As a young musician, especially one of modest financial means, one of the toughest obstacles in pursuit of a chosen art is the acquisition of an instrument that allows you to practice and improve your skills. One local inventor wants to change that.

When Eric Oliver of Jeffersonville, Ind., got the idea for the ECO Tom Drum, he was going about his day as a local handy man. “I was cleaning the apartment below me. It was really nasty, and the only clean thing in the place was a bucket that had my initials on it,” he says. Oliver kept the bucket.

Not long before Oliver had been gifted a drum kit from a remodeling job. Normally a guitar aficionado, he was beginning to try his hand at percussion. “I noticed that the 12-inch head from the drum fit on the bucket.”

He found joy in this discovery, often keeping the drum in the passenger seat of his truck so that he could play while driving from job-to-job.

“The highway is the perfect place to get loud,” he says.

A Percussion Discovery

He didn’t know at the time that he was on the verge of discovering something completely brand-new in the world of percussion. Once Oliver had a good model of his drum in place, he began showing it to friends and eventually took it to Maxwell’s House of Music (1710 E. 10th St.), formerly MOM’s in Jeffersonville, Ind.

“I was showing people and putting it on Facebook,” says Oliver. “Then I showed it to Mark Maxwell. The first thing he said to me was, ‘You don’t know what you have here.’” Maxwell was the first to suggest Oliver patent the drum.

Oliver took the drum to local patent attorney, Robert Eichenberger at Middleton Reutlinger Law Office, and worked with local graphic designer and tattoo artist, Gina Gentile-Moeller to design the graphic wrap on the drum.

After a couple of years in the process, Oliver’s breakthrough earned its patent and one that came through in a relatively short time. Patents often take many years.  He filed the provisional patent in 2013 and the formal patent application the following year. This March, his patent was approved. The patent covers the rings that add compression to the drum. This ring makes it possible to attach a tunable drumhead to the bucket portion of the drum.

An Affordable Drum for Education

Complimentary to his discovery, imitators are already manufacturing and selling drums that are similar, but without interchangeable or tunable heads. What Oliver did differently and why his patent is so important to the ECO Tom and percussion as a whole, is that it is the only fully recyclable and, more importantly, the only tunable bucket drum.

Further, not having to purchase multiple non-tunable instruments seemingly makes the ECO Tom perfect for educational drumming. A parent with a child interested in drumming could purchase an ECO Tom for around $150 as opposed to a drum kit that can run $500 or more.

Oliver has tested the products with local youth ensembles and school groups in the area such as the Louisville Leopard Percussionists, River City Drum Corps and the Kentucky School for the Blind.  

Louisville Leopard Percussionist Raina Coffey was one of the first to use the ECO Tom. She likes the portability of the instrument. “It isn’t as big as a regular drum so you can carry it around easily,” she says. “It is friendly for the environment. It is also waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about the rain.”

Getting ECO Tom the Attention It Deserves

Oliver hopes to get attention from drum companies like Evans and musical non-profits like, D’Addario Foundation, which supports educational music education. Having larger support from a foundation like D’Addario and their manufacturing partners will help Oliver get the capital to manufacture the ECO Tom on a larger scale—right now he is the sole manufacturer and salesman. As it stands, the cost of his dream is leaving him in the red as the drum is fully funded by Oliver.

Being a small manufacturer with limited resources has increased the difficulty in getting the ECO Tom the kind of attention that Oliver believes it deserves. He’s had kudos from a few industry folks but no real commitments. He did garner a small but complimentary write up in the January/February issue of Drumhead magazine.

Oliver has worked tirelessly to show his drum to anyone who will listen. He’s taken the drum to the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) though he wasn’t allowed to take it inside the convention.

He continues to press forward. With his patent in hand, he feels somewhat protected with his creation but needs the right support to have the ECO Tom mass produced. He knows that he can’t do it alone.

“I want the ECO Tom to help drumming and music education, not just generate a profit,” he says.

“I don’t have to be rich,” Oliver continues. “I just need a place to not get wet, and if I can do that in a way that can actually help people, to me, that would be the ultimate.”

Erica is a professional freelance copywriter and technical editor. Her work has appeared in LEO Weekly, The Guide, Foxy Digitalis, Insider Louisville and Norton Healthcare's Get Healthy magazine. You can follow Erica on Twitter @ericarucker, but beware of honesty, activist outrage and nerdy live-tweeting.


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