Gluing Drum Wrap to Shells Can Devalue Them

We at Jammin Sam, get lost of calls from people who have read the many comments out on the Internet, talking to people, etc., about gluing (total glue down of wrap), versus taping (only adhered at seams), and come away confused. There are definitely differences of opinion. We have an article on this site- “Benefits of Taping vs. Gluing“, which is a great resource, for understanding those benefits, and the right way to recover drums.
This article is similar but more focused on the problems with gluing. Rarely do those pushing a total glue down, speak about it’s dark secrets. This article is more focused on facts, than opinions, exposing the many problems with the gluing method, and the correct mentality when making restoration decisions. The focus here, is on United States vintage drums (50’s-70’s), but most others apply.

What the Terms “Glue/Gluing” & “Tape/Taping” Refer To in This Article

When I use the terms “glue” or “gluing” in this article, I am referring to a method by some, of applying glue (usually contact cement) to the entire back of the wrap, as well as the entire outer surface of the drum shell, allowing each to dry apart, after which, joining the wrap to the shell.

Note: Sometimes, a spray glue is used, coating only one surface.

The next step with this approach is to trim off the excess wrap, from each sound edge (often with a knife or scissors).

Note: Even though the term “glue” is part of the “adhesive” family, I will be using both terms (tape and adhesive) interchangeably in this article.

When I use the terms “tape” or “taping”, I am specifically talking about only adhering the seams with adhesive. This is usually accomplished with an industrial, hi-bond, double-sided tape. Some have tried using different liquid adhesives, but for the inexperienced, this can be messy and less effective.

History of the Two Adhesive Methods

When many discuss this topic, usually the past is brought into it, so let’s do that now: In the 1920’s, drum wrap was born,1,2 and glue was used to adhere the new materials to the shells (entire surface), by the US drum companies (Ludwig, Gretsch, Slingerland, etc.).

Note: The glues of the 1920’s-1940’s were usually plant or animal base.3

Years later, when the Pearl drum company first started making their drums in Japan (1950)4, they preferred to just glue the seams, with the adhesives available at the time (from what I have seen, and our customer’s have experienced). And for the most part, all Asian drum companies, as they came along, followed this same method (Tama, Yahama, etc.) — just gluing seams (generally speaking).

Later in the US, around 1980, there was a move by the larger US drum companies, to adhere the seams, like the Asians were doing, to some, or all their drum lines. The underlying reason: By the late 1970’s, the Asian drum companies, had taken a significant part of the market from the US companies. The reason– the Asians were selling nicer looking sets (deeper shells, heavier hardware, etc.), for less than the traditional “plain Jane” US made drum sets of the time. So to survive, the larger US drum makers had little choice, but to get competitive. They had to reduce costs. Many of them decided to move the manufacturing process to Asia. This reduced the cost of wrap, hardware, and especially labor. Lower costs allowed them to offer better hardware than before, and allowed them to lower prices. So, from about 1980, most of the low to mid-level US sets sold, were made in Asia.

So these changes allowed most of them to survive. To my knowledge, every large US drum company, had one (or more) line of drums made in Asia. And at the same time (or soon after), about 99% of their hardware (all lines) came from Asia, which is still the case today. And concerning drum wrap, about 99% of those sets, came with Asian wrap. Not as good or durable as the prior US made wraps, but still appeared desirable (at least on the shown room floor). And with these more competitive US named drum sets (but made in Asia), the application of wrap to shell, was the Asian way – adhered only at the seams. When these drum sets were extensively sold in the US, it was soon learned, just adhering the seams, was not a bad idea; in fact, it worked pretty well. From our customers who own Ludwig drums, all have been glued at the seams only, since about 1980. Other US companies have followed suit, but some still glue the whole shell on their upper lines.

The reasons for some still gluing:

  1. Tradition. Some have convinced themselves, through “traditional logic”- if more effort is applied, or greater bond is achieved, “it must be better”. These and other, long developed, ingrained ideas (strongly held by some), are hard to give up.
  2. To make more money. To spread all that extra glue, and expend all the extra labor (gluing, trimming, etc.), adds to costs, which someone has to pay for. And as long as people are willing to pay the extra (a lot extra), they will keep doing it. But understand, using this method today, is about achieving a routered look (under the heads), and making more money.

As time went by for the US drum companies, more and more lines of drums were only being adhered at the seams. And the few today, who continue to glue, do so, because of a combination of the above rationales.

Sound Differences Between Taping vs. Gluing

Over the years, usually, when someone asks us about the two wrapping methods (glue vs. tape), the question is asked, “Does one method sound better than another?”

