"Metal Is Beautiful": A Conversation About Q Drum Co. with Jeremy Berman and NIN's Ilan Rubin

If something’s been around for a long time and it works well, there’s a slim-to-none chance of improving on its design. Or, more accurately, people just assume there’s a slim-to-none chance of improving on its design, making, say, a wheel turn faster or an arch support more weight.

The same principal applies to the gear world. While near-constant innovations in synths and software prove an exception to the rule, notable changes to guitars and basses come along maybe once or twice a decade. And one of the most staid pieces of gear is one of the oldest—the drum.

Ilan Rubin

An ancient instrument, the gist of the drum has been around for about 8,000 years. In the words of Ilan Rubin, drummer for acts like Nine Inch Nails and Paramore and co-owner of Q Drum Co., "It’s not really an instrument that gets a breakthrough all that often. It’s a cylinder with a piece of plastic on it that you tighten up to get it to sound the way you want it to. That’s just the nature of the instrument."

Ilan and Q Drum Co. co-owner/longtime collaborator and friend Jeremy Berman aren’t reinventing the wheel, but they are making some of the biggest leaps in drum design in years. A veteran builder who worked at Orange County Drums & Percussion (OCDP) during the fever pitch years of the 2000s custom drum craze, Jeremy is a man who knows how to make a drum.

Looking back at his own resume and that of Q Drum Co. shop manager Max Kuger, Jeremy says "Just between us, we’ve got 30 years of experience building drums, and we’ve built thousands upon thousands of kits."

That experience shows in the product. After debuting at the 2013 NAMM show, Q Drum Co. became a staple name in drum shops across the country.

Q Drum Co. Brass Snare Drum

Easily recognizable for their ornate, cannon-sized kits made of materials like steel and copper, the company jettisoned to the fore of the boutique world with a roster of artists that includes Joey Castillo, Riley Breckenridge, and of course, Ilan Rubin. Their roots, however, stretch back to 2010 when a pop megastar’s drummer told Jeremy he should forge his own road.

"I was working for Katy Perry. Their drummer, Adam Marcello, needed a live set and asked me to build [it]," Jeremy recalls. This was around 2011, when Guitar Center acquired OCDP and migrated to mass-scale production, leaving the custom-craft element to the wayside.

"He was endorsed through Orange County, and I was still an employee, not doing much with them anymore, so I just decided to build him the main drum kit, and it turned out that he really loved it. He kept pushing me to start a company, and after enough pushing from him, I decided, ‘Alright, maybe I should do that.’"

From there, Q Drum Co. took shape.

"The reason why it was more than just a company-and-artist relationship was because I had known Jeremy since I was about 12 years old. I [have] actually known Jeremy and Max for over half my life at this point," says Ilan on why he came into the fold.

Q Drum Co. Copper Drum Kit

Other long-standing relationships play heavily into the equation. Many artists on the roster are friends and former OCDP endorsers looking for the same custom builds from a familiar, reliable source.

Ilan was of a similar opinion.

"Jeremy was just building something great and unique, so rather than fighting myself with any other drum company, I thought, ‘Why don’t we just take a risk here—let’s go for the gamble and we’ll join forces.’"

It sort of darkens the tone… It’s a very different tone, a very different look. [Galvanized steel]’s meant for outdoor fencing and roofs." - Jeremy Berman

By that time, in the early 2010s, Jeremy’s galvanized steel and copper kits were gaining traction among drummers seeking new sounds and looks. Pioneered in 2008 while he was still at OCDP, Jeremy’s galvanized steel kit was the first to distinguish Q Drum Co. as a maverick in the field.

It was first made as a happy accident during his days as a drum tech for Josh Freese. Jeremy originally set out with a sheet of galvanized steel to make the "perfect shitty-sounding bass drum."

When the drum was finished though, Jeremy found the galvanized steel kept the volume and projection of stainless steel without the sharp bite.

Q Drum Co. Steel Drum Kit

"It sort of darkens the tone… It’s a very different tone, a very different look. [Galvanized steel]’s meant for outdoor fencing and roofs."

After this early success, Jeremy and crew applied their methods to more materials: familiar woods like maple and mahogany, punchy acrylic, and moody, atmospheric copper. Previously only seen in high-end snares, the full copper kits were another real step forward in drum craft.

Equally innovative was the inclusion of maple reinforcement rings on metal shells to retain warmth while keeping power. In the words of Ilan, "It’s really an ingenious idea: nobody was doing it. Nobody has done it."

A beautiful-sounding drum deserves a beautiful-looking presentation, and the Q Drum crew delivers with gusto. Recognizable for their striated shells of antiqued patina and brushed metal, these drums are as pretty to look at as they are to hear. Jeremy even etches intricate patterns like a fleur-de-lis by hand in a chemical burn process.

Q Drum Co. Brass Fleur-de-lys Snare Drum

The work is particularly apparent in their Gentleman’s Series snares. Built with a nod to classic drums of the 20th century, these heartier pieces come in a 14"x7" configuration in a seamless spun 16-gauge shell for muscle to match class.

"Jeremy and I have a real fondness and respect for vintage gear. We both actually grew up playing Ludwig stuff," Ilan says. "So, if you were to look at the drums the Gentleman Series, it’s definitely reminiscent of a Ludwig Supraphonic in terms of aesthetic."

Reinventing the wheel is impossible. But every now and then, someone comes along and makes it roll a bit smoother, a bit faster. For Jeremy Berman and Ilan Rubin, their improvement to the drum came in the form of alloy. Jeremy has a simple mantra on the subject that’s kept him on the vanguard of the drum world this long:

"Metal is beautiful. You can’t go wrong no matter what you do."

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