Australia are making a name for themselves in the world of musical instruments. With so many talented makers emerging into the global spotlight in recent years, the Land Down Under has slowly become recognised as one of the world's best producers of musical instruments. Since their humble beginnings in 2008, Red Rock Drums have soared to great heights, becoming one of Australia’s premier drum manufacturers. Mat Duniam and Roger Terrill are the brains behind these stunning kits, which have become synonymous with the Red Rock branding. We chat with owner Mat Duniam to gain some insight into the local manufacturing industry, and find out more on how Red Rock kits are made.
First of all, tell us how Red Rock Drums started?
Red Rock Drums Australia has very humble beginnings; Roger and I met on a job in 2001 where I was instructing and he was supplying his hand-made African percussion. We hit it off straight away. We spent a couple of years doing all kinds of jobs together from drumming gigs to installing plaster sheets 6 metres high on rickety scaffolding with a mutual friend. It took me a couple of years to convince him to build me a snare drum, and even though it was pretty rough it worked well. I sourced a bunch of wood whilst working on a carpentry job (casual work whilst studying at Uni) in the hills outside of Melbourne when knocking out wall units – which I soon learned were stamped 1943 and later identified as stunning Tasmanian Myrtle. There was a lot of it, and we made a big prototype kit. It took us years to finish it because I was away overseas playing drums. Anyway, the company was officially formed in 2008, even though we’d already had Red Rock Drums jackets made years before.
What was your main goal when starting the company?
I had been restoring cheap old vintage kits out of my parent’s lounge room throughout my teenage years and was fed up with trying to get a ‘good’ sound out of most drums. I wanted drums that sounded full, warm, and resonant, which sounded like they had already had studio treatment though in an acoustic environment. I was frustrated by snare drums which sounded either too crisp or too boxy. My goal was to produce drums which were not overtly expensive and produced the sound I had in my head. Roger has done an incredible job of working with me to produce the features we now consider our standard points of difference; he is an exceptional person to collaborate with and hears all of my ideas out.
What are some of the pros and cons of being a small business owner in the Australian market?
There are claims that governments give small businesses opportunities, but any time I have explored them the red tape seemed like it would be time and effort not spent wisely. I have always thought the only way we would do well is if we learnt how to do every job the company needs in-house at a professional standard. Our efforts have always been tireless and long term. Red Rock Drums is in somewhat of a circle of hip Australian builders currently producing great drums; friends are rising together to build a brilliant industry, which people around the world can trust. Red Rock Drums has introduced me to musical heroes, fascinating gate-keepers, and so many genuinely good people. The biggest pro is being able to remind myself that what we are producing is amongst the highest standard in the world, and that this is not just my own opinion. Our vision is being realised through every kind of investment, the mutual respect of many wonderful people, and really long days.
Run us through the manufacturing process.
Roger selects timber from a variety of suppliers private and otherwise. He marks up the boards to ensure they have enough material for the orders emailed to him as job sheets. After cutting the staves and gluing them together each shell goes on the lathe. Depending on its size it can take some hours of careful turning and sanding to complete. During this time I will have made orders for parts to be sent to me from all around the world, like the Ego lugs and Trick snare strainers from the USA, as well as hoops and tension rods out of the same factories that produce them for big name brands. We have looked into producing our own items in Australia, however without ordering major quantities costs have been prohibitive. Once the hardware is landed and Roger has completed the shells, we assemble the drums together. I created a somewhat in depth and entertaining six and a half minute video on YouTube you might like to watch, it is called “What we do and how we do it” if you care to look it up.
What type of woods do you use?
In 2008 we selected four staple woods to produce our drums from; they are Tasmanian Blackwood, Western Australian Jarrah, Fijian Mahogany, and New Guinea Rosewood. They are all environmentally friendly sustainable materials which provide us with a stunning selection of timbers as well as a broad spectrum of sonic characteristics. The Blackwood and Rosewood are our central woods which are both have wonderful clarity and body with a balanced prominence of both tops, mids and bottoms, the Jarrah is a much more mid-tone range which is great for that round pop and the Mahogany sounds like a drum kit that has been recorded to tape – because it has such a big warm low end and an attack that sounds like the high frequencies have been rolled off. We have produced so many other drums in Spotted Gum, Tasmanian Myrtle, Wandoo and Sheoak to name a few. We have some really special other timbers coming out too which we think people will be really excited by.
What is the point of difference between Red Rock Drums and the well-known international manufacturers?
Our shells. The thing about Red Rock Drums is that all of our shells are stave construction. They have no outer layer of veneer, what they are on the outside is what it is. It is seriously difficult to find the amount of material, and have the nous, to assemble a drum shell which tells such a beautiful story from stave to stave as we do. Roger does a magnificent job of arranging and selecting the staves, to the point that neither of us can tell where the stave joins are on the finished shells in order to fit hardware to it. This is of course a problem I would rather have than not. The wood in stave drums is in a rested state, ply sheets or even solid shells are bent and stressed which raises the fundamental pitch of the shell. Stave drums are indeed the most superior design for sound. Our shells feature our special rounded bearing edges, and internal reinforcement rings lathed into the shell. Our snare drums feature our special snare beds which promote the balance between drum shell and snare wire – not too crisp but with great fullness and sensitivity at all volumes.
You have been around for quite a while now. In your experiences in the industry, do you think drummers are investing more in locally produced products or mass-produced kits from overseas?
Yes we have in a way; we have weathered the closing of music store chains where people bought everything that they thought they would need in a closing down sale, right through to national and global economic problems where no-one was spending money. Through long term efforts and the growth of our fine industry, there does seem to be a sense of pride with buying local. Discussion groups on Facebook are filled with loyal banter about Australian made drum companies. There is a sense that the quality of Australian drums is outstanding, and because we are all reachable, the human element between drummer and drum maker is alive and well. The dream of owning one begins with quite casual interactions, and it is not uncommon for a customer to take a year or more to come to us ready to order after our first conversations. Buying local reduces freight and import fees, and some of the popular overseas builders only used components that could all be bought online and assembled at home DIY style. Australian drummers know they can get custom drums locally and know the drums will have heart.
For more details, head to redrockdrums.com.au.