Nowadays, the word “custom” is becoming a mainstay in the vernacular of the musical instrument industry. With custom shops cropping up at a rate that would all but rival the boom of industry in the early part of the twentieth century, one could argue being a custom shop is now more mainstream and commonplace than being one of the giants of the industry. That being said, it begs the question: What separates a custom drum company from one of the big guys? Is it exotic materials, or a slightly different version of a drum we all know and love? Is it a product that exceeds the standard of quality found in instruments churned out on an assembly line? As a drummer of 17 years I’ve had the pleasure and sometimes displeasure of playing almost everything under the sun on Planet Drum. Very rarely do I find myself awestruck, and even more rarely actually inspired by something as simple as a drum, let alone a custom drum. Some might say I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to a shed-built instrument that costs double and sometimes triple that of an off the shelf piece. This changed the moment I was handed a snare drum from the craftsmen at Angel Custom Drums.
Quality is not something that can be traced to any one aspect of manufacturing, but rather a multifaceted puzzle that hinges on all the pieces working symbiotically and as a system. Zoltan Angel is one of those rare souls that understands and respects this relationship and executes it at the highest level. Being an artisan furniture builder for nearly 30 years helps too. This is never more evident than when looking at one of the works of art he calls his snare drums. Sure there are custom companies building their own shells, but no one is building them like this. Using a proprietary solid segmented block process, Zoltan is achieving what others are not. Crystal clear high-end attack, while maintaining all the sensitivity and response you would expect from a drum of this caliber. If you choose to tune it down you get singing low-end and a snap that’s crispier than a bacon sandwich! All the while your eyes are watering from the myriad of gorgeous, exotic materials to choose from! This for most companies would be a feat in and of itself. Angel is taking it in stride. With a shell as masterfully crafted as these are, putting run-of-the-mill hardware on it would be like putting Marilyn Monroe in coveralls. Zoltan has once again taken something simply overlooked by most “custom” shops and breathed life into an otherwise dead horse by fabricating the hand-built stainless steel single flanged hoops. By hand-built I mean, hand-rolled steel rings that are then TIG welded by hand to stainless flanges for the tension rods and then polished by hand to a perfect luster. Who else is doing things this way? Dare I say no one? It doesn’t end there either. Hand machined solid brass tube lugs are affixed to the shell in such a way as to, 1.) be firmly secured to the shell and maintain perfect alignment to the hoop, and, 2.) to aid in allowing the shell to resonate freely. Why stop there? With a pile of bronze lying around why not just make an elegantly simple throw off that is butter smooth and extremely precise……oh they did that too! Every component of Angel drums are masterfully crafted and continually being refined. They don’t rest on their laurels; they shove them aside and carry on improving an already flawless instrument.
The final, and most important, element of Angel drums is that each and every one of them that comes out of the workshop are built with love and passion that is both uncompromising and unrelenting. Subtle touches like book matching the various blocks of wood that comprise the shell, or venting the shell under each lug to allow the drum to breathe uniformly and evenly, all speak volumes about the drum builder’s love of their craft. It shows, it really shows. I’ve been told that each snare drum takes anywhere from 20-30 man hours to complete. In today’s age of automation and production times run to the very second, for something to take 30 hours to build is unreal!
To answer the question posed initially, a respect and adoration of the process, along with immense attention to detail and unwavering steps toward perfection are what separate custom shops from the rest. Angel is in the top 1% of manufacturers that are producing instruments in this fashion. They stand by this philosophy wholeheartedly, and to prove so all of the drums from Angel come with a lifetime warranty.
Come in to Main Drag, play on one of their snares and decide for yourself. For the month of May all Angel snares are $100 off, and we are getting new models in all the time.