Friday, August 24, 2018


Ed Flack © 2018
“The Three Camps” also known as “The Mother and Three Camps” and as “Points of War” is one of the oldest  and most famously known of all snare drum compositions. It was played as a reveille (morning wake up call) in all branches of the U.S. military from 1779 until 1875, when it was replaced by a bugle call.1 During the 20th century it received wide U.S. distribution as an educational resource. Its value as an exercise to improve technique and stamina, and as a performance etude have never been in dispute.

The earliest known written notation of the “Three Camps” is found in, The Young Drummers Assistant, published by Longman and Broderip in 1780.2 It is believed to be much older. The precise date and place of origin is not known. It has been a standard within editions of U.S. military Camp Duty since 1812, when Charles Ashworth included it in A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating.3

The Camp Duty was a collection of military directives that specified the musical repertoire and performance standards, or “duty” of fifers, drummers, and buglers.

The way “Three Camps” is written and interpreted has evolved over time. During the 1800s, the 11-stroke roll that drummers are now familiar with was frequently written as a 7-stroke roll, or as a 9-stroke roll. The oldest notations, including Ashworth’s, indicate no time signature. It is presumed that Ashworth intended it to be counted in 2/4 because he assigned the companion fife melody a meter of 2/4 time. In 1862, George B. Bruce penned it in 2/4 time.4 In 1869, Gardiner A. Strube transcribed it to 4/4 time.5 During the 20th century, 4/4 time versions were commonly published.

The problem with 2/4 and 4/4 time is that those meters are best suited to duple/quadruple divisions of roll timing. The “Three Camps” can be written in 2/4 or 4/4 but to play it effectively the rolls should be interpreted with the more natural feeling triple pulse. Because of the triple pulse nature, notations written in 12/8 or 6/8 time have gradually become more popularly accepted.

As a reveille, each roll is
to be distinctively and separately expressed to compliment the phrasing of the fife melody. To accomplish that, it can be helpful to remember that the rolls commence with an unaccented double stroke and resolve on a single accent. As an exercise, it can be played as a continuous roll with accents. For that purpose the rolls can be thought of as commencing with a single accent and resolving with double strokes.

Regarding the name, “Three Camps.” During a lecture he delivered in 1988, William F. Ludwig Jr. claimed that the name was derived from the practice of dividing a company of troops into multiple camps, “For reasons of security.” According to Ludwig, three separate camps were each assigned one drummer. “The drummer in each camp would play a passage and wait for the neighboring camp drummer to repeat it or embellish it as a sign that all was well.”6

That is a good story but, like so many examples of drum legend and lore, the source of Ludwig’s information is unknown, and its accuracy cannot be verified. No evidence of this practice is found in historic editions of British or American military Camp Duty. “Three Camps” has long been identified as a reveille call and not as a signal between camps. Its title remains as mysterious as its origin.

1. U.S. Marine Corps, Prologue, Manual For Drummers And Buglers (Washington D.C.: Department Of The Navy, December, 1971): viii.
2. James Longman and Francis Broderip, The Young Drummers Assistant (London: Longman and Broderip, 1780), 4–5.
3. Charles Stewart Ashworth, A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating (Boston: G. Graupner, 1812), 12–13.
4. George B. Bruce and Daniel D. Emmett, The Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide (New York: Firth, Pond & Co., 1862), 28.
5. Gardiner A. Strube, Gardiner A. Strube, Strube’s Drum and Fife Instructor (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1869), 29.
6. From a lecture by William F. Ludwig, Jr. on Revolutionary drumming given on January 24, 1988 at the Percussive Arts Society Day of Percussion (Maryland/Delaware) held at Towson University, Baltimore, Maryland.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


By Ed Flack © 2018
Roll abbreviations can often be ambiguous and a little confusing. Rudimental style drum rolls are assigned a specific number of strokes ending with an accent. Untied rolls do not end with an accent and they can release from either hand. The intent of an untied roll is to musically compliment the phrasing of other voices or instruments in a composition. There are no arbitrary restrictions on the duration of a musical idea or when and how it must end. Those details are left to the interpretations of composers and performers.

