How To Make Your Old Drums Look Like A Million Bucks – Part 3: Adding The Clear Coat – The Drummers Almanac

How To Make Your Old Drums Look Like A Million Bucks – Part 3: Adding The Clear Coat

How to make your old drums look like a Million Bucks - Part 3: Adding Clear Coat.

|  By: Jay Fenichel  |

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Over the Summer of 2018, I embarked on a journey to restore my old Pearl drum set. What started out a hardware upgrade turned into an entire drum set restoration project.

The drums were never properly sealed, as they had a wrap finish when I bought them.  This video outlines my process for adding the clear coat finish to the drum shells.

What were my choices For Clear Coat?

I think traditionally, lacquer is the finish of choice for drums.  I didn't use lacquer... I don't have a good answer as to why not.  I just read that wipe on polyurethane was the easiest to work with.

My other choices were to use an oil... like tung oil or linseed oil.  I liked the idea of the raw looking finished drums, but after researching... it seemed that applying the necessary layers would be very time consuming and the oil offered very little protection to the wood drum shells.

So I landed on Wipe On Polyurethane.  It wasn't as easy to work with as I had hoped, but it got the job done.  I'll explain in more detail at the bottom of this post.

Here's the Breakdown Of How I applied The Finish. 

Step 1: Clean the shell of dust.

Do this right before every application of clear coat.  Failing to clean the shell will wreak havoc on your finished shell. I used a microfiber cloth and a spray bottle full of mineral spirits. I also used a tack cloth sometimes.

Step 2: Sanding the shells.

I lightly sanded with 400 grit paper after each layer of poly had completely dried .  That's a very fine grit.  I found this removed any dust or bubbles left by the previous coat.

Step 3:  Adding the Polyurethane.   

I used a foam roller to apply the poly to the shells.  This left a lot of air bubbles.  I also tried a microfiber roller.  I found that this drank up the poly and applied too much to the drum.  The result was a messy layer full of sags and runs.  So the foam roller was the lesser of two evils.

Step 4: Removing the bubbles

To combat the bubbles, I would would immediately go over the fresh, wet coat with a foam brush.  I rolled the shell a let the weight of the brush gently skim the surface.  I applied zero pressure.  This seemed to do the job well.

Major Mistakes I made

Mistake #1 - Don't let the Wipe On Polyurethane Get To The Bottom Of The Can.

The first go around I applied 10 coats to all three drums.  The used almost an entire can of the wipe on Poly.  I chose satin polyurethane instead of high gloss.  Well... it turns out that if you let the poly get to the bottom of the can, the satining agent in the poly starts to get concentrated.

I ended up with a bunch of clumpy, cloudy blotches in my final coat.  The only way to get rid of it was to sand the shells down and pretty much start over... So booo.

Mistake #2 -  Don't Apply Too Much Polyurethane To The Drum On One Coat.

You start to get impatient and you just want the layers to form a nice build up... SO you end up loading the roller with poly to try and get it all on the drum.  This is a mistake.  The poly will start to run and sag and your coat will be left with a bunch of dry pooled lines.  Once again, you'll have to sand these down and re-coat to fix it.

Mistake #3 - Don't Use Water To Clean The Shell of Dust In Between Coats.

One round, after sanding I accidentally grabbed a spray bottle filled with water, instead of the mineral spirits on the 14" tom.  I realized my mistake and did my best to wipe it off before adding the oil based polyurethane.  Well... Almost immediately I noticed these weird spots begin to form in the finish.  Online they called this occurrence "orange peel" I guess because the wood starts looking bumpy like and orange peel.

Anyway... the only way to get rid of this was to wait for it to dry and them completely sand away the last coat... then re apply the poly... sans water.

So that pretty much wraps up this post.  Let me know in the comments below what you think of my clear coat strategy.  Thanks for checking it out and I'll see you on the next post.

How To Make Your Old Drums Look Like A Million Bucks - Part 2: Hardware Upgrade

|  By: Jay Fenichel  |  Dec 20th, 2018  |

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This past Summer (2018) I embarked on this journey to restore my old Pearl drum set. I know it's hard to tell from the last post, but initially I only intended to update the hardware.

Basically, I wanted to ditch the chrome and make all of the hardware black.

The video attached to this post is Part 2 outlined the steps I took to restoring... or upgrading the hardware.

What Were My Choices For Upgrading The Drum Set Hardware?

My first thought was to have all of the drum hardware powder coated black.  Since I lack the gear and the know-how to do it myself, I had to look into a service.  I called a bunch of places.  Out of the three shops that got back to me, the price quotes were well beyond what I was willing to spend on this rag-tag drum set.

The next choice was to look into buying the black hardware new.  The main challenge was... Pearl Hardware has changed in the past 30 years.  I couldn't find hardware that would match the exact spacing of the holes drilled into the current shell.  Then, there was the cost of new hardware...

