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Classic: The Proud History Of Hayman Drums

By Bob HenritOriginally published in the June/July 2001 issue of DRUM! Magazine


As far as we Brits are concerned, Hayman drums fit the bill of being classics, at least as much as any other instruments available here during the late ’60s and early ’70s. They were the brainchild of Ivor Arbiter who, besides being the first to actually bring guitars into Britain in quantity, was also the first to import Ludwig and Gretsch drums during the beat boom. It was he who in the ’60s cleverly identified a gap in the market for a loud drum set, at a time when drummers were seldom miked-up outside of the studio. The original plan was to fit metal liners inside rather ordinary Carlton drum shells made from beech and equipped with traditional glue rings. And indeed, some of these were made. Ultimately they discarded the metal inserts, which were weighty and expensive, and instead chose to thickly spray the drum’s insides. Bingo, loud and extremely cutting drums were here!

Originally the drums were named George Hayman, after one of the guys in Dallas-Arbiter’s Shoeburyness factory, (whose surname – to confuse things further – was actually Haymon) possibly after George Way who made the legendary Camcos. Because, in further homage to that famous American brand, the set’s lugs were also made circular, which was considerably avant-garde at that time. Anyway, the name was eventually shortened to the more identifiable Hayman.

The drums had a mixture of features that, prior to 1968, were only seen on expensive American products. Triple-flange hoops, which gave a more open sound, were new to British drums, as were non-telescopic spurs, adjustable swiveling shell-mount cymbal arms, an abundance of tension rods, and Remo heads.

Dallas-Arbiter designed its own cumbersome tom holder too, which might well have looked good on the drawing board, but in reality was something of a nightmare. A flat, curved, and slotted rail was jacked-up a little above the bass shell and to this was attached the body of the cast tom holder, which was fitted with not one, but two ratchets. So by judicious use of both, you could actually have exceedingly limited horizontal height adjustment. A radial-toothed block was fixed to the tom, which mated with a ratchet on the holder to maintain its playing angle, and very large capstan nuts locked the tom to the holder and the holder to the bass drum rail. These capstans had an annoying tendency to crush your fingers against the drum and were neither particularly stable nor did they wear well. But, at the time it was the best around. Hayman spurs were modeled on Ludwig-type outrigger designs, but with large, cast circular holder blocks that matched the lugs and also located the tom legs. Hayman’s “lightning-bolt” bass drum tensioners were the first I’d seen designed ergonomically to ease operation since they were shaped to better accommodate the thumbs.

The Dallas-Arbiter company also made pretty good double-braced, tripod-based stands and pedals called Speedamatic, which were actually a lot more substantial and sophisticated than the greater majority of their competitors. They’re no doubt still seeing service in drum sets almost a quarter of a century after their conception. The snare stand was the first in Britain to use a basket-holding mechanism, while the wide, industrial-fiber-belted bass pedal and double-spurred hi-hat were particularly good with easily adjustable springs. They were more rugged than just about everything else around, although the extremely chunky, scalloped cast screws that arrested all the adjustable bits left something to be desired.

Initially, the Hayman snare drums all had 5" deep wood shells in common with the rest of the drums, but a year or so later aluminum-shelled versions were produced, which were loosely modeled along the lines of Ludwig’s 400, though in appearance their shells were much more like Gretsch’s. (I’m told they didn’t make too many metal drums so they’re evidently quite collectible.)

Hayman was the first non-American snare drum to have ten tension rods per head and boast a simple, but effective American-style on/off strainer attached to 22 strand snares. They also had an American-style swiveling damper like Ludwig’s.

Size-wise, Hayman sets originally came with 22", 20", or 18" bass drums and 12", 13", 14", and 16" toms. Eventually 24", 26", and even 28" basses appeared. The jazzers of the time went for the 18" x 12", 12" x 8" and 14" x 14" Recording outfit, while the rockers went for the larger-sized Showmans.

As I said, the secret of the Hayman sound was in the coating on the inside. It was rather grandly called Vibrasonic, but was simply a thick sprayed-on coat of ordinary white polyurethane paint. What it did was harden the surface of the drum and allow the sound to bounce around inside and give more crack. Hayman drums didn’t sound exactly warm, but, for the mostly un-amplified drummers of the time, fit the bill exactly. They cut through any sort of music at high levels.

The original Haymans were only available in three brushed metallic finishes: Solid Silver, Gold Ingot, and Midnight Blue (Regal Red, Matt Black, Natural Pine and see-through Iceberg were introduced later), the first five of which I was once told were also used to cover refrigerators!

When they were first introduced In August 1969, a five-piece Showman set without stands would have cost £265.32 (roughly $380). Nowadays though you’d be rather lucky to pick one up for that price in good condition.

There was actually a second generation of Haymans commissioned by Ivor Arbiter and his son John, which were launched in 1985 and unashamedly came from Taiwan. Ostensibly they were the same as their predecessors, although with 9-ply mahogany shells. They had the same circular lugs, identical paint work inside to give more or less the same brash sound, but with a vastly superior generic tom holder and the more regular solid-color plastic coverings. Unfortunately it was just about a decade after their real heyday and drums, their amplifying systems, music, and even the guys who played them had moved on. So they weren’t successful, even at £550 ($790), complete with stands.

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