EST. 2000 In Dudley, MA USA

History of SJC Drums - Written by Jono Diener in 2014 for Vice Media

It’s funny when you look at a photograph of yourself from a decade ago and while one part of you pokes fun at how inexperienced and immature you were, the other half wishes you could go back to that care-free time. I had those mixed feelings when I walked into a large warehouse and was greeted by my friend, and SJC Drums owner, Mike Ciprari. I still remember visiting SJC when they were located in Dudley, MA in 2006. Mike was just a goofy kid in big glasses working out of his grandma’s basement. Now, Mike is a matured, industry veteran running the top custom drum company in the world. Here’s the story of how Mike started from scratch and ended up running an empire.


Mike and Scott J. Ciprari (SJC) started assembling drums when they were 13 and 14 years old. Scott was always the hands-on, builder type while Mike simply loved the cosmetic aspect of drums. In what sounds like a Massachusetts cliché, before he could even drive, Mike was working at Dunkin Donuts. Eventually he worked at his father’s car dealership to get money and reinvest it in their new passion. The Ciprari basement was filled with boxes of drum parts and their Grandma’s basement was their assembly room. As they got better at building, they figured it was time to get some of their friends to use their drums and start spreading the word. Bands like Panic! At The Disco, The Aquabats!, A Wilhelm Scream and Strike Anywhere were some of the first to get endorsements from the brothers. It was just a gamble to see if things would take off and the guys were actually losing money. Little did they know they would soon move into their first warehouse and some of the biggest bands in the world were about to be banging on SJC Drums.
I asked Mike what the biggest turning point for SJC was and without hesitation he told me it was when Panic! At The Disco played the MTV Video Music Awards in 2006. Branching out from the punk rock world was the smartest move for business and ended up paying off handsomely. Through some mutual friends, management and positive feedback, the guys had breakout bands like Hawthorne Heights, Aiden, Cobra Starship and Panic! At The Disco suddenly demanding new kits. Spencer Smith of Panic! was looking for something really classy so Mike and the guys put their heads together and came up with an idea to do wooden hoops with cut-out inlays. The kit ended up on national television and caught enough eyes to keep the phones ringing. Mike’s punk band, No Trigger, were acting as his employees helping out when they could. His longtime friend, Bryan, began running the social media and doing extra work to help promote. Eventually the company was able to hire their first official employee, Iggy, who specialized in hybrid wood/metal shell snare drums. SJC was expanding with a roster of heavy hitting artists, a dedicated staff and eventually moving out of the basement and into a warehouse (with the help of my band, The Swellers in 2007). They had their name out there, but now it was time to change the game.
A strange Cold War scenario was going on in the drumming community. Bands were getting signed to big labels, getting massive advances and drummers wanted to outdo each other using SJC’s virtually endless custom options. For the first time, drummers could be the focal point of the stage. Mike said there were times he would agree to a new, innovative kit idea on the phone, hang up, then call the other guys and ask, “How the hell are we going to do this?” Fortunately, there was always a solution to these moments of panic. As the staff expanded, the company was growing equally in cosmetic ridiculousness as well building great sounding drums. The drummer of The Academy Is… simply named, The Butcher, was a huge kick in the ass in the crazy ideas department. He wanted wooden hoops that completely covered the top rim and lugs to create a simplistic, vintage feel. This new innovation was named Butcher Hoops and became one of the most requested options on their custom kits. This idea eventually lead to creative extremes, including setups like Jake from Four Year Strong’s JAWS kit and Alex from A Day To Remember’s acorn kit. The guys set their sights on big trade shows like NAMM to showcase their wild innovations in hopes of expanding even more. They didn’t want to be an ant, they wanted to be the foot crushing the ant hill.
In the last two years (2013 - 2014) SJC was able to sign Branden Steineckert (Rancid), Cyrus Bolooki (New Found Glory), Zach Lind (Jimmy Eat World) and most recently, Tré Cool of Green Day. Keep in mind, these are world-renown drummers dedicated to the huge companies that endorsed them. Switching to a custom company is like jumping from a major label to an indie, but if there’s something special waiting on the other side, a switch is inevitable. Fortunately, Mike realized that being a people person is just as important as a good sounding drum. He would go on tour around the world drum teching for bands, continuing to network as well as doing research on what makes the best product. Mike Fasano, a friend to the company, is one of the world’s best drum techs and showed Tré one of SJC’s snares while he was recording the newest Green Day album. Tré loved it and began using more and more of their drums. Finally Mike made him a custom kit. Billy Joe Armstrong became a fan and got a kit for his son in the band Emily’s Army. SJC decided to go for it and ended up making a Dookie 20th Anniversary snare. After some talks it was official that Tré was not only endorsing SJC, but becoming a product ambassador and personally reaching out to other drummers. His custom kit was the highlight of SJC’s NAMM showcase in 2014.
Finally getting to catch up with Mike after years of brief run-ins at our shows was great. I could tell how much he’s changed since we toured together years ago and it’s obvious how massive his drum company has gotten. After several “off the record” stories, we started talking about the importance of social media and how it almost possessed him. They’re doing nonstop customer service, but after all great responses, he said getting one negative comment can change his mood for a whole day. SJC Drums isn’t a hobby anymore, it’s his life. He knows what needs to happen to make his dream come true and he’s already surpassing that. With a new C.O.O. hired, the company is getting a major overhaul and has already decreased their turnaround time from six months to two. Mike wants to stay away from touring for a while for his sanity and help grow the business. Continuing to innovate, expand and collect new artists is the overall goal. I don’t think Mike and his brother ever thought of getting out of their Grandmother’s basement, let alone having offices on both coasts, a full staff and being a household name in the music world. When you run an empire you don’t take breaks. You conquer.
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