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INTERVIEW: Ian Croft, The Cambridge Drum Company

Daniel Gumble
INTERVIEW:  Ian Croft, The Cambridge Drum Company

Ian Croft, founder and managing director of The Cambridge Drum Company, speaks to Daniel Gumble about the company’s origins, its UK manufacturing operation and how the web has become a central part of the MI landscape…

Daniel Gumble: Tell us about the firm’s origins. When and how did the company form?

Ian Croft: The business was formed in 2014 when we started to do the research and prototyping of our shell production. This took about 12 months. Having studied several brands of shell from the USA, Japan, China and the UK, I came to realise that it must be possible to make a better shell, which, of course, has a major effect on the tone and resonance of the drum. I am glad we spent so much time and money investing in our process as we have a really superb shell on which to base our business.

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DG: What can you tell us about your background? I understand you haven’t always worked in the music industry.

IC: All of my working life has been spent in wood technology and manufacturing. Designing factories, installing working systems and technology to the likes of Jaguar Cars, Rolls Royce and Bentley, plus all of the leading furniture and door manufacturers, all of which use our machinery and expertise in all things Veneer. So, if you like, I come at the drum business from an engineering angle rather than a frustrated drummer (my drumming skills are frustrating).

I decided that I wanted to make drums when I tried to buy my ideal kit but was surprised that I could not buy what I wanted to the right quality at a reasonable price; the delivery time also left a lot to be desired. And that is the basis of our business now, top quality products at a reasonable price and all delivered in five weeks. You can only do this when you understand manufacturing and have the right equipment and people in place.


DG: Is the company a boutique manufacturer of drums, or are you planning on selling your products on a mainstream scale?

IC: Boutique? Custom? Mainstream? Well, I’m not sure what we call ourselves really but I suppose we are a manufacturer of high quality drums. I don’t what to take on the world and I certainly do not want to be billed as just another custom drum builder. With all due respect to others in the trade, what we have at our place is far more advanced than most drum companies out there. We have set up in such a way that we can make volume if we get the demand but, for now, we are just trying to do what we set out to do and not follow the crowds. For us it is all about the sound and the quality of finish - there are no accountants or shareholders telling us what to do.


DG: Tell us about the manufacturing process. Are your products all made by hand?

IC: Every aspect of our shell manufacture is done in our factory; we choose our own veneer and never less than the top quality. We select, cut and match all the face veneers so that the grain goes up rather than around (it costs more but looks so much better). The inside veneer is also made in this way.

The plywood is made using the same quality of veneer as the face, so the structure and density of the shell is as consistent as it can be. We have invested in the right machines to do this - there is no other way.

Our shell tooling took us about six months to design and have made; the tooling starts life as a one-inch-thick piece of steel that is formed and welded prior to being machined to a tolerance of five thou. The inside of the tooling is fine finished so that no marks or impressions appear on the face of the shell. Internal pressure is applied (how? My secret!!) This ensures that constant density and internal bond of the adhesive.

Just as an example, our 24” bass drum tool weighs 450kg. Our adhesive is specially made for us in Italy and is the same as they use out there to make RIVA boats, it cures rigid and creates a very stable drum. We do not apply heat but rather we cook it at 30C to ensure that no stress is put into the wood and that a drum made in freezing January is the same as balmy August.

Once we have the shell, we cut it on purpose-made machinery and sand ready for lacquer. The spray shop is in-house and we only use water-based products. It’s not that we are particularly eco-friendly, but it is such a good product. And, of course, it does not smell, so that a nice bonus for all.


DG: Are they manufactured entirely in the UK, or do you outsource any of the production to third parties?

IC: At the moment the only thing we can’t do here is chromed metal parts. These come from a very high-end producer and we import these in bulk. At some point we will make our own; we have had the prototypes made in aircraft grade alloys and these do offer some advantages but at a cost. If the demand is there we will offer them next year.


DG: How has the company coped with the challenging financial climate in recent years? Have you taken any particular measures to overcome the difficult economy?

IC: In many respects we are fortunate in this area. We currently are self-funded and our business plan is flexible. I think the biggest challenge now is how the customer buys his next drum kit - shop or web? For the life of me I cannot understand how anyone would take a chance on buying a musical instrument online. Surely you need to see touch and play the thing?

To that end we have just finished our own drum room at the factory - a 16 ft square room where customers can come and try our drums; we have over 50 drums available so customer can literally build their perfect kit before choosing the finish.

We love working with the retailers and response from them has been encouraging; it’s a shame two of them have closed just weeks after taking stock.  


DG: How big a role does the Internet and social media play in your company?

IC: It’s all about the web now - no escaping that - and for someone like me who got my first smartphone last summer it is something of a challenge personally. However, I have some good people around me who do understand so they are going to drive this forward. The web gives you all the information you need to make a choice when it comes to choosing a kit; social media gives opinions and insight but what they don’t do is prove what a drum sounds like or feels like, hence the reason we build the studio. We encourage people to come to the factory, see how it’s made and play a few different kits. One of the things I want to create is confidence in the company, Confidence they are buying the best engineered drums from people who care, that’s the only way to build a brand. No amount of advertising can do this.

We are building a library of sounds and videos on our website just now to help people. It’s an expensive project as we are using a professional studio. For those who have not seen our video of Gilson Lavis playing his new Cambridge Kit check that out, that’s an example of what we plan for our library


What are your plans for the next 12 months?

IC: The next 12 months is all about marketing and building the brand. We have some really nice endorsees, Gilson has been fantastic for us, Tom Toggle is a great source of technical input, but we need to get on board with a few youngsters this year. Ideally, a young drummer who is performing live throughout the UK and Europe. We do have some names in the hat but a few more can’t hurt. Our attitude is one of promotion and feedback from the artists to continually improve the product. If we can help raise the profile of a young British drummer we will.

Tags: ian croft , interview , Interviews , cambridge drum company

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