Category: Timpani

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)

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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.

Premier Series 1 timps (part 2) (Job No: 1228)

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It is a long time since I wrote part 1.  This is what happens when I don’t get paid; all incentive to do the subsequent jobs fade away.  Then of course when I do finally get paid, the work has to be rescheduled.  In the mean time I have a hundred and one other jobs to do and the weeks roll by.  The other side of not getting paid of course is that I can’t buy food, or pay my bills, but that whole concept fails to register with many of my customers!

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Anyway, I digress (as usual).  So in part one I got to the point where the bases could be welded.  As you can see below, I have totally reformed and trnasformed the under side of the casting.

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Another classic bodge job is just bolting a caster on when the big tilt stem has been lost.  The caster was held on with a 10mm bolt, the hole in the casting for the tilt stem is 19mm.  I find it staggering that anyone would think that that was going to work.

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There is little that I can do with the resulting damage.  Fortunately, the casting is thick and the thread is coarse, so after re-tapping the holes, replacement tilt stems works well.  Easy job really if you have the equipment and the parts.  If you don’t have either, they shouldn’t be doing the job!

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Slingerland timp (part 2) (Job No: 1247)

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The first part of this post can be read in 1247: Slingerland timp (part 1), in which the base casting was overhauled.

Now the casting is back from being welded and has been painted and re-assembled.  The leg wobble has been corrected with larger bolts and spacers to ensure a tight fit.  I replaced the link bar between the two legs with a solid strip of steel so they cannot become untied whilst the drum is being moved.

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With everything reassembled it is just a matter of putting on a new drum head…

However, the drum head didn’t fit the counter hoop!  The cause of the problem (and two and half hours of my life being wasted) is because Slingerland made the hoop on the small side, and Ludwig mad the head on the big side.

I learnt at school that if you multiply the diametre of a circle by pi you get the circumference.  Now I work with circles all the time, and I know that pi equals 3.14159 off the top of my head (it is actually a lot, lot longer, but to 5 decimal places is good enough for me!), but many calculators have a button marked π.  So why is it seemingly impossible for major manufacturers to make a circle of the correct diametre?

So first I have to make as much room inside the counter hoop as possible by planishing the rivets that hold the lugs on as flat as I can.

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Then I have to squeeze the head in mechanically, and use a hammer and block to seat it against the surface of the hoop so it sits flat on the drum.  Just look how tight it is:

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For me this is just another example of how so many instruments are made by people who don’t understand how important these supossedly minor details are to the overall quality of the sound.  If a drum head is too tight in the counterhoop it chokes the sound.  As it happens I got the drum to sound great, which took a few tricks, but was an unexpected surprise (and a releif!)

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Slingerland Timpani (part 1) (Job No: 1247)

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Looking at the picture above I have a song running through my head, “Oh, what shall we do with the drunken sailor?”  Those stupid little bars to join the legs together, they will go in the bin!

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).

So before I get to the legs, I have to decide whether I need to raise the toe.

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In this case it is evident that the toe does need to come up a lot.  That is level, and the adjustable casters are at their lowest position.  With that decision made I can look at the legs.



What I did notice is how badly the castings were cleaned up (or not).

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Working on the mechanism is difficult because everything is riveted together, so these have to come out in order for the parts to be cleaned, inspected, etc.
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This post continues in 1247: Slingerland timp (pt 2)

Adams Universal Timpani Problem (part 3) (Job No: 1243)

This post started with Adam’s problems (pt 1).

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So yesterday ended in frustration, meaning that today (yet again) I had to finish off that section of work before doing today’s work.



So the pedal had to be removed several times to be modified and get enough clearance for that nut.  The problem being that I didn’t want to remove that section of the pedal casting completely.

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This drum was the most difficult, which is why I tackled it first.  The other two were more straight forward, but still needed to be checked and tweaks made.
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So the new mechanisms are all in.  They are simple and effective.  The ball joint between both rods is the key, it compensates for any alignment issues between the base casting and the bowl.

Now the new mechanisms are in, the rest of the overhaul can be done which is straight forward on these drums.  After I have finished inverting the drums, the tuning guages can be looked at.  I did have to change the length of the linkage rod between the guages and the fixing point on the central rod because I had moved the fixing point higher up the drum (Obviously I had to shorten them).  What I noticed was excessive wear on the socket joints, so new sockets were fitted.

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Finally all the other rods joined to the spider and the heads can be put on.

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Epilogue.

It is unusual for me to put on clear heads, but interesting because you can see what is going on inside the drum when everything is up and running.  When the customer was collecting the timps, we were setting the heights, and we noticed that the legs foul the rods inside.

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In the photo above in the foreground is the guage with its link rod receding towards the central pull rod which is behind the leg.  Notice how the leg is touching the link rod.

My first thoughts were I had made a mistake, but after looking at each drum individually and thinking about it, I realised that I had inadvertently nearly (but not quite) resolved the issue by moving the central pull rod back and the guage linkage higher.  The mistake I made was the assumption that Adams had made things correctly.  If there is one cardinal sin in my work, it is to assume that things are made correctly.  This of course explains the excessive wear on the guage linkages, obviously whenever the legs are pushed into the bowl, they are bending things out of their way.

All in all, we were not impressed – another schoolboy error by one of the major manufacturers that I have to resolve.  This is why it takes time for me to overhaul timpani, the list of model specific problems that I rectify continually grows!

Adams Universal Timp Problem (part 2) (Job No: 1243)

This post follows on from Adam’s problems (pt 1).

So day one was mainly spent setting up the drums, and making the bottom blocks.  Today starts with finishing the installation of the other two blocks, before making more components.

The original central tuning rod has been removed from the pedal, and is now actually central held by a guide block.  So now I need make a secondary linkage to join that rod to the pedal.  I still have an attachment on the pedal, but nothing on the central rod, so this is where I start.

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Going through the photos, I take a length of brass stock and the rod end which will go on the end of the linkage rod from the pedal mark everything up and drill lots of holes in it.  (There are an awful lot of Rod’s around!)  After the smaller perpendicular holes are drilled, the pieces go in the lathe to have the longitudinal hole drilled.  The fixings holes are tapped, then the longitudinal hole is reamed to make sure it is round and will fit nicely on the central pull rod (There is only a 0.02mm gap all around so it will be tight).  Lastly the components are preassembled.

Next I make the linkage rod which is simple, I just have to run a thread on the end.

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Finally I can assemble the parts on the first drum and check that I have all the clearances, which I didn’t.

The problem is that manufacturers make product and forget that they are making musical instruments.  A lot of effort is put into making new ranges of more, essentially shit instruments, in an attempt to generate the desire to buy in a limited number of consumers.  Very little effort and value is put on the making and assembly of those instruments.  Cheap materials are used wherever possible, and because people are expensive, the cheapest possible labour is used.  So your pride and joy was probably assembled by monkeys, the dregs of society who get pissed at lunchtime and are still high the morning after.  They work for a wage packet, they don’t give a toss about whether the holes are right, it’s the near enough attitude, and near enough is not good enough to make something that makes musical noises.

So when the bowls are put on the cradles, they can be out of alignment by over an inch.  I can compensate, or remount the bowls with new holes.  I choose to compensate.  So in this instance I had remount the connection on the pedal, then make another rod, then further modify the pedal, then reassemble to check, disassemble, modify the pedal………………………..

The final part of this job is Adam’s Problems (pt 3)