By Salman Haqqi Published September 21, 2009
Bill Detamore learned the art of constructing drums as a teenager by cracking open old drums and seeing how they worked. At seventeen he sold his first drum after building one from a kit. He signed it, sold it and used that money to buy two more kits. A few years later in 1987 Pork Pie Percussion was born. (The name came from a New Zealand movie called “Goodbye Pork Pie.”)
Now 48, Detamore has put his personal signature on more than 27,000 drums. By developing relationships with drum shops around the world, and chains like Guitar Center, Pork Pie has built a business model that most custom drum builders would love to emulate.
Detamore’s wild paint designs and snare drum innovations ignited the company’s reputation in the nineties, but quality has kept them there. He has a great team working with him trained to his high standards. Bill has been known to inspect a finished drum prior to shipping, decide it doesn’t cut the mustard, and saw it to pieces on the spot.
Pork Pie offers a range of custom drum kits in maple, ash or birch, as well as acrylic drums, snare drums (both solid and ply), and finishes including high-gloss lacquer, acrylic, wraps and satin. Pork Pie is always innovating with new materials for their thrones, which are offered in a variety of designs.
You will find Pork Pie snares for around $250. A custom 5-piece kit with wrap finish will start at around $5,100.
DRUM! How did you get started making drums?
Detamore I started playing drums when I was 15, and always had an interest in how they worked and what made them work. The first drum set I ever had, I tore it apart to see how it worked and put it back together and I would read articles in Modern Drummer about cutting edges and re-finishing. I would buy old drums, redo them and sell them.
Then at the back of Modern Drummer they used to have the Quarter Drum Company and they had an advertisement that said, “Buy a snare drum kit and make your own snare drum.” So I bought one of those kits and my father taught me how to apply lacquer, so I painted that drum, cut the edges, cut snare bits that didn’t really work because I didn’t understand how they worked and put that drum together. When that one sold, I bought two and sold those two, then I made four and sold those and now - because I sign and date each drum I make and keep a log of them all - we’re up to about 27,000 drums.
DRUM! When you went to sell those drums back then, now everybody knows there are custom drum builders, what was it like then?
Detamore There was a store here called Valley Arts Drum and Guitar, and I used to hang out there a lot and I put the drums on consignment there. And that led to re-cutting bearing edges and doing finishes and it just kind of snowballed from there.
DRUM! What time did it become Pork Pie?
Detamore In 1987 I was working at Rockwell International on the space shuttle program in the art department, and I had been working on drums and selling drums on the side for quite a long time and decided to actually make a company.
The name came from a movie from New Zealand called “Goodbye Pork Pie”. My friend Mark and I were watching the movie trying to think of names, and I said, “What do you think of Pork Pie Percussion? He said, “It’s perfect.”
DRUM! How was the transition from artisan to businessman?
Detamore I had to make a decision on whether I was going to be a client-based business or a wholesale type of business, because the two don’t mix. So it was a conscious effort to wean myself away from dealing with people all over the place or just strategic dealers. And that was because I wanted the business to grow and in my mind that that was how things really started happening.
DRUM! A lot of people don’t make that leap in the business, because it requires new skills, it’s just an enormous challenge?
Detamore It’s huge.
DRUM! Today, how many people work for you?
Detamore Right now I have six employees, the most I’ve had was 12. It fluctuates quite a bit from year to year. What happens is that we’ll have 12 employees, and I’ll either ask somebody to leave or they leave to go to school or go on tour. And over time we either develop new machines or new techniques that allow us keep our payroll small.
DRUM! How do you balance between drum sets, snare drums and thrones?
Detamore We do a tremendous amount of throne business. Every quarter we try to go to the guy who makes our throne tops and tell him to talk to his suppliers and see what new fabrics they have, or what new materials they have for the sides. We’re constantly coming up with new materials to keep the designs fresh.
DRUM! How significant is your snare drum business?
Detamore We do a lot of custom snare drums, people always think that I started out as a snare drum business and then kind of made kits on the side. But the fact is that I started making snare drums and then got into making kits, and the snare drums just took off because people were looking for an alternative to what was out there.
