My shells are Nickel SIlver. It’s an old trade name for a special brass alloy that has an unusually high nickel content in the mix, and it's also known as German Silver or Nickel Brass. Not NOB, nickel over brass… they’re nickel IN brass. Today, it’s an unusual alloy, and it was a challenge to source in sheet big enough to build drums. As best I can tell, only one mill in the world, in Eastern Europe, is producing it.
Today, it's used in high-end resonator guitars and French horns.
As far as I can tell, these are the first drums built from it. I think no one has tried it on a drum before because, well to be honest, apart from the lovely sound, Nickel Silver features the most annoying and frustrating fabrication characteristics of brass and stainless steel, combined! It’s nearly as tough as stainless to cut and work, and fights like hell if you try to bend it… then expands and moves even more than regular brass when heated and welded/braised. It’s not easy. But, I think it’s worth it.
It’s both slightly lighter and stiffer than the yellow brass alloys traditionally used in drum building, which lets me achieve some real “holy grail” qualities in the design. In short, I can build a shell that’s thin enough but stiff enough to project and be structurally sound, or thin but still moves and sings at all dynamics. After much prototyping, I’ve settled on an initial shell offering that is a “straight shell” (no flanges), with a very specific “full contact” bearing edge profile. When most people think of a "straight shell" on a metal drum, they might think bright and ringy, but these are the polar opposite. They also have a special snare bed that adds just a hint of chunky, vintage heft to an otherwise modern, wide and shallow design.
LUGS are hand-machined from solid brass. There’s no big air cavity. They’re heavy. I firmly believe that the trend towards “low-mass” hardware sometimes overlooks fundamental truths about how drums operate as a system. These heavy lugs and hoops add a bit of focus to an otherwise very lively drum, while still resonating WITH it.
Know the classic drum co demo video, where they strip a shell naked and whack it with a mallet to show you how “resonant” it is? Great idea. IF you tend to take all the hardware off of your shells and play them like a marimba. And I’ve played some really out free jazz gigs, but I can’t say I’ve ever done that, and it doesn't feel like a useful metric to me, because it ignores that all components must work together.
The other day, I was putting a drum together and bumped a shell with its lugs ON, and you know what? It rang like a church bell. That’s what I’m going for. These lugs could be wind chimes. There’s no air pocket, and they’re an alloy that resonates not dissimilarly from the shell itself. If your leg is resting up against the lug or shell, you feel it singing on 2 and 4.
HOOPS are painstakingly handmade, as well, out of 3.2mm thick brass. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of playing heavy brass hoops on the select vintage drums that have them, you know what a joy this type of hoop is to play. The “brass-ness” and straight profile of them, balanced with the super thick construction, gives them a great balance of control and openness, with a rimshot/cross stick heft and feel that still gives me a smile every time I crack that first rimshot. They're not exactly "halfway between flanged and diecast"; they really exist on their own continuum.
FASTENERS, including both lug fasteners and tension rods, are stainless steel. No rust, now or ever.
Lacquer finishes allow for a bright, shiny, perfect finish... that neither lasts nor ages in an interesting, graceful manner. Particularly on brass, all lacquer eventually fails, scratches, or chips, with limited repairability and a harsh look.
Personally, I'm also not in love with the "pre-distressed, pre-created patina" aesthetic. I love patina and think it is to be encouraged, but only truly carries a depth, gravitas, and soul when it is real; when it is worn and won on the road and in the studio, going in and out of cases. A fingerprint from the cool condensation on the whiskey glass the bartender handed you, on the house, as thanks for playing a last tune as they closed up. A little mark from a bump into the hihat stand as an enthusiastic child hops behind the set, asking to learn their first beat.
That sort of patina, a true record of live lived and music made, is to be embraced. With our drums, it is. Shells and hardware are treated with a museum-grade conservators' wax. It imparts a warm lustre, and protects the drum's surface from dramatic fingerprints while it develops an initial layer of oxidation. It does eventually wear off after the shell and hardware have "stabilized" and developed an even more deep, rich, timeless and elegant color that bears wear and life honorably.
All the great design and top-shelf materials in the world don't mean a thing without execution.
Latos Drums are hand-crafted in Newburgh, NY, in my workshop-studio. Lugs are machined on an 80-year-old metal lathe; shells and hoops are manually rolled, sheared, and traditionally brazed. Decorative designs, such as our Art Nouveau banding, are birthed through collaboration with truly world-class designers, and lovingly etched in a labor-intensive process.
A graceful marriage of traditional craftsmanship and modern design, these drums show the craftsman's hands, care, and love.
I believe in doing things mindfully, with deep consideration, and using my hands to leave a legacy, both behind the drumset as well as building these instruments. And I truly believe it shows.
Latos Drums 11 Spring St
Newburgh, NY 12550