A Snare So Rare
In the upcoming photos, you can see the Oyster Black Pearl swirl pattern (fingerprint) verifying that Ringo's original Jazz Festival was used continually throughout The Beatles career.
Classic Drummer Magazine Article - July 2016
As the historian and curator for Ringo’s Beatle drum sets and gear, it’s great to be able to share information that might not be known to Beatle fans. Speaking to this point, did you know that the snare drum that came with Ringo’s first Ludwig drum kit landed up being his “Go To” snare during his career with the Beatles? From May of 1963, Ringo used it with all five of his Ludwig drum kits, in the studio, on tours, in film and in publicity photos. Take a close look at relative photographs, movies or videos of the Beatles and you will always see him using his ‘63 Jazz Festival model snare drum. Think about the long list of songs that this iconic snare was used on and the number of amazing sounds he managed to create with it. Priceless! Another interesting point of fact is that finding one just like Ringo’s is virtually impossible.
To connect the dots regarding what makes a Ringo spec snare drum so rare and unique, let’s step back in time to when he joined the Beatles in August of 1962. Ringo played a 1960 Mahogany Duroplastic Premier kit with a 4”x14” Royal Ace snare drum. That kit was replaced on May 12, 1963 with a Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl (OBP) Downbeat drum kit. Interestingly, the Downbeat model kit traditionally came with a 4”x14” Downbeat model snare and Ringo opted for a Jazz Festival instead. Ironically, his new snare had an odd sized drum shell that did not match what was listed in Ludwig’s catalog and for decades, drum enthusiasts that sensed something was amiss, would debate their opinions without ever knowing the truth about its actual size.
April 18, 1963 is the stamp date inside of his Jazz Festival, which means it was 25 days from the time the drum shell was made to the time the snare drum was delivered to Ringo. That’s a very short period of time when you consider we are talking 1963 and that the drum had to be built, packaged and shipped from Chicago to London to Birmingham, England into Ringo’s hands. The short timeline indicates that this drum may have been a special order and shipped by air. Unfortunately, there are no records to verify this and the answer has been lost to time.
Let’s now move ahead 50 years to June 7, 2013. That’s when I had my first opportunity to see Ringo’s snare drum firsthand. I was with Jeff Chonis, Ringo’s drum tech, and Ali Stuebner, the Grammy Museum’s curator, inside the Clive Davis Theatre on the second level of the Grammy Museum in LA. Everything on that floor was in lockdown as workers prepared the room for the upcoming Ringo: Peace & Love exhibit.
Inside the theater were five large wooden crates containing Ringo’s Sullivan and maple kits along with his Ludwig gold plated Super Sensitive snare drum. As Jeff and I carefully removed the contents, it was quite an experience to see the original drums for the first time and when Jeff unpacked the Jazz Festival, it was a ‘Did The World Just Stop?’ moment. I said “We have to see if the shell is five or five and a half inches deep!” Jeff said “What do you think?”, to which I replied “Five and a half!” He did a quick measurement from top head to bottom head, chuckled and said “You are correct, it is five and a half inches.” Finally, an answer to the years of dispute and speculation. I have since had plenty of time to thoroughly document this important piece of Rock n’ Roll history.
Here are the specifications as the snare drum is today:
Pre-serial Keystone badge
Stamp date: April 18, 1963 (Red ink) On September 12, 2017 I had the opportunity to remove one of the heads from this snare drum and found a fair amount of what has been dubbed "Beatle Dust" inside of the shell. This content was carefully collected and secured for safe keeping. With an ever so slight dusting over the stamp date, something magical happened. The color went from black to red.
5.5” x 14” shell (mahogany/popular/mahogany) with reinforcement rings and a white painted interior
Oyster Black Pearl wrap with minimal fading, no yellowing and a cigarette burn located on the second panel to the right of the throw-off. Wrap also has tape residue and small pieces of tape including grey duct tape. Left untouched as per Ringo’s request.
Chrome over brass (COB) hoops
P-83 strainer with a slightly forward bent lever
18 strand snare wires which to be original
Original 1963 snare side head
Calfskin batter head
Since February 1964, an incalculable number of drummers have bought or pieced together a 60’s OBP Ringo kit and many would agree in knowing the difficulty to find and sometimes the affordability to purchase a 60’s OBP Jazz Festival. For the extremely anal collectors in search of a 1963 Ringo spec snare, the odds of finding one are slim to none and if a collector was lucky enough to find one, they would hope that the owner would be unaware of its rarity and value. In my years as a collecting and researching in this field, I am aware of only five, including Ringo’s. Now that these details are published, let’s hope that a few others surface.
There are reasons why this drum is so scarce and that involves a history lesson of sorts. Before the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, the Ludwig Drum Company’s production schedule was based on eight hour days, five days a week. After the Beatles appearance, production steadily increased to three eight hour shifts, seven days a week.
