Parsons “Super Ideal” Timpani For Sale (ref# 1773)

FOR SALE £2750

I have the pleasure of being able to sell this really nice pair of early pedal timpani made by Parsons.  These are the “Super Ideal 24” model which were top of the range at the time.  So with the Premier Deluxe Timpani, I now have for sale both both premium brand timpani made in the UK during the early 20th Century.  The Premier timpani have been on my books for a while now, this both surprising and not. At over 100 years old, they are now unusual instruments now and certainly not up to date with modern styling and those ugly oversized wheels, etc.  However, if playing timpani in classical and baroque orchestras is your thing, then why would you not want to buy drums that are actually the correct tool for the job?  The alternative are the old hand tune pots or modern versions of the same with some sort of cable tuning mechanism, or modern, out of period instruments with a more compromised shape.


The advantages of these drums over more contemporary drums are numerous: at the top of the list is the size and shape of the bowls being nice and deep and using thicker gauged copper.  Then factor in that the pedal mechanism was specifically designed for calfskin heads  which has reliably worked for 100 years without irreparably breaking.  Not only do they both look the part and sound good, they also have a historical heritage.  The downsides are few; they weigh a bit more than modern drums, but that is primarily due to the amount of copper in the bowl which was on the list of advantages; the pedal mechanisms on modern drums are smoother and quieter with the exception of the Ringer or Dresden style ratchet, and spare parts are not readily available. However, spare parts on modern drums in my view are not worth the money even if you can get them – after all things break for a reason.  Regarding the pedal mechanism, isn’t it like any percussion instrument – you’ll have to learn some technique, a small price to pay for owning fantastic timpani costing under £1500 per drum!

From what I know, which is limited indeed, E. & A. Parsons Ltd were based in Birmingham here in the UK at the beginning of the 20th century. Birmingham is the UK’s second largest city and the heart of the black country, a colloquialism for that whole section of England, which describes the filth of industry at the height of the industrial revolution. Birmingham was therefore well known as an epicentre for all sorts of industries including more creative crafts and artisan skills (and I’m not talking about coffee houses or bakers!)  Still to this day it has a thriving jewellery quarter. Although big, Birmingham is not London, so for musical instrument makers the market place would have been much smaller and therefore the business would have been smaller than other companies around during that period. However, from my personal experience, when businesses grow too large the owners become more interested in profit and care less about quality, and it is quality that becomes known and recognised.  This recognition put Parsons right up there as a leading percussion instrument manufacturer globally and they were strong competition for the Leedy Drum Co in the US as well as Premier over here.  As instruments moved around the globe a lot of the same ideas or developments were being rapidly copied from one manufacturer to the next.

Ernest A. Parsons senior as well as his two sons Ernest A Junior and Albert were all established percussionists, indeed Ernest Junior was the principal timpanist for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for a period of 45 years, from the orchestras inception in 1920 right up until the mid-1960’s.  It was his brother Albert who actually built these timpani giving them the Super Ideal moniker to denote that they are the top of the range instruments produced by the firm.  I don’t know what the 24 refers to, certainly not the size, but it is very evident that the overall build quality is excellent.

I have come across Parsons instruments a good few times during my career and all of those instruments exuded quality and sounded brilliant. I guess that it is just a fact of life that if you want percussion instruments to sound good, they generally need to be made using thicker material somewhere along the line, so consequently they always weigh more than the modern equivalent. From my perspective it is because of this diminution of tonal quality in the majority of modern instruments, that this is one area that I am looking into. However like everything, this work require time and money and as a poor but busy instrument maker both are in short supply (especially now in pandemic world).  This means that everything takes me much longer to achieve because they have to be fit in and around the work that I need to do to pay the bills.

Anyway, enough of that. These timpani essentially hybridised the old pots and added an internal tuning mechanism which could then be attached to a pedal system. This means that the pedals can still be removed in order to create hand tuned timps which was pretty standard practice at that time and makes the drums considerable easier to transport. It just goes to show that nowadays there is nothing revolutionary about having a detachable bowl on a timpani, rather it is a massive step back to an old technology that ultimately became obsolete. Whereas back then, the pedal mechanism on these drums actually represented something that was new in the world of percussion and a huge leap forward.

There are some repairs on the 25 base casting; nuts and bolts have replaced the original rivets which often become loose as the alloy of the leg castings become worn.  The wooden boards that the drums sit on are a good inclusion, because these style of legs are susceptible to damage – they are only aluminium castings so can easily be broken which is seen a lot in the Ludwig universals which shares the same design. This was also probably when the colour of that base frame changed.  This was probably done when the drums were last fully refurbished, work done by the late Arthur Soothill.  Arthur was widely regarded as the leading proponent of my profession in his day and is incomparable to some even now. Although I would dispute that claim, I can say that his work was generally of a high standard and still stands up when compared to the standards achieved today.

The clutch mechanisms are ratchet and pawl style and both are in very good condition, holding their notes very well.  This is a testament to the techniques of the players who have owned these instruments.  If the pawls are allowed to scrape over the ratchet, they grind away at the teeth.  Although the levers are designed to cope with this to some extent, over time and constant misuse they do wear out and would represent a large repair bill.  So the new owner will need to hone their pedalling skills and maybe they will last another few decades!

