The Collector’s Key: A Guide To Tuning Hardware

Take total control of your tuning with the Evans Torque Drum Key, the key that answers only to consistency. Boasting an adjustable handle release set to spring loose at a specific tension, the Torque Drum Key allows you to turn your tension rods to exact evenness, and ou rhead to perfect pitch. A knurled knob up top speeds up head changes, and a magnetized tip keeps loose screws from giving you the slip.

$42.99
daddario.com

A Key Or Not A Key? That Is The Question.

Early drum keys do not always resemble what comes to mind when today’s drummer thinks of the term. The crude piece of iron I have in my collection is one case in point. For years I had this bulky chunk of metal kicking around in an old trap case full of odd sticks, mallets, and brushes. One day I happened to notice that the end was milled out. I have no idea what the age of this monster is, but the stuff it came with was from the 1940s – decades before the current generation of high-tension marching drums with Kevlar heads that actually require this kind of high-torque tuning tool. This key is truly unique – one-of-a-kind and hand-made. Does that make it valuable? Probably not.

The Chief himself once gave me an odd-looking key that resembles the “mini-key” on the previous page. He explained that it was originally a roller-skate key, which the company had bought in quantity from a roller-skate manufacturer in the 1920s and packaged as banjo keys for Ludwig banjos.

Another oddball that might not be immediately recognizable as a drum key by today’s drummers would be the “slotted” keys used by Leedy in the 1920s and by a number of British companies well into the 1960s. (The tension rods that utilize these keys look like they can be turned with a screwdriver. In fact, they can, but in doing so, you run the risk of damaging the head of the tension rod. That’s where this specialized key comes in.)

The Business Of Assessing Value

Like any other percussion specialty item (drumsticks, catalogs, etc.) the value of the drum key is determined not only by its rarity, but also by demand. I feel that the “monster” key described above is one of the world’s rarest drum keys, but that does not make it one of the most valuable. Rarity means little if no one wants the thing. I doubt this key would bring $20 on eBay because of limited interest.

What are the most valuable keys? It has been my experience that the most valuable keys are good-condition American drum keys from the 1920s to 1960s: Leedy, Camco, Waybest, Slinger-land, Rogers, and Ludwig keys from those decades regularly sell for $35—$80 – more if a bidding war breaks out. I have seen a number of keys fetch in excess of $100 in the last year alone. It can be tough to predict when and why that will happen, because there are so many reasons why certain individuals will want a certain key – anything from sentimental attachment to the desire to “complete a set.” Other keys that can be expected to bring high prices would be unique keys such at the 3-way Gladstone-style key, even if it is not an original Gretsch Gladstone or Billy Gladstone key. The relatively current Lang Gladstone keys are still fairly expensive pieces of hardware.

The only way to determine a drum key’s true worth is to document what someone is willing to pay for it. Try first searching eBay for current auctions and click on “watch this auction” when you find a match. The results will be cataloged in your list of “watched auctions” even after the bidding ends. Also try clicking on “advanced search,” which takes you to a new menu where you can select “completed auctions” to view auctions that have recently ended. Unfortunately, eBay does not go very far back with those completed auctions, so don’t consider that search a comprehensive answer. You can also try listing your key with a high reserve price but a low opening bid; stand back and see how high the bidding goes – that is the clearest indication of what people are actually willing to pay for the key in question.

Finding The Diamonds In The Rough

A challenge that can only be met with experience is identifying certain keys by eye. Many unique keys do not have a maker’s name or trademark. Also keep in mind that most trademarks were stamped into the key at a final stage of the production. I have handfuls of keys that belonged to the late George Way. Many are from the 1940s to 1960s and look nearly identical. If, however, you take the time to examine them carefully, you find a very light etching: Leedy, Leedy & Ludwig, Rogers. These were all companies that Way worked for at various times, and the markings on these keys are very faint. (A former Rogers employee once related that during the era when Way worked there, the staff often went to lunch together at the local diner. It was not unusual for one of the group to issue a “key challenge” when it came time to pay the bill – anyone who could not immediately produce a drum key had to share the cost of the entire lunch bill!)

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