It may be useful for you to think of untied rolls as having a “timed release”, rather than an “ending.” An important characteristic of an untied roll is that there must be an audible gap between the release of the untied roll and the beginning of the next note. Once the last roll beat has been played, the sticks are simply lifted away from the drum head to a neutral position.

The default solution is to to relase the untied roll on the first 8th note count after the last counted beat of the roll. That is a safe call most times but not every time.

The release of an untied roll is determined by tempo and by meter or pulse (as in an even-duple or a swinging-triple pulse feel.) Another important consideration is if the roll will be “pressed” or “open.” And if open, how close or wide is the interval between open double strokes? All of these factors are considered within the context of the musical phrase; the roll is released as the phrase is completed. It takes as long as it takes. Not too soon and not too late.

An obvious way to side-step all questions about the duration and release of a roll in written music is to not use roll abbreviations at all. Composers should simply write every roll beat-by-beat. If that’s what you are waiting for then dream on, roll abbreviations are here to stay. It is wise to familiarize yourself with possible ways that rolls can be resolved but most importantly, LISTEN. Ultimately you must rely on your ear and musical sensibility to make the proper interpretation. Remember, you are playing music, not the drum. A drum is just an instrument of expression. Think of the sound needed to compliment the music FIRST, then consider which techniques will achieve that.

There is no standard notation symbol for abbreviating triple pulse rolls played to simple meter time. A composer may include a side-bar of explanation or a notation key to tell the performer, but not always.

An important detail to look for in abbreviated roll notation is the number of cuts (slash marks) above or below the note head: three cuts (including beams) means that the roll is 32nd notes and two cuts represents 16th notes.

Some composers notate all roll abbreviations with three cuts. The number of counts the roll should be sustained is correctly specified, but the cut marks simply indicate that “some kind of roll” is to be played. It is left to the drummer to interpret the pulse, roll rapidity, and playing technique.

An abbreviated roll may represent press strokes, double strokes or even single strokes. Tympani rolls are notated using the same abbreviations and they are always played as single strokes.

The abbreviated whole, half and quarter note roll examples below are laid out graphically to illustrate the literal “gray area” that could be the release of an untied roll. There is no difference in the way these untied rolls are abbreviated and yet, depending on musical context, phrasing and tempo, the untied roll could be interpreted to release at different counts.

Thursday, May 31, 2018


As long as there have been snare drummers, there has been a need for a common set of rules or exercises that drummers can learn and share. Common beats and exercises create an opportunity for drummers to listen to one another and to synchronize timing and rhythms for a clean and unified sound. Two or more snare drums played simultaneously has a multiplying effect to their sound and volume. It sounds more powerful (because it is) and it improves the chance that beats, signals and calls will be heard and understood over a distance. If drummers are not articulately playing the same thing in the same way it will sound “muddy” or “dirty.” In the worst cases it can become incomprehensible noise.

Common exercises provides the individual drummer with a study plan and a way to assimilate a matching series of techniques for a consistency of style. Standard rules and exercises create the technical foundation to form a method for teaching the next generation of drummers.

There are many excellent warm up and work out exercise patterns to choose from. The most well-know patterns are called drum “rudiments.” Individual rudiments are too short to be useful for an ensemble workout unless played repetitiously. Unfortunately repetition can become boring and it does not help the drummer learn how to transition between rudiments and adjust to more complex and rhythmically interesting compositions.

The most successful exercises are long enough to be fun and interesting to play but short enough to be memorable. Most exercise patterns are 4, 8, 12, 16, or 32 measures in length. There are no creative restrictions but they should not be too long and complicated to have a practical use. Good exercises accomplish some kind of training purpose and include creative ways to apply fundamental strokes: singles, doubles, flams, drags, diddles and rolls. Another good idea is to have a mix of compound time (6/8, 12/8, etc.) and simple time exercises (2/4, 4/4, etc.)

There are certain “universal” exercises that frequently emerge as the most popularly circulated among US marching bands and drum corps. I’ve arranged some of those “universals” together with a few lesser known exercises and a dash of personal favorite riffs to help tie them together. I’ve written two combination exercises: one in 12/8 for a swinging triple pulse practice; another in 4/4 time for an even duple feel.

