Charleston man creates custom drum sets
Drum maker Jay Ferguson with a set of drum he created at his home in Charleston.
Drum maker Jay Ferguson demonstrates the use of the drum shell layout table in the workshop.
CHARLESTON — Jay Ferguson keeps two alternate sets of business cards to meet the needs of his vastly different vocations.
One business card is for the Ferguson Law Office in Mattoon, where he works as an attorney with his father, Mark. The other card is for his Home Grown Drums business, through which he makes customized drums for fellow percussionists.
"I basically practice law all week and go out and play music all weekend, and evenings are spent in my workshop making instruments," said Ferguson, who has a workshop in his Charleston home.
Ferguson said he has been playing the drums since his youth, when he received his first drum set in sixth grade. He played percussion instruments for school bands in his hometown of Mattoon, where he graduated from high school in 1998.
After high school, he pursued his higher education in music at the University of Illinois in Urbana. Ferguson said he received undergraduate degrees in percussion and jazz performance in 2003 and earned the U of I's first graduate degree in jazz studies in 2005.
His passion for performing music continued as Ferguson attended law school at Northern Illinois University, where he graduated in 2008, and then started working as an attorney.
"It is just a wonderful outlet artistically," Ferguson said of his music. "It pairs nicely with my career. It is very much the opposite of the practice of law. It offers a good outlet."
Ferguson said he plays percussion instruments alongside professional musicians representing jazz and a variety of other musical genres, work that routinely takes him as far as St. Louis, Indianapolis and Chicago.
"Every gig that I play, I play on drums that I make," Ferguson said.
The percussionist said he made his first drum set in 2001 while he was finishing his undergraduate degrees. Ferguson said he needed a professional quality instrument and found that it would be more cost-effective to build his own.
Ferguson said he started with general woodworking skills that he learned from his grandfather Wallace Bingaman and he outsourced some of the more specialized drum-making tasks to other tradesmen. He said his skills have continually advanced since then, and now his drums are made completely in-house.
Other than taking part in online workshops and exchanging ideas with stringed instrument makers, Ferguson said he is essentially self-taught as a drum maker. He said the most challenging task in the workshop is bringing the drum head together with the bearing edge of the drum.
"The layout has to be precise for everything to line up correctly and make for a playable instrument," Ferguson said.
Now, Ferguson focuses on making custom snare drums, custom drum sets, and some Middle Eastern hand percussion instruments. He added that he can produce a drum set in an average of six weeks and a snare drum in three to four weeks.
Ferguson said his first customers were professional musicians he befriended while they were his undergraduate classmates. He said he built their drums at cost as a "sounding board" for his skills. He wanted to ensure his drums could withstand the rigors of touring while maintaining high quality sound.
The customer base of Home Grown Drums has since grown to include the areas where he has performed and beyond, Ferguson said, adding that he has even sold to a customer in Portland, Ore.
Ferguson said he plans to create a website for Home Grown Drums, but most of his business so far has been generated by word of mouth and by music fans seeing his drum set during gigs.
His personal drums have a natural, hand-rubbed oil finish. Ferguson said this finish allows the wood to move with changes in atmospheric conditions, such as high humidity in a performance venue. He said the natural finish has a striking visual effect, which complements the high quality sound the drums produce.
"Without fail, someone remarks on the drums at every gig I play," Ferguson said.
Ferguson said hand-crafted instruments, such as those he makes for Home Grown Drums, appeal to the natural creativity of musicians and to the needs of the wide variety of musical styles that they perform.
"Every aspect of the drum is fully customized. It offers a musician an infinite range of possibilities in terms of the sound and the appearance of the instrument," Ferguson said.
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