Drum kits don’t get any more iconic than Ringo Starr’s first Ludwig Oyster Pearl Kit. While it might not have been the one that most Beatles fans saw when they tuned into The Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964, the original Pearl was the basis for it. The Beatles were officially the world’s biggest rock band, and one drum kit was no longer sufficient.
As 1963 turned into 1964, The Beatles had a number of commitments that required them to jet across oceans. On top of the Sullivan Show, the band were due to start filming for their feature film debut, A Hard Day’s Night, just a month later. All the while, live concerts and recording sessions were to continue uninterrupted. Lugging the same drum kit to all those places wasn’t just cumbersome, but also impractical if something was wrong or broken on Starr’s Ludwig.
So Starr decided to get another kid, one that almost perfectly mirrored his beloved original. His meeting with the first kit was so magical that he just had to have another one. “I was in London, I was playing Premiere at the time,” Starr told the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame about his first Ludwig kit. “I loved anything American, and we went past this instrument store in London and they had this kit. I said, ‘Oh great! Look at this kit!’ It was that black pearl.”
Starr was immediately smitten with the kit, if for no other reason than it was an American brand. Instruments from the US were rare in Britain in the early 1960s, and when they did make it over they tended to be too expensive. The other Beatles had wanted American guitars like Gibson and Fender, but during their early years, those instruments were scarce and pricey. So when Starr got his hands on a real-deal American drum kit, he wanted to keep the association present on the bass drum.
“As I buy this kit, the guy goes to rip off the Ludwig sign. I said, ‘No no no! You’ve gotta leave that on: it’s American!’ And that’s how it became famous,” Starr added. “Now we’re all doing free adverts for whatever company we’re playing. That’s how it started. I just loved the look of the kit, it was American, and it sounded great. I play them to this day. I’m the best advert that Ludwig ever had.”
Listen to Starr discuss his first Ludwig drum kit down below.