Drumsmiths Vol. 2 – TreeHouse: Rooted in sound & craftZack Albetta
By Zack Albetta
Derek Sharp runs TreeHouse Drums literally and figuratively under his music store, Supersonic Music in Topeka, KS. Sharp began repairing and restoring drums in the mid 80s and became the owner of Supersonic in 1998. A customer said he had been having trouble with a custom drum company and that he wished he could combine that company’s product with Sharp’s level of service. Sharp hadn’t considered starting his own drum company and wasn’t interested in taking out a business loan to do it. But the customer forced the issue when he walked into the store, put $3,500 cash down on the counter and said, “I get the first drumset.”
“Well,” thought Sharp, “I guess I’m making drums now.”
From the start, his focus has been on the basics of building technique and craftsmanship. The first kit he built was fairly simple in its construction—thin, unreinforced maple shells with 45-degree inner edges and 1/8 inch rounded outer edges. The up-close presence and warm, open tone of this style of drum remains his favorite. Since then, however, he has produced an impressive variety of drums, letting his customers’ needs and desires guide his output, as the Treehouse website will attest.
Sharp has refused to box TreeHouse into a specific sound or look. He currently sources shells from five different manufacturers, depending on the type of drums he’s building. This sort of flexibility is one of the reasons he prefers to remain small. For many big companies with recognizable (if not iconic) attributes, changing and trying things as often as Sharp does would be brand suicide. His low, Midwestern overhead and the fact that he has other income as the owner of a music store give him the freedom to build just about anything he or his customers can dream up. “As much as we’re able, we’re going to honor a customer’s request. When it’s something I can’t do, I’m not going to waste their time. When it’s something I haven’t done, we’ll try it.”
One of the hottest sellers in the TreeHouse family is also one of its most unique. Sharp’s compact nesting kit, can be transported easily without sacrificing sound. Drummers all over the world, from New-York where the pit orchestras of Broadway shows are short on space, to Tokyo where most cars are too small to fit a conventional kit. They’re also popular with touring drummers since they are small and light enough to go on airplanes. Sharp’s focus on technique and sound quality led him to devise a special latch and junction system that creates an air-tight seal when the shell is put together. He says if sound takes a back seat to function, any idea is little more than a gimmick. “For it to have my name on it, it has to sound good too.” This standard is present in everything Sharp makes. He says he’s not as interested in exploring new concepts as he is in perfecting existing ones. “I’m an arranger, not a composer. I’m an editor, not an author. The nesting kit was not my invention, there’s no patent in my file, but the way I do it is different.”
After 15 years as a drum builder, quality remains Sharp’s only ambition. “A lot of people haven’t heard of me and that’s ok. I’m not trying to be that flash in the pan, develop it and sell it to the guy in China. I’m just willing to try what the customer asks for.”