Billy Gladstone was one of the percussion world's most legendary figures; a masterful snare drum virtuoso, teacher, inventor and master craftsman.
Billy only built just over 50 snare drums, many of which have not survived. His drums were prized possessions for serious drummers both then and now.
This snare is reputed to be the last drum that Billy built. Of the 50 drums he built, only four snares were made with birdseye maple and gold plated hardware. Billy built snare drums for many great drummers including Gene Krupa, Shelly Manne, Ted Reed, Buddy Rich, Cozy Cole, Ray Reilly and Louis Bellson.
His drums are considered the "Holy Grail" of the vintage drum collecting community!
Between 1932-1945 drummers would come from around the world to see and hear Billy perform at New York's Radio City Music Hall.
Billy Gladstone was a perfectionist. He transferred his inventive genius directly to the instruments he built. His goal was to design the finest sounding snare drums with vital,unique and practical features that made the drummer's job easier.
Three Way Tuning System:
To overcome the adverse effects in changing temperature and humidity on calf skin heads , Billy patented a 3 way drum key whereby both heads could be tuned individually or together from the top head without removing the drum from the stand.
Key 1. Separate tensioning of batter head alone
Key 2. Separate tensioning of snare bottom head alone
Key 3. Similtaneous tensioning of both heads at once
Simple Snare Strainer:
Billy designed a lightening -fast and smooth snare throw off. The strainer arm moves away from the drum with a mere tap of the drumstick allowing for dependable release and engagement of the the snares. The projecting lever of the throw off forms a natural rest for your drumsticks, holding them safely within reach.
Adjustable Internal Tone Control:
With the touch of a finger lever, conveniently located in the snare strainer base, the drummer could eliminate or restore overtones or "ring" found in every drum. The muffler utilizes a lever which points to a series of numbers to facilitate different settings. For orchestral work this feature is excellent.
Billy used 3 ply wood shells made by Gretsch without reinforcement rings. He felt the shells resonated better without rings. He viewed the bearing edges the same as a bridge on a violin- fairly sharp providing excellent articulation. The interior of the shell would be lacquered, since Billy felt it improved sound quality. Gladstone offered the following finishes: Birdseye Maple, Black,White or Gold Lacquer. Hardware was available in Gold or Chrome.
Billy even gold plated the snare wires. He did prefer to use gut snares but did offer the option of wire snares. The individual strands were clamped into the snare butt with small hex screws. Above the butt plate is the hex wrench holder that serves two functions. First as a snare wire wrench and secondly for rotating - opening and closing- the six tiny vent holes. Billy included an inscribed nameplate for the original owner of all of his snare drums.
Billy Gladstone photo:
This autographed picture was presented to his friend John Noonan (noted percussionist and clinician from 1940-1960)
Billy is pictured here with the Gold Plated-Gold Lacquer 7x14 snare drum that he used most of his career. It was supposedly the second drum he ever made . The first one was alleged to be the one he made for Shelly Manne in 1950.
The last one he built is the 6x14 Birdseye Maple with Gold hardware (sometime between 1957-59).
Ray Reilly photo:
Billy made this drum for Ray in 1958. It is a 7x14 Black lacquered with chrome hardware. The nameplate is engraved " Ray Reilly- Toronto Symphony, January 1st, 1958".
Through our experience with this snare drum, we at Soul Drums have discovered a truly amazing instrument and the depth of the genius of Billy Gladstone. Thankfully there are historians, drummers and collectors that have provided us with their details of research that honour the lifetime of invention and music of Billy. We are humbled and deeply appreciative - thank you.
William D. Gladstone 1892-1961
- Born in Rumania December 15, 1892 (his father was the supervisor of the Rumanian Symphony Orchestra) He made his first pair of drumsticks when he was nine years old, and came to the United States in 1903
- In 1924 Billy registered his first invention: a double action bass drum pedal, implementing heel-toe technique. This was patented but was never manufactured.
- Performed in the 20's and 30's on Broadway at the Roxy and Capitol Theaters
- In 1932 -1945, Billy performed at the famed Radio City Music Hall. Drummers from all over the world would marvel at his perfect technique on snare drum, percussion and drumset!
- He continued to innovate and invent: an electrically lighted orchestra baton, a transparent (Lucite) drum and trap table, bass drum spurs, xylophone dampening switches, and the first remote hihat!
- Billy also invented mallets featuring hollow handles, a device to maintain the span on jazz brushes, the famous Gladstone rubber practice pad and of course the incomparable Billy Gladstone handmade drums. Billy, in partnership with Fred Gretsch, introduced the Gretsch/Gladstone drums in 1937. Billy's unique 3 way tensioning system is featured in the '37 and '38 Gretsch catalogs.
- After WWII, Gretsch decides to use only two-way tuning, Billy begins manufacturing his own snare drums out of his apartment in New York City still maintaining his patented "3-Way Tension". Throughout the '50's , Billy builds over 50 custom snare drums. Finishes included Natural Birdseye, Black, White or Gold lacquer with gold or chrome hardware.
- His tuning, strainers, tone controls, options of gut or wire individually- tensioned snares, would serve to be innovations above all other drum manufacturers.
- Performs My Fair Lady on Broadway from 1957-1961.
- Succumbs to cancer and dies in October 1961
Billy Gladstone was one of the greatest drummers of our time. And through his genius his legend lives on.
"…Billy Gladstone's concept was totally legitimate. He was a great snare drum artist. I used to listen to him at Radio City...I used to sit in the last seat in the last row of the balcony and listen to him articulate off the snare drum. Every stroke was like an arrow...without the slightest bit of motion he could almost shatter your eardrum. He had that kind of technique. When he played a roll, you couldn't tell if it was a roll or if he had only one stick on the drum....the actual playing was done more from a forearm and wrist motion rather than the whole arm...he built a great snare drum that I owned at one time.
- Buddy Rich
"...Billy was the real master and leading exponent of the finger technique. Billy also made me a snare drum when I was with the Dorsey band. The first night I used that drum Tommy Dorsey and all the guys in the band turned around and said "Wow, what's that you're playing on?" The drum sounded that good! I can recall one time going to hear Billy at Radio City and he did something I never saw a drummer do and probably will never see again. With the Rockettes on stage, Billy did one of those great sforzando rolls that was so magnificent. When he did this, it caught the attention of the entire audience. They were literally drawn from the stage over to Billy's corner in the orchestra pit! Something that happens once in a hundred years! He was the epitome of a snare drum player. I only wish that all the kids today had had a chance to hear Billy Gladstone play!"
- Louis Bellson
"… Billy could play a roll that was so clean, it sounded like sand pouring out of a pitcher. You could be sitting back 200 feet at the Music Hall and you could hear him all over the theater. Billy Gladstone was a helluva of a drummer...one of the greatest drummers that ever lived."
- Barrett Deems
"….I'm proud to say that I was fortunate enough to have studied with Billy Gladstone. As a player he was totally relaxed, almost motionless, and just so graceful. He could do single stroke rolls at an incredible speed and stay relaxed. Frankly, I have never heard a snare drummer who had the control and speed that Billy had. The man was just about the greatest snare drummer I've ever heard."
- Joe Morello