In part, when you reference an early 60’s Ludwig catalog, here is how a Jazz Festival snare drum is described: Instant crisp response and undistorted snare action are provided in this popular 5”x14” model featuring Ludwig’s new ACOUSTI-PERFECT shell design. Inside of shell is finished with Ludwig’s exclusive RESA-COTE for greater resonance and tonal body. Popular P-83 throw-off offers instant trouble free snare control. Supplied with 8 gleaming self-aligning tension casings, the original triple-flanged hoops and matched THIN heads.
No. 908L - 5’ x 14” Choice of Lacquer Colors… Nickel: $65.00 / Chrome: $71.00
No. 908P - 5’ x 14” Choice of Pearl Finishes… Nickel: $75.00 / Chrome: $81.00
It’s important to know that Ludwig made subtle design changes to the Jazz Festival that were introduced at the beginning of 1964. They included:
Repositioning the Keystone badge to be two panels to the left of the P-83 throw-off
Repositioning the bass ball bat muffler to be three panels to the left of the throw-off
Transitioning the red felt muffler to white
Using chrome over steel hoops without the larger gated snare openings
These changes and the seemingly small number of Oyster Black Pearl Jazz Festival’s produced in 1963 add to what makes a Ringo spec Jazz Fest extremely rare. Unfortunately, Ludwig’s early records were destroyed and there is no way of knowing how many were actually produced.
Being ever conscious of the bottom line, Ludwig used existing parts from their inventory as the transition was made. That’s why you will find early ‘64 drums with red felt mufflers and some with chrome over brass hoops. This efficiency would also account for some 5.5”x14” shells being used to build Jazz Festivals. Ludwig simply used efficiency to complete orders.
On February 10, 1964, the day after The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, the craze began for Ludwig drums and Oyster Black Pearl drum sets, causing the production boom.
It’s interesting to note that among Ludwig’s pearl finishes, Oyster Black and Oyster Blue were not actually setting the drum world on fire prior to February of 1964, adding to the reasons for a Ringo spec snare to be so uncommon. (Note: There has always been some speculation that Ludwig originally shipped slow moving product to Ivor Arbiter at Drum City in London. Drum City was the original distributor in England to carry the Ludwig brand and this was where Ringo’s kit was purchased. In a recent conversation with well known, Welsh drummer, Peter James, he told me a story that verified the rumors. He was with Ivor Arbiter when the first shipment of Ludwig drums was delivered to Drum City. In a conversation as Ivor was opening and removing the new drum kits from their boxes, Ivor made mention to Peter that Ludwig was supplying oyster pearl kits and nothing in sparkle colors because they were too much in demand in the US.) During the sales explosion, Oyster Black Pearl kit orders varied in the snare drum department from a Downbeat, a Pioneer, a Jazz Festival or a Supraphonic model.
For collectors, the most desirable years for an OBP Jazz Festival are 1963 through 1965, the years of Ringo’s four OBP drum kits. The Oyster Black Pearl finish was available through late 1969, at which time it took on a new look, with the nickname Bowling Ball. The reason for the change was in the manufacturing process of the oyster pearl laminates, which were deemed too hazardous to produce.
Because Oyster Black Pearl Jazz Festival owners prefer to keep them, you’ll normally find a feeding frenzy when one becomes available. On average, selling prices range from $2,000 to $10,000. If you think that’s crazy, a collector has a standing offer of $30,000 for one of the four ‘63 Ringo spec Jazz Festivals with a 5.5” x14” shell. Amazing!
On December 4, 2015, Ringo’s 1963 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Downbeat model drum set (minus his Jazz Festival) sold at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills for $2,110,000. It was purchased by Jim Irsay, the owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League.
A limited edition print featuring five photos, personally selected by Ringo of his favorite Jazz Festival snare drum is available at Shop.RingosBeatleKits.com. A portion of the proceeds benefits Ringo and Barbara’s Lotus Foundation charity.
Ludwig early 60’s Oyster Black Pearl Sample
NOTE: Oyster Black Pearl (OBP) wrap is made up of varying shades of black, gray, white and transparent portions in which the mahogany wood shell shows through. The swirl pattern also varies considerably from one drum to another.
The current state of the P-83 Strainer on Ringo's snare drum is mildly rusted and the handle has been bent forward
This is the actual butt plate as it looks today
The bottom of Ringo's 63' snare as it looks today
Here's a close-up photo of Ringo's Jazz Festival snare taken from the movie A Hard Day's Night.
The Ludwig Downbeat kit traditionally came with a Downbeat piccolo snare drum (4"x14") and the Super Classic kit came with a SUPRA PHONIC 400 Snare Drum (5"x14"). Ordering a Jazz Festival was an additional cost. This is another reason why Ringo's snare model has become so very rare and impossible to find.
