When I write articles about people or drum related companies, I usually ask about past articles that have appeared in other magazines. I was surprised to find out that none of the drum or music magazines has ever published an article about Andy Foote and Drum Supply House. In business since 1995, it's a very popular resource for drum builders. Andy has played an important role in the growth of the custom drum building industry throughout the past two decades. He is a very upbeat and energetic person and is very passionate about the art of building drums.
In 1994, Andy Foote was a young man managing produce departments for independent grocery stores and playing gigs in his hometown, Jackson, Tennessee, when he started tinkering with his childhood Ludwig Vistalite single-headed drum set. He just couldn't get a decent sound from it so he figured out how to drill holes in the shells for lugs and carefully cut bottom bearing edges so he could add bottom heads to this 70's era single headed kit. This led to sourcing drum parts and trying his hand at making custom snare drums in his small apartment, but the sources for parts were few. At that time, the internet and the do-it-yourself drum building phenomenon had not begun, so he was limited to a random parts at music shops and in a few scarce mail-order catalogs.
At that time there was simply not a wealth of import drum parts available to drummers, so many of the more serious early independent drum builders were forced to machine a lot of their own parts like Johnny Craviotto, Greg Gaylord, Joe Montineri, and Rob Kampa of Magstar Drums. The mail-order catalogs were just starting to deal in Taiwanese parts. Precision Drum focused mostly on drum wrap at that time. Stewart MacDonald, a guitar parts catalog, was offering a slim selection of Taiwanese drum parts on the side, supplied by Purecussion in Minnesota. It was in that year that NSMD added "custom drums" to its cover moniker, and advertisments for parts companies started appearing in the magazine; Stewart MacDonald, Don Corder's tube lugs, Johnny Craviotto's tube lugs, and Precision Drum. Custom drum builders and refurbishers started advertising in NSMD that year, too, like Bill's Drum Repair and Shell Shop, J.C.'s Custom Drum, C&C Drum Shop, and Suraya Block Shells. So the DIY drum builder phenomenon was primed for launch and Andy was in the right place at the right time.
Andy was buying lots of parts from Stewart MacDonald. In 1995 "StewMac" decided to drop the drum parts because their supplier, Purecussion, was closing shop. Their R.I.M.S. mounting system patent expired and they stopped importing their Taiwanese drum parts, up to then supplied by David Lo, a former Pearl Drums employee. Walt Johnston, former CEO of Pearl Drums, had been running Purecussion in Minnesota. Andy, who had been buying most of his parts from Stewart MacDonald and Purecussion, was suddenly without a source. Andy says, "A lightbulb turned on in my mind, and I realized I could supply parts to other drum builders." He got in touch with the Taiwanese parts factories, set up a business phone line, and ran an ad in Modern Drummer magazine. Drum Supply House was off and running from his little apartment with the slogan "Your Complete Source for Custom Drum Parts & Supplies."
Andy ended up acquired the phone number 800-NEW-DRUM, which had previously belonged to a closed shop called Rosewood Music, and Drum Supply House began getting their calls! Also, "StewMac" started to refer drum callers to Andy's toll-free number. This, along with his Drum! Magazine and Modern Drummer advertising, kept his phone ringing. He nurtured a relationship with plastics companies, among other vendors, to develop some exclusive new drum wrap colors. But he still needed a wood shop and someone with experience to run it. Enter Bill Von Kamp of Huntsville, Alabama, who had long worked for Corder Drums, formerly Fibes Drums, and had started his own Bill's Drum Repair Shop. After Corder closed, Bill had ended up with a lot of the tooling from the Corder plant and had plenty of experience building drums. In 1997, Andy hired Bill to be his behind-the-scenes "shell guy", and the pair began supplying ready-to-assemble Keller drum shells complete with drilling, bearing edges, and snare beds cut.
By 1998 Andy had added a self storage unit to his apartment office. He built a website to sell parts from and grabbed the domain name DrumMaker.com. The e-commerce site was launched on December 31, 1999 the New Year's Eve when Y2K had the whole world worried that all the computers were going to stop. That was a brave move! This was the first website to allow online ordering of custom drum parts. It was an instant hit and helped expand his customer base drastically. The online presence helped the shop grow into a 1,500-square-foot warehouse. By 2002 the business had grown to 3,000 square feet and six employees.
In 2001 Andy started the DrumRap.com web forum for the growing drum building community. This was as instant gathering place for posting of projects and how-to discussions. The forum has now been merged into the shop's Facebook page, but has since inspired the creation of similar forums like Ghostnote.net, Drumsmith.com, and others.
In late 2004 Andy was considering relocating the shop to the larger city of Nashville, Tennessee, two hours east of Jackson. He knew he would have to lay off six people in Jackson and he hated that thought, but he knew that the move was inevitable. Being closer to key suppliers and a large pool of drummer workers were benefits of being in Nashville. He rented a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Nashville's Germantown community and began searching for new employees all drummers who weren't afraid to pick up a hammer. They spent their first two months building walls and shelves in the empty warehouse space. Then they moved in two tractor-trailer loads of inventory from the old Jackson shop and dove into the backlog of orders that had stacked up during the downtime. Andy says, "Our loyal customers were incredibly patient during the transition. We serve a great community."
Bill Von Kamp was still doing Andy's woodwork after eight years, but he was ready to retire. So Andy bought Bill's shell stock, and the tools and jigs that he had acquired from Fibes and Corder. In 2005 Andy hired one of his early customers, Rob Kampa of Magstar Drums, to move his wife and four daughters from New England to Nashville to head up the new in-house custom wood shop. If you have ever had the chance to play one of Rob's creations, you know that he knows how to build a great sounding drum. Andy says that he and Rob are a perfect fit. Rob runs "the custom shop" from a nearby location. He can prepare shells to any stage of completion, whether it's just cutting edges for the customer or doing a full-meal-deal job with three steps of hand sanding, bearing edges, drilling mounting holes, shaping snare beds, and wrapping with plastic finishes. They recently added a proprietary "vintage soft gloss" finishing process that has really taken off. Rob estimates that he has crafted more than 3000 snare drums during his career. I asked him if he is still making Magstar drums. He said he is making only around 100 Magstar snare drums a year because most of his time is devoted to Drum Supply House drums. He mentioned that he is currently making a number of snare drums for the U.S. Army Ground Force Jazz Bands.
Andy has always made it a goal to stay on the cutting edge of the drum building world, as evidenced by his recent introduction of custom ColorWraps. This is a new process that allows the addition of custom color and graphics to any standard pearl, sparkle, or glitter drum wrap. It also makes it possible to produce custom ducco fades, stripes without tedious hand inlay work, and even to overlay customer designed graphics and artwork.
Drum Supply House ships to customers all over the world and continues to lead the industry in custom finishes, drum shells in any stage of completion, and the widest selection of parts and "drum nerd gear" around.