Both of these “Combo” arrangements is a compilation of five exercises into a single “set.” It seems easier to remember two longer compositions than it is to remember 10 individual short exercises. When learned in combination, the ending of one pattern embeds itself as a lead-in cue to how the next one will go. It's kind of like when you have listened to a favorite album many times, and as one song ends, you can already hear the intro of the next in your head before it starts to play.

I will post a video on my YouTube Channel where you can see and hear my interpretations played. The sheet music is uploaded here and can be copied as jpeg files. This is my way of saying thank you for following my blog and my video channel.

If you are in NE Iowa, look me up at Rock & Bach Music Studios in Waterloo. My studio, Drumslingers Academy, is located there. I love to talk drums and I am always accepting new students.

Link to YouTube Video:

Thursday, February 15, 2018


by Ed Flack, ©2018

Drummers of the Civil War were not entertainers, their duty was vitally important. They dedicated long hours to perfecting their skill. They had to, the fate of the Union was in jeopardy and lives depended on them.

The youngest soldiers ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor were drummers. Here are their stories.

Rank and organization: DRUMMER, Company A, 8th Wisconsin Infantry.
Entered service at: Waupaca Township, WI. Born: 23 May 1843, Golden, Erie County, N.Y. Place and date: At Mechanicsburg, MS., 4 June 1863. Date of issue: 17 December 1897.

CITATION: When men were needed to oppose a superior Confederate force he laid down his drum for a rifle and proceeded to the front of the skirmish line which was about 120 feet from the enemy. While on this volunteer mission and firing at the enemy he was hit in the head with a minie ball which passed through him. An order was given to “lay him in the shade; he won’t last long.” He recovered from this wound, being left with an ugly scar.

Rank and organization: DRUMMER, Company G, 1st Kentucky Infantry.
Entered service at: Unknown. Born: Campbell County, Ky. Place and date: At Corinth, MS., 21 May 1862. Date of issue: 17 August 1895.

CITATION: Saved the life of a wounded officer lying between the lines.

Rank and organization: DRUMMER, Company C, 55th Illinois Infantry.
Entered service at: Woken, Ill. Born: 1849, Portage County, Ohio. Place and date: At Vicksburg, Miss., 19 May 1863. Date of issue: 23 April 1896.

CITATION: A drummer boy, 14 years of age, and severely wounded and exposed to a heavy fire from the enemy, he persistently remained upon the field of battle until he had reported to Gen. W. T. Sherman the necessity of supplying cartridges for the use of troops under command of Colonel Malmborg.

Rank and organization: DRUMMER, Company D, 3rd Vermont Infantry.
Entered service at: St. Johnsbury, Vt. Born: 1850, Morristown, N.Y. Place and date: During The Peninsula Campaign. A series of six major battles over the seven days from June 25 to July 1, 1862, near Richmond, Virginia. Date of issue: 16 September 1863.

CITATION: Details not on record in War Department. William H. “Willie” Johnston, is the youngest soldier ever to receive the Medal of Honor. During his service he participated in several events including the Seven Days Retreat in the Peninsula Campaign where he was reported to have served in an “exemplary” fashion. During this event Johnston was the only drummer in his division to come away with his drum during a general rout. His superiors considered this a meritorious feat, when many soldiers had tossed aside their rifles to lighten their load. Johnston was awarded the Medal of Honor on the recommendation of his division commander, thereby becoming the youngest recipient of the highest military decoration at 13 years of age. Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, personally presented the Medal of Honor award to Johnston on September 16, 1863.

Rank and organization: DRUMMER, Company B, 9th New York Infantry.
Entered service at: New York, N.Y. Born: 29 September 1846, Germany. Place and date: At Camden, N.C., 19 April 1862. Date of issue: 7 January 1895.

CITATION: A drummer boy, 15 years of age, he voluntarily and under a heavy fire went to the aid of a wounded officer, procured medical assistance for him, and aided in carrying him to a place of safety.

Rank and organization: DRUMMER, Company C, 33rd New Jersey Infantry.
Entered service at: Unknown. Born: Newark, N.J. Place and date: At Murfreesboro, Tenn., 5 December 1864. Date of issue: 7 February 1866.

