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DW’S JOHN GOOD: THE ‘WOODOLOGY’ INTERVIEW

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They call him the ‘wood whisperer’ or the ‘woodologist’ for good reason. DW’s Vice President and master custom drum maker John Good knows woods and their sonic qualities better than anyone. Since joining Dom Lombardi in the creation of one of the most famous drum brands in the world, John has spent more than three decades perfecting his craft. His quest and thirst to find rare and exotic woods around the world that he can turn into drum shell masterpieces is immense and as he told AM’s Greg Phillips, “Nothing that I use is endangered. Nothing that I use is without certification and paperwork.” The man has a conscience and a good heart too. When John Good was last in Australia, it was working as Chad Wackerman’s drum tech on a Men At Work tour. This time, John was in Australia to a) head to Tasmania to look for wood and b) present his DW ‘Woodology’ Experience featuring Australian DW Artists -Pete Drummond, Dave Matthews, Johnny Salerno & Darryn Farrugia. John kindly took a few minutes to chat with AM”s Greg Phillips before his Melbourne presentation.  Photos by Marisa from PhotographyMatters.com.au

John, you’re presenting a session here, talking about drums and your career. What do you hope people get out of the night?
What I’d like them to get out of this … out of my knowledge of what I am doing … is that there is so much you can do to contour and make the most of what you are looking for in a drum sound. Once you’re given the fundamentals of what to look for and what kind of texture you want from a drum kit you can then decide what you need. Because a drum kit isn’t just plumbing with a waste basket, it’s a real instrument. It is one of the most uncontrollable instruments that I have spent a lifetime trying to find a way to make it more controllable and understandable for more drummers … who are musicians first and foremost. So we try to put a little bit of music and science behind the whole thing and I hope to impart a lot of knowledge of that.

Education forms part of DWs mission statement. Why is it important to a business to promote education?
Primarily the biggest reason for myself, Dom Lombardi, Chris Lombardi … speaking on behalf of them, is that there are so many secrets that have been harboured in the past which did nothing to benefit players.  For me, the more you understand and the more you can grasp what your instrument is all about and the elements that make it tick …parts that make it work or not work … then the better you’re going to be able to translate your feelings and your emotions through your instrument, which becomes your voice. The more you know, the better you’re going to be. I can only do so much as a man who builds these beasts myself and I shouldn’t call them beasts, they are my children. A guy like Dom Lombardi is a drum educator and that’s how he and I met. I think that education and nothing being secretive is the key and you can ask me anything you want. Sometimes people will say why did you give all of that away but what am I going to do with it if you don’t understand it and can’t find a good reason why you want to be part of it.

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What’s the starting point for a new DW product? What are the first things that you discuss?
First of all  you’ve got to build … step by step the different aspects of what you want to do. I’ve been on a crusade on this for a long time. Whether you are a novice or an accomplished musician, you have to decide what the sound is that you are really looking for because we have such a variety of sounds and it has taken me so long to corral all of that confusion, to unwind for you … and it took six months to write and it’s all in a book called The Book of Plies (downloadable from DW’s website: http://www.dwdrums.com/digitalliterature/bookofplies/). It’s a good read and the forward is from Neil Peart one of my dear friends. We all put our heads together to unwind all of the reasons why, how, where, when and what. We start with … believe it or not … understanding what veneer does because I make predominantly wooden drums. When you understand what this does, you start to go oh, this makes that kind of sound. For instance, horizontal grain when you bend it, is tremendously full of tension which drives the pitch of the piece of veneer up and vertical grain has a different effect, so when you start to understand those things you start to look at the next step. The next step is … choose your weapon du jour. Do you want a cherry sound and I can tell you that cherry is darker. Do you want maple, which is brighter in its appearance but if you play with the grain you can make it blues sounding? Do you want a longer sustaining drum, a shorter sustaining drum for various kinds of music. Let’s not just talk about diameter and length but the characteristics of the different orientations of the grain and the characteristics of the different kinds of wood. So you can see quite quickly that if you don’t unwind some of this stuff, people might just turn and walk the other way as it might feel like it’s a pain in the ass to try to figure out but it is really not. So that’s where we start.

In the musical instrument industry we often talk about the woods used in guitars and how the ageing process is important to the sound. When you’re creating drum shells, what’s the approach in regard to that ageing process and how a drum should sound in the future compared to when its new?
Most veneers that you are turning into a drum shell, you are traumatising things into a cylinder and no matter what age the wood is … if it is 1500 year old bog oak that I have found in the Olt River in Romania … you pull it out of the water and you’ve got to dry it, you’ve got to veneer it, then you’ve got to turn it back into shell, which means you’ve got to glue it, you’ve got to steam it. There are so many things that these poor creatures go through to become a drum shell. As far as the ageing process goes, there are only certain woods that will hold the brilliance part of the cell structure that ages and shows a difference in the wood and those are typically tone woods such as spruce … you know the top of most acoustic guitars is spruce. Say you have a Martin guitar, which is a really nice sounding guitar. Five years from now you wouldn’t let it out of your sight and I tell you why. You exercise those cells. It sits there and it cures once it’s comfortable in the shape it is in and that’s the same for guitars and drum shells and so on. There are some woods like maple with an entirely different, tighter grain structure and they will age … I use old growth maple because of the grain structure and the beauty of it but far from that, is that you want the shell to sit there and dry out and be comfortable, be exercised through vibration and you’ll find that the drier it gets, the more resonance is obtained from the shell and it turns into a thing of beauty. Yes it is a totally different process to what the luthiers will tell you because they are using predominantly much thicker material than what I am using. So there are a lot of different parameters … some of it is very similar, some of it not at all.