These drums were originally owned and extensively used by Alan Taylor who was the principal timpanist at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden London for many years as well as the Brighton Philharmonic, English National Opera and the BBC players, right up to the late 80s.  Consequently they have very nice Kalfo heads which are calfskin and produced in Ireland.  It rains a lot in Ireland, even more than the UK, so the grass is very lush resulting in cows that are sadly much healthier than the norm.  Combining this super diet with the lack of barbed wire fences, the skin of the cow becomes nice and supple which makes them perfect for vellum drum heads.  The company who produce the heads also have a secret method of skiving the skins to an incredibly thin and consistent thickness, but since I have always been refused entry to any percussion manufacturer’s factories (even asked to leave trade stalls!) I can only deduce how they do it from what I can see on the skin.  They use a triple drum sanding machine or similar, the sort of thing they use in most wood furniture factories to abrade surfaces to very fine tolerances.  Another example of mysticism and protectionism surrounding the percussion industry, what they forget is that some of us actually know our trade and can read materials like a book.  You don’t acquire these skills from sitting at a desk running a factory, so perhaps they don’t know that their manufacturing techniques cannot be kept secret.

In summary then, these excellently built, antique drums, with a pedigree that demonstrates their tonal quality are perfectly suited to the baroque orchestra.  They would no doubt appreciate some refurbishment, but they are ready to go.  Although part of me likes to see the original finish on old instruments, they would probably also benefit from some sympathetic re-finishing to make them look more the part and to hide the previous bowl re-shaping work.

Thank you for reading.  If you are interested in buying the drums, send me an email and we shall take it from there.  If you have any comments pertaining to the article or associated historical information, please put it in the comments below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Premier Deluxe Timpani For Sale (Job# 1540)

FOR SALE £2950 Reduced Price

Here is a pair of very old timpani that a customer wants to sell due to retirement. They have had two owners from new and these drums are rare. There are a few scratches in the bowls but no big dents, and there are a couple of T handles that need to be replaced, but I may well have some of these buried in a box of vintage spares. There is also a tie bar missing to one of the legs, but to be honest this is much easier to make than to find an original replacement. Neither of these issues poses a massive problem for me because the costs of correcting them would be a fraction of the instrument value.

As can be seen they have calf skin heads on for which the drums were designed to be used. In reality it will probably be problematical finding easily available plastic heads – any size can be made, but you will have to wait for at least three months and expect to pay at least three times the price of standard heads. But who wants plastic over calfskin anyway now?


As with all of the second hand instruments I sell, I handle all the negotiations because my customers are selling through me for precisely that reason. The drums are currently at the owners house in southern England, but I will collect the drums for viewing when there is a serious buyer.

By 1927 Premier Drums had introduced the De luxe Model Tympani. These were still “classical timpani” so had retractable legs on the basic pot, but these were the drums that saw the development of the bowl shape and the fittings. For instance by 1928 the drop handle was introduced on these drums and self aligning lugs.

Also in by 1298 Premier had developed the pedal mechanism. It is the obvious choice to put their best bowls onto their newest flagship product and called them the inspirational name, “Pedal Tympani”. It is interesting reading the catalogue description where it mentions the Premier guarantee; I have no idea what that was, but the fact that these drums are still working and sounding great nearly a hundred years later is a testament that British engineering was and will always be the best in the world.

Premier 1928 catalogue

The last time these drums were seen in the Premier catalogue was in 1951. They were almost a footnote on the same page as dampers, badges and drum keys! I think that this is more a reflection of post war austerity than anything else, but it was the end of the run because in 1966 West Ham United won the football world cup (I mean England) and Premier launched the Series One Timpani – out with tymps and in with timps!

8 comments on “Premier Deluxe Timpani For Sale (Job# 1540)

  1. Paul Mouradian

    great classic drums Paul!! Is it possible to put plastic rennaissance heads on these. What do think would cost to ship them to Toronto Canada?

    Reply
    • pauljefferies

      Hi Paul,
      Any plastic will work mechanically, however I am not certain that standard head sizes will fit – these drums may well use pre-international heads. The timpani are not in my workshop so I will have to ask the owner to measure the counter hoops so that I can make a best guess. I will ask my freight handler for a price and then cost up the making of crates. At this stage my gut feeling is that transport would be around £1500, but I may be way wrong.
      Paul

      Reply
      • pauljefferies

        STOP!!!
        Actually I think I am wrong on the heads. I have zoomed in on the photo and I now remember.

        You can see that the counter hoops are different to modern versions. The profile is T shaped as opposed to L. Therefore the hoops will sit very high when using plastic heads which will make the drums unplayable for most timpanists. Furthermore I am not certain that the tuning handles will be long enough.
        Paul

    • pauljefferies

      Hi Paul,
      Shipment to Canada will cost in the region of £800. I cannot give an exact quote because there are too many variables; the cost of sea freight is only one element in generating an overall price.
      Paul

      Reply
  2. Ignacio Molins

    Hi Paul,
    I live in London and I am very interested in the Premier timps. Can we arrange a meeting so I can try them? Many thanks,
    Ignacio

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Older Posts