The Charlie Watts Replica Kit

Since 1994 I’ve been playing drums with the Hollywood Stones, America’s premier Rolling Stones tribute band. But it’s been way more than just a gig in a tribute band for me. I’ve gone on this eye-opening journey, digging deep into the man behind all those great drum tracks from so many iconic rock songs that are now part of our DNA. I’m talking about Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones for almost 60 years.

I’ve played over 1500 gigs on a super sweet Gretsch kit from the 80’s that closely resembled Charlie’s 1957 kit from a distance. But I decided it was time to go all out and create the ultimate Charlie Watts replica drum kit.   

As a drummer, the opportunity to spend three days in the Gretsch drum factory in Ridgeland, South Carolina for the birth of my custom drum kit was out of this world! It brought me back to a time when I was 10 years old and got my first kit. That excitement is just hard to describe. The good folks at the Gretsch factory are exactly the kind of people you want building your drums. 

So let’s start with the shells: 6-ply maple/gum with “Silver Sealer” interior, and an assortment of 13 tinted nitro-cellulose lacquer hand sprayed exterior coats to achieve that beautiful “vintage aged” color of Charlie’s kit. Using close-up photos of Charlie’s actual kit as our color guide, we kept adding coats of different tints until we got it right. I was extremely pleased with the results.

After drying overnight, the shells were now ready for drilling. I wanted this kit to be as vintage as possible, so in addition to the vintage build options currently available from Gretsch (bass drum spurs, floor tom legs, etc.) I also wanted to use the old floor tom lugs from the round badge kits of yesteryear. To my surprise (and forever gratefulness) the head of the factory Paul Cooper was willing to oblige and pulled out a set of NOS floor tom lugs!

The only issue was the new drill presses are not sized for the old lugs, so Paul (again, I’m forever grateful) cranked up the old drill press that was used to drill every drum that came out of the factory since the early 50’s thru 2011! That’s right, the same drill press used on all those iconic round badge kits, including Charlie’s very own 1957 kit.   

Next came the bearing edges. I was excited that Paul Cooper, the Gretsch drum whisperer himself, did my bearing edges. It just doesn’t get better than that folks. Pure magic.

Now it was time for polishing the lacquer before we installed the lugs, legs, and badges. My initial plan was to roll the shells around in the parking lot until they had just the right amount of  “wear and tear” similar to Charlie’s kit, but I just couldn’t do it folks. These babies were looking way too sweet. So instead of polishing them to a full gloss, we thought perhaps somewhere in between a matte and gloss finish would be more accurate. I’m pleased with how this worked out, the shells are definitely unique and do not look shiny brand new.

Finally, it was time to install the lugs, heads, and die cast hoops. After quickly tuning them up, my new kit was sent off to the shipping department before I even had a chance to play them. After 3 days of complete bliss, I had a flight to catch! 

The next time I saw them was a week later in San Diego at the House of Blues, where I had them shipped for my next show opening for Sammy Hagar. I shared my experience of the drum build with Sammy, Michael Anthony and Jason Bonham, who thought it was a cool story. I hope you agree!

With love and appreciation, 

Rob Shanahan