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William F. Ludwig III heads up his namesake drum company.

Re-creating The Classic ’60s Sound

WFLIII has staked its reputation on the thin, resonant three-ply shells that defined drum tone for a generation.

BEFORE BILL LUDWIG LAUNCHED WFLIII Drums, drummer friends regularly asked him, “Why can’t they make drums sound like they did in the ’60s?” He had a ready answer: It’s all about the construction of the drum shell. Most contemporary drums have thick eight-, ten-, 12-ply, or even solid shells, which he says make them “sound dry and lifeless. The thicker the shell, the less resonance is produced.” The classic drums of the ’60s, by contrast, were built with three-ply maple shells that were rarely more than 4mm thick, and according to Ludwig, “sing with life.”

Sound is inherently subjective, and there are heated arguments about what constitutes an optimal drum tone. However, Ludwig III found that there was a broad-based consensus that ’60s-era drums had a uniquely desirable resonance. In starting WFLIII, he resolved to “give my friends a modern instrument built for that classic sound we’ve all grown to love and desire.” He was also uniquely qualified to revive that classic drum sound. His grandfather, William F. Ludwig Sr., founder of Ludwig Drums, practically invented the modern drumset, and he was the company’s long-serving artist relations manager.

All WFLIII drumkits feature shells with two plys of maple and a poplar core. Thinner than most contemporary shells, they offer exceptional resonance.

The objective with the WFLIII drum shells is straightforward: Produce an effortless, responsive, and vibrant tone that recaptures the sounds heard on classic vinyl records. The company’s Generations series drum shells, introduced in 2018, are constructed of two plys of American hard maple with a poplar inner core. Five-ply maple reinforcement rings are added to ensure shell integrity and stable tuning.
Ludwig III says, “The shell of a drum is like the guitar top or piano soundboard: How well it’s made, the details of construction, hardness of wood, and accurate and consistent attention to tolerances will determine if a drum sounds dull or sings.” He adds, “We aren’t the only company building maple shells, but our shells are the closest we’ve heard yet to that classic sound of the past.”

Scott Williamson, a top Nashville session player who has recorded with Bob James, Nathan East, and Blake Shelton, agrees. “These drums sound like a high-level, well-maintained ’60s-era drum kit,” he says. “They feel like a part of my body. They make me play better.”

WFLIII players include Classic Drum Hall of Fame member Bobby "T" Torello.

Ludwig III and his team at WFLIII Drums are steeped in percussion tradition, but he states, “Rather than live in the past, we strive to honor the past with modern innovation and creativity.” This willingness to push the design envelope while attending to the smallest construction detail is evident in the company’s approach to the mundane drum shell vent. The vent, which few spend much time thinking about, actually plays an outsized role in the sonic character of a drum. “It has one simple job: allow the air in the shell to escape when the head is hit,” he explains. “Most drum companies use a .5" to .625" diameter vent. I wanted to see what different sizes of vents would do to the sound of the drum. We analyzed different sizes and found that a larger 7/8" vent allowed the shell to ‘breathe’ while maintaining that classic sound. The attack of the drum increased, and the sound was enhanced with smoother and broader tonal qualities.” The WFLIII vent is complemented with a “cut-out” badge that gives the appearance of a ventless shell.

WFLIII is building its reputation on classic three-ply shells, but the company takes an expansive look at the entire percussion market. “Every day we ask ourselves, ‘how can we do this better?’, ‘is the standard really the best?’, ‘who says drums can only be this color, size, or configuration,’” says Ludwig III. Company designers are continually assessing every detail in search of improvement, from the thickness of the shell, to the mass of hardware, to the finish style. To date, the approach seems to be meeting with approval. Jacob Lowrey, who has produced albums for Michael McDonald, Lauren Daigle, Michael W. Smith, and the Newsboys, says, “The tone of the drums is the foundation of the whole song. These drums sound great right out of the box and provide a consistent sound throughout the entire track.”


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