Rogers Series 2: Here Today, Gone This Afternoon

This is definitely the set that never was. It was due to be launched at the end of the ’70s, and indeed a couple of prototype samples arrived in Britain at that time, one of which I actually had in my shop for a while. But after all the excitement, to my knowledge the set didn’t ever find its way onto the general market, although I’m told a few were sold in America where it was built.

It was completely revolutionary in that its ancillary bits and pieces were made almost completely from plastic and aluminum. Of course plastics had been used some 20 years earlier by Trixon for their lug inserts, holding-screws, and drum keys, and even placed at strategic excessive wear points on their fittings. But until the late ’70s manufacturers seemed to have left the substance alone.

Even the lugs on Series 2 were made from plastic, although they still had a metal captive nut inside to mate with the standard square-headed tension rods. These lugs were simply streamlined versions of Rogers beaver-tailed metal models, and were available in shiny black or chrome with a strip of chrome tape down the front. They also used this chrome tape as inlay on the unique plastic bass drum hoops, and even on their triple-flanged drum hoops. The bass drum hoops actually had ears on them (like those on the snare and toms, only more substantial), which located the square-headed tension rods used on the rest of the set; thus eliminating the need for claws and T-handled tension rods. At first sight the triple-flange hoops on the other drums looked to be plastic too, but they were actually made from metal, sprayed crackle-black, and fitted with another strip of tacky chrome tape.

Rogers’ Series 2 bass drum and tom shells were covered in plastic on the outside and sprayed with that gray speckled paint called “Portafleck” (which they used on their original drums until the mid-’70s) on the inside and this frankly, covered what was then a dark secret. The actual drum shell was approximately 1/4" thick and made from half a dozen layers of what can best be described as compressed cardboard! (To be completely impartial the company called it fiberboard, but is there any real difference?) It’s difficult to know exactly what processes were involved, but one presumes they glued the layers together in the same way they have traditionally formed wooden shells, by coating them with glue, placing them into a mold and forcing the plies together under extreme pressure. The shells would then no doubt have been drilled and their slightly rounded bearing edges fashioned in more or less the time-honored way. A piece of aluminum tube was inserted from top to bottom inside the bass drum, presumably to stabilize and keep it round (fiberboard not being quite so resilient and forgiving as wood).

The snare drum shell was even more unusual being completely injection-molded in one piece from black plastic. It had a strengthening rib inside that ran around the middle and more conventional 45° bearing edges with a pair of shallow snare beds formed into the underside. It was clad in a sheet of chrome plastic to make it compatible with both the black or white coverings available for toms and basses – something Remo also did some time later. It also had plastic lugs, although these were rectangular and double-ended, but still with the same captive inserts. Almost the entire snare strainer was made from plastic – even the jaws. It used the tried and tested side-cam action (similar to Ludwig’s celebrated P85), but with a large curved lever that extended over the top of the aluminum thumbscrew, which tensioned the snare wires. Unlike the toms, this drum did have an internal damper, although I don’t recall what it was like and it was missing from the snare I saw recently.

The only sizes I ever saw were the bread and butter ones with 12" x 8", 13" x 9", and 16" x 16" toms, a 20" x 14" bass drum and a 5" deep snare drum. But, had Series 2 taken off, no doubt in the fullness of time we’d have seen toms with 8", 10", 14", and 18" diameters, as well as deeper snares and possibly larger (and smaller) basses. The set came fitted with see-through heads, which were simply stamped Series 2, but which I’m 100 percent sure were Remo Ambassadors.

From a distance the Series 2 fixtures and fittings were ostensibly the same as any others available at that time. But on closer scrutiny they turned out to be totally different, being made almost completely from aluminum and nylon. The cymbal, snare drum, and hi-hat stands all had traditional wide tripod bases, just like any other contemporary Rogers. But the cymbal tilters, spur holders, tom receiver blocks, height-retaining blocks, tom arm ratchets, foot plates, snare baskets, and so on were all injection molded from nylon like the snare shell, bass drum hoops, and lugs (presumably at great expense to Rogers and the mighty CBS).

