Tag: bearing edge

Premier Fibreglass Timpani (Job No: 1283)


Premier Percussion have been making their timpani with glass fibre bowls for a long time now. The actual production method has varied both with developments of available materials and with expertise. However one issue constantly raises its head – empty cavities around the bearing edge often leading to osmosis.

When I overhaul a set of timpani, there is a lot of work involved over a period of days or even weeks. My approach is to fix everything properly; I am after all a professional and that is what I am being paid to do. So I am fixing problems associated with the usual wear and tear, as well as “the dogs dinner” that the previous person made of the job. The posts on timpani pick out examples of problems I encounter, rather than me filming and writing, and you watching and reading the same thing every time. For the same reasons I have coloured this introductory text blue (aren’t I thoughtful!)

In this video I am looking at a 22.1/2″ timpani which has never been serviced. I guestimate that the drum was bought in the mid 1990’s. During this era, Premier still had its factory in Leicester which produced virtually everything, however factory assembly workers do not particularly give a shit about the quality of the work they produce, and I think that Premier suffered because of this.

As can be seen in the video, not only were there manufacturing issues with the drum but also assembly problems. The manufacture of the bowl istelf, surely is at the very heart of making a kettle drum. Everything else on the drums are just engineered components fitted into the larger castings of the base and the legs. Yet what I find time and again, and this is not by any means limited to Premier, are low standards of quality in production methods that in most instances are outdated anyway. Furthermore I often see massive resistence to change something that is problematical; is it resistence or ability?

On top of these (sometimes badly made) components, we have the additional problem of poor assembly. When I was at university in London studying violin making, my tutor told us that making the body of an instrument is about 20% of the job, the other 80% is the setup. What he was saying is that the skills of an instrument maker is making sure that the instrument sounds good and feels good to play.

However both problems really boil down to a lack of care in the person doing the work. This lack of care in the workers, is overseen by management who call it quality control so they can quantify it, presumably to justify their existence to the directors who can make decisions as to the acceptable levels of failure. Basically what I am saying is that the level of acceptable standards comes from the top down, so it is unfair to blame the low paid workers.

The majority of professional musicians I have spoken with about what instruments they buy and why, cite the drop in standards as the reason why they don’t buy Premier. Additionally most of them, including myself expressed great frustration with the company over this obvious problem. If they can’t get the quality, they may as well buy cheap.

There is an adage, from rags to riches and back again in four generations, and it sums up wht happens to companies like Premier, like Musser, like Adams, etc. The founding craftsman who makes whatever product cares deeply about quality and the business grows. Employees are trained and indoctrinated in this mentality. When the founder retires the business is sold, or passed to the next generation who continue the growth and the business blossoms. By the third generation there are no original employees and the whole mentality of the business has changed as well as the world in which it must operate and the business starts to fail… There are many, many examples of great companies ruined by the people who take them over, a few get resurrected by a rich benefactor with a passion. I haven’t earned and lost a financial empire (yet?), but I would still like a rich benefactor!

Premier Elite Timpani (Job No: 1215)

At the top of Premier’s timpani range are the Elite series.  I like the Premier design, there are a few issues like they don’t sound the best on the (mass produced) market of orchestral kettle drums, but they are in second place.  What I like about Premier drums is the old style pedal mechanism.  The other great feature on Premier Elites is the universal tuning adjustment, or crown wheel.  The only real issue with the Elites are the extended collars.  After discussion with leading timpanists, we think at 1.1/2″ it is a bit too big.  However, I have yet to prove the hypothesis, it’s just from observations. 

I will expand these points in a specific blog post at some point.

When I overhaul a set of timps, there is a lot of work involved over a period of days or even weeks. My approach is to fix everything properly; I am after all a professional and that is what I am being paid to do. However not everyone is as conscientious, and in the end, you get what you pay for. So when I work on timpani, I am fixing problems associated with wear and tear, and the dogs dinner that the previous person made of the job. The posts on timpani pick out examples of problems I encounter, rather than me writing, and you reading the same thing every time I do a set of timpani (which is why I have coloured this bit blue).

These drums have been sent in for overhaul before things have deteriorated too far.  The mechanism is very dirty, but not rusty.  What they do obviously need is a bit of work on the copper bowls.


One type of problem are big dents in the bowls.  This is no big deal, and is the sort of thing I just repair as I am going along.  They look bad, but in terms of time it doesn’t take too long for me to knock out (5 to 10 minutes)


The finished thing.  There is a happy medium with this work.  If there is a hard corner, then that will always be visible unless the bowl is completely refinished because the copper and the lacquer have been over stressed.  With the dent, I find it is a case of the more you do, the worse it gets, so I take my time and consider each blow with the hammer.

The second type of damage that happens to the Premier copper bowls, is when the bearing edge is dinted when they are struck with the handle of a timpani mallet.


As the handle strikes the edge it pushes material inwards in the centre, which raises the edges.  In the drawing this effect is exaggerated.


At the top there is a playing dent, lower down looks like a flight case has been dragged over the drum.  This is what happens to percussion instruments, no care and certainly no respect of the fact that they are musical instruments.

After taking off any sharp edges that are above the line of the profile (positive), the negative indentations can be filled.


The filler comes above the profile, so can then be cut away to the desired level.  It is then polished up.


After all repair work is done, I polish the whole of the bearing edge to a shiny finish.  What I am after is a smooth surface that the skin or plastic can slide over.  Any marks can create a scraping noise as the head passes over them, which due to the tension and resonant chamber, is then amplified.