Last month while vacationing and drifting around in the Pacific ocean, I bopped into Oxnard to say hi to the fine folks at DW. I've always wanted to see their operation, and Scott Mundy promised a tour de force tour of their spectacular facilities. While waiting in the lobby I checked out a nice collection of historic bass drum pedals - of course the Martin Fleetfoot was included as it led to the Camco, which then led to the DW 5000 which is no doubt one of the most enduring pedal designs in the history of drumming. I was actually a little nervous in the same way that you might be before meeting someone who you'd idolized for years.
Scott came out and welcomed me then we dug in to what is one of the most incredible operations I've ever seen both in scale as well as detail. Probably the most fascinating part of the day was in the shell shop where Jose "Hoser" Campos, who'd obviously talked to a few tourists in his day, took me through the process of building a shell. It was uncanny seeing the ease with which he handled glued plies and laid them up getting them ready to go into the diameter-dedicated mold, and all the while delivering an awesome narrative about what he was doing. His skills are one of the many reasons that DW shells are as good sounding and looking as they are. After sliding the glued-up cylinders into the molds, they're heated and compressed. When they're cooked and squashed to cylindrical perfection, out they come looking more or less like a drum shell and are perfectly round. And yes, they already have a timbre when struck which is really quite musical in tone. Shells are then trimmed and reinforcement rings inserted, then the shell blanks go to John Good himself who Timbre Matches each nascent kit as a whole.
Jose showing me a freshly baked shell.
From there they receive finish, whether a wrap or lacquer (and the lacquer people are real artists, let me tell you), bearing edges, then are drilled for hardware. One CNC machine with a preset program for every imaginable shell configuration bores all the necessary holes autonomously. Following this is assembly - the lugs, badges, and hardware get mounted to the shell, then heads, then the whole thing gets sent for packaging and boxing. If you're ready, willing, and able, it'll be shipped to your dealer for you to pick up! It's now easy for me to understand and justify why custom order kits take a little while.
This is the table where shells are wrapped.
Then we strolled into the machine shop where scores of pedals and stands were being assembled. I've worked on a lot of DW pedals and hi hat stands in my time and know a lot of ins and outs about assembling and disassembling them, but I sure would love to have gotten the chance to see how someone who really knows what they're doing handles some of the assembly processes. Seeing a sea of 9002 pedal castings awaiting assembly is daunting when you stop and realize the amount of work that goes into each one to have it set up right, and I've never taken a DW pedal out of the box and found it to be anything less than perfectly dialed in. Again, real skills and real pride assembling high quality parts and components are the reasons that this stuff is so beautiful. It takes all of this to make stuff this good.
A drum nerd in heaven. Lots of 9002 castings.
Many of the machined parts are fabricated in-house on decidedly vintage, Brown and Sharpe #2 Screw Machines all the way up to modern CNC mills. With the presence of the rather spectacular machine shop, parts can be both prototyped and manufactured on premises allowing faster, hands-on design and production. This makes for faster and better product development than when companies are sending 3D CAD files and prototypes back and forth, and allows DW to maintain quality control in the design, tooling, and fabrication of their products.
These screw machines may be old, but they're well maintained and tight.
After winding down in the manufacturing element, we strolled across the street to another building that seemed to be an overflow, shipping, and storage facility. My mind was already blown and when the scale of the operation revealed another building almost the same size as the first I was utterly amazed. Also contained within are offices and a broadcast studio for Drum Channel http://www.drumchannel.com and some drummer was in there lighting it up with some crazy shit. It amazed me as I stood there spellbound listening to this remarkable player through the walls that this was just business as usual here in Oxnard. Drummers and non-drummers alike walking around DW are casually inured to the world-class performances that are leaking out of this studio. A cool place to work, for sure! And there's even a room set up with instruments and a PA so that when employees get the urge to make some noise or blow off some steam, they can. We then strolled past Terry Bozzio's fountain pen collection and proceeded to his private space where we were going to say hello, but the Do Not Disturb sign on the door is the law of the land. Oh well, next time Terry. On the way out of this building I came to realize that the DW factory and headquarters is a micropolis of sorts - a drum land of intrigue and purpose with with its own pulse created by the many and varied creative souls that inhabit its city walls. It's not an ordinary manufactory in any way, and you walk away feeling like you've visited a very special little town populated with people who really want to live there and practice their skills.
Part of Terry's ginormous set in storage
At the very end I sat down behind a stunning, large kit. It was tuned and set up beautifully and I felt self-conscious and undeserving of this magnificent seat. I hit all of the drums clumsily to hear them and missed being able to play confidently as it's been such a long time. This was not a drumset for the timid and it made me want to play again and all the time; it was a very visceral reaction to just how beautiful in sound and construction these drums and their supporting hardware are. There's magic in DW and for the first time I understood why. I cannot overemphasize how much pride and precision I saw in every step of the operation, yet as in most true industrial alchemy, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. From the genesis of the shell in the selection of really stunning, remarkable woods being received all the way to shipping boxes that were neatly taped and labeled going out, every drum was graced with love and skill at every step of the process. It was tremendous to witness this special brand of wizardry and I thank you Scott, as well as Andrew Meskin for bugging me for so long to visit. Next time maybe I'll be a bit less overwhelmed, ask some better questions and take some better pictures. Until then.
One awesome tour guide, Scott Mundy.
One happy guy!