Tag: Orchestral Percussion

Technical Support (Job No: 1275)

It is quite rare for me to work out on site, in fact I normally refuse.  Too much of what I do requires large machines like pillar drills and lathes.  The variety of materials I need, the number of tools and jigs I use, or simply the quantity of spare parts makes working out on site a physical impracticality.  However the main reason for my reluctance is the compromise in quality; the purpose of my development of specialist tools and jigs is to continually raise the standard of my work – if these aren’t accessible then I am forced to roll back the clock, sometimes well over a decade, to how I used to work.  Put simply, I don’t see why I should be forced to do work that I know is wrong.

However, when one of my trade customers, has a big hire job but cannot provide on site technical support because I do all the repairs and maintenance on their orchestral percussion, I become the obvious choice.

The key is preparation – all of their gear went out on site in good condition, and I had no major problems with any of it.  So my massive supply of spare parts and tools that I drove down in the van were only used to sort out the extra instruments that my customer had to hire in!  I remember this situation from my days at Impact Percussion.  Impact sometimes needed to hire instruments from another hire company to fulfill an orchestra’s requirements.  I would have to repair those instruments before Impact could send them out!

Anyway, I learnt a lot about what goes on behind the scenes at big music festivals, walked a long way back and forth to various venues, and drank a lot of iced tea! Oh, and I repaired a few percussion instruments and a lot of music stands.

wpid-wp-1436864373438.jpg

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.

Premier Tubular bells (Job No: 1277)

Moving parts by their very nature will always cause problems, especially so if they are not regularly serviced or designed and made badly.  This is the case with these Premier tubular bells.  In defence of the customer, there isn’t actually anything they could have done in particular to have prevented the noise produced from the damping system.



As seen clearly the noise problem in this tubular bell damping system arose mainly from the choice of materials; the wooden dowel. In defence of Premier they have economic constraints; everyone wants to spend as little as possible on musical instruments, so for Premier, and indeed any manufacturer, they have to shave off costs at every opportunity.  Wooden dowels are cheaper than ptfe rod, so wooden dowels are used; spending time to minutely check every component takes time which in turn increases production costs.  There is a solution however; the customer has to pay more – simple.  Whether initially they pay more to have a proper instrument made, or they pay more to have a cheaper instrument re-engineered, either way the only answer I see is the musician paying more money.  Ultimately you get what you pay for.

It could be worse however, and I have seen worse systems, at least I could work with what I had to silence the problems.  Other than the damping system, there were creaks that originated from the frame in general, these were removed by re-assembling the frame with a care and the usual attention to details.

Deagan Aurora Overhaul (part 1) (Job No: 1256)

The player thinks that it must be 20 years since this Aurora vibraphone was last serviced.  It feels like that long since I last posted!  Those who know me personally, will know that it is not just that I have been sitting on my hands – although there were a few moments!  I have been working on new things, which I will write about separately, but bubbling over in the background have also been a few jobs of which this Deagan is one.

wpid-wp-1434699840499.jpg

After having specific issues to resolve on the last few instruments, my remit on this Deagan Aurora is back to what I normally get, “can you sort it out please Paul?”  So when this is the case, I look at and repair, restore or modify every component.  I have a systematic approach, for example on the Aurora joining the massive ends with the cross bar is the first part of assembly, so this is where I start the overhaul.

Those massive ends don’t come apart; well they will, but only by damaging the plastic covering.  This Deagan is still looking good, so I am reluctant to do that for little reward.  Therefore it is the cross bar that I turn my attention towards, and in particular the damping system.


wpid-wp-1434528746254.jpg

This post continues with 1256: Deagan Aurora (pt2).

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.

wpid-wp-1432108255900.jpg

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.

wpid-wp-1432108829343.jpg

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!



Marching Snare Drum (Job No: 768)

FOR SALE  £250

Here is a very nice parallel action marching snare drum in full working condition.

wpid-img_20150506_180309.jpg

The shell has only minor scratching in the chrome, but it still looks great.

wpid-img_20150506_180317.jpg

The snare wires raise and lower parallel to the head as opposed to just at one side like snare drums that are used on drum kits.

wpid-img_20150506_180333.jpg

The top head has an internal damper.  The lugs are high tension fittings appropriate for marching snare drum heads.

wpid-img_20150506_180340.jpg

Brand new heads (I couldn’t get over the price of the batter head) means that this drum is ready for action.

If you have any questions, ask and I will see if I can help.

Military Snare Drum Hoop (Job No: 1234)

wpid-img_20150306_150435.jpg

I have two drum hoops off a military marching snare drum to be restored.  This is one of those open ended jobs that has been underway for a while.

