Tag: timpani

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.

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!

Ludwig Professional Timpani For Sale (Job no: 1390)

SOLD

For Sale a set of 4 Ludwig Professional Timpani with discs and covers.
[serial nos: 32″=5220, 29″=5218, 26″=5219, 23″=5126]

These drums have been in my workshop for a while now, which is too long for such a good set of timps to be unused.  Obviously this means that the price is too high, but all of my prices are just a starting point for the negotiations which follow.  So I am going to try an alternative method; you suggest a price and we can go from there…

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Those of you who read my blog and watch my videos already know that I am rubbish at remembering model names and numbers, I classify it as useless information, why retain it in my head when it can be easily researched if needed. However in this case, I think that I just told or learned the name incorrectly, so when I was clarifying exactly what to call the drums I discovered after many many years that Ludwig don’t even make Pro-Symphonics! They do make Grand Symphonics, but what the difference would be between a set of Grands and Professionals with the optional extra of hand hammered bowls will have to remain a mystery to me since they would both be made with exactly the same components. The answer of course would be the price tag. Anyway I digress; I apologise for getting the name of the drums wrong in the video, but the name is correct everywhere else.


What is in a name anyway?  It doesn’t alter the fact that these drums are in a really nice condition.  Equally, they rarely come up for sale second hand.  Because of the condition of the drums when I collected them and their inherent value, I decided that I had to do some work on them.  This work mainly consisted of giving everything a good clean (oh and isn’t that a massive understatement!) and going over the chassis making sure everything was tight. However I did have to spend a day working on the set up to make sure that they work properly.  Normally after all this I would put new heads on as a matter of course, but these drums are not mine and are in for sale not an overhaul. This is a compromise, and I know that they would sound better with new heads on, but this can be left to the negotiations…

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Above are some photos of the drums for you to have a look at, I tried to get the worst of the bowl imperfections visible. Below are some close up photos of the damage that I referred to in the video. There is nothing more I can really say about these timpani, for those who are looking for a good set of timps, proven over many years to produce a great sound reliably, you will know what you want and you will see that these drums are in great condition. For those who are thinking about other drums, well I would buy these everyday in preference to the gimmicky new crap that is popular at the moment – in ten years I fully expect that I will be doing very expensive repairs to those drums whereas in ten years, these Ludwigs might just need another clean and service. They are in my workshop available to be viewed, I can of course deliver if needed, and I will handle the whole transaction so it will be nice and easy to accomplish. To discuss viewing and prices either email or phone.

26″ bowl dent

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Bowl corrosion

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29″ bowl dent

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32″ timp disc
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29″ timp disc
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broken strap
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Premier Fibreglass Timpani Part 2 (Job No: 1357)

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In the first part of this job I looked at the restoration of the base casting and my approach to the repair. With the drums back from the welders I can now clean up the chassis, do the painting and rebuild the drums.

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. By, “everything” I mean every little detail, so in the posts on timpani I 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!)


Premier Fibreglass Timpani (Job No: 1283)

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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 Fibreglass timpani repair (Job No: 1357)

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Same picture, same drums, but this time I am doing the work on them.

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!)


Commonly timpani use three points of contact with the floor (so they don’t wobble), with two wheels at the back and the pedal at the front, with the aluminium casting under the pedal sitting on the floor. As the drums are moved around, the aluminium foot at the front suffers from abrasion until they are completely worn away. This is a problem that I often have to resolve, but the biggest “problem” is reversing the shit solutions that other people have created to repair them! So in this case the “dogs dinner” was how the toes were repaired. Whatever the pads or heel blocks were made of was not the problem, it is those damn screws that were used to fix them in place.

As can be seen below, my ingenious solution of simply welding another bit of aluminium on even looks like it will last, especially in this raw state.

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The source of the problem is that aluminium is so soft. It is also lightweight which is why most timpani chassis are made using aluminium castings. On a practical note it is a horrible material to work with, clogging up all my saw blades, files and abrasives like treacle tart. But because it is so soft and wears away maybe it isn’t the best material to use as a wear point. It is all about instrument design again – or the lack of it.

