Joe Calato, the inventor of the nylon tip drumstick and founder of Regal Tip, has reached a major life milestone, having recently turned 100 years old.
Calato was born in Niagara Falls, NY in 1921 and has stayed based there his whole life, and it continues to be where Regal Tip is headquartered. Growing up, his father was a drummer in the vaudeville era and a young Joe followed in those footsteps, picking up the sticks when he was 13 years old. In 1942, while studying engineering at the University of Buffalo, he was drafted into the U.S. air force and spent the last years of WWII stationed in England, serving as a lieutenant and navigator on a B-17 bomber. While there, Joe found time to play drums in military jazz groups and dance bands.
In the 1950s, working a cabinet maker and part-time musician, he was inspired to try something that would ultimately revolutionize the drum market. Until then, drumsticks were only made with wood tips, which sounded good but wore out quickly. Wanting to solve this problem, Joe attempted to make a stick that would last longer and offer a new sound. After a lot of experimentation, he created a nylon tip that stayed on and didn’t break while still offering a new, ultra-clear sound on the drumheads and cymbals.
Once other young drummers around town saw and heard Calato’s new sticks, they began bringing their own sticks to him to modify, grinding the tops off and replacing them with plastic ones. In 1958, he placed in ad in the American Federation of Musicians’ magazine, International Musician, and offered these new creations for $1.95.
"The mailman came back with a bag full of orders," Calato recalled to the Percussive Arts Society when he was inducted into the PAS Hall of Fame 20 years ago. "They would ask for different models, but I sent them all 7As with a nylon tip and nobody complained! I built my own machinery to make the sticks, and soon I started making five models."
Eventually, the business grew and he bought the machinery needed to scale up and replaced his cabinet shop with drumstick manufacturing.
In 1962, the first Regal Tip brushes were introduced and the company patented retractable-handle brushes in 1975, which were followed in 1982 by the popular Blasticks.
Even into his old age and after the company had been handed over to his daughter Carol Calato, Joe never lost his love for drumming and the products. He continued to come up with new innovations and even the machinery needed to create them.