black beauty snare drum

Dating a Ludwig Black Beauty

DISCLAIMER 1: When I started writing this blog about my Black Beauty snare drum (from now on referred to as a BB), I thought it would be fun to work out its age. However, having waded through all the confusion and ambiguity on the web, I can honestly say I’ve rarely spent so much time in a state of self-inflicted frustration. 

DISCLAIMER 2: If you’re looking for dating tips, this isn’t the blog for you.

The Black Beauty Snare Drum

 The Ludwig “Black Beauty” is one of the most iconic snare drums of the 20th Century. They were first manufactured in the 1920s as part of Ludwig’s DeLuxe range. Made of brass, these drums featured hand-engraved ornamentation and came in a variety of coloured enamel choices. Most ostentatious was a gold-plated option dubbed the Triumphal model. Ultimately though, the black model proved to be most popular. 

Information on how long they were in production for is difficult to obtain, but Ludwig was still making them in the 1930s. At some point, however, production halted and it didn’t start again until 1976. Although Ludwig catalogues from 1977 and 1980 contain images of brass BBs, in 1981, Ludwig made the switch to bronze shells. This was apparently a cost decision. BBs were not to appear in Ludwig catalogues again until 1988, this time with bronze shells.

My Black Beauty

I purchased my BB a few years ago from an eBay seller who, as far as I know, had owned it from new. He was clearing out his rehearsal studio and apparently his BB was surplus to requirements. The description read something like, ‘1970s brass drum, in used but good condition’. Unfortunately, the drum that arrived on my doorstep was far from pretty. The heads were wrecked, the rims were rusty and the throw was inoperable. Worst of all, the shell was covered in a crispy residue that resembled dried snot. It was all rather disgusting – a Black Ugly, if you will – but at £400, I suppose it was still a bargain.  At the time of writing, the same model is on eBay for £1,850. (Good luck with that.)

Black Beauty
Photo: My BB snare drum.

Instead of returning the drum to its former owner, I kept it but decided to carry out some minor restorations. I forked out for new rims, heads, a Puresound strainer and a replacement Ludwig throw. Then I gave it a thorough clean, inside and out, removing all the lugs so I could get into all the nooks and crannies. All things considered, the drum came up sparkling, to the point it almost looked… attractive. Better still, I managed to get the seller to refund me £50.00 to cover the repairs. You can read a bit more about it here.

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Ludwig Badges

For this blog, I decided it would be interesting to work out the age of the drum using the badge logo and serial number. Ludwig’s badges have changed many times over the years (as can be seen) and so depending on which badge you have, you can work out roughly when it was made. Here are some examples from the Vintage Drum Guide.

1920s Ludwig Badge
Stamped oval badge from the early 1920's
1970s Ludwig Badge
Blue and Olive Cut Badge with rounded corners. This was on a Black Beauty Snare Drum from the late 70's
1970-84 Ludwig Badge
Started using this late 70's (1979) due to complaintes from the pointy badges above getting caught on things and bending.
1985 Ludwig Badge
Mid 1980's to present Ludwig Keystone Badge.

You can see more examples of Ludwig badges here.

My BB features the blue/olive badge (B/O) badge with rounded corners. These were introduced in response to complaints about the sharp pointy badges of the early-70s which tended to catch on things and bend. According to the badge guide, ‘rounded corners’ means the drum dates from 1979. It’s unclear exactly how long Ludwig used this particular design, but by 1985 it had been replaced by the now familiar Keystone badge.  

Ludwig Serial Numbers

Could I narrow it down further with the serial number? Mine is 2166355. On the Vintage Drum site it states:

 “[…] drum companies never really prescribed to any code of documenting a drum based on that serial number. […] there is no exact science or way to pinpoint an exact date of a drums manufacture. As collectors and historians we have to settle for a date range or a specific year at best”. 

With this in mind, I consulted the serial guide on Ludwig’s site. The guide is for drums built in the 60s and 70s. Since my drum was possibly built in 1979, there was a chance it would be on there. For drums built during the 80s there are seemingly no records. I was a bit disappointed to discover my drum’s serial number didn’t correspond with any made in 1979. This meant it was most likely an 80s BB, and possibly a bronze one at that.

Serial Number Based Dating Guides for Vintage Ludwig Drums – Main Line Ludwig drums 1963-1984, Ludwig Standard drums 1968-1973.