The conclusion of this repair is covered in Job No: 1357 part 2

Adams Timpani Repair (Job No: 1325)

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It is unusual considering the age of these drums that certain components are made with more consideration for frugality than quality.  I remember when I last saw these drums that I had a number of difficulties with the fork pressing (Premier’s name for the part), which is the lever that lifts the sleeve which disengages the clutch from the underside.  Well seven years have gone by since then, and the drums have been giving good service, but recently these components have started to fail and cause problems, so I have the drums again to come up with a solution.


What is evident from the video is that the choice of how Adams made these components is dubious.  As I mentioned in the video, the British Isles leads the world in engineering, always has and if the government get their head out of their arses it always will.  So of course Premier made the parts the proper way which is why 50 years later the design has not changed.  Adams are copyists but seemingly things have always been done on the cheap.  Short term gain.  The lack of engineering knowledge to come up with a good design is one thing, but the worst element of these components is that they are badly made.  This causes lots of problems when I come to copy them, because unlike them, I make things square/perpendicular/paralell/etc as appropriate.  Therefore the job immediately becomes a lot more challenging.

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Adams Universal Timpani (Job No: 1263)

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).

When these Adams copper universal timpani were brought in to be overhauled, the customer was complaining, amongst other minor issues, about the drums buzzing.  As soon as I heard the drums I knew what the problem was:

Adams universal timpani are built using the same method as Ludwig timps; the bearing edge is formed from a steel extrusion which is then fitted into the bowl.  In this case the bowl is made of copper, but the same process is used with their fibreglass timpani.  Fibreglass bowls are stuck to the metal ring with the same polyurethane resin (probably) used to make the bowl, however both Ludwig and consequently Adams have not used an adhesive but a mechanical fixing (pop rivets) to make the joint between a copper bowl and a steel hoop.  The big problem is that copper bowls are spun into shape, and there is always a discrepancy between the size of the bowl and the steel bearing edge hoop.  Spinning metal is a bit of a black art, so regardless of mechanical automation the size of the bowl will (and do) always vary.  Rolling hoops is also one of those things that is difficult to do exactly.  Therefore, this gap is almost bound to happen, so paper tape is used to fill the gap prior to riveting the bowl in position.

The principle of this method is a nice solution, but the application of the technique employed, by which I mean the use of packing tape, is not something that I would do.  Being brutally honest, I cannot give conclusive, evidence based, acoustic arguments as to why is it a bad idea, but my gut feeling (and experience?) makes me think it is.  There is a further problem of electrolytic corrosion – the copper of the bowl and the zinc plating on top of a steel hoop, are all joined with an aluminium rivet.  Now this isn’t a major problem, but why would you even introduce it into the equation?



The really bad creak on the 26″ timpani turned out to be in one of the tuning nut boxes.  This was difficult to find, and awkward to solve.  It is one of those problems that I will have to look out for when I do this type of timp in the future.

…How your timpani has gone from sounding good to bad.

(Every Percussionist Should Know…)
…How your timpani has gone from sounding good to bad.

My intention with this article is to explain how your kettle drum works acoustically to create a harmonic pitch.  I have simplified everything considerably for clarity and brevity.  Once the fundamentals are understood you will then be able to find out what has happened to your drum, and come to the realisation that you really do need expert help!

Right at the very beginning, Preschool Paul, whilst out walking with his parents threw a stone into a pond and watched the ripples.



Because this pond just happens to be perfectly round, the ripples bounce back off the banks uniformly.  It creates a nice symmetrical pattern.  When applied to your kettle drum, this would represent the perfectly pure note.  The stone represents the timpani stick and I know a timpani is played at the edge, but that is because of more advanced acoustical reasons which do not contradict this acoustic model.  The ripples are sound waves.

However, if the pond was elliptical then some sections of the circular sound wave would be reflected off the bank before other sections.  Your drum now sounds awful because the interaction between the original and reflected sound waves are inharmonic. (This will be explained in another article if I ever finish it!)  The same thing would happen if your timpani bowl has been squashed and you have a flat spot.

