The Drum Center of Portsmouth

What kind of individual aims to be the best in the world? And of those who do, how many actually achieve that elite status? Shane Kinney certainly has, since The Drum Center of Portsmouth (New Hampshire), which he founded in 2009, is among the biggest drum stores on the planet – perhaps even the biggest – at  a whopping 20,000 square feet. (By comparison, the legendary Jack’s Drum Shop on Boylston Street in Boston was about 2,000 square feet.) “We believe it to be the largest drum store in the world,” Kinney said in a 2018 video in which he explains the DCP’s history. ”But we didn’t start out that way. It was probably the smallest drum store in 2009.”

Size aside, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that the DCP is the best drum shop in the world. Since starting from nothing, it’s become a drummer’s dream for amateurs and pros alike from across the US with a jaw-dropping assortment of sets, cymbals and gear from multiple manufacturers, clinics hosted by some of the world’s top kitmen and a museum housing some fabulously historic tidbits of drumming history.

Musical beginnings, Retail background

Kinney, who was born in Rockland, Maine, in 1975, played in his first band when he was 12 years old and continued his work behind the set until he was 33. His entry into the world of drums began when his stepbrother started taking guitar lessons at Northern Kingdom Music in Camden, Maine, which inspired Kinney to take drum lessons. His first set was a low-budget, made-in-Japan Blackjack kit (when “made in Japan” meant cheap in price and quality, unlike today when it means reliable and high quality). Since he couldn’t afford cymbal stands, he hung his cymbals from the ceiling with string.

After playing in bands for over 20 years, Kinney decided to try doing stand-up comedy. While moving into that arena, he honed his retail chops at a drum store in Portland, Maine, and became a staple in the area’s recording studios doing sessions, working as a drum technician and building a reputation in the local drumming community. In his heart, he says, he wanted to find some way to put his creative skills to better use, possibly as a songwriter.

That desire morphed into him writing a comedy column (and later concert reviews) for Portland-based Face magazine. While working for $8/hour at the drum store, he was always looking for a way toward a more a successful future; he even got his real estate license and sold one house. But Kinney knew that property sales wasn’t for him because he had much bigger dreams, like becoming highly successful and famous doing something that he truly loved, preferably in the world of music.

DCP Founding

Now well into his 30s, Kinney understood that he had to get serious about his future. He realized that he was good at selling drums but believed that he could do it even better so he quit his job and in June 2009 he founded the Drum Center of Portsmouth in an 800-square-foot location that he rented for $800/month. The economy was in shambles at the time and Kinney had no employees – doing everything himself, from ordering and accounting to stocking to selling – but based on his reputation in the drum world, customers showed interest, as did drum and percussion equipment suppliers. Business at his fledgling shop was strong enough after about 10 months that he hired his first employee.

Mapex and Sonor were the first drum brands to make the DCP a dealer and other manufacturers started to say “yes” shortly thereafter. But Kinney’s enterprise got a major boost when Ludwig, arguably the world’s most well-known drum brand, approved the DCP to carry their products. Having Ludwig brought the credibility that opened the door for other big-name drum suppliers and within a couple of years, the DCP was carrying Pearl, Yamaha and Tama.

YouTube videos, Rapid expansion, Move to North Hampton

While selling the top brand names was great for Kinney’s seacoast-area customers, he had a passion for boutique snare-drum makers and began doing YouTube instructional videos on how best to tune such niche-market drums. The videos cemented the DCP staff’s reputation as advice experts and created the feel of the service you’d get in a local mom-and-pop shop, but on the Internet.

Kinney knew the value of walking into a local music store and getting advice from their experts but also realized the power and convenience of digital media, so he combined the two and his business exploded. In 2011, the DCP expanded from 800 square feet to 1,100, but that wasn’t nearly enough for the rapidly growing business. He then started renting trailers and added off-site warehousing totaling between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet. The DCP was beginning to become a powerhouse, not only locally, but nationally thanks in large part to the Internet.

Bursting at the seams in 2017, the DCP needed a bigger space. A real estate agent showed Kinney an old furniture store on Route 1 in North Hampton (just outside of Portsmouth) that consisted of two connected barns, was built in 1902 and totaled 20,000 square feet. The DCP’s rapid growth along with this enormous facility had Kinney envisioning greatness since he could see the possibility of developing the space into a drum outlet like no one had ever seen. SOLD!

Snare drum room, Cymbal room, Drum set room

In the new facility, he built a 1,500-square-foot snare drum room that was about twice the size of his entire original store. Currently, the DCP has over 1,000 snare drums in stock from manufacturers that everyone knows to ones that only drum aficionados are aware of like Dunnett, Canopus, Noble and Cooley and Keplinger. He also built a cymbal room and has over 3,000 cymbals in stock – including Zildjian, Paiste and Sabian along with lesser-known brands like Agop, Turkish and Koide – and a drum set room with individual displays for the major manufacturers. In the drum set space, there’s a video screen for each manufacturer on which visitors can watch their informational videos and custom footage produced at the DCP by Kinney and his team.

Drum clinics, Famous clients, Museum

Customers travel from near and far to attend the DCP’s drum clinics, which have featured some of the most famous drummers on the planet including Dave Weckl, Todd Sucherman, Dennis Chambers, Benny Greb, David Garibaldi, Stanton Moore, Gavin Harrison, Virgil Donati and Simon Phillips. The DCP’s customer list is like a who’s who of drumming; it includes Frank Beard, Stan Lynch, Abe Laboriel Jr., Tim Commerford, Jimmy Chamberlain and Eric Kretz. Some world-renowned guitarists have also shopped at the DCP, such as John Fogerty and Billy Gibbons.

In addition to clinics, the DCP has a museum that includes Ed Shaughnessy’s double-bass Ludwig set from The Tonight Show, rare kits from long-out-of-business manufacturers like Trixon and other fascinating memorabilia along with a display that pays homage to the late, great New England powerhouse and New Hampshire-based music retailer, Daddy’s Junky Music. (The author says, “Thank you!”)

Top-100 NAMM listing, Future plans

The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) has included the DCP in its annual Top 100 Dealers list five times and the store “has emerged as a leader in the drum retail landscape,” according to a 2015 profile in Modern Drummer magazine. If you’re into drums and haven’t been to the DCP, you owe it to yourself to take a trip to North Hampton.

When asked about his beginnings in 2009, Kinney said he never thought about becoming the biggest and most significant drum store in the world. So what’s next for the Drum Center of Portsmouth? He’s made it clear that he’s not at all interested in expanding to guitars, keyboards or any other instruments. He just loves drums!

(by Fred Bramante)

Fred Bramante was the founder and chief executive of Daddy’s Junky Music.

Published On: March 8, 2024