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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014

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In Music

Paul Milkovich is the one-man band rockin' Milwaukee-made Rat Rod Drum company.

In Music

Rat Rod sources its bamboo from an Illinois company and a Wisconsin company forms the shells.

Rat Rod Drums rocks bamboo to create its own sound


A big sound is emerging from an unassuming little building in an Oak Creek industrial area. That's where local drummer turned drum maker Paul Milkovich builds Rat Rod Drums, a small company that's beginning to make a name for itself in the music world.

Milkovich – whose dad was a Summerfest stage manager for decades and is now a member of the festival board – is working to build an international name for Rat Rod, looking at a German assembly arm to fuel some European sales and working to create synergies in the American drum world, too.

He's currently talking the Steve Maxwell about building for the respected dealer in vintage and custom drums.

But Milkovich has got no plans to abandon Milwaukee.

"I want to help local drummers," he says. "The Milwaukee and Wisconsin connection is important to me."

Milkovich's wife teaches in Oak Creek and his 11-year-old son helps him in the drum shop, too, drilling holes and doing other work.

Though he can build drums from traditional woods like maple, what is turning heads in the industry are Milkovich's bamboo drums, made from wood sourced from Illinois' Lamboo.

Milkovich says, in addition to being greener (he also uses water-based stains and finishes), the bamboo drums – which have a gorgeous grain – are warmer and louder than drums made from other woods.

Though other companies have dabbled in bamboo, Rat Rod is staking its future on the wood.

At the moment, Rat Rod only builds drums for custom special orders, and there's a waiting list nearly a year long. But Milkovich is eying expansion to try and move into the retail market.

"I think custom drum companies take about 6 percent of the drum market right now," he says.

"There are some great builders out there doing a lot of great things and we all learn from each other and act as resources. This company's growing really quick and I'm trying to get that all in place now."

Any expansion, says Milkovich, will be careful. He doesn't want to barter quality for growth.

"I don't want to become a cookie cutter drum company," he says. "I want to keep the hands-on, the high quality, the high standards. That's really important to me."

We stopped in recently to get a tour of the tiny factory and to let Milkovich show you around and tell you more about what goes into making bamboo drums in Oak Creek.

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