February 19, 2015

Storm of interest brewing for Kumu Drums overseas

Pekka Helanen (right) has been making drums for the past 30 years from his workshop in Hämeenlinna. He is pictured here with former Kingston Wall drummer Sami Kuoppamäki.
Pekka Helanen (right) has been making drums for the past 30 years from his workshop in Hämeenlinna. He is pictured here with former Kingston Wall drummer Sami Kuoppamäki.
Petra Helanen

Kumu Drums is developing its custom-made drums for an international audience.

Resonating quality

Helanen’s customers are a veritable who’s who of Finnish drummers. Also among them are some big names whose drumming expertise is less known, such as iconic HIM frontman Ville Valo.

Many international players have some or all of their kits constructed by Kumu Drums. These include Steve Ferrone (Average White Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, many more), Simon Phillips (Toto, many more), Rocky Bryant (Branford Marsalis & Buckshot LeFonque, Average White Band, many more) and Dave Getz (Big Brother and the Holding Co.).

Perhaps the most intriguing use of silver birch is when the branches of Finland’s national tree are bunched together and used to vigorously beat oneself. A common practise inside Finnish saunas, this is said to improve blood circulation during the cleansing ritual.

For drum maker Pekka Helanen, however, birch represents something more familiar – and more rambunctious – for newcomers to Finnish culture. Helanen has spent 30 years moulding it into the cylindrical shells that make up Kumu Drums’ customised drum kits.

“The Finnish birch is widely known as one of the finest woods in drums,” Helanen explains, from his company’s workshop in Hämeenlinna. “I get the birch from Koskisen Oy, located in the village of Hirvensalmi. They make it for me, just as I wish. It is special plywood, two models, with two and three plies.”

The thin wooden shell resonates strongly when played softly, thus Helanen’s wares allow drummers to minimise the amount of energy expended when laying down a beat. A drum’s low, sustaining sound also has extra meaning for Helanen, with Kumu taking its name from the Finnish word to describe such. Fittingly, ‘Kumu’ also refers to a certain sound of a thunderstorm.

This cloud of creativity sees Helanen creating at least one complete kit every week, along with a handful of single drums, tailored to customers’ specific requests.

“I have done many unique patterns and finishes,” Helanen says. “Some have even wanted their kit to look like it is really old and beaten, even rusty. People are always so happy when they get their drums. They admire the finish and later have told me that they have stepped up levels with their playing.”

Drumming internationally

Given that the local market has all but been exhausted over three decades, the Kumu storm is slowly shifting abroad.

Last year, Helanen showcased his work at the Chicago Drum Show and the Hollywood Drum Show for the first time, garnering a very positive response.

“People really liked the look of our drums, and especially loved our unique, self-designed lugs [the metal parts on the drum shell onto which the tuning rods attach],” he recalls. “Many said that ‘these are the best drums of this show’.”

Unsurprisingly, a return visit is on the agenda this year.

“It is the homeland of the drum set, so the USA is a really important market.”

Elsewhere, Helanen is further developing his customer base in Germany. Potential is also being explored in France and the Netherlands, and further afield in Asia.

Family growth

Although Kumu has been predominantly a one-man show for the past three decades, this shift in customer focus is seeing the company broadening its operations. Helanen’s two sons are assisting him this year with increasing the volume of international exports and also helping introduce some new models that may even utilise different woods.

“We will get bigger, but with our feet on the ground,” Helanen affirms. “We will continue with our uncompromising style, adding some fresh ideas, but respecting the tradition of the acoustic drum.”

All of Kumu’s drums are currently made from Finnish birch, widely known as one of the finest woods in drums. This year the family-owned company turns their focus to international markets.

All of Kumu’s drums are currently made from Finnish birch, widely known as one of the finest woods in drums. This year the family-owned company turns their focus to international markets.

Petra Helanen

Text: James O’Sullivan

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