Be sure to watch our 2011 video, Interview with Dave Heim, to learn more about Dave's time with the Ludwig/Musser. Great stories!

Ludwig Drum Company

I grew up back in the day when drum companies like Ludwig and Slingerland made their annual product catalogs available for free on the counters of the local independent music store. Remember those days? I was genuinely excited when I walked into the store and saw the stack of fresh catalogs there. I took my free copy and reviewed every word and every photo on every page. Over the years I studied dozens of catalogs and eventually had part numbers, model names, and drum sizes memorized. I became so familiar with the photos of the executives and factory workers at the Ludwig and Musser plants, I felt like I actually knew some of these people even though we had never met.

Being a drummer since the sixties, and being involved in various marching bands, I wanted to join the National Association of Rudimental Drummers. After taking my examination I was anxious to get my certification so I personally delivered my application to the NARD offices, which were located at the Ludwig Industries Musser plant, not far from my home. Sitting at the desk in the NARD office was Bettie Ludwig, who handled that business. We chatted for almost an hour. She thanked me for my support, processed my application and encouraged me to have my students take the exam.

A couple of years later, I once again found myself walking into the Musser office - this time to apply for a job. I was studying computer programming at the time and as luck would have it, I was the right fit for a new job they had planned.

My first day on the job - and for a few months afterwards - I had absolutely nothing to do with computers. I worked on the assembly line. The very first thing I did was to attach casters to the leg assemblies of what seemed to be an endless parade of M250 Concert Grand Marimbas.

Ludwig Total Marching Percussion 1979 catalog. Being led through the plant on that first day was a little intimidating: people stopped what they were doing to look at me. I remember the smells in the plant. It was a combination of solvents, paints, fresh cut wood, and plastics. Competing with the smells for attention was the noise: saws, forklifts, voices, pneumatic tools, hammering, deburring and tumbling machines, and the not-quite-yet musical notes of chime tubes, and marimba, vibe and xylophone bars being tuned. I spent my first lunch hour chatting with Bettie. I remember being very curious about my first paycheck. Not so much about the dollar amount, but what logo would it have on it? Would it be the new Ludwig logo with the joined "L" and "G", or the old familiar script logo? When my check was handed to me I was happy to see that it carried the old script Ludwig logo.

After working the assembly line for a few months, I moved to the shipping office. There I worked closely with the production office, final assembly, order processing, packing and the customer base. My product knowledge expanded during this time as I saw virtually every Musser product come through the shipping department.

After several months in shipping I moved again, this time to head up the warehouse, where I worked closely with the purchasing agent and inventory manager, and became familiar with all the raw materials, individual parts, and sub-assemblies used in the production of Musser products. This experience prepared me for my position in the production office - the job I wanted.

In the production office, I worked with all the areas I had worked in up to this point: purchasing agent, inventory manager, computer technician, order expediter, warehouse, shop floor and shipping. I also interacted with the second Musser factory where the Kitching educational products, tuning forks, orchestra bells and bell lyras were made.

I was happy in the production office (think air conditioning), but I had one more job change while at Musser. Musser president, Dick Richardson, had an office built for me in the engineering department. It was from there that I would apply the knowledge I collected from all my previous posts. I was responsible for creating data sets that fed the new MRP (Materials Requirements Planning) computer system. This system contained information about every single part and piece of raw materials necessary to produce every Musser product. Based on the lead times required to obtain the raw material and make or purchase parts, manufacture the sub-assemblies, and put those sub-assemblies together to make a product, the MRP system could tell you what to order and when. The idea was to strive for a Just-In-Time inventory and a streamlined assembly process.

CYO Band Drum Section 1976During this time I fiddled with the design of a marching chime carrier for use with the CYO Concert and Marching Band, of which I was a long-time member. I ended up making a workable carrier out of scrap 1" square aluminum tubing - workable, that is, if you consider marching with six heavy brass chime tubes to be a good thing. However, Dick Richardson liked the idea and a modified version of the carrier showed up as the Musser M-62 Portable Chime Rack in the 1979 Ludwig Total Marching Percussion catalog. (I was in the catalog!) Musser added a stand for it, model M-1386, and the product was used by some DCI corps in their pit configurations. "The Heim Chime" was my claim to fame around the office! Well, for a couple of days anyway.

