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Ludwig Drum Sets In The ’60s

Ludwig Downbeat Drums

In the early ’60s, the Ludwig Drum Company was still in transition from combining product lines from the WFL Drum Company with the Ludwig & Ludwig Drum Company. Many of the snare stands, foot pedals, and drum hardware still bore the imprint of WFL, while some bore the pre-1955 Ludwig trademark (but continued to be sold while the company made new dies bearing the Ludwig Drum Company logo). It was not unusual to buy a drum set in the mid-’60s that would have the Ludwig badges on the drums, and the WFL Keystone imprint on the snare stand, foot pedal, and snare mechanisms. Some of the first Super Sensitive models made around 1959-1960 still had parts with the ’40s Ludwig & Ludwig logo imprint. Many snare drums were built with the new Ludwig strainer on the throw-off side and a WFL butt-plate. Since the design of the parts was identical for both names, Ludwig used the old parts until they ran out, and then replaced them with identical parts with the new brand.

Badgering About Badges

The same rule held true for badges to some extent. When William F. Ludwig II, bought the Ludwig name back from Conn in 1955, WFL was using an acid-etched keystone-shaped badge with raised lettering. Shortly after the purchase of the Ludwig name, the decision was made to change the name to the Ludwig Drum Company. The first badge that carried the “new” name was a brass keystone with screen-printed blue lettering. The company used this badge from the late ’50s until around 1960 when the embossed brass keystone badge again became the symbol of the Ludwig Drum Company. The new keystone badge didn’t have serial numbers on it until 1962, when the U.S. government began requiring more control over inventory. However, the company didn’t execute the numbering in the way you might expect. They were strictly for inventory purposes, and any number could wind up on any drum. Although the serial numbers don’t identify models or finishes, they do give a broad indication of a drum made after 1962. Due to the volume of drums Ludwig was producing at that time in response to the Ringo effect, a lot of badges were used and the bins were refilled as supplies got low. This resulted in a general indicator of drum age by serial number: 100K—120K 1963-64; 120K—250K 1965; 5250K—400K 1966; 400K—540K 1967; 540K—680K 1968; 680K—850K 1969.

Another method of dating most Ludwig drums is the rubber-stamped date on the inside the shell. The dates are frequently smeared beyond the point of recognition, but by observing the ink color, you can approximate from which half of the decade your drum comes. Ludwig used both red and black ink — red seems to be more predominant in the early ’60s.

In the good old tradition of “waste not, want not” Ludwig continued to slap the occasional transition badge on their lower-end drums. Quite a few blue sparkle snare drums have surfaced with a clear date inside the shell of 1965, bearing the transition badge a good five years after the badge’s discontinuation. One explanation for this is that the company put badges on the shells after applying their covering. Possibly some of these shells were on the bottom of a stack and weren’t assembled into drums until the mid-’60s.

Cool Kit Configurations

The standard Ludwig drum kit in the early ’60s had four drums — usually a 20" or 22" bass drum, 14" or 16" floor tom, a 12" x 8" or 13" x 9" mounted tom, and a 14" x 5.5" snare. When two rack toms first appeared on a set, they were the same size, and the same applied to floor toms and bass drums. It wasn’t until the late ’60s and early ’70s that 12" and 13" toms appeared on the same set. This explains why modern players who are looking for a third rack tom (10" x 8" or 14" x 10") have such a hard time. The only 14" x 10" drums made in the ’60s were marching snares and tenor drums, and there weren’t any 10" x 8" toms made during that time. There were other sized toms, but standard drum sets didn’t offer them as options.

Some of the Ludwig cocktail sets, such as the Stand-Up Nite-Life kit from the late ’50s had smaller sized toms. This particular cocktail outfit had 11" x 6.5" and 13" x 6.5" concert toms mounted on the side of the 24" x 16" bass/snare drum, and appeared in the ’55 and ’57 Ludwig/WFL catalogs.

Several standard configurations of drum sets were used throughout the ’60s. The Blue Note outfit, offered in the #60, #62, and #64 catalogs, featured two 22" x 14" bass drums, a 14" x 5" Jazz Festival model snare, two 12" x 8" toms, 16" x 16" and 18" x 16" floor toms, 8" and 10" tunable bongos, and a canister throne, all finished in a choice of pearl coverings. If you favored a slightly smaller kit, the Hollywood outfit was the only five-piece offered. With the obligatory twin 12" x 8" toms, a 22" x 14" bass drum, 16" x 16" floor tom, and a 14" x 5" snare, it was one tom size away from becoming the industry standard for basic drum sets.

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  • I bought a Ludwig kit in the early 70’s.  Little did I know, but the kid was a absolutely built like garbage.  You should have seen the bearing edges!  If I only knew to buy a Gretsch set, I would have been much better off.