Note: This topic is discussed in our article, “Benefits of Taping vs. Gluing“.

To briefly comment on it- there is no sound difference between two methods. Many in the industry know this fact, but hype sells more drums. If you carefully look at any statement made by a drum company, there is no direct statement, that sound is better, or a drum line’s sound is better than another’s- getting very close to say it, but careful not to. Most drum sets in the music stores of today, are only adhered at the seams (or as we refer to, as being “taped”). Nobody says, “Those sets don’t sound good.” or “the taped drum sets aren’t any good.” they say, “Wow, look at that!” If glue improved the sound quality, it would be obvious, and we would tell you to use it (the method we first recommended for 17 years).

Characteristics of a Typical Gluing Procedure, that Destroy’s Value

Several who use the glue method (adhering the wrap to the entire surface of the shell), believe they are, “restoring the drum to their original condition.” Yes, all vintage drums were adhered this way (USA 1920s-70s), but usually, this recovery method hurts the shell, and/or the new wrap, at some point, with typical use. One would think, if a re-warp was done like the original, it would be worth the most. Some people believe this, but it is usually not the case. The below points reveal the problems with gluing, as regards to value:

  1. In this process, if the shell(s) are altered, the value of each drum decreases significantly. In a re-wrap job, after the condition of the hardware, it is the condition of the shells, that is a big part of the value (to the knowledgeable). It is this detail (after hardware and wrap appearance), that increases or lessens the value (especially of US vintage drums). Many times, the end result of a “drum restoration” (gluing entire shell), results in a “butchered job”. That’s right- “butchered”. In other words, in the process to put new wrap on one’s shells, “like the factory”, the restorer has lost somewhere between 25% and 50% of it’s value. Some may respond, “Why is this the case?” Below are some answers:
    1. Wood pieces coming up from a future wrap removal. When the glue from a restored project, needs to be removed, the drum tends to get damaged. Wood can be pulled up easily, from one trying to remove the wrap, that has been firmly glued down. The original glue removal is one thing (which wood can come up from that project), multiple glue removals is another. The more times glue is removed, the more wood tends to come up. And most of the time, that is exactly the case. The more lost of wood, the less the value.
    2. In general, wood is lost by sanding the shell in preparation for the new wrap. Many times, when removing glued wrap, wood comes up with the finish (as stated in point “a” above). But this point refers to additional lost of wood, from sanding, to ready the shell for the new wrap. General sanding is not a big deal, but often what comes into play, is someone getting impatient. And impatience drives the choice to use an electric sander to quicken the job. This will frequently result in flat spots on the shell. The more the sanding (to remove glue), the more the damage. The more altered, the less the shell is worth- period. This factor needs to be taken into consideration when buying a set with glued wrap (from a previous rewrap project). You just don’t know what you are getting. Personally, if I happened to come across a set for sale, that has been re-glued several times, I would buy it, if I got it cheap enough, but that would be my mentality. And if it needed re-wrapping, I’ll try my best to make it look pretty again. But that set would not be worth the same, as the same set, that has not “gone through the war” of being glued and sanded several times (this is common sense).
    3. Adhesive removers damaging the shell (with multiple re-wrap restorations). Remember, there is also glue between the plies of the wood, and multiple uses of adhesive remover can negatively affect the shell. Part of this is due to the adhesive remover itself, but the other part, is cleaning the remaining residue of the remover, off the shell (multiple times)- soap and water, sanding, etc. We do recommend adhesive remover; however, the more the use (by multiple re-wraps), the more chance for a shell problem. So our take- get any glue off, and keep it off.
    4. Wood pieces coming off the sound edge. Usually, when wrap is glued (entire shell), trimming wrap off the sound edge follows. This re-cutting, usually results in wood loss at the edge, by being splintered or cut away. The more the shell differs from it’s original condition (structure, appearance, etc.), the greater the loss of value. But splintering at the sound edge, is serious, because it can easily be seen with the heads off, thus killing value.

      Note: When one uses cut-to-fit wrap, with a double sided tape (what we suggest) no alterations are made. That shell is more valuable, than identical shell, with pieces of wood missing off the sound edges (re-glued one or more times).

      Some who have glued many sets, may (and may not), be good at trimming edges (not cutting into the shell too much). However, this is still not the best (for the reasons given). But one attempting gluing and trimming, with little to no experience, usually results, in something less than favorable (an understatement). I have talk to many who have tried it, and sorry they did.