CITATION: In a charge, was among the first to reach a battery of the enemy and, with one or two others, mounted the artillery horses and took two guns into the Union lines.

Rank and organization: DRUMMER, Company E, 3rd Vermont Infantry.
Entered service at: Johnson, Vt. Born: Johnson, Vt. Place and date. At Lees Mills, Va., 16 April 1862. Date of issue: February 1865.

CITATION: Crossed the creek under a terrific fire of musketry several times to assist in bringing off the wounded.

Willie Johnston story found at:

Image of Union Fifer and Drummer from an antique post card in author's collection. Illustrator is unknown.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


by E.W. Flack ©2018

There is no shortage of epitaphs written in remembrance of the traditional grip method. Against the crushing odds of millions of words uttered to pronounce its inevitable doom, the popularity of traditional grip perseveres, literally in the hands of some of the world’s most accomplished drummers.

What is it about this awkward-looking stick grip from the ancient past that is still appealing to so many drummers? Here are some reasons cited by drummers who use traditional grip:

• To preserve a tradition. (A desire to authentically perform historic music.)
• To part way from the rest of the herd. (To be different or unique.)
• A sense of accomplishment and pride in mastering a technique others consider too difficult to learn.
• Aesthetics, “it looks cool.”
• To change the “feel” of things played. (A counter-balanced, asymmetrical feel.)
• To alter thinking. (Inspiration and new ideas gained through using asymmetric techniques.)
• Personal preference. (Many drummers are simply more comfortable using traditional grip.)

What other reasons might there be to use traditional grip? What if the left hand is neurologically inclined to positively respond to a grip that is the complimentary inversion of the right hand?

The human brain is divided into two cerebral hemispheres (left and right) with each half exhibiting an observable degree of dominance in various areas of function. The popular idea that personality traits can be attributed to “brained-ness” has been largely debunked in recent years. The old presumption was that, creative, artistic people were “right-brained” and that analytical, logically minded people were “left-brained.” Granted, we cannot attribute personality to brained-ness, but there are certain undeniable phenomena that can only be explained by our divided brain biology.

It is well documented that individuals who suffer a stroke or other traumatic injury to the left side of the brain can become paralyzed on the right side of the body. There are other symptoms of brain injury effecting speech, sensory perceptions, and a wide range of cognitive performances depending upon which part of each hemisphere is damaged.

Our two brain hemispheres communicate across a connective network called the corpus callosum. Without that connection the left hand can literally not know what the right hand is doing.

In the fields of neuropsychology and neurobiology the study of separate left and right brain hemisphere task dominance is known as the “lateralization of brain function theory.”

During the 1960s at the California Institute of Technology, Dr. Roger W. Sperry and his colleagues conducted extensive studies on epileptic patients that had been treated for their condition by having the two brain hemispheres surgically separated at the corpus callosum. Sperry observed, “Both the left and the right hemisphere may be conscious simultaneously in different, even in mutually conflicting, mental experiences that run along in parallel.”1 For this brain lateralization research and findings, Dr. Sperry was awarded the Nobel Prize.

An art educator, Dr. Betty Edwards, developed a method of visual perception and drawing based upon Sperry’s research. In 1979 she published her theories in a drawing method book titled, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

The Edwards drawing method operates on the premise that the left brain is the source of logical and sequential thinking where abstract ideas are translated into symbols, numbers, letters and words. By contrast, the right brain recognizes patterns and relationships to form a holistic interpretation of what is perceived. The right brain does not express ideas as symbols or words and is believed to be a source of intuitive understanding; things we readily understand without the words to express them.

The drawing method that Dr. Edwards developed involves using exercises to “shift the mode of thinking” from the left brain (L-mode) which sees an object and wants to represent it with a symbol, to the right brain (R-mode) which sees what it sees and draws what it sees.2 According to Edwards, the basic strategy for gaining access to R-mode is stated as follows: “In order to gain access to the sub dominant visual, perceptual R-mode of the brain, it is necessary to present the brain with a job that the verbal, analytic L-mode will turn down.”3

It is within the context of brain lateralization that the traditional grip may be more deeply appreciated as a natural, balanced and complimentary approach to drumming.

