GRANVILLE, MASS. – I’ve literally been trying to replicate this drum set since I was a kid: A custom Maple darker oil stained 6-piece kit. During my first attempt in high school, I tried to peel the cotton candy plastic wrap off an old Mahogany Pearl kit. It ended in disastrous results. The final time – last spring – fared much better, but I found the raw Gretsch wood shell grain bland and unexciting for stain – not to mention my sub-par sanding skills removing a red lacquer finish.
This week, I finally found my home at Noble & Cooley Drums, circa 1854, based in idyllic Granville, Mass. What a beautiful family in the Jones and Nobles. After reseraching high end kits, I was attracted by their outstanding reputation for both snare and drum set manufacturing – and the fact that they live exactly one hour from my home and use only locally-produced wood and hardware. They custom make the best drum shells in the world. Nothing is mass-produced.
In joining their family of artists, I decided on an incredible sounding and looking CD Maple Series as a custom-made 6-piece kit with 8, 10, and 12-inch rack toms with rims style suspender with patented CoolMount system, two 14 and 16-inch floor toms and a kick ass 20-inch bass. It’s the most versatile kit I’ve ever played. No surprises there. CD Maples have been a mainstay of the Noble & Cooley line continuously since 1983. Their tom manufacturing utilizes varying ply methods depending on shell size for maximum resonance with 45-degree rounded bearing edges.
Noble & Cooley itself has a fascinating and rich history in New England and well beyond. Jay Jones, the owner and president who started coming to the factory as a boy in grade school with his grandfather, greeted me first for a grand tour of the company’s large museum and factory. He boasted that his grandchildren – if they are coaxed carefully enough – will one day hopefully become the 8th generation of one continuous single family to own his company.
Most don’t know that Noble & Cooley became the top industry maker of toy drum sets in the early to mid 20th century on display in the museum. The company made high quality toy kits for everyone from President Eisenhower’s grandkids to play at the White House to the Boy Scouts of America. As Jay put it, the inexpensive kits with unbelievably intricate metal tin engraved shell artwork looked “big” around a Christmas tree during the Great Depression and recessions. Before that era, Noble & Cooley primarily made field snare drums for the Northern Regiments in the Civil War and the public.
In the mid-1980s, a stranger walked into the Noble and Cooley factory with a broken swing era snare drum and asked Jay Jones if he could repair it. Jay looked and it and said, “No, but I can probably make you a new one.” Jay didn’t know it at the time but that conversation was the beginning of Noble & Cooley as a maker of premium drum sets, which some of today’s mass-produced drum companies have tried to emulate.
Pioneering nodal point mounting techniques, precise bearing edges, furniture grade finishes, symmetrical venting, solid shell designs, staggered ply designs, hybrid shells and more, Noble & Cooley raised the bar for drum manufacturers everywhere and almost single–handedly created the specialized boutique drum market. They designed the first modern steam bent drums and many other innovations in shell design. Jay is also a stickler for high quality and beyond their team’s intricate stain techniques, he only uses real hand-applied sparkles and paint finishes for colored kits. There are no plastic wraps here.
I could write a book about the laundry list of Jay and his family’s wood-working, metal fabrication and engineering achievements and their impact upon American history. Maybe I will…. But until then, I get to enjoy a custom-made, one-of-a-kind, top line professional drum kit – the first one in my life at this level.
Thanks Jay, Carol and Nick (and Rob the other cool drum-maker dude with the British accent and great insights). I’ll never forget your talent, kindness and education. I will play your amazing, hand-crafted drums with distinction and honor that they and you deserve. And now that I know we’re practically neighbors, I plan to return often to visit.