The final option was to do the job myself.  I opted to spray paint all of the drum hardware.  It seemed like the cheapest and easiest solution.  The only downside I can see is that the paint will be less durable to the wear and tear of touring.  For that reason... I deemed this drum set for studio work only.

I also made sure to only paint hardware that would not come into direct contact with the drum sticks.

Here's The Breakdown Of All Drum Hardware Being Restored.


For the top hoops of the rack and floor toms I decided to bite the bullet, stick a crowbar into my wallet and just buy them.  They are black nickel plated.  I tried to find powder coated hoops, but it turns out that a 14 inch Tom Tom with 6 lugs is pretty rare these days. Most have 8 lugs at that diameter.  So the black nickel plated hoops were really my only choice.

I did paint the bottom hoops and the outside hoop of the bass drum.

Lug Casings & Lugs:

I had to remove and paint all lug casings and Lug screws.  I was careful not to fully paint the threads of the lug screws themselves.

Pearl Badges:

I wanted to preserve as much of the original drum hardware as possible.  The Pearl drum badges weren't in the best shape.  So I went at them with a black paint pen to clean up any obvious scratches and blemishes.  I also reinforced each metal badge with a hard plastic backing the I got from a Chinese food combo container.

The badges were originally tacked on with tiny nails.  The nails were so tiny they didn't even penetrate the drum shells all the way through.  I decided to replace those with tiny pan head screws that I found on Etsy. These were tough to find, so... Here's the link if you're interested:

I used the nail holes as a template and drill through the shells with a 1/16th drill bit.  I had to put the tiny bolts on with tweezers.


The grommets were the trickiest thing to restore.  In case you are not familiar... every drum has a little metal grommet that protects the small air hole on the side of the shell.  Sometimes the grommet is part of the actual badge, but that was not the case here.

These original grommets were attached by pushing the metal grommet through the vent hole.  Then the inch long metal body part of the grommet that fits inside the drum is bent back in to a series of metal flaps. (I guess with pliers...) Then the flaps are hammered flush to the inside of the shell to hold the grommet in place.

I had to manually pry each of these metal flaps away from the shell and squeeze them into a shape smaller than the actual vent hole to get them out without damaging the drum shell.  This was a giant pain in the ass.

The original Pearl grommets were completely destroyed in this process, so I was forced to buy new ones.  The new Pearl grommets are much nicer and work the way a normal grommet should, with a front and a back piece that fit together.

Final Thoughts On The Drum Hardware Upgrade...

Overall I am very happy with how the drums came out with the new hardware.  It really adds a nice slick look against the finished drum shells.

The only downside with finishing the hardware in this way is the fact that you have to be more careful with the drums.  Even though I used durable spray paint... it's still spray paint... It's probably gonna chip over time and eventually may need some touching up.  But, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

In the meantime... Thanks for checking out this post.  Stay tuned for the next one.

What are your thoughts on my drum hardware upgrade solution?  Do you like what I did? Would you have done it differently?  Let me know in the comments below. 

  • 24" X 16" Bass Drum
  • 12" X 8" Rack Tom
  • 14" X 14" 2nd Rack
  • 18" X 16" Floor Tom
  • 13" X 2" Pearl Piccolo Snare Drum (Non Matching)

He was also throwing in some old Zildjian cymbals (Avedis Hats, a ride, and a crash) and an old throne.  The drum set really looked beaten up but I noticed that the badge on the side simply said "Maple Shell." I had never heard of a Pearl drum set line that was just called "Maple Shell."

Because of that I decided to pull the trigger.  I talked him down to $300 for everything. He was psyched and jumped at the deal explaining that he was flying out tomorrow and if he didn't sell the kit, he'd be forced to just dump it at a music store for next to nothing.

I got the kit back to my studio and went to work removing that horrible wrap.  It wasn't so bad since they were already peeling on every drum.  Once the wrap was off, to my surprise and delight, the shells were in great shape and indeed maple, just like the badge stated.

A quick trip to Home Depot and a couple of hours of staining with Minwax Dark Walnut stain ...and drums looked great.  I decided not to even seal them.  I liked the matte unfinished look.

...And that's how those drums stayed for the next 15 years.  Enduring hundreds of hours of students, sessions, gigs, etc...  I eventually put aside the 24" kick and converted the 18" floor tom to a bass drum, but everything else stayed the same.

That brings us to today... After doing a little research I found out that these Pearl MX "Maple Shell" drum sets were a precursor to the Pearl Masters kits.  They were only made from 1981-1983 and the drum shells are Keller.  Well, after finding that out... it was good enough for me!

I love how the kit came out and can't wait to share the entire process with you all.  Leave me a comment below if you dig the process so far... or if you totally disagree with my approach.

I am definitely a novice when it comes to drum restoration... so if you actually know what you're doing, criticism will only help me get better don't be afraid to let me have it!  Thanks and I'll see you on the next post.

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