Rewriting History: WFLIII Drums Carries on the Real Family Legacy of Ludwig

by Victoria Wasylak • in
  • Features
• Created: November 8, 2017

Share This:

In 1964, Ludwig Drums and Ringo Starr changed the drum industry forever when Starr appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” performing with his Ludwig Black Oyster Pearl drum set. Over 50 years later, a Ludwig is still passing the goods on to Mr. Starr – and drummers all over the world.

After being away from the business since 1991, Bill Ludwig III, the grandson of Ludwig Drums founder William F. Ludwig, started WFLIII Drums, establishing himself as the last and only Ludwig still in the drum business.

When Ludwig talks to MMR on the phone, he’s en route to Drum Center of Portsmouth in New Hampshire to meet with drum fans, sign autographs, and take photos.

“It really works, because people want to come in and meet me, and once I get them one-on-one, it’s a good easy way to sell ‘em a drum.” He eagerly meets with fans who are just as excited to get to know a member of one of the most pivotal families in drum history.

For his new company, Ludwig brands himself as “the sound of generations,” but the real tagline that Ludwig wants to get out there is “Bill Ludwig III – the only Ludwig in the drum business.”

“Some people still think I’m with Ludwig, which is owned by Selmer Saxophone Company, which is owned by Steinway Piano Company, which is owned by a real estate company,” he explains.

But with things back in his own hands, Ludwig has been able to retrace some family history.

“I’d been away from the drum business since 1991 and I really missed it. I kept thinking ‘boy, I’d love to get back into it’ but I didn’t have the money or the drive to do it,” Ludwig says.

It was a few years ago when Ludwig received the sign he needed – from his own family history, no less. Sitting on the wall in Ludwig’s kitchen, Ludwig removed a photo of his grandfather from the wall to study it. His grandfather was pictured working in the WFL Drums factory; after selling Ludwig Drums, he no longer could use his name to start a business, so he opted to use his initials instead.

“There’s a picture in my kitchen, and he looks so happy and so proud in the factory testing drums,” Ludwig explains. “I took the picture off the wall for some reason, and on the back, in my father’s handwriting it says ‘Senior, starting over, age 62.’” It was precisely the nudge that Ludwig needed to start his own company, following suit with his grandfather and going on to found WFLIII Drums.

“I was 59 three years ago, and I thought, dammit, if he can do it…I gotta go for it,” he said. “Now here I am, age 62, not able to use my name, so my company is WFLIII Drums, in the exact same position that he [his grandfather] was in. The similarities are just really unbelievable.”

From there, Ludwig knew what was next on his agenda for the business – and it looped back to that pivotal moment for Ludwig when Ringo Starr himself got involved.

“Ringo played Ludwig because he saw a sample of the finish that we were coming out with called Black Oyster Pearl – this was in a dealer’s store in London. It was cool to play an American-made product to people from England,” Ludwig explains. “He bought the drum set. The next thing you know, they were on Ed Sullivan and in every picture, any shot, of any of the Beatles, you saw the Ludwig logo in the background, and the next day our phone was ringing off the wall for the black oyster Ringo set. It was just unbelievable. We had to build a huge addition to our factory.”

The Starr-Ludwig bond strengthened when William Ludwig Jr. met up with the Beatles drummer to give him a gold-plated snare drum in Chicago as a token of appreciation for the exposure that he had granted to the company. Backstage at the venue, they snapped a photo together – Bill III didn’t make it out for that (he was in fourth grade at the time).

So naturally, when Ludwig started his own business, the first thing he wanted to do was put a WFLIII drum in the hands of Starr, who he still keeps in contact with.

“I told him ‘the first drum off the assembly line I want to give to you,’” Ludwig says of his fateful call to the drummer. “Two years ago, backstage at one of his concerts, we re-created the picture of Dad giving him the drum.”

In amazement, Starr looked over the original photos of himself with Ludwig Jr. in Chicago, which he had never seen before.

In 2017, WFLIII Drums is a two-person operation, consisting of Ludwig himself and CEO Kipton Blue. With Ludwig’s fifty-plus years as a drummer, and Blue’s expertise in both business and the drum world, the two make an ideal team.

Ludwig has noted that some of the best parts of being back in the MI industry have been taking the reins of creative design and getting back to drum shows. After growing up going to NAMM shows with his family, seeing his daughters – ages 13 and 16 – do the same and hand out their business cards is particularly sentimental.

After starting with snare drums – what Ludwig calls the “focal point” of a drum set – the WFLIII Drums owner says full drum kits might be in the future for the company. In keeping with the legacy of his family, all of the parts of WFLIII drums are made by the company themselves – Ludwig was, of course, the only drum company at the time that made everything (heads, hoops, etc.) themselves.

“The next logical step would be full drum kits. After that, innovative hardware and possibly another line of snare drums,” he said. “We’re about to get into our own factory pretty soon.”

And since business for WFLIII Drums is booming – quite literally – it shouldn’t take too long before a factory is the next entry in the Ludwig family history books.

Share This:

Leave a Comment:

Check Out Some Past MMR Magazine Issues