A legendary family’s third generation takes up
the mantle of classic drum making
A genealogical study of the drum products industry would trace back to just a few family names. One sure to ring a bell throughout the drumming community and warrant closer attention has re-entered the fray: William F. Ludwig III. Launched in 2014, WFLIII Drums quickly distinguished itself with a line of vintage-inspired snare drums. Last month the company purchased a new factory in Lenexa, Kansas that will accommodate production of a full line of drumsets. Featuring exclusive shell designs and hardware, the line will be unveiled at Winter NAMM 2018.
WFLIII’s president and namesake literally grew up in a drum factory as his grandfather and father built the Ludwig Drum Company into the biggest name in drumming in the ’60s and ’70s. This experience gave him a unique perspective on—and hands-on role in—the decades-long industry boom inspired by the Beatles’ landmark 1964 Ed Sullivan Show appearance, with Ringo joyfully playing his Ludwig four-piece kit.
Bill III played a vital role in the growth of Ludwig Drums in the golden ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s as a marketing executive and director of artist relations. Working at its headquarters in Chicago, he signed and managed the largest artist roster of any drum company, with more than 150 of the world’s top performing artists. He created the now iconic “Stable of Stars” marketing campaign and successor campaigns that ran for more than a decade. In addition to his extensive industry experience, Bill III is also an accomplished percussionist, proficient on both timpani and snare drum.
Among a myriad of other flashes of familial influence and inspiration, Bill III was transformatively moved by a handwritten caption on an old photograph of his grandfather: “WFL starting over at 61” referenced the elder Ludwig’s launch of the WFL Drum Company after selling Ludwig Drum Company a few years earlier. “It was at that moment I knew I had to start building drums again,” Bill III recalls. “At 62, it was time for me to ‘start over’ and honor my family’s legacy by building the finest quality drums possible, using the skills and techniques I learned so many years ago at the best drum company in the world.”
Specifically, his goal was to build classic sounding drums with contemporary finishes and modern hardware. The sound, he explains, “had to remind the player of the great drums of the past while giving them the control and projection needed for today’s music.”
Given his background, Bill III’s vision might be written off as nostalgia, but it was predicated on serious research of today’s vibrant used drum market and the drumming community’s growing embrace of “vintage”-designed and -sounding drums. That vision also won strong support from Kipton R. Blue, a drummer, collector, and executive with a career spanning 40 years in numerous industries, who signed on as WFLIII’s CEO.
The WFLIII snare drum line includes three-ply maple, five-ply mahogany, machined aluminum, and custom-engraved acrylic models. Full drumsets will feature classic thin ply maple shells for greater resonance and WFLIII lugs in a choice of chrome, brass, and black. Available for delivery in Q1 2018, WFLIII drumsets are “designed for the semi-professional and professional drummer who values the classic sound of vintage drums built to exacting standards with the response and projection players demand.” Crucially, and true to its founder’s roots, all WFLIII drums are produced in the company’s factories in Kansas City and Chicago by dedicated American workers.
A drum is a largely “handmade” product, employing many processes that haven’t changed in 50 years. That said, WFLIII is using cutting-edge technology extensively in its marketing, design, and analytics, Kipton explains, “to increase competitiveness, lower costs, and add tangible value for the customer. We’re constantly upgrading our systems in areas of marketing, analysis, ordering, inventory, shipping, and production management, all to deliver affordable price points that allow our dealers to make a good margin with great-quality, American-made drums.”
WFLIII’s primary retail target is the serious independent pro drum shop, and Bill III makes numerous in-store appearances to build awareness of the brand. “When we walk into a drum shop,” says Kipton, “everyone from the 60-year-old owner to the 18-year-old kid behind the counter is thrilled that Bill Ludwig III is in their store. Having a new Bill Ludwig III drum gives dealers something unique to talk about—a heritage that borders on family royalty—and brings customers through their door.”
From there, it’s up to WFLIII drums’ exceptional sonic character, which Bill III describes as “crisp with warmth and projection.” Their appeal in today’s market, he adds, begins as a “natural response to current, overly produced pop music and the sterile sound of many modern recordings. Many of today’s drummers are looking to re-engage with the classic sounds of the past and the iconic instruments that made that music. These drums bring the sound of generations to modern drummers and will remind them of why they fell in love with drums in the first place.”
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