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Precision Drum Company Takes On The Beatles

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There are more than 150 drum makers in the United States - big companies like Gretsch and individuals who just work in their basements. All of this to enhance the music of composers like B.J. Ledermann who write our the - who writes our theme music. One of the oldest drum makers in this country is Precision Drum Company. It's based in New York's Hudson Valley. Its clients range from school bands to Ringo Starr. Karen Michel reports on the company's latest commission.

KAREN MICHEL, BYLINE: Pleasant Valley, N.Y. is where suburbia meets the country, less than a hundred miles north of Manhattan. Precision Drum Company is headquartered here in a plain two-story rambler. Customers and reporters have to go out back and knock on the garage door where George Folchi answers.

GEORGE FOLCHI: Hello.

MICHEL: Hi.

GEORGE FOLCHI: Hi, come on in.

MICHEL: Thanks.

GEORGE FOLCHI: Sure.

MICHEL: Inside there are densely packed work rooms for the staff of three. George Folchi, his younger brother, Gary, and sister Andrea are Precision Drum Company. It was founded in the 1960s by their dad, a former IBM engineer and weekend drummer. Upstairs, autograph drum heads hang on two walls of the showroom. Gary Folchi shows me around.

GARY FOLCHI: We have Jack Dejohnette. We've got Rod Morgenstein. We've got Idrees Mohammad.

MICHEL: Big names in jazz and rock who know what they want in an instrument sound.

GARY FOLCHI: We cut really good bearing edges. Bearing edge is the key to a well tuning and good sounding drum.

MICHEL: What is a bearing edge?

GARY FOLCHI: Bearing edge is the surface where the drum head or skin meets the drum shell or cylinder.

MICHEL: The wrappings around the cylinders look really cool like the plumage of tropical birds, shiny surfaces that both capture and release the light. Gary points to one.

GARY FOLCHI: We named it purple haze. It's got a kind of a hologram effect to it. As you change your viewing point, the colors change in it, but it's predominantly purple.

MICHEL: Most of the company's work these days is in repairs. They've wrapped Ringo Starr's drums, but George Folchi says the family is in the midst of an unusual commission they hope will pay some bills.

GEORGE FOLCHI: Back in June of last year, Gary got an email from somebody asking if we could build a replica of the Sgt. Pepper's bass drum. And at first, it seemed to us that they were part of some kind of a Beatles copy band.

MICHEL: It turned out to be a company that sells mostly sports memorabilia - think framed-signed jerseys. And it wants 67 of the nearly full-sized replicas.

GEORGE FOLCHI: This is the main shell here. I have to attach the backside hoop to the shell seeing that there's no back head on this thing.

MICHEL: You remember what that drum looks like sitting in the flower bed on the cover in front of the Beatles spelling out the album title in red and yellow letters. The original drum head sold at auction in 2008 for more than half a million dollars. Like that one, the Folchi's is bound in rope.

GEORGE FOLCHI: Pull this as snug as you can get it. Go back up through tensioner again. This is not that easy.

MICHEL: And it's hand-dyed by the Folchi family to look old.

GEORGE FOLCHI: It's kind of like lacing up a boot with a 35-foot shoelace.

MICHEL: They once made a 6-foot tall drum for the Blue Man Group, but they've never done anything like this.

PHIL HOOD: It is the same skill set

MICHEL: Phil Hood co-founded Drum Magazine. Precision is one of the independent companies he's featured over the past 25 years.

HOOD: But few of these companies have longevity and a reputation like Precision Drum Company. It's the longest surviving independent drum company that I know of.

MICHEL: A good match for an album that's also survived just about as long. George and Gary's sister, Andrea, was nine years old when it came out.

ANDREA FOLCHI: Oh yeah, obviously, '67. Yeah. (Singing) What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me? That's the first time I've ever done a solo in my life.

GEORGE FOLCHI: Ringo sing that one.

A FOLCHI: Yeah.

MICHEL: For NPR News, I'm Karen Michel in Pleasant Valley, N.Y.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.