Acrylic drums became famous in the 1970s when Ludwig introduced their Vistalites drums and drum kits. The sound of an acrylic drum is usually brighter and has greater projection than the average wooden or metal-shell drum. However, the acrylic material that makes these drums look and sound so distinctive is relatively difficult to manipulate.
Ludwig's Vistalites were the first famous acrylic kits, and remain the most well-known examples of acrylic drums. Famous drummers who have performed on Vistalites acrylic drums include Ringo Starr, Karen Carpenter, John Bonham, Billy Cobham and Keith Moon. Moon once performed on the TV show "Midnight Special" in 1975 with goldfish inside one of his transparent acrylic drums. Other companies which make, or have made, acrylic drums include Zickos, Fibes, RCI, C&C and Pork Pie.
Making the acrylic drum shell
To bend the acrylic material sheet into a round drum shell shape, it must be heated and then bent into shape. Sometimes this is done in an oven, as a direct flame can cause the acrylic to bubble and warp. To achieve a perfectly round drum shell, the heated acrylic is transferred to a cylinder. As the material cools, the cylinder is rotated slowly to bend the acrylic into a cylindrical shape.
Shaping the Drum
Once the drum shell is bent into shape, it can be either glued or acrylic welded at the seam. In some cases a strip of plastic is glued over the seam to hold the edges of the acrylic together, although drums constructed this way can be prone to splitting. Some drums are made from a single piece of acrylic and are a single colour. Different acrylic materials can be formed into a single shell, creating a pattern on each drum.
Adding the hardware
The bearing edges of the drum are cut, and hardware is added to the shell so that hoops and drum heads can be attached. When drilling holes in an acrylic drum for hardware attachments, extra care must be taken as the acrylic material is prone to splitting. A slower drill speed may be used to reduce the appearance of burnt drill holes in the acrylic material. Once the hardware is attached to the drum shell, the drum heads can be fitted and tuned.
Making an acrylic drum shell from scratch can be dangerous, because it involves heated materials and the potential for dangerous fumes. Because acrylic is a relatively difficult material to work with, typically only the major manufacturers make acrylic drum shells. Most small or independent drum builders will buy a ready-made acrylic shell before completing the drum with their own choice of hardware. The result is a visually striking drum with a characteristic bright sound.