In all of my many years of research and collecting, I have only come across FOUR 1963 "Ringo Spec" Jazz Festival snare drums not counting Ringo's. Even with countless other collectors and enthusiasts in search around the world, no other Ringo Specific Jazz Festivals have surfaced. Of the four known to exist, one is owned by a collector in Japan, another by a collector in Chicago and I am lucky and blessed to own the remaining two. These snare drums are now valued in the five figure range. Because of their scarcity and demand, a 30k standing offer has been made for one of the US owned drums by a private collector. Simply amazing!
Ludwig 18 strand snare wires
“Baseball Bat” Tone Control with Red Felt Muffler Pad
The classic way Ludwig sandwiched the outer wrap into the shell
Changes made during 1964 included changing from a red felt muffler to white, replacing chrome over brass (COB) rims with chrome over steel (COS), reducing the gate opening on the bottom rim, repositioning the tone controller and the keystone badge one panel to the left and adding a serial numbers to the badge.
After The Beatles Ed Sullivan Show appearance on February 9, 1964, orders for both Downbeat (Drum sizes: 8"x12" tom, 14"x14" floor tom, 14"x20" bass drum) and Super Classic (Drum sizes: 9"x13" tom, 16"x16" floor tom, 14"x22" bass drum) oyster black pearl (OBP) kits exploded at Ludwig’s manufacturing plant in Chicago causing them to run three shifts, seven days a week to fulfill orders.
ADDITIONAL SNARE DETAILS
Ringo's 1963 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl snare has a pre-serial number Keystone badge and is one lug to the left of the P-83 throw-off. His snare has chrome over brass rims and a calfskin batter side head with a clear resonant bottom head.
Here is photo of the two 1963 Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl 5.5x14" Jazz Festivals that I own. The stamp dates are February 8, 1963 & December 23, 1963.
A great shot from the 60's
Ringo's 1963 Ludwig 5.5" x 14" Oyster Black Pearl Jazz Festival snare drum
Get your Limited Edition Print of this iconic snare drum right here.
It has been established that Ringo owned and used five Ludwig kits during his career with The Beatles:
Oyster Black Pearl Downbeat kit, received May 12, 1963 (8x12 T, 14x14 FT, 14x20 BD)
Oyster Black Pearl Downbeat kit, purchased in NYC and received February 9, 1964 (8x12 T, 14x14 FT, 14x20 BD)
Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic kit, received May 31, 1964 (9x13 T, 16x16 FT, 14x22 BD, 5x14 S)
Oyster Black Pearl Super Classic kit, received August 1965 (9x13 T, 16x16 FT, 14x22 BD)
Hollywood Maple kit, received in 1968 (8x12T, 9x13 T, 16x16 FT, 14x22 BD)
The snare that always shows up in photos with all of Ringo’s kits, while with The Beatles, is the snare that came with his first kit (see photo above) This can be determined by looking at the specifics of his snare. One easy way of detecting Ringo’s OBP snare is the positioning sequence of the hardware and its own distinctive swirl pattern that is its fingerprint.
Note: Ringo did have two other Ludwig Oyster Black Pearl Jazz Festival snare drums during his time as a Beatle but no photos have ever surfaced showing them being used, lying around in the studio, on tour or anywhere else for that matter. I can verify that one came with Ringo's second OBP kit (Sullivan) and is a 5"x14". Paul McCartney used this snare when he recorded his first solo album "McCartney" and he continued using it on some of his initial Wings tunes. The second Oyster Black Pearl snare drum in question came with Ringo's 1965 Super Classic kit.
There appears to be two separate professional opinions on what model snare Ringo used. John Aldridge, author of A Guide To Vintage Drums, indicates that the Super Classic model had a 5.5" shell depth and the Jazz Festival had a 5" shell depth. According to The Ludwig Book, written by Rob Cook, Ludwig’s Barrett Deems model snare (5.5" d) was renamed Jazz Festival in 1960 and was manufactured through 1970. This model underwent a number of changes over this time. The Jazz Festival’s size was changed from 5.5x14 to 5x14 and the hardware configuration was changed in 1964. Both the keystone badge, (which began displaying a serial number in 1964) and the “Baseball Bat” tone control (now sporting a white felt muffler in mid-'64) were jointly moved one space away from the P-83 Strainer as seen below.
Actual stamp date inside Ringo's snare drum: April 18, 1963
Here It Is!
Among the tape and tape residue you can see a cigarette burn mark in the shell to the right of the tension lug. If you are familiar with the P-83 strainer, you can see how the throw off handle is bent forward. Also note how far down the top rim is due to the overstretched batter head. There is only 1/16" to 1/8" from the top of the head to the top of the rim.