AWOL Custom Drums – Interview

AWOL Custom Drums - Green Snare with Dark Hardware

Company name

AWOL Custom Drums

Your Name

Seth Wharton



How many people are employed there?

1-3 depending on the amount of orders we have.

How long have you been in business?

A little over a year. We started in October of 2011.

How did you get started?

AWOL Custom Drums was created from a story. A real life event that helped shape who we are and what we do. As a senior in high school, I, Seth Wharton was assigned a project which involved my “dream job”. I was told to find my dream job, job shadow someone currently in that field, and create a relevant hands on item to show the class. Well, my dream job was drum building. I now had an excuse to begin researching the intricacies of drum building and sound design. After months of research and planning I built my first snare drum. I loved every minute of it. After that I began building more and more and the rest is history.

What makes your company unique?

AWOL Custom Drums - Breast Cancer Awareness Snare DrumThe uniqueness of our company is based on several things. First, our products are the best quality that we can get currently and are constantly improving them in any way that we can. We have several shell designs that are unique to us. We have an in-house custom woodworker that is currently helping us design some really unique stave shells as well. I feel that we have created and are still creating our own “look” as a company and can’t wait to see where that ends up.

What I feel really sets us apart though is our mission. I started AWOL Custom Drums with the idea that I could create a product that would give back, not only to the drummer, but to those in need. A portion of the proceeds from every kit that we build is donated to a non-profit organization called A Work Of Life, which is where the name AWOL comes from. Through A Work Of Life we have been privileged enough to take our drums all over the world and see the lives of many be changed for the better.

Our partnership with A Work Of Life is also presenting us with many opportunities to create “themed” drums. We love creating pieces that share a story and cannot wait to release some new things we’ve been working on in January of 2013.

What are the typical prices for a custom build?

One of our kits can range anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000. Snare drum are anywhere from $350.00 to $600.00.

What is the average wait time to get a 4-5 piece drum set built?

Our current lead time is 1-2 months.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Our inspiration comes from the artist. We take the ideas that an artist has and make them come to life in the best way that we can. There is a lot of trial and error in getting all of the minute details right, but at the end of the day we get the chance to work one-on-one with our artists and create a killer product. Our artists have stories to tell; what better way to do that than through your drum kit?

What was the first drum you built and where is it now?

Like I mentioned earlier, the first drum I ever built was for a senior project. I built it after returning from a missions trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia where our team was helping construct an orphanage for abandoned children. On that trip I witnessed my dad fall head first from the top of a ladder and onto a solid concrete slab. After several surgeries and months of recovery time my dad was able to return to his daily routine. I am incredibly thankful that he survived and is back to normal.

Needless to say, this drum holds a special place in my heart. The drum is a custom wrapped shell with faces spanning it’s entire circumference. The hardware is a candy apple red which matches the logo for the Bolivian Hope Center or BHC, the orphanage we were at when all of these events took place.

What was your favorite drum you built and why?

My favorite drum changes from week to week. Currently it is a 14×7 aluminum snare with anodized purple hardware. This is the drum that I am touring with and love it, probably because its new.

What was the most challenging project you took on? What made it so hard?

The most challenging project that I have ever completed would have to be the topographical map kit I built for J.D. Youngblood. J.D. came to me with the idea and I immediately said “Sure, we can do that!”. Oops. I didn’t realize how much work this kit was going to be. It took almost 3 months to come up with a decent method to get the desired look we were going for. I met with cabinet makers, CNC wood machinists, and graphic designers to try and create the best finish possible. In the end, Chris Susi, of 5.4.1871. helped us create the hand drawn and hand carved look we were going for. He did an incredible job and J.D. loved it!

AWOL Custom Drums - Wood Hand Drawn Patterns

What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?

My biggest failure came with my first drum. I neglected to coordinate the spacing between the lugs and the faces that circulate the drum. I was so excited to build my first drum that I guess I overlook that part. After the excitement wore off I was fairly frustrated with myself but haven’t gotten around to fixing it yet.

Do you endorse any drummers? If so, who?

We have several artists that we endorse currently:

J.D. Youngblood – Dinner and a Suit

Jonathan Cristan – We As One

Chris Socey – A Way Of Eden

Alex Jackson – Have You Heard

Jonathan Miller – Exiting The Fall

Bruce Marsden – Badwolf

How do you typically pick who you endorse? What do you look for?

We look for players who have a strong work ethic and those who can represent our company and it’s beliefs in a true fashion. For us, it is important to be a great player but it is also equally important to be a great person. Our company is based on values and we try to work with people who share our vision and purpose. We love backing our artists in any way that we can in order to help them achieve their goals. We are not looking to capitalize on the people we work worth but rather help them along in their careers. I guess you could say we are partners in the journey.

Is there anything else you would like to add about your company?

We are here to serve. If there is anything that we can help with please let us know!

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Other sites and profile pages?

Check out Chris Susi who does some freelance artwork for us:

AWOL Custom Drums - Aluminum Snare with Purple Hardware




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