Just a few paces over and we’re back to the beastly sander, only this time the powerful belt gives way to Cooper’s adept hands. The fresh-cut bearing edges get a thorough yet gentle sanding, first with 60-grit, then 120-grit, and finally a fine rubbing with 180-grit.
“Any time you work with a machine like this, or any machine,” Cooper says, “you have to respect it. This thing could rip my hand off at any moment if I’m careless.”
Having logged a full decade in the factory, Cooper certainly knows that each machine — and worker, for that matter — works better with a heavy dose of mutual respect.
After sanding, the edges are lightly waxed. This waxing not only seals the wood, but theoretically also helps the crown of the drumhead slide over the edge.
Once the shell gets the green light — its finish, edges, and lug holes good enough for perfection — it’s finally awarded the Gretsch badge. After a quick stop at the badge-pressing machine, the drum becomes an official member of the Gretsch family.
The rest of the assembly moves quickly with the help of pneumatic wrenches and drum keys and, again, some skilled hands. Barbara Fennell usually works this station, as she has for the past 12 years, but today the steady hand of Harry Dailey gets the job done. Lugs, heads, rims, and any other hardware necessary for the individual drum, are assembled and attached manually.
From start to finish the entire process — from naked shell to finished drum — takes anywhere from two to five weeks, depending on finish and drying time. It can be a lot of work, especially with such high standards and such a small workforce, but there’s a passion in the factory air that becomes contagious.
“I get to build drums every day,” Cooper says, smiling wide and wiping the sawdust from his glasses, “so it’s a pretty good gig.”