      Because the entire wrap was originally glued down (US vintage drums), we would suggest you do the same, if it didn’t hurt the wrap and/or shell. But as I, and many others have experienced, much of the time, sooner or later, many of those trying to copy the original application, alter the shell, thus killing value in the process (also resulting in fewer possible re-wraps).

      Some say, “I don’t care if my set is glued, it will be the last time it is recovered.” I have heard that statement made a thousand times. Many of these same people, call back (usually years later), and want to redo their drums (usually to change color). If one is going to play a set on a regular basis, and move it around to a host of different locations (typical use), for many, it will eventually need to be recovered. If you have a vintage drum set, you have something. Why mess it up, or mess if up for the next owner?

  2. The wrap tends to suffer. Some gluing the wrap entirely down, experience negative results:
    1. Splitting and cracking can occur with wrap, when glued to the entire shell. Wood and plastic do different things, in different temperatures. When they are firmly adhered together, sometimes in wide temperature changes, plastic does not move like wood, and can split. Many glued drums, over the years have split and cracked. Also, over the years, wood dries out, and this further causes the disintegration of wrap. However, with wrap that is taped, microscopic movement is allowed, greatly aiding in the prevention of splitting and cracking.
    2. “Bubbling” can occur, when glue used, has a too heavy, chemical content. Since we suggested gluing for the first 17 years in business, we are very aware of this problem. In our early days, when we suggested gluing, we even heard some having a bubbling problem, with some water base contact cements.
    3. Some glues today, can cause the wrap to discolor over time. Some have seen vintage sets discolor, and like the effect. However, you will not get that same result with today’s glues and wraps. Most discolorations of today, will probably be less desirable to you. And when wrap discolors, value is lost (from original condition).
    4. After wrap is glued down, most people try to hand-cut the wrap off the sound edges. It the process, many cut into the wood (as described above- point 1, section d). But this point refers to cutting the wrap itself, in a negative way. If cutting the wrap becomes obvious (not normally consistent), this will also result in loss of value. If I can tell, one has “hand cut” the wrap, resulting in wavy/crude lines, then the value is decreased. And this is usually the case, when the gluing method is pursued.
  3. Squaring problems with the shell(s), becomes more apparent. Many vintage shells (some brands more than others), are not totally square. When the glue method is used on these shells, gaping between wrap and shell is more visible. Usually, any truing of a shell, weakens it’s structure, and thus, becomes considerably less valuable (if known). This out of square/gaping problem was not an issue when the sets were made, because the original wraps shrunk, soon after installation. This shrinking of the wrap, would hiding any squaring issues. The wraps we sell, are mostly made in the same factories as purchased for the US sets from the 1960’s on (and made to look the same); however, they do not shrink. The point here- less than favorable results have occurred when gluing new wrap on older shells (trying to bring the wrap up to the edge). Because of the squaring issues, and one bring the wrap up to the top of the shell, gaps tend to be present (and noticeable). However, cutting the wrap off the sound edge, before installation (characteristic of the tape method), results in less noticeable squaring issues, being much nicer in appearance.

It is from these above facts, that one should ask themselves- “Is gluing really the best way to adhere drum wrap?” The answer at this point, should be obvious. However, there is more to consider about this subject:

Answers to False Held Notions About Gluing

Notion: “All glue is the same.”

Asbestos (tremolite) silky fibres on muscovite from Bernera, Outer Hebrides. Photograph taken at the Natural History Museum, London.

Asbestos (tremolite) silky fibres on muscovite from Bernera, Outer Hebrides. Photograph taken at the Natural History Museum, London.

Answer: All “glue” is not the same.

The glues used in the 20’s-70’s, are not the glues used today.5 This is not a big deal to many, but still an alteration. The more the alteration, the less the value. However, not using the original glue, is actually a good thing, because of the asbestos content in many of those glues (1950’s-70’s).6

Note: Caution needs to taken when removing vintage wraps & glue, because of the probably of asbestos content. If you see any powered remains under the wrap, this is probably asbestos- always use a quality mask.

Let’s think a minute, if the original glue was available today (with asbestos), would you use it? The logical answer is- no (if you knew something about asbestos poisoning, you wouldn’t). It would be extremely unwise. But on the other hand, when one uses the glues of today, they are not the same, as the original glue. So in a sense, both aspects of re-gluing here, are either an alteration from the original, or dangerous. The answer to this dilema is given below, but the point here– the glues used today, are different from the originals– an alteration.

Notion: “An entire glue down is important for value.”

Answer: The Different Adhesives Were Only the Mechanism, to Adhere Wrap to Shells.

