When making the decision to start carrying drums, we knew we didn't just want to carry any old line of percussion instruments. We craved something creative and hand-built, something that would fit well in any recording studio or live setting. Enter Jefferson Shallenberger. As the brains and brawn behind Sugar Percussion, Jefferson has spent the past five years using his knowledge as a professional woodworker to perfect his craft of building drums. The results have been nothing short of stunning.
In honor of our new relationship with Sugar Percussion, which includes carrying the Eric Valentine Signature Drum Kit, a Custom 4-Piece Kit and Custom Snares, we caught up with Jefferson to talk a little shop. Learn how this veteran woodworker converted himself from furniture builder to drum maker and discover why he thinks his drums are different from the rest.
How did you get started in the world of building drums?
I’ve been a furniture maker for 20 years and I had an old kit that finally gave out. I went to try and replace it and was pretty underwhelmed with what was available. Also, I was pretty broke at the time, but I had a woodshop and I figured that I’d try to make my own shells. I cannibalized all the hardware from my kit and the way that I make them now is the way I figured out how to make it then. With whatever woodworking vocabulary I had, this was the best way for me to do it. That first kit, I wouldn’t jack my car up with that first kit. It was terrible, but it planted the seed.
How different is your process of making drums from making furniture?
When I went to woodworking school, everything had to be perfect. Everything was checked over and you weren’t finished until everything was correct. It sounds horrible, but I constantly see what’s wrong in everything I do. So I keep going until I’m done finding things wrong and it’s as close to perfect as I can possibly get it. I learned that through the furniture making. Just like the furniture, I figured out all the functional parts of the drums and then tried to make it as beautiful as possible.
How many people work at Sugar? What’s daily life like in the shop?
Depends on the day. Right now, I have a full-time employee, and sometimes I have two, but we’ll switch over to the furniture if the drums are moving a bit slower. All I wanted to do was to find someone who was just as neurotic as me, so that I could teach them and they would be invested in the work they were doing. The human element is picking out the wood and figuring out how you’re going to lay out the thing. Once you get through that part, it’s just a system and goes from this tool to this tool and this tool. Mainly, it’s about the attention to detail.
What makes Sugar Percussion different from other custom built drum companies?
When it comes to the bigger companies and plywood drums, it’s just like comparing apples and oranges. There’s nothing really custom about theirs except for whatever you see on the outside. As far as me and other custom drum makers, I think I care more. I’m not here to bad-mouth anyone, but I’ve seen a lot of companies whose drums sound phenomenal, they are the industry standard, they are on every record and there’s no denying the sound quality. From an aesthetic standpoint though, I’ve been really disappointed with the woodworking. It looks like someone who didn’t know how to woodwork learned to make a drum, as opposed to someone who knew how to woodwork and learned how to build a drum set.
Discover the incredible process Jefferson Shallenberger uses to create his drum masterpieces by watching the video below. You'll get an inside look at the tools of the trade, see Jefferson's workshop and hear from some of the great drummers that love Sugar Percussion kits and snares.