The very first thing I did with my Noble and Cooley Drums was pick them up at the factory and it was an experience that I remember vividly to this day. This was during a time when the company was so small and had so few dealers that it was possible to order directly. Although I had been playing for a number of years and was actively gigging and touring in a band, this was my first premium drum purchase. I had very little money saved and struggled to pay my bills each month, so ordering a six-piece, hand-finished, custom kit in an era of economy drum sets was a very big deal for me. As I had been turned on to Noble & Cooley by my drum teacher, he suggested I pick them up at the factory. I still remember the conversation. It went like this:
Him: “The factory is a trip. You have to see it.”
Me: “OK, where is it?”
Me: “Granville where?”
Him: “Granville, MA.”
Now, I am a lifelong Massachusetts resident, but my response to this was, “Where the F*%K is Granville, Massachusetts?”
So, I now know Granville is in Western Massachusetts, at the foot of the Berkshires, on the Connecticut border. When people who don’t live near Massachusetts think of our state, they tend to think of the Red Sox, the Patriots (both kinds), Boston, cold weather, bad accents, lobster, Cape Cod, Sam Adams and lots of colleges. Most Massachusetts residents think this way too, as many Western, MA citizens who feel ignored will tell you, because all of these things are in the eastern part of the state. Well, except the bad accents and the weather, which encompass the whole state.
This is a shame though, because the western part of the state is breathtakingly beautiful. Think of all those Normal Rockwell illustrations from The Saturday Evening Post you have seen over the years. Those are largely Western Massachusetts. This is where he lived and is what he painted. And it still looks like that today. Then there’s Herman Melville, James Taylor, Emily Dickenson, Dr. Seuss, The Basketball Hall of Fame. The famous Oxbow painting by Thomas Cole of the Hudson River school? All Western Massachusetts.
So, following my uninformed, condescending response about a small New England town, I learned that my Noble & Cooley drums were being made in an old Civil War-era factory that happens National Historic Landmark. And that I could take a short drive and pick them up, meet the family and get a tour of the factory and the museum.
Oh. Um, yeah. Actually, that would be pretty cool.
Keep in mind, this was when there was no internet, smart phones or social media of any kind where I could learn about the place in advance. So here I am, as a young guy with one of my first big purchases, driving out to the factory to pick up my precious new instrument on a gorgeous fall day. And I mean gorgeous. Seventy eight degrees, full sun, and not a cloud in the sky. Everything was ridiculously green and, as Granville is truly rural, the green surrounds you. I’m driving by vegetable farms, tobacco farms (the veritable Connecticut leaf wrapper for all you aficionados), meadows, pastures, grazing cattle and so forth. I remember thinking, “I bet Dave Lombardo didn’t get his kit this way.”
After getting lost several times (again, no Google maps, no on-board navigation—not even MapQuest), I’m driving down this endless two-lane road with a full canopy of trees overhead and not a single car on the road. I crest a hill, stop and look all the way to the bottom of a long descending road, completely covered by trees, and see the factory in the distance. I thought, “I feel like I’m going to meet the Hobbit.”
So I start driving down and it’s all anticipation—like a first date, a big gig, or the airplane door opening in Barbados in February. Except this is Western Massachusetts in September, and I am going to get my drums, baby!
I arrive at this 150-year-old building that, if it looked any more authentic, would probably fall down, and the only hint of custom drums is a grudging, tiny metal sign on the entrance road that almost makes you feel like they don’t want you to know they are there. Hah! Too bad. I’m here. Give me my freakin’ drums.
Except I can’t get them. Because the family has graciously offered to give me a private tour with the history of the company and their approach to custom drum making. And, really, I would love to see all of this stuff. AFTER I GET MY DRUMS! Instead I’m like a five-year-old that can’t sit still. President Lincoln’s drum. Great. Gettysburg drum. Yep. Steam-bending machine. Wonderful. CAN I GET MY DRUMS NOW?
Jay, President and 6th generation owner of Noble & Cooley, of course, is oblivious to all of this because he really only cares about craftsmanship. So he’s not picking up on any sense of impatience whatsoever, because it is inconceivable to him that someone would find the finished product more interesting than the process.
In any case, despite my impatience, the tour was absolutely fascinating, and the building is a total time warp. You lose all sense of the modern world or anything other than custom drum construction and the subsequent beautiful instruments that come out of there. You feel obligated to do your best work on them.
So why am I sharing all of this? To make everyone jealous of my cool experience? No. In fact, I would like to do the opposite here. I would like every drummer to have this experience at some point, like a bucket list kind of thing. However, the company only sells through dealers now because we firmly believe that drummers need to have access to a local shop with professional staff to help you with all of your drumming needs, and so you have a place to try out gear. Additionally, we realize it may not be all that easy for someone living in Anchorage to get to our small town.
So, I got an idea. I’m calling it the Factory Delivery Program.
OK, in reality, I stole this idea from BMW. Their idea is that you order the car through your dealer, visit Munich, drive the car for a couple of weeks and you save on the import tax, which pays for part of your trip. You visit the factory, meet the team and the people who made your car and have a super cool experience in Bavaria.
Our version would go like this. Order your dream kit or snare through your dealer (and feel free to contact us directly as well). Determine when it would be ready and arrange a time to pick it up at the factory. Your dealer will likely be able to pass on some savings in shipping, which would reduce your costs and pay for some of your trip. Get your drums, take a tour, meet the family, snap some Instagram photos and leave with some Noble & Cooley swag.
For anyone living in New England and parts of New York and New Jersey, driving to the factory is a simple one-day affair that would be worth a country road trip, either alone or with band members or with those super supportive significant others who understand why you need to spend so much of your money and time on drums. For those farther out, it is worth making a mini-vacation to tour the factory. You can see the Berkshires, go to Tanglewood, ski Vermont, stay at a B&B, visit some craft breweries. You get the idea. And many people visit Massachusetts/New England to check out the colleges, go to the Cape, hike the Appalachian mountains, etc. Just plan ahead and make this part of your trip.
You may save a little money and you will leave with some swag, but the main benefit is you will get a lifelong memory of when you picked up your dream kit from the place it was made, and met the people who made it a reality for you. No other drum company can provide this experience and I strongly encourage you to do it if you can. You won’t regret it. As a young drummer with not a lot of free cash to spend, I was concerned and it ended up being one of the most enjoyable days of my life. (I still have that kit BTW). For drummers who care about playing and your gear, it is an experience you definitely want to have.
Life is about experience. Music is about experience. You have the opportunity to combine both and do something rare and special with not a lot of effort. Don’t pass it up if you can make it happen.
Just ask to see your drums first so you embrace the tour more than I did......