The original glue (being several3,5), was not the factor of worth, with original vintage drums, it was just the mechanism used, to hold the wrap in place. Let me explain why this is the case. In restoring several 70’s era sets, much of the glue was already disintegrated on some, but the old wrap still staying down fine (before being re-wrapped). Many of these original sets today, still look great (adhesive still holding at seams), but the glue on the shell, has mostly disintegrated. Still, they are worth no less, than sets with wrap fully adhered (if appear the same). Let’s think about this- the glue on many vintage sets, by this time, have disintegrated, but they are still as valuable as the same sets, which the glue has not (appearance being the same, intact seams, etc.). The point again– the glue is really not the value factor. The truth value factor- does the wrap look good on the shell. Again, the glue is not the deciding factor about quality or value, it is just the mechanism to hold the wrap in place (see next paragraph).

Notion: “Drum restoration is unique to any other restoration project.”

Answer: Drum Restoration is similar to other restoration projects.

Photo of an old electrical breaker panelTo me, restoring vintage drums, is little different, then restoring most vintage things. There are times when it is wise, to deviate from the original manufacturing process. I view gluing the entire surface of wrap to drums, like restoring an old house, using original wiring. For example, if I bought a 1920’s-40’s era house to restore, I would not keep the original electrical components. Why? Those components are not only hard to find (in good condition), but are less reliable, and even dangerous (I have owned one of those houses). I would definitely restore the electrical components with today’s wiring, to today’s codes (wiring, breakers, safety equipment, etc.). Many who restore these houses, do the same.7 Even though these houses didn’t come that way, they are still considered “restored”, even with the modern parts. Does upgrading the electrical system detract from the value of the house? Not at all– in fact, it actually increases it (safer, reliable, up to code, etc.). The city would probably not deem the house safe, unless upgrades were made. This same idea comes into play with vintage drums. In restoration, when something hurts the project overall, and a safer/better alternative can be used, wisdom tends to go in that direction. This concept is used in many different areas of restoration. If we can avoid future damage, wisdom tells us, take that road. And using hi-bond tape, takes that road.

Regarding The So-Called “Experts” Out There

From time to time, I get this statement made to me, “Well he glues, and has done it this way for a long time…His sets look good…He must know what he is doing.” Well to date, 18 years ago, we told people to use glue (which we had for 17 years), and we were considered experts as well. Just because someone has done something, one way for a long time, doesn’t mean it’s best (we hear about some of those sets), or best for you. However, many in the field have changed their thinking about this topic. It is more rare today, to find people gluing. For most who do, they heard from someone, it was best, and decided to do it. Some who do this for a business, usually don’t mind gluing wrap on shells, because usually, they charge more for it (it takes more time and effort, and there is more risk of ruining wrap in the process). Think about it- If most sets from major drum companies are only adhered at the seams (see “History” section), with some of these sets being very expensive, why do you need your set any different? You don’t.

Commonly Held Ideas by Those Buying Drums

Next, I want to focus on commonly held ideas/notions, by those buying drums. The reason– it plays into our topic concerning value. Again, we are going to primarily focus here, on US “vintage drums” (50’s-70’s), but most sets apply. Below are some generally held, common truths (and notions) about drum restoration:

  1. Generally speaking, vintage drums with the original wrap, in mint condition, are the most desired, and tends to sell for the most money. This idea is generally held, and fosters little argument.
  2. Generally speaking, when one alters a drum set in mint condition, value is lost. There are some exceptions to this rule, especially regarding a “common vintage set” with a undesirable color. For instance, if I have a basic Ludwig set from the 70’s (nothing above common), in a lower end color (nothing real desirable), and I decide to change to a highly desirable color (without alternating the shells), I have just increased the value of my set (generally speaking). But for the most part, when one alters mint drums, value is usually lost.
  3. Generally speaking, when original wrap is not in “mint condition” (worn-out), a “proper re-wrap” usually increases value (if shells has not been altered). We have seen this be the case, many, many, times. However, a proper re-wrap only occurs, when no alterations occur with the shell(s). I have found, most people seeking out a vintage set, wants it to look, like it was brand new (obviously this is the most sought after condition). Most do not want it to buy or perform with a set that appears worn out. But for most, it is only going to be a restored set, available to them, because of availability, color choice, price, etc. When these sets are carefully restored (especially unglued), they can bring a considerable price (to the knowledgeable).
  4. As mentioned earlier, the more the alterations to the shell, the less the drum is worth. Even a small alteration can result in great loss of value. Most can relate, to finding a near perfect drum, with extra drilled holes- it tends to make one sick. Let me give another example- In the distant past, when we suggested using glue, a loyal customer one day, wanted to show me his work on a shell (being proud of his work). He took off one head to show me his trimming of his bearing edge (done free-hand, with a Dremel tool), and to my opinion (which I didn’t share at the time), he had ruined his drum. Not only had he cut into the wrap (resulting in wavy areas around each edge), but he seriously cut into the wood (heaven forbid you get his drum). And he was not the first, nor the last, to do something like this (he was even in the business of buying/selling/restoring drums).

