HHG makes custom drums in America, with UK distribution courtesy of Drumazon, a family business from south Wales.
Drumazon’s Dan Humphries was just 12 when he started to help in his dad’s drum store, going full-time from 1995. Dan’s dad now helps Dan and his partner Marie Batchelder, who launched Drumazon in 2011.
Dan says: “We exclusively retail custom brands HHG, Masshoff, Noble & Cooley, Wacco and Zebra in the UK, and we source high-end vintage and rare drums as well as offering all the regular mainstream brands; we opened a new store in Cardiff on 12 February.”
HHG is also a family concern, this time based in Pennsylvania, eastern USA, and specialising in stave and segment shell construction. HHG stands for Haggerty Hollow Guild, the name coined by Craig Thurau in 1987. From 2013, Craig’s son Sam Thurau has built drums with the help of his apprentice, Richie Servello. The company is completed by Craig’s wife, Madison.
Drums are generally made to order and they are often unique one-offs. We have three for review and it’s immediately obvious they are crafted with a great deal of care, incorporating special individual touches.
What our review drums have in common is solid-brass tube lugs, hand-cut leather washers, 30-strand wire snares and unremarkable but dependable P85-style generic strainers. Hoops are either cast or triple-flanged with a variety of finishes applied, such as chrome or black nickel plate, or powder coats in various colours.
The heart of the company though lies in the selection and construction of the shells. HHG seeks out rough-hewn planks of unusual and exotic species of prime lumber from around the globe. Mixing traditional and hi-tech procedures the wood is machined to precision blocks, which are glued together into staved or segmented shells.
The blank shell is then attached to a lathe that can turn at 1,400rpm, allowing the shell to be sculpted using hand-held chisels. For example, the two bigger drums here have decorative central convex dips around the centre.
To finish, HHG applies high-gloss nitrocellulose lacquer, which brings out the exceptional beauty of the various woods. Thus we have a 14"x8" aromatic cedar in Natural to Charcoal Fade, a 14"x7" contoured white ash in Electric to Deep Navy Blue Burst and a 13"x7" bocoté. This latter is an exceptionally dense/hard wood from South and Central America. The multi-coloured grain patterns are positively sumptuous.
Adding contrast, the hardware is thickly powder-coated in Forest Green Shimmer, plus there are brass tension rods, while even the snare wires have sparkling gold fabric straps.
All three drums look stunningly resplendent, the finishes are superb and the bearing edges and snare beds have been fashioned with loving care.
Stave construction always produces cool drums, different from ubiquitous plywood - and each of these snares is the definition of crisp. A thick and heavy shell brightens up the sound of any drum, so although the shells are deep, the first thing you notice is just how sparklingly vivid they are. The extra depth automatically gives you the bottom end frequencies, but sitting above each drum the top-end impresses first.
Stave drums require minimal adhesive compared with ply. They’re almost solid. Accordingly, you get the full woody timbre allied to abundant power and precision. Take the middle-sized drum of our trio - the electric blue 14"x7" ash.
At 5/8" this is the thickest of the three with sharp 45° bearing edges and 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops in black nickel. With a wide and easy tuning range, it’s a super-versatile drum. At one inch deeper the 14"x8" cedar has a slightly thinner ½" thick shell with rounded-over bearing edges warming the tone even further.
There is a richly regal stateliness to this drum, ever so slightly darker and deeper than the ash. It can really slog it out, but retains definition and sensitivity. The 30 strand snares also ensure a snare-y crunch and zip, even when tuned low and swampy.
The 13"x7" bocoté is brighter with its narrower diameter and is also made from the hardest of the timbers, which again increases volume and heightens pitch. Thus, it’s the perkiest of the trio, a real goer, reminiscent of the late-lamented Australasian Brady snares. There’s such a crack and yet also that slight tubbiness associated with sub-14" snares, intensified by the 7" depth.
All these drums exude class. As ever with imported American hand-made instruments the outlay is steep. But this is the real world where unique does not come cheap.