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Painted Bass Drum Calf Heads from the 1920's and 1930's

This article will cover the different methods and paints required to duplicate painted calf drum heads of the 20's and 30's. The original heads can cost upwards of $200 just for the drum head. They are usually more valuable then the bass drums they are on.

Here is an example from the Ludwig Drum Company of the designs they were putting on calf heads in the 1920's (More examples at the bottom of the article.)


1927 Ludwig Painted Bass Drum Heads

1928 Ludwig Painted Bass Drum Heads


1935 Ludwig Painted Bass Drum Heads

and the 1928 Slingerland Painted Bass Drum Heads


These head scenes were enhanced by an internal light bulb with a solid light or colored lights with flashing bulbs.

Here is the 1938 Rogers Catalog Showing heaters and flashing light bulbs with some Rogers Head options.

Here is an advert about the techniques used to paint drum heads so the light shines through the head correctly. If painted with standard brush strokes the light will enhance the strokes and alter the look of the image. It also mentions that to thicken the strokes with more paint will hinder the look of the lights shining through the head and detract from the image.

The article mentions the "Stipple Method" of painting which requires the brush head to be cut straight so that the paint is not applied in strokes but in the daub fashion.

Def: To apply paint to (a surface) with hasty or crude strokes.

(International Arcade Museum)


The article mentions the six new titles in painted drum heads.

1926 Article (October 25)

(International Arcade Museum)


Here is some information from our drum forum from (Jeff -Snowdog) on the type of paints to use for calf and synthetic heads.

(There are other methods for synthetic heads which require a light sanding of the head and then mixing acrylic paint with flex additive)


1920's and 1930's era calf-skin heads were usually done using oil-based colors.

"Tempera is usually applied in much thinner coats since it dries so rapidly, and as such it often won't have the same vibrancy or saturation. Also, tempera usually doesn't work well when applied to flexible non-rigid surfaces. The only benefit that tempera offers over oil-based colors is that it resists fading very well, whereas oils tend to fade & can become transparent over time.

Not saying that tempera couldn't be done or work, but odds are oils would be the better long-lasting choice. Tempera would probably work better on synthetic heads."

Here is an excerpt from a advert for the G.B. Stone Drum Company Company catalog of 1926

"A line of painted bass drum heads is shown, all hand-painted in detail by skilled artists with transparent oils."

Photo: Harry Cangany

More Examples: Actual Drum Heads and Catalog Scans

Here are some real examples from the collection of Dave Brown.



Here are some other catalog examples if you are trying to ID a painted bass drum head from the 20's and 30's.

1928 Ludwig Bass Drum Heads


1929 Ludwig Bass Drum Heads


1932 Ludwig Bass Drum Heads

1933 Leedy Bass Drum Calf Heads


1933 Ludwig Bass Drum Heads 1935 Ludwig Bass Drum Heads


Slingerland Catalog Drum Head Pages:

1928 Slingerland Bass Drum Heads


1936 Slingerland Bass Drum Heads

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