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However it gets more complicated, because we live in a three dimensional world.  In the diagram below, the drum looks circular when viewed from directly above, but as the image rotates around the centre line as if to view the bowl from the side, it can be seen that the top half creates the expected ellipse, whereas the bottom half undulates up and down.  This could be because something has dropped onto the drum from above.  At the bottom left you can see the “acoustic” shape that this bowl would create.

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Because the bowl shape doesn’t vary when timpani are played, then any defect in the roundness of the bowl will affect the entire playing range.  It is relatively easy to return an elliptical bowl back to round – I do it every time I change a head, however if the bowl is egg shaped things suddenly get harder, and if it’s not flat they become harder still.

Timpani don’t just play one pitch, they have pedal mechanisms that adjust the tension of the head.  Now we know how to get a good note, it is easy to understand that if the tuning linkages are pulling one part of the head harder than another, then acoustically, this is like changing the shape of the bowl away from circular and harmonic.  This manifests itself when the kettle drum sounds good at one pitch, but gets worse as you move away from that pitch.

However, timpani always sound better at lower pitches, so a 26″ will always start to sound a bit iffy at higher pitches because they are no longer capable of working properly from an acoustical stand point, and anything smaller just doesn’t work.  As players, you will probably agree with me in wishing that composers would stop trying to get timpani to play top A’s and above – they would be better using a roto-tom!

…The Anatomy of a Kettle Drum

(Every Percussionist Should Know…)
…The Anatomy of a Kettle Drum.

Life is easier if you can tell the doctor that your left little toe hurts, from there one could get even more specific; the top right corner of the nail.  It’s the same when customers talk to me about their instruments.  Most instrument are pretty simple, but the modern timpani are not, so I thought it was time that I create a guide.

Below is a drawing I have reproduced and altered from an old Premier spare parts manual.  I have only used Premier because I had it readily to hand.  Regardless of the make and model, essentially the component parts of a kettle drum are generic.

I can’t be bothered learning all the various names or numbers that manufacturers come up with to differentiate themselves from the others.  If you need a part, explain what you need, and I will worry about part numbers – you receive what you actually need.

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  1. Tuning key – this replaces the old T handles.
  2. Tuning bolt, not a T bolt – believe it or not they look like the letter T.
  3. Insulation washer.  I use PTFE, Premier have nylon semi-spherical washers.
  4. Indicies indicate the note or pitch on a tuning gauge (don’t worry most tuning gauges are simply rubbish – they are the bane of my life! (exaggeration)).
  5. Head, whether made of plastic or skin it is a timp head.  Skins were the thugs in the late 70’s that wore Doc Martins shoes, bomber jackets and had Nazi swastikas tattooed on their faces (I bet they regret those tattoos n6.  ow!)
  6. Bearing edge
  7. Tuning Lug.  Lug is a universal engineering term for anything that protrudes out.  I can’t stop thinking of the kid at school who had sticking out ears…
  8. Counter Hoop.  This holds the flesh hoop and enables tuning.
  9. Suspension Hoop.  It suspends the bowl.  Cheaper drums do away with this part and attach the struts directly to the bowl.
  10. Bowl.  Made of silver, copper, glass fibre, aluminium or ceramic, on timps a bowl is a bowl.
  11. Strut or Leg.
  12. Knee.
  13. Grip rod.
  14. Clutch.
  15. Pedal and pedal cover.
  16. Toe and more specifically the Heel.  Think about it, the toe’s stick out, and the heel is like that part of your shoe.
  17. Pedal Arm.
  18. Base Casting.
  19. Caster.  Premier have the Tilt Stem attached.  A wheel is a wheel, it’s the round thing, the complete unit is a caster.  Ask for a wheel, you get a wheel!
  20. Central Pull Rod.  Ignore all the clever names manufacturers come up with.  All the tuning rods converge at the spider which is attached to a central rod which is pulled down by the pedal arm.  Hence the name.
  21. Fine Tuner.  This changes location, on Premier drums it is called a crown wheel (probably because it looks like the Crown paint manufacturers logo).
  22. Tuning Rods.  These are the radial rods, the other ones are vertical rods.