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DW (Drum Workshop)
Land: United States
From its humble beginnings as a store front teaching studio twenty-five years ago to its current 53,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, Drum Workshop has grown to become one of the world's most successful and influential drum companies. Yet the story of DW is not as much about corporate growth as it is the story of two talented, resourceful and dedicated individuals who, like most drummers, had a fascination with improving drumming that went well beyond merely playing the drums.
"My relationship with drums started with a neighborhood teacher at a local music store when I was 12 years old," recalls DW Founder and President, Don Lombardi. "Over the years I had such great experiences with the teachers I studied with‚ teachers who included great drum artists like Nick Ceroli (Tijuana Brass and LA studio), Colin Bailey (Joe Pass and LA studio) and master drum teacher, Freddie Gruber‚ that as I grew up to love playing drums, I also grew up to love learning about and teaching drums. That's really how and why Drum Workshop came into being."
Early in 1972, at the age of 26, Don was in the midst of an expanding professional playing career and teaching at three local music stores. Since he had been successfully teaching in stores for nearly ten years, Don decided to open a small teaching studio near his house in Santa Monica, California. Based on his intention of offering both private drum lessons and monthly workshops, Don named the studio "Drum Workshop". However, he quickly learned the first of many lessons as a drummer in the business-world: starting a business has the inevitable effect of increasing your over-head. He brought in investors and additional teachers and began selling sticks, books and drums to help subsidize these expenses. This created the need for someone who could manage the sales part-time while Don did the teaching. One of his students was a 17 year old drummer named John Good. "I was a self-taught drummer who had developed a lot of bad habits," says John. "I decided that I wanted to learn how to play better and I saw an ad for a teaching studio called 'Drum Workshop' in Santa Monica, which was close to where I was living at the time. I met Don and started lessons, but I was never a very good student. One day Don took me aside and told me that I was probably the worst student he had ever tried to teach. We both saw that my days as a drummer were numbered."
By that time, however, Don and John had discovered that they shared a common interest in how drums worked and how they could make them work better. The two spent hours talking about drums, drummers and drumming and ways to improve them. The first DW product, Don's new design for a height-adjustable trap-case seat, was an outgrowth of these discussions. With a grass-roots advertising effort DW was selling about a dozen seats a month. The seat's modest success gave John the opportunity to quit his day-job and go to work full-time with Don.
"I remember we would shut down the teaching at the end of the day, move the drumsets to the side and bring out the tables to make the seats," says Don. "Then I'd usually have to leave to go to my playing job and John would stay into the night to build the seats to fill the orders."
By 1977, Drum Workshop was still trying to survive as a small drum shop and teaching studio. Since it was not yet financially successful, Don remained busy playing and teaching. Another of Don's students was the son of Tom Beckman, the owner of the Camco Drum Co. Beckman was looking to sell the drum business because he had become the head of Roland US. Knowing that Don was an inventor and interested in the business, he called Don and offered to sell him Camco's machinery, dies and molds‚ everything it took to make Camco drums and hardware‚ everything but the Camco name itself.
At this point it was decided to completely change the direction of Drum Workshop from teaching and selling to manufacturing. Don and John felt that there was room to improve the quality of the drum products that were being produced at that time and, as Don recalls, "based on our mini-success with the seat, we had learned that if we could offer drummers products that would improve their drumming we could be successful. Of course having a desire to go into manufacturing and having the money to do so are two different things."
With most of the money borrowed from his parents and some from outside investors, Don purchased Camco's tooling and reintroduced the Camco 5000 nylon strap bass drum pedal under the DW name. From the very beginning refinements were made to improve the consistency, quietness, smoothness and adjustability of the pedal's mechanical operation. Yet even as the pedal was becoming "the drummer's choice" Don continued to search for ways to further improve it.
The addition of the Chain & Sprocket drive system in 1980 not only vastly improved the DW pedal but also helped set it apart from others on the market. Next, in 1983, DW introduced a double bass drum pedal that incorporated a unique linkage with universal joints. DW's 5002 Double Pedal not only filled a need and solidified DW's position in the market as innovators, it ushered in a whole new era in drumming since now for the first time single bass drum players could use both feet to play more musically and creatively. During the '80's meeting the needs of DW Pedal endorsers such as Tommy Lee, Jim Keltner, Vinnie Colaiuta and Dennis Chambers lead to the development of other innovative DW hardware, including the rotating two-leg 5500T and remote (cable) 5502LB hi-hat stands.
At the same time Don was focusing on developing DW Pedals and Hardware, John was building his reputation as an expert drum technician. "Even though I wasn't a professional player, I always had an ear for drums and a knack for fixing them," he says. "Eventually I wound up doing a lot of drum tuning in the studios and teching for tour drummers like Freddie White (Earth, Wind & Fire), Jonathan Moffett (The Jacksons) and Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa).
