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is not by any means limited to Premier, are low standards of quality in production methods that in most instances are outdated anyway.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!

2 comments on “Premier Fibreglass Timpani (Job No: 1283)

  1. Brian THOMAS

    Hi Paul,

    Your thoughts about factory workers reminded me of a blog post I read several years ago by the well-known (in software circles anyway) Joel Spolsky. Here’s the link:
    http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000024.html

    Joel’s basic idea is that even if you write down all take the steps involved in doing a high-quality job so they can be followed by just about anyone, the quality inevitably drops, because the people following the steps don’t have the passion or the talent. Joel noted it both in McDonalds, and software, and you’ve noticed it quite independently in musical instrument manufacture. Seems to be one of those things common to all human activity. Have a look at the article and see what you think.

    All the best,
    Brian

    Reply
    • pauljefferies

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for that, it is an interesting article.

      Every business faces the same dilema of to stick or twist. I have stopped trying to hire additional help now, ultimately it was too distracting continuously having to maintain quality control. Often it wasn’t even more profitable since I was both managing and redoing the work. As a result of physically doing all the work myself is that my income is limited by what I can produce and customers have to wait for their work to be done – those are the downsides.

      The common thread in all the examples mentioned in the article, is the need for businesses to grow profits. Politicians also talk about the need for the economy to grow. Perpetual growth is unobtainable, eventually the house of cards will collapse, I much prefer sustainability.

      So I think the real difference is me – money simply isn’t a motivator. I am not rich, in fact I am cash poor, but I simply do not buy into the consumerist mentaility of you are what you own and as a result it is surprising how a little money goes a long way.

      However the sad fact is that I do actually need to earn more. Achieving this without working harder (I already work hard enough thank you!), or lowering standards is the problem that I am working on at the moment; for me, I am convinced the answer is making.

      Paul

      Reply

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