Ellis Drum Company (Cecilia Johnson | MPR)
One of the great things about niche communities is that they’re often filled with passionate people. Case in point: the Twin Cities drum community, which welcomes Ellis Drum Company back to retail operation today. After decades of business and multiple locations in St. Paul, owner Tim Ellis had to sell his retail space in 2016. But in scouting locations to expand their custom-drums workspace, he and his business partner Lane Pederson found 234 Concord Exchange in South St. Paul, and it offered them the opportunity to serve retail customers, as well.
One of the problems of niche communities is that they can seem difficult to break into, especially if you don’t know the jargon or the right people. So here are some of the experts: Ellis drum set owners, renowned musicians, and even a one-time manager of Ellis’s old shop. Here’s why they love these drums.
Drew Christopherson (Poliça, Marijuana Deathsquads)
I had first heard about Ellis drums from noticing that all my idol drummers in town were playing their kits. I assumed that since JT Bates trusts their sound, they must know what they are doing. We once had a Poliça video shoot planned, so Ben [Ivascu] and I inquired about borrowing two drum kits for it. Tim sent down his personal custom kit that was wrapped in yellow tweed, like the old vintage Fender guitar amps. I think he must have known I would fall in love with it, because I ordered my own version less than a week later. Still rehearse, record, and tour with it to this day. It feels great to be repping a local company around the world.
Jendeen Forberg (The Wolverines, All the Pretty Horses)
I LOVE Ellis Drums. Tim sponsored me with several kits, and I play the majority of my gigs on them. He has treated me with such kindness all the years I have known him. That he gave me three different kits was a surprise I still pinch myself about to be sure!
Dave King (The Bad Plus, Happy Apple)
I first encountered Ellis Drums at the shop they had on Snelling in St. Paul — maybe 17 years ago. It’s a great shop, so when they started building their own kits, I was very interested. Since then, they’ve made me many kits, and I believe I might have been their first endorsee? They have always been very generous with me.
Most of the recordings I have made in the last 17 years were with my Ellis drums: most notably, the Bad Plus’s These Are the Vistas.
What sets Ellis apart for me is the fact that they are local and only have a had a few builders, so it’s a pretty hands-on, small-batch kind of thing. The acrylic drums they were making for a few years also somehow sounded so much better than other acrylic drums from other larger companies. I’m not sure the secret!
Connor McRae Hammergren (Davina and the Vagabonds, former Ellis manager)
When I bought an Ellis kit, I wanted it because it was built in my hometown, and that’s awesome. In Minneapolis, particularly, Ellis has become one of the best names in drums.
There is one dude whose name is Pat Budnick. This guy is the driving force behind every high-selling custom drum company in town. Pat originally pitched the idea of custom drums for Ellis Drum Company: “I can build these drums for you, then you sell them in the shop. You have your store’s name on them.” And he designed a really smart single-point lug. A lot of these drums have two holes going into the shell, and those hold the lug on, and there’s a tension rod and all that. But when you have a single-point lug, that means that just one hole is drilled into the shell. That’s more resonance, fewer holes drilled into the shell. They became some of the best-selling drums in the region.
Moving forward — and we’ve just preliminarily started discussions of this — but what we’re hoping to do as Northeast Drum Co. [Hammergren’s current workplace] is partner as a shell manufacturer with Ellis Drums. Tim is very big on the sound of maple shells. It’s been tried-and-true in the industry; it’s versatile and sought-after. But with a Northeast and Ellis partnership, you could have the Ellis drum line, with their name and design, and you can get maple, birch, walnut, poplar, or mahogany shells. Or we could do maple interior and exotic wood veneers. You can tailor your own tonality with whatever wood you want.
Pat was the guy that got it all started. He’s such a great craftsman and has such creative, awesome ideas. And Pat and Tim have a relationship that spans, like, 20 years.
Ellis Drum Company celebrates their grand opening at 234 Concord Exchange in South St. Paul until 8 p.m. today.