This book by Richard E Gier is considered to be one of the most comprehensive resources for dating Ludwig drums. If you’re not sure what your drum is, this book will most likely have the answer. Latest issue is dated 30 March 2023.




The outcome of my jolly investigation into the history of my Black Beauty drum is somewhat inconclusive. It appears to be an early-80s model and not a 70s model as described by the eBay seller! But it’s difficult to say if its brass or bronze. That said, there are patches on the interior of the shell that reveal a pinkish metal, which suggests bronze. It’s still a great sounding drum, either way. Let’s not forget that cymbals are also made from a bronze alloy, so it can obviously have wonderful sonic properties. 

As a final thought, I found this insightful post on the Drum Forum

 Brass vs. Bronze

“There are a couple of thousand different formulas in the copper alloy family with over 300 hundred “brass” and over 300 “bronze” alloy formulas. Trying to figure the alloy composition out for a line of snares with as long as a production run as the BB has had is virtually impossible! With economics as a main driving factor you can sure bet that there is a fair amount of variety in Ludwig “brass.” I have two modern BB’s and they are from different alloy formulas. Additionally, I have a late 70’s/early 80’s BB (L417) and a mid-80’s hammered bronze (L552KY), which I was curious about the alloy composition. 

I took them to work and did a PMI test on them and found out exactly what alloy they were made of. I was surprised how different the 417 dwas to most commercial brass, and is actually closer to what is called German silver or Alpaca. Yes, under the black coating my shell is silver in appearance in contrast with the yellow / gold color (or traditional brass) of my LB2009BT. The L552 is consistent with what can be called “commercial” bronze which is in the 90%/10% Cu /Zn* alloy neighborhood.”

And finally...

If you have any questions, I’ll happily try and answer them. Have you tried to identify a drum? Did you succeed? 

6 thoughts on “Dating a Ludwig Black Beauty”

  1. Hi Paul did you ever find out what year and date your stamp 11 22 represented? Curious to know I am trying to date my drums they have a 122 stamped in black on the inside.

  2. I’m currently about to purchase a BB. At first I thought the only difficult task was going to be forking out the cash, but then a while new difficulty appeared. 8 lug, 10 lug, size, brass on brass, tube lug, throw off. I would like to get the one that is most popular. What is the model that has been recorded the most? I like the look of the 10 tube lug brass on brass, but if that’s not going to produce “that sound” that “everybody knows and loves” then why get it at all? Any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    1. Richard Hemmings

      If you listen to recorded music carefully, from track to track, you soon realise that the ‘sound everyone knows and loves’ is different on almost every recording… unless it’s a freeze dried drum sample! I know what it’s like though, you want a drum that sounds great when recorded… well… watch this and you will be amazed:

  3. Hi there, Just came across this and thought I’d give some info. I’ve owned numerous of the post 1930s Black Beauty drums, and I can state that the only way to tell what they are made of is to see bare metal. The first re-issue 1977 drums can be either brass OR bronze. The 1979-1981 drums are more often that not bronze, seldom brass. The1991 re-issue hand engraved models, all supposedly bronze, are a mix of brass and bronze. It’s easy to see the pink hue of bronze , so different to the bright golden colour of brass. Just take a sharp knife to the inside of a drilled hole and scrape away the black nickel until you see the bare metal. The pink colour inside the black drums is not always a confirmation of the shell being bronze. The story goes that the person responsible for buying sheet metal was told to buy the cheapest on the day, so if sheet bronze was cheaper than sheet brass, then the Black Beauty drums would be bronze for that period. Management figured that if they were black nickel plating them, nobody would be the wiser. Sadly, the Blue & Olive badge has been used and re-issued for many reasons so dating serial numbers after the 7 digit beginning 201**** is tricky. It looks like the last Chicago numbers were 300000 – 314000. Then it’s Monroe production. Blank, cut-offs and serial numbers were used for various projects. A lot of cut-offs used on B-grade stock. No-serial numbers also used on B-grade stock. By 2013 serial numbers were up at 315****, so still a few hundred drums being released each year.
    Rule of thumb, if you are paying a big figure for a Black Beauty, ALWAYS see bare metal, so you know what you are getting. A polished bronze 500 series will be just as good as a bronze Black Beauty, probably better as it hasn’t the deadening nickel plating on the shell..

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