Eventually I was asked to relocate to Damen Avenue, the Ludwig Drum Company headquarters in Chicago, the place I'd seen in catalog pictures since I was in grade school. This meant giving up my 5 minute commute for an hour commute into the north side of Chicago. Gee, let me think about it -- OK, when do I report!?

When I arrived for my first day at the Damen Avenue plant, I passed through a small waiting area near reception. There I noticed a genuine "The Beatles" bass drum head framed on the wall. Just looking at it gave me chills. I would look at this drum head every day as I passed by.

On my lunch breaks I explored the maze of the factory and offices and met many of the people from the photos in those old catalogs. If the phrase "kid in a candy store" ever applied to anyone it applied to me. I spent many lunch hours and breaks bothering Al Lemert on the fourth floor in the R&D area. Al was always gracious and willing to show me new products. He even let me "road test" a few products from time to time.

Being a drummer working for Ludwig occasionally led to interesting outside activities. Sometimes I helped out with the refreshing of incoming and outgoing clinic drum sets used by the Ludwig endorsers. I was also asked to assist with the set up of several Carmine Appice drum clinics and attended several performances and backstage gatherings of Ludwig/Musser endorsers such as Gary Burton, Alan Gratzer, Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich, and Ed Shaughnessy.

Pencil holder made from Lionel Hampton M75 Vibe resonator tube.I attended the NAMM show (it was held in Chicago back then) and helped set up the drums in the Ludwig booth. I have vivid memories of the roll out of the Modular Hardware Line. I was in attendance at a meeting at the McCormick Place convention center where brochures for the Modular Line were distributed. I was craning my neck to get a glimpse as they were being passed out. Bill Ludwig Jr., noticed and said, "Better give Dave a copy before he wets his pants."

I had many encounters with Bill Ludwig Jr. While I was at Musser, he brought Buddy Rich around to introduce him to the employees. After chatting with Bill Jr. and Buddy for a moment I asked Buddy for an autograph. Bill Jr. looked at me and said "What? You don't want my autograph?" Buddy answered for me: "No, he wants mine. Besides, he already gets yours on his paycheck."

Desk formerly used by Ludwig woodshop foremanI have a few interesting keepsakes from my time at Ludwig: a clipboard made from Amber Vistalite stock; a pencil holder made from a piece of resonator tube from one of Lionel Hampton's M75 Century Vibraphones that was in the factory for refurbishing; assorted employee mugs and pins; and my desk at home. I bought the old, well worn, wooden desk when Ludwig was selling office furniture after Selmer purchased the company in the early 1980s. I'm told the desk was used by the wood shop foreman. I often think about all the orders for famous drums - drums used by my role models and heroes - that landed on it over the years.

I'm quite proud to have been associated with Ludwig Industries. My seven years spent working for Ludwig (1976 to 1983) rank among the most enjoyable and memorable of my adult life. I was heartbroken to have had to make the choice to leave them when they relocated to North Carolina. If they had not, I believe I would still be there today. And I would still be getting chills from looking at that Beatles bass drum head.

Dave Heim

Dave Heim is a Chicago area drummer with over 35 years of performance experience. An employee of Ludwig Drum Company from 1976 to 1983 and a former Slingerland endorser, Dave studied with Mike Balter and Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame member Bobby Christian. Dave performs with several Chicago-based bands including the musical comedy group The Bottle Band who have appeared on local and national television and radio, including NPR's All Things Considered and The Late Show with David Letterman. Dave offers private drum lessons from his home near Chicago.

Dave Heim was a Drummer Cafe forum contributor and VIP member from September 2004 until his passing in November 2012.

In our 2011 video, Interview with Dave Heim, you can learn more about his time with the Ludwig Drum Company.