"It was at this point that I turned my attention towards investigating why drums sound the way they do. I found out that everything about a drum‚ shell construction, shell size, bearing edges, heads, hardware, finishing‚ individually and collectively effects the quality of a drum's sound. Don and I began making a few sets a month‚Äî always concentrating on perfecting each one of these acoustically critical elements.
"Another part of what I discovered was the importance of each drum's 'timbre', the tonal range where the drum sounds its best. I became extremely interested in trying to control the timbre of the shell and, in doing so, improving the balance of the entire kit. We later called this process 'Timbre Matching' and I'm proud to say that &338;Timbre Matching' caused a wholesale change in the way drummers think about their drums. I'm also extremely proud that every set we make today is made with the same care and attention to detail as when we were only making a few sets each month."
By the mid '80's, with endorsements by the world's top drummers, an expanding dealer network and a strong marketing campaign, DW's full line of top-quality bass drum pedals and hi-hat stands had created a unique market position for the small American company. Meanwhile, DW Drums were starting to attract attention throughout the drumming world, as well. To accommodate the increased demand for its hardware products, DW doubled it's manufacturing space by taking over 2 units at an industrial complex in Newbury Park, California.
"When our pedal artists and dealers started asking about the drums we leased a third unit and hired more people just to make drums," Don recalls. "We plugged along making a handful of drumsets each month. I knew that- we could make a spectacular set of drums but they were expensive and I wasn't sure how many we'd be able to sell. Thank goodness our pedal sales allowed us to pay the bills."
"I remember being on the road with Jonathan Moffett and Madonna in 1987 and calling the shop just to check on how things were going," John says. "Don told me that things were starting to take off and that I better come home and stay there. It was a hard decision at the time because I was making good money on the road, but I agreed and I've never looked back."
"One of the things that helped convince me that we might have a chance with the drums was when Tommy Lee (Motley Crue) came into the shop to have his pedals tuned up," adds Don. "While he was waiting he sat down at the set of drums John had in his office. He started playing and wouldn't stop; he was amazed by the way they sounded. I then realized that a whole generation of players had grown up without ever having the experience of playing on a hand-crafted, custom made set of drums.
"A short time later Tommy bought a kit from us. That was March 7, 1989. I remember the date because it was such a big event that I made a photocopy of the check, which I still have to this day. He was endorsing another company at the time, but within a year he became an official DW Drum endorser."
With Tommy joining Jim Keltner, Chad Wackerman, Larrie Londin and other "name" players, DW produced their first serious drum catalog and went to the January 1990 NAMM show hoping merely to interest a handful of their top pedal dealers to each take one kit.
"At the end of the first day of the show Chris (Don's son and sales manager) pulled John and me aside and told us that we had a real problem with our drums," Don says. "John and I were devastated, thinking that no one wanted our drums, that they were too expensive, that we weren't accepted as a drum company. We thought he meant that going into the drum business was big mistake, but Chris said no, the problem was that he had taken orders for sixty sets and it was only the first day of the show. To make a long story short, we spent the next three years trying to get our drum production to catch up to sales. In fact, filling the overwhelming demand for our drums is an unavoidable 'problem' when you consider that every set of DW Drums is custom made."
As part of its effort to accommodate the increased world-wide demand for DW products the company moved to its current offices in Oxnard, California in 1992. Since the move DW has pioneered the Delta Tri-Bearing pedal system featuring the patented Delta ball-bearing hinge, the Edge brass/maple snare drum, the concept of smaller F.A.S.T. tom-tom sizes, the Woofer Bass Drum Tone Enhancer and the True-Pitch Tuning System as well as perfecting a wide variety of Lacquer, Satin Oil and FinishPly drum finish choices. Today, drummer's drummers such as Sheila E., Terry Bozzio, Neil Peart and Matt Sorum along with drummers of popular bands have chosen to play DW Drums, Pedals and Hardware exclusively.
"Even today it all comes down to spending hours brainstorming ways to make things better, to give drummers better equipment and more choices," explains John. "To this day, one of the great things about DW is that we're never tied to making just what's in the catalog. We've become advocates for better drums and in doing so I think we helped raise the standards for everyone."
"As I look back on our first 25 years, Drum Workshop's success has come about not from just improving drums but from improving them so that drummers can improve their drumming," concludes Don. "That's a subtle but a very important difference. Along the way we had to work hard for everything we achieved, but we always had support from our families, drummers, dealers and our incredible staff, many of whom have been with us from the beginning. We've been fortunate to work with people who care about quality, consistency and service‚ whether they're building our products or our image. In the future we intend to continue developing ideas that will allow us to keep our unique position as drum, pedal and hardware specialists by maintaining the same, single focus we've always had: being enthusiastically committed to improving everything associated with drumming."
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