Meet Ocoee's custom drum maker

For the last decade, Ocoee resident Marc Hayward has built high-end, custom drums. Soon, he plans to open a new drum shop in West Orange.

  • West Orange Times & Observer
  • News
  • Share

Marc Hayward knows it sounds strange — a little too esoteric and abstract for his liking. 

But, it’s also the only way the Ocoee-based master drum builder can articulate why his instruments are special.

“I can pick up a plank of wood and get a vibe,” he said. “That sounds so strange to say, but I can strike it and hear its fundamental tone, and I can tell if that piece of lumber will make a good drum. I can tell if it wants to resonate and sing.”

Regardless of whether Hayward’s innate oneness with an inanimate object is perceived or real, it seems to work. Since launching Hayward Drum Company a decade ago, Hayward’s drums have become a favorite among semi-professional and professional drummers in Central Florida. University of Central Florida professor of jazz studies Dr. Jeff Rupert has used Hayward’s instruments on numerous recordings, and the drums also are among the stable of instruments offered by Go Backline, a Longwood-based backline rental equipment company that offers services for festivals, touring acts and events throughout the state. 

Furthermore, in 2014, Hayward’s company earned a third-place overall finish in the Snare Drum Olympics, a now-defunct competition that served as an international showcase for the top snare drums in the world. Hayward’s drum bested those from some of the largest manufacturers in the world, including Pearl Drums, Taye Drums and Gretsch Drums. One of the judges in that competition was Big and Rich drummer Keio Stroud, who liked Hayward’s drum so much that he kept it.

And perhaps the cherry that tops Hayward’s decade-long journey to turn a lifelong passion into a career was a phone call he received from world-renowned fusion drummer Dennis Chambers, who liked one of Hayward’s drums so much that he called to thank him for making it.

Hayward — a cabinet-maker by day — hopes to open a new drum shop in West Orange within the next few months. He plans to cater to the working drummer — offering his drums, drums from other manufacturers that he has stored and also repair services. It’s a culmination of a longtime dream for Hayward and his family — wife Darla and son Benjamin, 8.

“I’m right on the precipice,” he said. “I’m just waiting for the right spot (for the shop). I do this for the love of it. If I did nothing but this for the rest of my life, I’d die happy.”

In addition to building drums, Marc Hayward is also a collector. His home studio houses more than 50 snare drums and several complete drum kits from a variety of manufacturers.
In addition to building drums, Marc Hayward is also a collector. His home studio houses more than 50 snare drums and several complete drum kits from a variety of manufacturers.

Hayward’s earliest memories of the drums date back to his 1980s childhood in Massachusetts. His stepbrother, Kevin Wilson, was a drummer, and Hayward remembers watching while Kevin pulled headphones over his ears and jammed to Bruce Springsteen records.

Soon, Hayward asked if he could try.

“The first song I ever played to was ‘Metal Health’ by Quiet Riot,” he said. “Then, it was Van Halen and Def Leppard.”

Hayward took his newfound passion and began playing in a garage band. Later, he joined the jazz and concert bands in school.

Marc Hayward signs and dates each of the drums he creates. The blue drum, far right, is the first drum he made.
Marc Hayward signs and dates each of the drums he creates. The blue drum, far right, is the first drum he made.

“I was playing Glenn Miller during the day and then (Rush drummer) Neil Peart at night,” Hayward said.

Hayward’s first job in drum manufacturing was with Noble & Cooley, a Massachusetts-based high-end drum maker.

“I worked in the toy drums department on a tin-snipping machine,” he said. “I made the hoops that went on the kids drums.”

Following school, Hayward became an executive chef. In 1995, he moved to Tampa and eventually to Orlando. A local band was looking for a drummer, and Hayward earned the gig. By 1999, he burnt out on the restaurant industry and decided to embark on a new career path — carpentry. He began in framing carpentry and later broadened his expertise to include finish work, roof geometry, furniture and cabinets, and music-studio design. 

That’s when he met Keith Wilson, the man who eventually inspired Hayward Drum Company.

“Keith had a new house in Windermere, and I was doing everything (in there),” Hayward said. “I did the floors, built a music studio, drum storage. I spent three years on that remodel, and we became friends.”

Hayward built his first snare drum in 2009. Three years later, Kevin died. Two years after that, Hayward lost Keith, too.

“We were supposed to do this (the drum company) together,” Hayward said of Keith. “The week after we tuned the drums for the Snare Drum Olympics … he died of a massive heart attack. He never got to see all of this — how it all turned out.” 

A massive 1980s Pearl drum kit sits in the middle of Hayward’s music studio. Kevin’s and Keith’s drum sets sit on shelves directly behind him as reminders of his two biggest influences.

“Kevin introduced me to the drums, and Keith told me to make drums,” Hayward said.

Before launching Hayward Drum Company, Hayward researched drum-building techniques online. He also bought dozens of drums just to cut apart the shells and perform exploratory surgery to figure out how — and more importantly, why — different drum companies built their instruments.

He decided to begin his company with stave-shell drums — a construction technique in which a drum is built using vertically oriented blocks to create the circular drum shell. The analytical side of his mind began perfecting the formula — for 16 staves, each angle must be 11-and-one-half degrees to create a perfect circle. From there, he simply repurposed his cabinet-making knowledge.

“It’s basically making round cabinets that sound good,” he said, laughing. “And it’s not unlike food. You have ingredients and a recipe, and you put it together. Wood just doesn’t go bad as fast as food.”

Hayward’s drum workshop is the manifestation of his analytical mind. Although it is stocked — literally — from the floor to the rafters with drum parts, drum shells in various stages of completion, wood planks, nuts, screws, washers and more, everything is organized. He even has hand-written inventory sheets for every nook and cranny.

“If I can’t see it, I’ll forget it’s there,” Hayward said.

Mark Palermo, a friend of Marc Hayward, uses a laser-etching machine to manufacture badges for Hayward’s drums.
Mark Palermo, a friend of Marc Hayward, uses a laser-etching machine to manufacture badges for Hayward’s drums.

Hayward’s drums aren’t for everyone. Younger students or hobbyists likely won’t have a need for nuance and specifications a custom drum can provide. Hayward’s ideal customer is the working semi-professional or professional drummer who is searching for a specific sound.

“I’ve been listening to drums since I was 14 years old — so 35 years,” he said. “I can see sounds in my head.”

When someone inquires about a custom drum, Hayward first asks about the style of music for which the drum will be used. He also will ask about specific recordings or sound characteristics the customer is seeking. Big? Fat? Round? Warm? Wet? All seemingly arbitrary adjectives that drummers apply to specific, desirable sounds.

From there, Hayward uses his knowledge to make a variety of decisions about the drum — the wood type, drum circumference, drum depth, shell thickness and more. And if he has done his job correctly, when the drum is complete, Hayward has built an instrument that gives the customer the exact sound he or she heard in his or her head.

“I’m not reinventing the wheel here,” Hayward said. “I just want to improve on what is there. My goal is for my drums to sound better than anyone else’s. And it’s not about the money. I’ve given away more drums than I’ve sold. I just love it. I really do.”



Michael Eng

As a child, Editor and Publisher Michael Eng collected front pages of the Kansas City Star during Operation Desert Storm, so it was a foregone conclusion that he would pursue a career in journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his wife and three children, or playing drums around town. He’s also a sucker for dad jokes.

Related Articles