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