That’s when I came out with the 10”, 12” and 13” snare drums. We were selling about a couple of hundred of those a month. That business is huge and right now we’re working on 50 snare drums for our distributor in Japan and about 20 for a our distributor in Thailand. We sell a lot of snare drums.
DRUM! What do you think sells your snares, is it the particular designs you come up with, is it a recognizable Pork Pie sound or is it just people’s familiarity with the brand now?
Detamore I think it’s a combination of everything but I’m always trying to come up with unique ideas as far as designs and sounds and ways to do things to change the designs up for the snare drums. One of the things I’m working on now are some exotic veneers on the shells where we’re going to be doing a cocobolo over maple. I’ve got a figured Camphor shell that I’m working on and we also got into doing Birch and Ash shells. And with the solids we can do just about any wood combination we want.
I think it was about five years ago, I wanted to come out with a mid-line snare drum that started off just as a snare drum and I came up with the name the Little Squealer - keeping with the whole pig theme - it’s made in Taiwan and we do a tremendous amount of those.
DRUM! There’s so much marketing hype about maple, what do you think of the other shells you’re using?
Detamore You know I like them a lot, my personal preference is Maple, I think it’s just a great all round wood and it does everything you want it to do but to get more market share, that’s when I decided to go for more different woods in the shells.
DRUM! What percentage of the business are your drum sets?
Detamore Half of the business is probably drum sets, quarter of the business is snare drums, and a quarter is thrones.
DRUM! How have you been able to get distribution to so many stores?
Detamore The big thing is being involved with Guitar Center and we never go searching for new dealers, they just come to us. So we try and look at the map and make sure we’re not stepping on anyone’s toes. People come to us and say they want to carry our products. Usually they start out with some thrones and snare drums and then build up from there.
As far as Europe goes, last March my distributor for Europe moved to Belgium and we actually opened an office in Belgium called Pork Pie International so that’s where all of Europe is handled from.
The reason we did that was because Belgium is part of the European Union. We are able to ship our drums to the office in Belgium and then they fire it off to Germany or France or wherever they have to go. And so we don’t have to pay a value-added tax until the end buyer, which is basically our sales tax.
DRUM! You’ve probably made a lot of great dealer relationships over the years, what makes a dealer who is able to sell your kind of product?
Detamore I think it’s somebody that has the same passion about drums that I do and they realize where I’m coming from in terms of making a really good product. We don’t let anything out the door that is anything but perfect.
We’ve had situations when I do the final inspection of the kit and sign it, I’ll see something that I don’t like and we’ll scrap that drum, cut it up on the table saw and make another one. I look at it as that I’m signing it, so if I sign a drum and it goes out and I never hear from the guy again, that means that I’ve done my job.
DRUM! Are you still building to-order drum sets?
Detamore Yes that’s the only way we do it.
DRUM! Are you still customizing anyway people want or do they select from a set list of options?
Detamore We have a color chart, but we’ll do anything, Two years ago we had a customer who sent us and argyle sock and wanted his drums painted like an argyle sock. So basically anything anybody wants done, we can do it.
DRUM! In someway painting and art work was really the signature of the company in the early days?
DRUM! What’s a sort of outlandish request you get?
Detamore We really don’t get a lot of people that ask for stuff that’s really out there.
DRUM! What do people pay when they order a custom five-piece kit?
Detamore It varies so much depending on the finish, where it’s painted, acrylic or lacquer it can go a million different directions.
DRUM! What are the different finishes you are offering?
Detamore We do acrylic, high gloss lacquer, finish ply wraps and we also do satin finishes.
DRUM! What about what you’ve learned about making drums as far as sound is concerned?
Detamore It’s constantly evolving, a lot of times one of the really fun things that I do is when I have interaction from a person, I’ll kind of get to know who they are, what kind of music they play, and when I’m cutting the edges I’m thinking this guy plays this style of music, with these heads, so I’ll cut the edge this way. Sometimes when I’m cutting edges, the size of the kit will dictate what kind of music the guy plays.
DRUM! What are the elements of cutting bearing edges, is it the angle, the roundness, the position or is it all of it?
Detamore The angle stays consistent on everything across the board, but it’s the outside cut, the round-over counter cut that will change.