When one goes against these commonly held ideas, there is a good chance, they are making wrong decisions, and lessening the value of what they’ve got. If I saw a vintage drum set that looked nice, and after taking each head off, noticed deep cuts into the edges (from trimming wrap off the bearing edge- as described above), I would probably lose all interest (maybe for the parts). To me, if the edges of that set, could not be re-cut (without taking too much wood off), the shells themselves would have little, to no value. Actually, if one digs into the wood around the eyelet (trying to pry it out), that also decreases value. If one in the process of restoring a drum set, goes against these generally held ideas, the value of their drums is very likely to diminish.

Let’s Use Some Wisdom

I have glued many drums (entire glue downs), and suggested others to the same for 17 years. It is not like I picked a side from the start, and decided to preach the “tape religion”. Now to date, I have suggested taping (using our tape) for 18 years. I am telling you what works from experience, and not just my experience, but the experience of thousands of customer’s. And not from just our customer’s experience, but from those of the major drum companies, for several decades. It would be wise to take note. We at Jammin Sam, did have some problems in the first few years, learning which tape worked, how to use it, etc. But still in the early days, we had far less customer problems with this method, than we did, with telling customers to glue the entire surface. And when we tell you to use our tape, it is not only for value sake, but for your benefit- it has a great track record (especially in the last ten years). And we don’t make a whole lot of money off it either, especially when you consider our cost of the hi-bond tape we use, the labor costs of installing it on each piece, and the warranty we offer.

Note: Not all “hi-bond tapes” are the same. We use the best quality tape we can find. There are cheaper tapes (about 75-90% cheaper), that look the same, but are not the same. Don’t be fooled by cheap tapes called “hi-bond”.

There is a customer desired situation, we suggest using glue (to entire shell surface)- when one desires to cut the wrap and the sound edge (with a router), in one pass (new shells only). However, as revealed in this article, at some point, if one uses their drums in a typical way, there may be a price to pay (as explained in this article)- a look that is only seen with the heads off, and even then, rarely noticed. And ever so often, we hear about those “prices”. We have received several calls from people with these sets (from drum companies, builders, etc.), after their warrantee expired, saying, “My wrap split/cracked, on my $3,000 [or more] drum set.” Ask yourself, “Is gluing the entire wrap down really worth the risk?” “Worth the extra effort?” “Worth the extra cost?” “Is it worth, possibly devaluing my set?” Not to me.

Conclusion

Again, because the entire wrap was glued down to vintage drums, for those sets, we would suggest you do the same, if it didn’t hurt the shell. But many times, with the gluing method, both shells and wrap are negatively affected. I would prefer a re-done taped vintage set, over a re-glued one, and pay more to get it. Many of our customers who have used our hi-bond tape method, have received incredible amounts for their sets (E bay, people who saw the set, etc.). And they find, if they keep the set, and decided to re-wrap it later, there is no problem, and damage is usually not an issue. It is not that one gluing wrap down can’t make a set look great (or even sell it for a good amount), but have just limited their options, and must go through an ordeal (removing all glue- a big mess) to later change the finish (not to mention the usual damage to shells).

What I hope you have learned from this article, is the definite problems with gluing, and how some restorators can devalue drums, using it. There will always be people who take different sides of this discussion, but the wise, with the right information, will tend to ask the right questions, and know the true value, of what is sitting before them.

Thank you for taking your time to read this article. We are always interested in what you think, feel free to let us know.

References

  1. Plasticsindustry.org – The Plastic Industry Trade Association. History of Plastics. Growth of Modern Plastics.
  2. Ludwig Drum Catalog, 1928.
  3. Wikipedia.org – Adhesive. – See History.
  4. Wikipedia.org – Pearl Drums. – See History.
  5. Bartleycollection.com – Bartley Classic Reproductions. The History of Glue.
  6. Asbestos.com Adhesives. History.
  7. Oldhouseonline.com Old-House Tips, Restoration Stories and More. Repairs & How To. 10 Tips for Rewiring an Old House.

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