As you’ll see, Cooper isn’t kidding about all the sanding. This beast is a one-of-a-kind machine that came with the Slingerland acquisition and was originally used in Gretsch’s Brooklyn factory. The motor has been dated as a 1953 model.
“It actually sat around broken for the first six years I worked here,” recalls Cooper. “Once we figured out what it was we went ahead and fixed it. It’s a whole lot easier than using an orbital sander.” They start with a 100-grit belt, then add seam putty and move on to 150-grit before hand-sanding with 180-grit.
Josh Safer (pictured) is the factory’s production assistant and has been wrestling this cantankerous contraption for five years. “It’s a major workout, like a Nautilus machine,” Safer laughs. “It’s not a very complicated machine, but there are many nuances as far as the proper amount of pressure to apply and things like that. When I first started here I started on this machine, so we have a bit of a relationship you could say. We definitely have an understanding.”
We now leave the woodshop (oh, we’ll be back) and head to the finishing department. All of the Gretsch USA Custom stains are applied by hand, usually by Junana Nunec (pictured), a decade-long veteran and jack-of-all-trades.
The first coat is called a wash coat — half stain and half reducer — and it’s half the strength of regular stain. As Nunec applies the wash coat she looks for any imperfections that would require the shell to head back to the woodshop for more sanding.
Different colors of stains all get different numbers of coats — even within one drum set Nonec might put four coats on one tom, six coats on the next, and so on, because it’s wood and it varies from piece to piece.
“For me, personally,” says Cooper, “it’s all about the variations in the grain. Some drum companies want a super-consistent look from drum to drum. But for me, when it’s all said and done and you’re buffing the drum, it’s the grain that’s going to really pop and make the finish stand out.”