When right-handed drummers use matched grip the left brain takes the lead using the right hand. The right brain must then mimic whatever the left brain and the right hand does. Relegating the right brain to the mundane “monkey see, monkey do” task of imitating what ever the left brain is doing will not exploit the right brain’s full potential.

To ignite the right brain and get it more engaged in the creative process, it responds best when it receives its own way of doing things. When the right brain hemisphere is allowed to compliment in an asymmetric capacity what the opposite side does then a significant shift in the thinking process occurs. Right brain activity is released from the task of imitation and is elevated to the endeavor of creative problem solving.

By inverting the left hand from an overhand grasp to an underhand position, the focus of technique changes from visually matching the hands to finding the best way to play and control the strokes. This shift in thinking requires a deeper and broader awareness of what and how you play which stimulates a more holistic engagement for both brain hemispheres.

The balance point of the drum stick does not change when using an underhand grip. The types of drum strokes required to play a specific pattern do not change, and the laws of physics and gravity do not mysteriously reset. All you’ve done is move the left hand under the stick where the fingers can push down ahead of the fulcrum while the right hand is above the stick where the fingers can pull up behind the fulcrum.

That simple change is all it takes to tranquilize the left brain’s demanding insistence to be copied and gives the right brain the sense of independence it thrives on. Once the right brain has discovered for itself what the strokes really are and how to control them while using the underhand grip it can then successfully transfer that understanding to a left overhand grip when a matched style of playing is desired.

1. “Roger Wolcott Sperry”. Oct 2013 Sperry RW (1982) Some effects of disconnecting the cerebral hemispheres. Science 217: 1223–1227. doi: 10.1126/science.7112125. View article at:
2. Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, (Los Angeles: Penguin Putnam, 1999): 38. Edwards B (2012) Drawing on the right side of the brain. New York: Penguin Putnam.
3. ibid., Preface xiii.

Monday, December 18, 2017


by Ed Flack, ©2017

During the 1970s when the “matched grip only” school of thought began to propagate, arguments were made in support of its presumptive superiority. Here are some of those old arguments against traditional grip with counterpoints:

1. You can never achieve a hand-to-hand evenness of sound unless both hands are holding the sticks the same way.

Really? If that is true, then why do so many matched grip players exhibit such an uneven hand-to-hand sound? The primary reason for an unevenness in sound from hand-to-hand is that the strong hand tends to strike with more authority regardless of what grip method is being used. To achieve an even hand-to-hand sound, the same kind of strokes must be played with equal intent and velocity from an equal stick height. The bead of the stick from either hand should impact the drum and rebound with controlled and directed energy and not in the manner of a sloppy, glancing, ricochet. This can be achieved using a variety of grip methods including traditional grip. When all components of each stroke are precisely and correctly applied there will still be differences in left to right sound for the simple reason that the strokes impact the head from opposing angles. A realistic goal is to minimize hand-to-hand sound differences to the least perceivable level. The ability to do that using either matched or traditional grip is equal as long as the strokes are properly executed.

2. There are more muscles used to turn the wrist using an overhand grip than to rotate the forearm with an underhand grip.

Is that true and if so who cares? If your body needed “more muscles” to rotate the forearm than it uses to turn the wrist then it would have them. What makes using “more muscles” a good thing any way? Indeed, the point could be made that using “less muscles” is an indication of greater efficiency. Beyond that, wrist turning is not the only muscle groups used to play drum strokes. Many other variables including the fingers, forearm and upper arm muscles can be involved depending upon constantly changing musical requirements like dynamics and tempo.

3. Matched grip is “more natural” than traditional grip. This statement is often followed by the observation that when a pair of drum sticks are handed to a child or to a non-drummer that the recipient will “naturally” assume the matched grip.

Yes, it is true that a child or a non-drummer will usually grasp drum sticks with something kind of, sort of, like matched grip but it’s really more as if they’re grabbing a hammer than a drum stick; good for pounding nails but not for drumming. There is nothing unnatural about a mixed underhand and overhand grasp. Violinists hold their instrument with the left hand under the neck while drawing the bow overhand with the right. A guitar is held by the left hand under the neck while picking and strumming is done with a right overhand. Does anybody believe those hand positions are “unnatural?”