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Is there a particular kit you have either built or come across that has the perfect sound or balance for you?
It’s like me asking you who your favourite drummer is. What I am high on right now for an all round drum kit is purpleheart. It’s a grand tree and it is … by the way while I am telling you this … nothing that I use is endangered. Nothing that I use is without certification and paperwork. I adhere to the Lacey act and the CITES acts. There are a lot of things you have to consider before you get into all of this stuff. So purpleheart is born in South America. When it is cut, it is very brownish. When you veneer it, you have this dull looking reddish brown material. This the only wood that when you set it out under  UV light, it starts to go purple. When it gets really nice and purple, we use it. We seal it in and we can capture that colour. The thing about it is that every single ply is purple heart and I make these shells in an HVLT configuration. That means the horizontal outer which winds up cross-laminated and the very most inner ply is vertical to draw the pitch. This wood is so hard and depending on how you colourise it with what drum heads you want to tune to taste, it makes a big difference but you can get very high highs, beautiful mids and tremendous low ends out of these shells. To answer your question, this will probably change in about two weeks but this is what is making me high right now but I am about to take an adventure in 2 weeks that I have waited a lifetime to do.

What do you look for in your endorsees?
One thing I look for is inspiration from their playing. We’ve got over 1500 men and women that play DW in some shape or form. In the beginning it was just great to build a family but now you have to really think about how many people do you want to take care of. I have a great artist relations team. I have  great staff and they’re all busy all the time because so and so is going to go to Europe and is not taking his drum kit so I have to get Garrison or one of my guys chasing down a kit in Oslo, Norway for someone. I look for a particular inspiration, dedication and I don’t ever want to just have a player because it’s an in thing or its a cool thing for them to play DW. You’ve got to tell me why this is something you’ve got to do. Once I’ve heard their heart speak, then usually it is elementary from there.

In another interview you said that the drummer you most admire is Jim Keltner … why Jim?
All you have to do is know the man and know the humour in his playing and the laid back way he plays. He’s got chops but he doesn’t have to empty the chamber in the machine gun every time he plays. I went to see Boz Scaggs play the other night and so often I see bands and god love them but they walk out on stage and they’ve gotta just like I said, empty the chamber on the audience all in one shot. Boz comes out and plays this music that percolates and cooks in this groove that moves along. It’s like he’s saying you gotta wait for it because it’s coming. That’s the way Keltner plays. He hits the drum with such a slight delay and people have tried to replicate that but it either comes out of the pores of your skin or  not. He plays a little behind and it just makes you feel good. If you know the man he is such a genuine one of a kind guy. He’s the kind of guy you want to do stuff for. He requires so little but through the years he would come into my office and chewing gum or M&Ms, he’s always in motion. He’s very confident, tells great stories, tapping on this and tapping on that. He’ll go Johnny go over there and hit that snare, hit a rimshot for me. I’m like hell, I’m hitting rimshots for Jim Keltner.

What are you most proud of?
To be absolutely honest, the artisans and the process of making these instruments. We’ve built a crew of about 175 people from the front office, sales, marketing, finance, everybody on the assembly line and the shell shop. When I came up with an idea for Russ Kunkel one of our newest endorsees, he wanted a certain drum set and I felt that he needed more than that, so we were sitting there kind of arguing about it. I picked up a piece of veneer and I wont bore you with the details but the guy who runs my shell shop looked at me and he new exactly what I was thinking. I said Sean, go with me on this and he said I know where you’re going with this. Russ just looked at us and he took a picture of us developing this new shell configuration for him called Contemporary Classic and I am really proud of it, one of the newest things we have done… a great recording drum set.  I’m proud that I have built relationships all over the world and I am thrilled that I’m just about to solidify the Australian one in Tasmania. I’m about to work on some drums with this blackwood, a tone wood, a cousin of koa. The inner most part of the shell is going to be vertical crown cut blackwood, which is stunning. When we put it all together I am confident it’s going to create a fantastic set of drums and we’re going to build two hundred of them and number them all. it will be a celebratory connection that I have missed with Australia. But yes, I am proud of my people, our process and all of these relationships around the world that don’t happen overnight.

http://www.dwdrums.com/

DW distributed in Australia by https://www.daddario.com.au/

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