Impi Snare Drums – Proudly South African – Willem Söhnge

A love story… by Myles Ryan Have you ever met someone and discussed a subject with them that they were incredibly passionate about? They’re so passionate that when you’re done talking, you can’t stop thinking about it. It’s infectious. It’s almost like falling in love. In this case, it really is love. Meet Willem. Willem builds snare drums. And that is where I fell in love. No, not with Willem… I mean, he’s okay… but his snare drums are phenomenal. No, not with Willem… I mean, he’s okay… but his snare drums are phenomenal. I had a chat with Willem about where this all started. Now let me get you hooked… thank me later.

Tell me about IMPI. Where did it all start, and why?

I’ve been drumming for many years, since high school, and also have a knack for DIY. Naturally, these loves would meet somewhere. The first thing I ever took apart was a couch chair, which I refurbed, and that’s where the woodwork bug bit. I eventually ended up building myself a snare drum. It kind of made sense to keep going, you know. If my music career fizzles out, I can always continue building drums, which would keep me involved in music until I’m old and full of arthritis.

Why the name ‘IMPI’?

I wanted something African to incorporate my roots, but also resonant with drumming. I liked the idea that the Zulu warriors were tough, powerful, and solid. I’m proudly South African, and IMPI was a good representation of that. Africa also has some fantastic tonewoods that you get nowhere else. 

What got you into drumming? Where did it all start?

Skateboarding. Definitely skateboarding. It was my introduction to punk rock and heavier music. I had a friend that played guitar, so naturally, like most kids, we had to start a band. I was really into groups like Pennywise, NOFX, Propagandhi, etc. Many of my early shows were at Thrasher’s Skatepark in Pretoria – so it went hand in hand for me.

If you were to give a drum lesson right now, on the spot to the village idiot. What would it be?

Keep it simple. A simple drum groove played well, and in time (pocket) will always sound better than a complex drum groove played sloppily. I would start by focusing on getting your kick and snare tight. 

Similarly. If you could get a drum lesson from anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?

(An audible phew) Tough one. Zach Mayfield (Oh, Sleeper) or Branden Morgan (Misery Signals). Neither stick to conventional rules. I hear new little things every time I listen to them. They both add an original and specific sound to their bands.

Drum influences? Excluding those as mentioned above.

Aaron Gillespie (Underoath), Riley Breckinridge (Thrice), Mo Carlson (Protest The Hero), Byron McMackin (Pennywise). My taste in music changed over the years, but I can still listen to these guys any time of day. They definitely shaped my style of playing – which is not particularly soft and sensitive!

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What would happen if one of these drummers calls you up and says he wants to play an IMPI drum? 

I would definitely “Klap ‘n hartie,” as I often like to say. Then I would try to build my best drum yet. No different from any other client (minus the heart attack). My best drum is always the last one.

What makes a drum a good drum/instrument?

Sound. Because it’s an instrument and then looks. A balance in sound is also right up there. A drum needs warmth, but also attack and power. Dodgy drums can make a whole band sound bad, especially in a live setup where the backline might not be great, and you have concrete from floor to ceiling. I’ve had many rough nights at Schivas with those fake rock walls and distorting speakers. 

I might eventually start building toms and bass drums, but for now, I just want to get my name out there as a high-quality snare drum builder.

-Willem Söhnge

What is your personal preference with your own snare drum?

I built myself an African Rosewood shell. I definitely prefer a deeper snare drum. Mine is 14″ x 6 1/2″. I tune it quite tight, but if it’s a deeper drum, you’ll get some more low end as well. Steel hoops and wood is a bit dry for me. My band, Atlantic Giant, plays slightly heavier music, so I need my drum to be punchy. I like a big drum with a crack, but not clangy/ring like a steel snare drum. No gunshot ring.

What is the future of IMPI?

The plan is to keep making more drums and to polish my skill because there’s always room to improve. I might eventually start building toms and bass drums, but for now, I just want to get my name out there as a high-quality snare drum builder. I want to keep it intimate and foster good relationships with drummers – craft a unique drum identity for each of them—planks to drums all by hand. I also recently started building guitars, but that might eventually fall under its own brand.

What is it about the SA drum scene that excites you?

It’s exciting because it’s always growing. Compared to the States or Europe, most drummers here really have a passion for it. We don’t have the luxury, exposure, and the comforts of a well-established scene here, so drummers in SA have to work three times as hard to get the same recognition. There are fewer venues and fewer promotors, so drummers in SA are real hard workers, and it shows in their work. You get these drummers that pop up out of nowhere, and you question where they’ve been for the last ten years. They’ve been in their garage practicing, that’s where. That’s the SA drum scene in a nutshell. There’s a lot more DIY here because we don’t have the same resources as US-based drummers. But SA drummers are right up there, and it’s exciting to see.

What do you want to see more of in the SA drum community?

IMPI snare drums! I’d like to see more collaborations, more clinics, more learning from each other. We’re a small pool with a wealth of knowledge, so we need to get to each other more frequently and not try to isolate ourselves for whatever reason. Also, if more international drummers could visit, it wouldn’t hurt. 

Where can we get hold of you?

Facebook: @ImpiSnareDrums



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