Niagara Falls native Joe Calato celebrated his 94th birthday on March 20. The inventor of the nylon tip drumstick, or Regal Tip, and the designer of what some call the best brushes for drums ever made, Joe earned a notable place in Niagara Falls history.
He is a professional drummer, businessman, woodworker and gardener and his invention the Regal Tip drumstick revolutionized the drum stick industry in 1958.
Prior to his invention, drum sticks were made entirely of wood including the tips, which being the point of contact with the snare and toms and cymbals, the tips wore out first. Drummers found themselves at gigs frustrated when they found their wood tips were uneven.
Joe decided to try to make a stick that would last longer and of course had to have an authentic drum kit sound.
After much experimenting, he designed a drumstick with a nylon tip that stayed on, didn’t shatter, and produced a sound surprising in its clarity on the drumheads and ride cymbals.
The sound of the Regal Tip was soon adopted by countless drummers attracted not only by the fact that their sticks lasted longer but by the remarkable sound the new sticks made. It helped define the musical styles of the day.
Joe had developed an interest in music and drumming at an early age. In fact, under his 1939 high school graduation picture from Niagara Falls High School, he was called the “gum chewing drummer boy”.
He was raised on the east side of Niagara Falls and spent his youth more or less "hanging out" with his friends and family.
After graduation from high school, he attended the University of Buffalo but when WWII broke out and raged ominously across the world's stage, Joe dropped out of college and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He attended cadet school and based in England, he earned the rank of Lieutenant and as navigator he flew missions over war torn Germany. Shortly before the end of the war, with Germany in shambles, Joe got a well deserved leave and came home to see his family and friends. At Ray’s Mens Clothing store he met Katherine Laurri his future bride.
After his discharge they were married and began a family.
Joe opened a kitchen cabinet company behind his parents Beauty/Barber shop on Niagara St. near Lady of Lebanon Church, making cabinets by day and playing drums at night to support his growing family.
It was during this time that Joe confronted his personal problem - the tips of his sticks were wearing out too quickly. He set out to solve the problem and the rest is more or less history.
His product was a near instant success. His company Calato Manufacturing became a leader in the industry known as much for quality as inventiveness.
He upgraded the drumstick, beginning with the quality of the wood, the drying of the wood, the Regal Tip nylon finish, inspection for straightness of grain, weight, knots, warp and, finally, he was the first to match and pair sticks. To this day, the drum world credits Joe with establishing modern standards in drumstick design and crafting.
His contribution to the percussion industry was recognized by the Percussive Arts Society when he was inducted into its Hall of Fame.
The invention of the nylon tip drumstick was the beginning of a long history of master craftsmanship. Joe set the standard for quality and innovation when he introduced his line of brushes for drums. Today Regal Tip brushes are the bestselling brushes in the world. Other inventions such as the Thai Sticks, Conga Stick, Danny Reyes Multi Percussion Stick, and recently the E-Tip drumstick, made their marks on the drum industry as Joe's children and grandchildren began to assume responsibility for the day to day operations of his company. The company is still owned and operated by the Calato family.
While the majority of the lumber for Regal Tip drumsticks come from the southeastern U.S., Joe resisted enticements to move his facility closer to the forests of Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. Instead, he kept his family and business in Niagara Falls where he could enjoy the beauty of the area and his long-time friends and close family.
Over 57 years, Calato Manufacturing has employed hundreds of people from the area.
To this day, drummers on tour often visit the manufacturing facility on Hyde Park Blvd to witness the manufacture of their favorite sticks and brushes. In the universal world of drummers, Niagara Falls is not only known for its beautiful cascades, it’s also known to be the home of Regal Tip drumsticks and Joe Calato.