4. Other than snare drum or drum set, all percussion instruments are played using matched grip: tympani, timbale, vibes, etc.

No rebuttal here, that is a pretty darn good argument, but nobody is saying you should not learn or never use matched grip. Serious percussionists must learn matched grip. Serious percussionists also know that there are secrets to be unlocked by learning traditional grip.

Traditional grip makes you think differently about what you play and how you play it resulting in a broader understanding of your art. Mastering traditional methods with a left underhand technique will enhance your awareness of how strokes need to be played when using matched grip too because you will develop a more universal and intuitive understanding of the physics that underlay the drum strokes.

You can blindly follow the dictates of those who would claim “there is only one way to play” and be done with it. In fairness, perhaps the drummers who make such claims have studied, experimented and practiced to find that truly, matched grip is the best way for them to play. Even so, does that make it true for everybody?

Inevitably your style, techniques and creative approach will change over time. Hopefully you will make an honest effort to explore a variety of methods and make your own conclusions through study, practice and experience.

“If anybody tells you that there’s only one way to hold the drumstick you have to look at them in disbelief. Because there is no more wandering thing than the fulcrum of a hand-hold when you are really playing loud one time and soft another time.” – Jim Chapin

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Guide to Identifying a Super-Ludwig 400

by Ed Flack © 2017

The Ludwig Supra-Phonic is said to be the “most recorded” snare drum of the 1960s and 1970s. I don’t know if that is true but it is plausible, and why not? The Supra-Phonic is a great drum and Ludwig sold a lot of them.

The modern version of this snare drum went in to production in 1958 as the “Super-Ludwig.” The first drums named Super-Ludwig with the original Art Deco lug design were made available in 1936 using wood shells. The 1958 Super-Ludwig was made of one solid piece of rolled brass that was formed into a circle and welded. By 1962 Ludwig changed the name to “Super-Ludwig 400” (the significance of the number 400 is not known—likely added as a marketing gimmick?) The next major design and name change occurred in 1963 when Ludwig switched from rolled brass to a spun aluminum shell, calling it the “Supra-Phonic 400.” The aluminum shell has no welds and Ludwig introduced it as the “Acousti-Perfect” shell. At first look the Super-Ludwig and the Supra-Phonic can be mistaken as the same model drum, yet there are significant differences. Here are some specific features to look for if you want to identify a Super-Ludwig from a Supra-Phonic.

1. As already referenced, from 1958–1962 the Super-Ludwig was made from a rolled brass and welded shell. After the brass models, the Supra-Phonic shell material was made of spun aluminum with no welds. The evidence is seen in the bubbles, pitting, and excessive peeling of chrome from the surface of the early Supra-Phonic snares. Chrome just does not adhere well to an aluminum surface but it works really well on brass. Another obvious characteristic of brass is that it is much heavier than the Acousti-Perfect Ludalloy (aluminum) shell. The Super-Ludwig weighs about 10 pounds.

2. The bearing edge on both brass and aluminum shell models is 45ยบ, these are created by rolling the top and bottom edges inward to form a collar or “flange.” This also serves to strengthen the shell and help support and maintain the shell’s circular shape. However, on the Super-Ludwig models, there is a second shorter flange at the final edge that curls back and slightly under the primary collar.

3. The famous Ludwig Keystone badge on the brass Super-Ludwig and Super-Ludwig 400 never had a serial number. Conceivably, there may be a very few early Supra-Phonics produced in 1963 that have no serial numbers? But since 1964, all Ludwig snare drums have a serial number on the badge.

4. The Imperial lug casings. This attractive Art Deco design originated in 1935 to commemorate the 25th year “Silver Anniversary” of the Ludwig company. The Super-Ludwig lug casings are heavier than the Supra-Phonic lugs. In addition, the design of the Supra-Phonic Imperial lugs was altered very slightly.

If you view an Imperial lug from the side profile you will notice that there are three flat plains or levels that appear as though they are almost stacked on to one another. They create ridges between each successive level so that the top or out-most shape is smallest, the middle level beneath is larger, and the third and final surface is the largest and it forms the bulk of the lug’s shape.

