Tag: head

Calfskin Bass Drum (Job No: 1267)

The very first thing that needs to happen is to un-rope the drum and see what lies beneath.  The heads have obviously been causing a problem because on has been screwed to the shell.


The job is now straight forward, but time consuming.  Whilst I am soaking a head until it is really wet and pliable, the drum shell can have the star marks removed – it looks like these were stickers, because it is the glue that has been left behind.

I also treat the bearing edge a process I have detailed in 1233: Vintage Bass Drum (pt 2).

With everything ready I stretched the head onto the shell using my drum press.  Because neither head had a collar I did one side first then the other.


With the splicing and whipping on the rope redone, I rope the drum whilst it is still in the press to maintain tension.  It also saves a lot of hard work pulling rope as hard as possible and the subsequent suffering with blisters!

Vintage Bass Drum (part 2) (Job No: 1233)

In the first half of the repair of this vintage bass drum (1233: (pt 1)), I wrote about making a new counter hoop, fixing the shell and making replacement tuning lugs.  The lugs are now back from the chrome platers, but more importantly, the drum is now needed by my customer at the end of the month.  In order for me to realise the deadline, and fit in with my delivery schedule, I need to finish the bass drum today so it is ready to be delivered at the end of the week.

After selecting a calfskin big enough and then putting it in to soak, I get everything ready to lap the head onto the existing flesh hood that I repaired.

I like to leave the lapping to dry for a bit, so that the skin becomes tacky and starts to stick to itself before I put it on the drum.  It will take 48hrs for the skin to completely dry around the hoop, but the playing surface will start drying quickly.  So as long as I keep the playing surface wet, I have plenty of time to do the drum and get the head on later in the day.

In 1233: (part 1) I made new barrels for the tension rods to screw into.  What I didn’t have was a tap long enough to put in a 2.1/4″ deep thread into the barrel.  I had to order these specially, so sent the stuff to be plated during the delay.  The video below shows the problem I had.  It is a bit boring (in both meanings of the word), but it shows how the thread feels like it is going on and on and on.

Once the threads are cut and checked, I can assemble the drum shell and start preparing to put on the head.


I have mentioned putting on heads in other posts, and explained what I do.  This time I remembered to video it!

With both heads evenly set, the drum is now finished, and has plenty of time to dry before Friday.


Today of course is polling day – time for us to support the essentially anti-democratic and self serving political system that we have here in the UK (and aggressively export).  We will all (well about 10% of us) go out and give a mandate for 650 corrupt, dishonest and dishonorable bloody idiots to avoid the big issues for another 5 years.  Politicians call it voter apathy (because they are a bit thick) but I think that they are wrong; it is not apathy, the general public is more political than ever (the one good thing that ukip have exposed).    In our democratic system we have no constitutional ability to change how the country is run.  The ability to do that is in the hands of the government, and mp’s won’t vote to get rid of themselves, they won’t even take a pay cut!  Rant over.

….How to look after vellum heads.

(Every Percussionist Should Know…)
…How to look after vellum heads.

There is a general steady return to using natural skins on percussion instruments, and I am not surprised.  There are many reasons for choosing natural over plastic, but sound quality has to be the primary objective.  The depth of the timbre is far greater from vellum heads than is produced from their plastic counterparts, so the overall sound heard has so much more richness.  There are however two “negatives” against choosing natural heads: cost and care.  This post is primarily concerned with the care aspect.


The best way to understand what to do with particular instruments is to have an understanding of what is actually going on with this skin stuff.  One word that should be in every percussionists vocabulary is hygroscopic.  It refers to a material that can absorbs and releases water, and I can’t think of any carbon based material to which it doesn’t apply, including us.  If the weather is cold and dry, our own skin suffers, becoming dry and tight, prone to chapping.  Whereas if we stay in the bath too long our skin becomes soft and wrinkly, and feels loose.  So logically although their skin is slightly different, this also applies to cows, and goats, etc.  We utilise this property to our own advantage when we put drum heads on.

Skin is made up of squamous cells which have different shapes so therefore they expand and contract differently.  For us we can just think of a cow – the skin doesn’t need to stretch along the spine, because the cow is full size, but it does need to stretch around the belly, this means that the orientation of the drum head could be important dependent on the drum.  However younger animals still retain elasticity along the spine, so those skins will respond more uniformly.


The first essential requirement is drum shell preparation.  The proteins in skin make very strong glue, and these are made sticky with water.  So the drum head must be prevented from adhering to the bearing edge.  I use lard on metal surfaces – lard is refined cow fat, so it marries up with the head used perfectly on a cellular level.  On wooden drums I need something that sits on the surface of the wood, as opposed to soaking into the fibres which is what lard would do, so I use tallow, which is boiled sheep in candle form.  Both lubricants are placing a slippery barrier between the skin and the drum which stops it from sticking, but also allows the head to move.


By wetting the playing surface before the head is put on the drum, the skin will mould itself to the profile of the bearing edge and create a good contact.  If this is not done, then the head may buzz in the areas where there is a fraction of a millimeter gap.  Additionally, it can be easily stretched, so that when it is put on the drum, I can pull the skin down the sides of the drum and create a collar if required.

Now the skin is on the drum, as it dries it shrinks and becomes tight, and the pitch rises.  Here is the key thing to remember.  On a snare drum or timpani, achieving a high pitch is always the challenge when tuning with vellum, so give yourself every assistance – after playing take all the tension off the drums, so that as the head moves with moisture content, it is not being stretched, it is being encouraged to shrink.

However Bass drums, have the opposite problem, they need to have a low pitch.  Additionally the head is massive, and the skin is thick (or should be – Adams use exactly the wrong type of head on their drums) so the power in that skin is massive, and it always wants to shrink.  Therefore, before that drum goes away, crank it right up and retain that collar.  I know it’s a hassle, there are loads of tension bolts, but the quantity is needed to restrain the head, and is why they should be T handles.

The bottom line is that if you want to enjoy the sound of real skin be prepared to spend time tuning up before playing, and looking after your instruments when you are not.