The Collector’s Key: A Guide To Tuning Hardware

The Collector's Key: A Guide To Tuning Hardware

It’s an overworked cliché, but an undeniable truism that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Those cluttered trap cases that show up in your local music store or at the neighborhood estate sales with old used drum kits often contain some valuable items. It’s worth taking the time to sort through the jumble of paraphernalia and separate the true collectables from the junk. Pair up the sticks and brushes, but keep in mind that even individual sticks or brushes may be collectable if they carry the right brand name. Don’t be too quick to throw anything away!

Slips of paper may turn out to be receipts. Become a detective and try to make sense of that seemingly random pile. You know what a repository your own trap case is; now you are going through someone else’s belongings with an eye only a fellow drummer can possess. Dig through the piles of tilters, clutches, springs, felts, and so on, and you might just uncover what is often the most easily overlooked, and surprisingly valuable item in the collection – the drum tuning key.

Context Is... Key

Don’t be too quick to separate out the drum key from its surroundings. Like the archeologist deciphering the origins of an ancient skull fragment by examining surrounding sediments and fossils, drum keys are often found amidst other telling artifacts. Does the key match any of the drums? Are there clues that it belonged to a celebrity? I recently sold a drum key that had belonged to Cozy Cole. It came to me with a Leedy & Ludwig outfit that I sold on consignment for Cole’s family. Although it was a fairly generic key from the 1920s and did not match the 1950s-era kit that it was with, I had clear provenance (documentation) that the key did in fact belong to, and was used by, the late Cozy Cole. (There were letters from Cole’s family, and the weathered brown fiber cases still had shipping tags addressed to the Gene Krupa/Cozy Cole Drum School in New York City.) If you buy or sell any item on the basis of celebrity attachment, be sure to give or receive a signed and dated “letter of provenance,” which includes photos and all other documentation proving the claim of prior ownership.

When you really think about it, the drum key is perhaps one of the most personal items a drummer owns. A favorite key will often outlast favorite drums, cymbals, and hardware. I am reminded of a story that I once heard from Ludwig’s Jim Catalano. When the Ludwig family sold the drum company to Selmer in 1981, it was a very bittersweet event for William F. Ludwig II, “The Chief.” This was, after all, the second time in the same century that the Ludwig family had created the world’s largest drum company. His father had done it the first time, and The Chief did it again in the 1960s. Now the family era was drawing to a close. The Chief had met with all the new Selmer executive staff, and done as much as he could to insure a smooth transition. One of his last acts was to take Catalano aside and offer him a talisman. He pulled his own personal drum key out of his pocket and presented it to Catalano, explaining that he was entrusting the future of Ludwig to him. There were keys to the locks on the buildings, but this was the real key to the company, and he was confident that with the heart of a percussionist, Catalano would carry on the Ludwig tradition.

New Fangled Tuning Gadgets

Tired of tuning and turning to tighten that troublesome tension rod? Give you wrist a break with the Robokey 4X. This 4", 4.3 oz. wonder uses an inline ratio gear system to transfer four times the twisting action of every taxing turn straight into the lug screw. You can even have your own logo embossed along the length of the handle so you can try to keep your key from turning up in someone else's trap case.


Achieve levels of torque to die for with the Randall May Mikey, while at the same time re-establishing your 1950s greaser street cred. The Mikey's sweet switch-blade action isn't just for show, though. The sleek, spring-loaded Thandles on this streamlined stick of stainless steel and precision-cut aluminum fold cleanly out of the way into recessed side grooves to turn this high-torque tool into a slim-line pocket weight. Forget tuning — we bet you'll be flipping for the fun of it in no time flat.


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