Trick Drums: Q&A With Michael Dorfman

Trick Drums: Q&A With Michael Dorfman

Michael Dorfman Gives Metal A New Meaning For Drummers

By Jordan Liffengren
Published April 7, 2010

Who knew that racing cars could inspire a man to make drums? Not long after becoming the youngest pro driver on the NHRA drag racing circuit, Michael Dorfman decided to begin designing drums. Using the metalworking experience he'd gained in racing, he began making drums out of aluminum instead of wood. Although initially he was met with a bit of opposition to the idea, Trick Drums has been catching on fast. With artists like Chip Ritter and Chris Adler endorsing his products, it’s only a matter of time before aluminum drums take over the world.

What year did you start?

In 1990, twenty years ago.

Did you consider building drums before that?

No, before that I was in the car racing industry; it was really the genesis for a lot of the design concepts and the way we go about things.

What made you decide that aluminum would be a great material to work with?

Working with it on engine development, I knew it was a nice material. You might laugh when you hear this, but just from dropping pieces on the ground or machining it, you can hear the tone it has and the frequencies it produces and you can hear how much resonance and sustain that the material itself has. I knew those were all optimal qualities for a drum.

When you first started making shells, did you have difficulty making decisions on thicknesses and designs?

Yes, there was some fooling around with thicknesses to make sure it wasn’t too thick or too thin. Being a fan of physics, I knew the material thickness would dictate what the tone or pitch was going to be---the thicker the material, the higher the pitch. I wanted to step the material thickness down to lower the fundamental mode of the drum, so that’s what we did.

Do you find that by working with aluminum you’re able to work at much higher tolerance levels?

Oh yeah, it’s got aircraft quality specs, certifications and lot numbers; there is a consistency from piece to piece.

So you’re talking about the purity of the material?

Yes, there are only certain alloys that aircrafts will use. The materials will all have numbers on them that attest to the fact that the mill has certified these alloys. There’s no fooling around when you’re making parts like that.

Do you have customers ask for really specific things in terms of the tunability of the drums or specific tones they’re looking for?

Most people are still unfamiliar with the capabilities of these drums, so they’re more after what it’s going to sound like.

When you make the drums are you making them out of solid material?

We take a flat sheet and put it through our system to make it round and we use our robotic welders to join it. It is a solid piece which does have a seam, but it’s unnoticeable and it doesn’t detract in any way because the welding rod is the same structure as the metal. After all that is done, we actually use another machine that crushes the weld into the drum so that it’s all one piece.

What are people paying for a custom set from Trick?

We’re neck and neck with any other high-end manufacturer. We offer so many different types which is where the disparity comes in. But we’re comparable to any of the other major drum companies’ lines, maybe even a little less.

What about the finishes of the drums?

Anodizing was [originally] the principal finish, but because of the way it charges the particles of the material, it outlined where the weld was. Now our principal finishing is powder coating. It can only be done on metal, not wood. It is very durable, extremely stable to light, resists scratching and it comes in thousands of colors now. When I first started in this business, I was one of the first guys to use powder coating in the drum industry and there were only like 5 colors. It’s my favorite finishing process because there’s no hazard associated with using it. All the high-end paints that other guys are using have cyanide in them, have to be sprayed with respirators, and they have disposal issues. None of that is applicable to powder coating.

Some of your drums have wild custom images. What is that process?

We do it just like they do race car finishes now. They do it with print finishes, which is less costly for them to switch from a new paint scheme or sponsorship. Give me your band logo, give me a picture of your cat, it doesn’t matter whatever you want I can reproduce it into a drum finish at an affordable price, whereas previously you’d have to have it airbrushed and it’s just really unaffordable. It wouldn’t cost you anymore than the stock price.

Are you making any new accessories or hardware products as well as your drums?

We’re developing a hi-hat stand to go along with the Pro1V and the Dominator. We’re using a new software program called Solid Work, which allows us to actually build the thing in the computer before we even make a prototype. We can test it and test certain perimeters of it and identify any structural issues. It helps you dial in your engineering before you ever make the first part.

What’s the next step for someone who wants to own a Trick Drum?

Calling the factory is usually a good idea. Everyone is looking for something a little different. We’re just at the tail end of launching our new website which will have sound samples and songs from different artists using the drums in the studio. There will be a whole bunch of things to hear on the website. It’s a work in progress.

Trick Drums
17 E University Drive
Arlington Heights, IL 60004
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