Drum Doctor: Top 5 Tools Of His Trade

For nearly 30 years, Ross Garfield, aka “The Drum Doctor,” has fine-tuned the business of drum rentals, cartage, and consulting into high art. Presiding over his So-Cal warehouse — a filled-to-the-brim, treasure-trove of new and vintage drums and percussion — the drummer-turned-tech has supplied some of the best drum sounds on record for a who’s who of clientele.

Garfield’s voodoo is helping drummers find their unique “voice” and specific sound for any project. “It’s not only having the right combination of drums,” he insists, “but also using the right heads and tuning them to get the right sound. With this huge collection, I have all the tools at my disposal.”

The Drum Doctor has lent his mojo to a host of sessions for long-time clients (and friends), ranging from Jim Keltner, Josh Freese, and the late Jeff Porcaro, to the members of Metallica, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nirvana — to name a mere few. In addition, he has assembled era-correct sets for soundtrack recordings on period films such as Chicago, Leatherheads (both 1920s), and That Thing You Do (1960s).

Here are a few of his favorite, and legendary, drums.

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1. 1970 14" x 5" Ludwig Engraved Black Beauty

I bought this drum new in the early ’70s when I first got hip to the fact that the Black Beauty was a cool snare. Actually, any of Ludwig’s early ’70s drums are usually pretty good. This specific snare I saw in a display case at a drum shop in Los Angeles that I used to go to as a kid. Nobody else wanted to spend the money for this instrument and it sat in the display case for two years. I finally went down there and we came to terms on it. I don’t recall what I paid for it, but whatever it was it was well worth it.

This little drum has been on more records than I can name, but one of the big ones was the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Chad Smith used this on most of those tracks and tuned it really high, ringy, and wide open.

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2. 1970 14" x 6.5" Black Beauty, aka “The One”

Jeff Porcaro used this drum quite a bit. He used to have me bring a few of my snares every time we’d do a session. It got to a point where, whenever he called, he’d say, ‘Yo, I got a session coming up … bring me The One. You know, ‘The One.’ So we stated calling it “The One.” There’s a piece of tape on the drum that we marked “Number One” to distinguish it from my other Black Beauties, and so it would be easier to find when Jeff called for it. The tape is faded but it’s still there.

This drum was used on the Jet record Get Born, Frank Sinatra’s Duets, and on Maroon 5’s It Won’t Be Soon Before Long.

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3. 1980 Tama Bell Brass Prototype

For some reason, this drum sounds better than any of the other Tama Bell Brass drums that I’ve ever heard — and I’ve got six others! They all have the crack, but this one has the low end. It weighs about 30 lbs., which was unheard of when that drum was originally made. Now several companies are making heavy drums.

We’ve had major success with this snare. It was on Nirvana’s Nevermind, which has sold well over 10 million copies, and also on Offspring’s 1994 debut, Smash, selling over 8 million copies. It was also used on Tonic’s Lemon Parade, on Stone Temple Pilots’ debut record, Core, and on more records than I can even remember. We used a different Tama Bell Brass snare on Metallica’s Black record.

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4. 1920 Duplex 15" x 4" “Swamp Snare”

This drum is narrower and wider than most and is made of nickel-plated brass. The extra-wide head and shallow depth of this drum make it ideal for brush playing because there’s more room to maneuver and the snares sizzle beautifully. We used that drum on a lot of T-Bone Burnett’s recording sessions, including the soundtrack for the Coen Brothers’ film The Ladykillers. Ry Cooder is a big fan of older drums, and of this one in particular. When we first brought it out for a session, he said, ‘Looks like you found that at the bottom of a swamp!’ So that’s how it got its nickname.

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5. Late 1920s Leedy Black Diamond Pearl kit (with Calfskin heads and modern hardware)

I bought this kit from a collector who ‘needed’ to sell it about 13 years ago, and have used it quite a bit on movies, including Leatherheads and Chicago. In both cases, the scoring director wasn’t happy with the sound of the drums that the drummer brought in, and that’s when I got the call. They asked me if I had drums that sounded like they were made in the 1920s, so I brought them this kit, which was made in the early 1920s … I like to use the older calfskin heads as they have more of an era-correct sound to them — and more personality. I keep a safe full of these heads that I’ve pulled off older drums. The safe is humid and keeps them moist so they’ll last.