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Guerrilla Drum Making

Article by Sean Mitchell // December 02 2008
Guerrilla Drum Making

Perhaps you, like many other drummers, have found that the pinch of custom drum prices can be downright painful at times. While we really can’t fault our brothers and sisters who toil over maple shells and lacquer all day (often not turning a huge profit), the ultimate drum kit may actually lie in the palm of your hands, quite literally. Enter John Dutra, drum maker, drummer and entrepreneur. John has come up with a DVD entitled Guerrilla Drum Making, the very first custom drum making video ever. With it’s recent release, custom drum making has now entered a new arena, one that could be in your back yard.

John you have obviously used this system yourself.

How long can a person expect to see a finished result from start to finish? It’s really hard to say. It depends on the finish type and the amount of detail that’s put into the drums. I’ve built entire drum kits that take a day to complete, but I’ve also built kits that take a month to finish.

How and why did you come up with this DVD?

There were two reasons why the DVD needed to be made. The first was that there were barely any visual explanations of drum making techniques and tactics. Mostly everything was step-by-step drum making procedures with pictures. For such a detailed craft, that seemed crazy to me. There are too many realistic steps that get left out when documenting something with pictures and it seems truly unrealistic. People need to see someone doing it, seamlessly and in action, so they can watch it and say, “Ok, got it. I can do that. No problem.” The second reason is that the online explanations and small selection of pictures were completely centered around specialized equipment that only professionals can afford and operate. I mean, I worked at a custom drum shop for years, and we had all those tools—they are not easy to use for the one-off drum builder! So I sat back and asked myself, “For all the people wanting to take a leap into drum making, how many of them are scared right off the bat strictly by the tools that are being used?” Apparently, the answer I presumed was correct.

How much money can a person expect to save with the Guerrilla system?

That’s another question that is really hard to answer. I tell people all the time that they should make their own drums because they want to make their own drums. Saving money is just a bonus. I mean, in theory, someone could spend a ton of money on their own custom kit, spending more than the cost of buying a custom drum kit from some of the big boy custom companies. And then again, someone could spend nothing on something that looks and sounds better than kits that some of the custom drum companies offer.

What are some of the benefits of making your own kit?

It’s completely customized. The builder’s imagination and patience is the limit. Nothing is lost in translation. There are no telephone calls with custom companies saying, “I want this, this and that... and make sure to have half the lugs in the stripe and the other half outside the stripe,” and so on. It never turns out the way you initially imagined it, and then you force yourself to compromise and settle. I say don’t settle. You’ve got a vision, make it happen yourself. I’m finding also that it’s somewhat of a rebellion against some of the custom drum companies that are out there endorsing anyone, just to build a roster and sell kits. They end up with this brand defined by their endorsees, defined by a style of music, etc. In that sense, Guerrilla Drum Making is a manual that says, “Avoid the branding. Think for yourself. Make your own kit and your own company. Endorse yourself!”

Are there safety issues that need to be addressed when dealing with the painting process?

Yeah, there are pretty much safety issues with everything. I tell people to carefully read the directions on aerosol cans and finish products; always wear a respirator mask and work in well ventilated areas etc.

What is the resale value on these kits, should the average player decide to unload some old gear down the line?

Good question. I always say, “poor products yield poor results.” I’d say that transfers over to your question. A poorly made drum with bad products won’t sell for anything.

Do you need a lot of space to set up a Guerrilla drum making shop?

Space is not a problem. My first idea for the video was to make a drum in every different situation possible: apartments, cars, outside areas, garages, sheds, bedrooms, kitchens. I turned against it because it may have been cheesy and I wanted multiple camera angles and great camera shots. But I’ve drilled drums in my kitchen before, ya know. And if you’re spraying lacquers and aerosol fades, I’d say that “space” isn’t as important as a “well-ventilated area.”

Any reaction from the big companies so far?

I’ve gotten one e-mail from a small company that I won’t say. It was pretty funny actually. But for the most part, not much. I’ve heard a few things about some of the big guys “hearing about it.”

Any feedback or samples on how these kits sound?

Some of the Guerrilla drum makers have bought brand new shells and say they sound awesome. And some people just buy garage sale kits, or revamp an old kit, and say they sound great and feel good to play because they look great.



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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.

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