STECKENPFERD John Tejada on vintage drums

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Previously published in Groove 138 (September/October 2012) in a abridged and translated version.

German speakers use the expression „Steckenpferd“ to describe a passion that involves a great degree of specialized knowledge. For each printed edition of Groove we invite an artist to introduce our readers to his personal „Steckenpferd“.

„I am a collector of vintage drums. I have been playing drums off and on my whole life since the age of eight. It is something I discovered soon after my move from Vienna to Los Angeles in 1982. The discovery of John Bonham, Neil Peart and other drummers even at a young age made a huge impact and I just had to learn how to play drums. My cousin who was living with us at the time had a kit, and when he was away I would crank up some Led Zeppelin and would learn to play along. Fast forward to about 1998 when i met Takeshi Nishimoto and we soon began our project I’m Not A Gun, in which I am the drummer. It was great for the first time in my life to be finally using my drumming full time in a music project. We ended up releasing five albums so far on my own label Palette and on City Centre Offices.

Fast forward another few years, it was more recently that I realized the amazing tonal quality of older drum kits. I also realized that these kits were a big reason many of the classic recordings I had grown up with sounded so amazing. Kits were just built differently then. Companies had the goal of making a great kit, instead of the modern goal of ‘how many kits can we make for the most profit.’ At the same time I began to realize this, I also began to realize I had missed a gap in my training, and decided I must learn a lot of the rudiments I had skipped. I felt decent on drums, but there were just too many techniques which were completely foreign to me, so I began to study all the techniques I had missed and in the process my love for vintage drum kits grew.

At this time I am keeping my collection to a minimum, however a good friend is stock piling drums for the apocalypse so even though I am only housing three kits and some snares at the moment, there are mor than ten kits available to me as well. Vintage kits are all quite unique from each other in character. There were designs special to that age which give the drums a very different tone. Rounded edges and multiple ply of maple wood give a fat round long sustain tone that new thin single ply shells just don’t offer. I’ve owned a few drum sets in my life, but everything changed with these three vintage kits.“


Slingerland (1960s)

„The first vintage kit I bought off ebay was a 60s era Slingerland in white marine pearl. Sizes 22, 16, 13 with matching Slingerland snare. I got it for a great price as well. It was just before prices went a bit insane. These days you can still find great prices, but unfortunately sites are filled with dealers trying to sell for top dollar. You will notice these kits hardly ever sell. Anyway, this was my introduction to how unique these older well made kits sound. Instantly I was transported to early Black Sabbath records and playing the drums for the first time in a long while became addictive and fun again. I soon added another snare to this kit which was a seven inch deep 1941 Super Gene Krupa Radio King Snare. I really love the sound of deeper snares.“


Slingerland Radio King (1944)

„The second kit I picked up by accident at a local drum shop here in Los Angeles that’s been here on Vine Street for decades called Professional Drum Shop. They are located right across the street of what was then the musician’s union building and everyone who was anyone would shop there including Buddy Rich. In fact, Buddy Rich would use one of the kits on The Tonight Show when he was a guest. The kit is now permanently displayed in the shop. It is one of the only places left where the staff really knows about drums, unlike the big chain stores which know basically nothing. Anyway, I walked in one day looking for drum heads or something minor when I saw stacked up in the corner where the used kits for sale are a 1944 cloud badge Slingerland Radio King full set with matching snare in Black Diamond Pearl. These kits never come cheap, especially in as amazing of condition as this was in. It was a little pricey but nothing compared to what people try to get for them now. Sizes were 20, 16, 13 with matching snare. The special thing about Slingerland’s Radio King drums is that they were a single large piece of steam bent wood, not multiple layers. This gives Radio Kings a legendary tone. To have a full kit of these and not just a snare is really special. It is by far my favorite kit I’ve ever played.“


Ludwig Vistalite (1972)

„My Ludwig 1972 clear vistalite kit. This is the kit Karen Carpenter played live and also made famous by John Bonham (although he mostly played an amber color kit, I do have a poster ad where he is promoting a clear kit). The kit pictured here wasn’t the final version. I have one more tom making sizes 22, 16, 13, 12 and I also added a 6.5 inch deep Ludwig supraphonic snare also in clear vistalite to match the kit. Vistalite kits produce a really unique tone with a clear tone and long sustain. They are made from acrylic. They seem to have split drummers opinions right down the middle. Drummers either love them or hate them. I’ve noticed a few drummers who hated them until they tried them. They are definitely worth a try. Toms can be tuned very well and have a strong melodic character since the pitch if properly tuned can be so clear. Even though Bonham played with a 26 inch bass drum, I still get some great Led Zeppelin type live tones with this kit. The great thing about Ludwig is, they can still make any drum in their large catalog if you special order as well as still stocking many pieces of hardware you might need to complete your set.“

John Tejada’s new album The Predicting Machine will be released on Kompakt in early September.

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