just know that the doors were closed and the locks were put on, the lights were off and we were done.
But I was happy because I really wanted to move on and continue making the drums and parts as I envisioned. I personally think many drummers prefer to buy American-made drums that sets them apart from everyone else. So I’m back to where I used to be in the 90's, where I’m in control of the drums and of the retail store.
DRUM! So now you sell direct from the retail store?
Larsen Yes. There was no retail drum shop in the Baltimore area for 10 years, and that’s why I felt it was the right time to re-open. Obviously the economy isn’t strong right now, but I figured if I got into something small and focused, I’ll be in good shape in the future. Baltimore Drum Company is being sold exclusively through Mid- Atlantic Drum Shop.The goal is to manufacture the highest-quality drums and personally deal with my customers one-on-one to create there dream drums and sound. I’ve already come out with some new components that are that are being machined here in Baltimore to my specifications.
DRUM! With the new Baltimore Drum Company, are you building the shells and everything?
Larsen No, I order American-made shells from a variety of vendors. We offer steam-bent solid wood shells, maple ply, and exotic wood ply shells. I don’t get a lot of requests for stave or block drums, which are available. I think they have their place. I have found that when you have that many choices, customers get really confused and they really don’t know what to do. I’ve really tried to keep the line of drums as simple as possible. I know what I've sold in the past and what has some history to it and is easy to explain and sell. And I really don’t make them one way, I make them to fit the customer's music.
DRUM! Are you targeting specific styles of drummers or relying more on your past reputation to get the word out to everyone?
Larsen I’ve been doing this for so long and I enjoy doing it, and at this point I just have players coming to me. With the amount of drums I can produce at this point, which is not gonna be a lot, I’m already extremely busy just through word of mouth, which is nice and very appreciated!!