The Imperial lugs on both models are the same overall size, but each of the three ridged plains of the lugs on a Super-Ludwig are smaller than they are on the Supra-Phonic lug. The Imperial lugs on a Super-Ludwig have a smaller inside cavity and shorter spring resulting in more metal mass and lug weight.

5. The counter hoops of a Super-Ludwig are chrome over brass. The counter hoops of the Supra-Phonic are chrome over steel. A magnet will attract to the steel hoops but not to the brass hoops. The magnet test is not useful to differentiate the shells because neither brass nor aluminum will attract a magnet. However, it is possible to find some very early Supra-Phonics with one or both of the hoops being chrome over brass. It is possible to occasionally find an early Supra-Phonic with some or all of its Imperial lugs of the Super-Ludwig style. That is because when Ludwig made a design change, they gradually used up the leftover inventory of previous models resulting in some overlap of components.

6. The snare beds of the Super-Ludwig are crimped. The snare beds of an Acousti-Perfect shell appear less severe and not as obvious because they are gradually tapered away from the snare wire center position and there is no visible crimp to the bed.

7. The strainer on the early Super-Ludwigs and Supra-Phonics was the P-83 model and later models received the P-85 strainer. The oldest P-83 strainers were stamped “WFL” and they were gradually replaced with the same strainer showing the script style “Ludwig” logo. The butt plate (opposite side of the strainer) was also stamped “WFL” on the older versions and they also were gradually replaced by the script “Ludwig” logo.

How do these two iconic variations of snare drum compare where it really matters, that is to say, in sound and playability? In the opinion of this drummer, I would say both perform spectacularly well, I resist using terms like “warm” or “bright” but I will say the stick response of both shell versions is excellent from the out most edge of the head surface to the center. I attribute this in large measure to the fact that there are ten tuning rods per head.

Both drums have a good range of tunability from the low end of useful head response up to a high and tight tuning. I do recommend that if you have an early Super or Supra that you will realize the best feel and tuning when using a single ply, coated drum head.

One characteristic of these drums is that the snare wires are quite “buzzy.” Not just to sympathetic resonance from other instruments but also in solo performance. The buzzyness of the Supra-Phonic is easier to control with bottom head tuning than the Super-Ludwig. I think this may be because of the Acousti-Perfect snare bed design which is more gradual and less deep than crimped snare beds. The deep snare bed of the Super-Ludwig requires that the rods on each side of the snare beds need more torque in tuning to eliminate wrinkles in the snare head.

I have experimented with a variety of snare wires on both drums including standard Ludwig snare wires, Puresound wires and the Rhythm Tech “Active Snare System” which is sort of like a fake Dyna-Sonic snare bridge. Each of them have performed well, the differences are subjective but in my opinion, the Rhythm Tech does help dry up some of the buzzyness on the Supra-Phonic. I only use Ludwig wires on the Super because those are the snares the drum would have been designed to use and I want the most authentic sound possible.

So, if you do not own a Super or a Supra and you find yourself with an opportunity to get one in good condition, you should do it! The Supers are relatively rare and if they have not been abused or neglected they hold up extremely well. Even a 1960 Super can still look like new and if well maintained it will continue look good and serve well long after we are all gone.

The Supra-Phonic can look really terrible with the bubbling chrome finishes but that has absolutely zero effect on the sound and playability of the drum. Once upon a time, I considered that to be an ugly flaw and symbol of an inferior drum design but I am no longer so prejudice of their appearance. In fact, I think the pitting and bubbles lends a special character to those drums that is just cool. This may even work to your advantage as a buyer because most folks want to own the “pretty” drum. Another bonus of its distressed appearance is that you don’t worry so much about picking up a few extra scratches, making this drum a perfect workhorse for gigs.

Thank you for taking the time to absorb this tiny slice of Ludwig drum history. I am by no means the highest authority on this subject. I happen to own these two drums and as a valued part of my collection I conducted some personal research to better educate myself as to what I actually have. This brief article is all I can report with confidence in accuracy. Now go play your drums.

Follow this link to YouTube video showing press rolls played on Super-Ludwig:  
"The Circus Bee" by Henry Fillmore