Because the parts I’ve mentioned were made from nylon/plastic, Rogers rightly saw fit to build them much larger than usual. For example, the tom ratchet arm (which also doubled as the snare stand’s playing angle adjustment) sensibly had deep but fine ratchet teeth to maintain that angle. The only problem was the nylon probably made them too resilient (especially with those more flexible ally tubes) and tended to bounce the drums up and down, which took a lot of getting used to. It wasn’t so bad with the snare drum, since it actually sprung the instrument a little and made it somehow more forgiving, but it was a bit disconcerting to find the toms leaping up and down while you played.

All the receiver blocks on the toms and bass drum for spurs, legs, and holder arms, as well as the cymbal, snare, and hi-hat stands, used split clamps to grip their relevant tubes. They were very like Rogers’ up-market Memriloc, which were made from metal and took off a year or two before Series 2, although they didn’t work quite so well. The three holding arms on the snare stand were simply flat pieces of alloy with small L-shaped plastic fittings on the end, which, similar to the heavy duty Memrilocs, were specially shaped to fit neatly into the lower hoop. One of them was able to slide up its arm, thus clamping the snare drum into the cradle. Chunky diamond-shaped plastic wingnuts and bolts took care of all the locking functions on the set, (something that Ludwig flirted with at more or less the same time).

The twin expansion spring bass drum pedal was actually a masterpiece of plastic engineering. It was light yet robust, and except for the fact that it only fitted this particular set, would no doubt still be in use today. (Series 2 hoops simply mated with a recess in the pedal itself so it didn’t need the usual jaw clamping system.) The pedal’s uprights were just ally tubes, which were echoed on the hi-hat too, and both footplates were joined to their mechanisms with the same manmade fiber strap. There was no action adjustment for the hi-hat, but like the bass drum pedal, it had a pretty smooth feel.

The spurs carried on the tradition of Rogers Memriloc models, which were certainly the first tubular ones I’d seen (Series 2s though had a very large plastic stabilizing framework inside the drum to steady them). Like the tom legs, they were also made from wide-bored aluminum with large rubber crutch tips on their ends.

I must say I’ve always been mystified as to why Series 2 didn’t ever make it onto the marketplace properly. After all, it must have cost Rogers, or rather CBS, millions of dollars in tooling-up costs for all those plastic bits and pieces, as well as the fiberboard shells, which weren’t poorly made, and pre-dated Remo’s very successful Acousticon shells by several years. I was prepared to believe that Remo’s shells were not the same as Rogers’, but I have my suspicions they were similar.

So what went wrong? It couldn’t have been the lightness. Any drummer who carries his own set would surely opt for better portability. It might have been the price, although at a target figure of $650 including stands, Series 2 was hardly expensive. (It would actually have been the first mid-priced, semi-professional kit.) It couldn’t have been the sounds, because even though some players found them too sharp, they actually sounded pretty solid despite their humble construction. It couldn’t have been the set’s image – it actually looked the business. I suspect the problem was the fact that the launch of Series 2 coincided with the mighty CBS corporation’s sale of both Fender and Rogers, so perhaps Series 2 simply got lost in the shuffle. Possibly one of the accountants thought it wasn’t particularly important! (Possibly the same CBS guy at Rogers who, having made the illuminating discovery that the brass-shelled Dynasonic snare drum would be more profitable if it was made from steel like their Super Ten, persuaded the company to change it. This effectively killed their golden goose, which for painfully obvious reasons didn’t sell at all well after the change.)

But I digress. The complete set (as pictured here) was up for grabs at $460, which is pretty good considering there were only ever two pre-production prototypes in the U.K. If by any chance you found another one at anything like that price you should snap it up. You’d definitely be investing in a genuine piece of drum history.