As can be seen from the picture above, one hoop was bare wood, presumably stripped to be repainted which I have subsequently primed.  The second hoop is broken and obviously needs to be made whole again.

wpid-img_20150306_152053.jpg

It is often tricky clamping things together whilst they are being glued – creativity is needed with the clamping arrangements.

This simple repair of glueing the ends back together is essentially a butt joint.  It is sufficiently strong to hold the hoop round again, however it will probably break again as soon as any force is applied.  Because I already have to repaint the other hoop, I decided to insert a new section of wood across the break as reinforcement creating a lap joint which is a lot stronger.

wpid-img_20150306_160029.jpg

Then it was just a matter of painting.  In order to get a good colour match, and to achieve gradual decoloration over time I used oil based paints, the same that I would use for painting pictures.  It is a nice medium to work with because I can vary the shade subtly and create a more aged look with ingrained dirt.  The problem is that different pigments have different drying times, so care needs to be taken as to which colour goes on top.  In any case it took over a week for each colour to dry, so the whole painting process was a long one.

wpid-img_20150508_103147.jpg

Like any of these jobs, I learnt a lot and would do things differently next time.  I had major issues holding the hoop whilst painting, and initially I used the wrong type of brush.  It is one of those end results that is only okay; I can live with it, but it is not perfect.

However, it doesn’t need to be perfect, because the final stage of the process is antiquing.  The customer does not want a hoop that looks brand new, it needs to look old and “period”.  So once I have a painted hoop, I can start removing that paint, and applying grime effects to replicate the bashes, knocks and handling of a hundred years of use.

wpid-screenshot_2015-05-09-10-46-292.jpg.jpg

wpid-screenshot_2015-05-09-09-08-512.jpg.jpg

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.

wpid-img_20150506_153910.jpg

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.

wpid-img_20150506_171833.jpg

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.

Premier 701 Vibe damper (part 2) (Job No: 1260)

In 1260 (pt1), I looked at all the work I had to do before I could even start looking at the reason why this Premier 701 vibraphone had come in to be repaired.

wpid-img_20150428_155950.jpg

Having fixed all the issues with the frame and therefore I have an instrument that doesn’t continually change shape, I can put the notes on and define a centre line for the damper bar.

There are several different approaches used to control the movement of a damper bar; this system that I am making is my favourite.  It has the fewest number of parts to make, which means that it is quicker and cheaper to fabricate.  This also means that the tolerances (manufacturing discrepancies) don’t add up and become too great.  But above all that, it is the system that seems to go wrong the least number of times.

What I should say, is that I have no intention of replicating the system made by Premier and used on their 701 and 751 vibes.  The Premier design is actually quite neat, but it doesn’t really work very well, has an Achilles heel, and all the spares are now obsolete. 

wpid-img_20150428_163436.jpg

Back to the vibraphone.  Now that I know where the damper bar needs to be, I can make the levers around which it will rotate.  All of the manufacturers who use this system, fix the levers to the damper bar with screws.  I have used very thin wall steel instead of aluminium, so I have chosen to weld them on in position and have fewer parts to go wrong and end up with a more resilient design.  This is one major reason for choosing steel over aluminium, the other is that it is stronger.  Yes it is very slightly heavier than the aluminium the manufacturers use, but when that is substituted for aluminium stock that doesn’t bend in use, the thicker walled aluminium actually weighs more than the steel.  This is a common misconception about aluminium.



The connection rods between the damper bar and the pedal are always a bit tricky, both in design, where there is always a compromise, and in application.  The design problems are mainly concerned with ease of use when the vibraphone is being transported.  The issues in application are that they want to fall down towards the pedal exactly where the motor sits.  Therefore the positioning is also a compromise.  The actual method I use are simply tubes that have a telescopic rod that connects to the pedal.  This will be seen in 1260 (pt 3) when all the bits are back from the powder coaters and chrome platers.

Premier 701 Vibraphone (part 1) (Job No: 1260)

This whole job is a bit embarrassing, not for me, but for all the other people who have been associated with this instrument before it ended up in my workshop.  Most of all it is embarrassing for the man who bought as a birthday present to his son, discovered a problem with lack of damping, and ten months later the son is nearly another year older!

wpid-img_20150423_154938.jpg

I do have the notes and resonators, but as can be seen the damper bar is missing – taken to be repaired.  So the job is to sort out the lack of damping.

The damper bar on these Premier vibes is rubbish and now all the parts are obsolete.  Why anyone would go to the trouble of remaking parts to get a badly designed assembly to work is a mystery to me.  The main problem with the design is the leaf springs which work harden over time and snap like the top of a tin can when you wiggle it to get it off.  I could make new springs in an hour, but why make something that is destined to break?  Furthermore, because I don’t have the original damper bar I don’t know what condition the ball joints are in, or if the bar is straight which are the other major issues.

Immediately when the instrument was delivered I noticed a problem.

wpid-img_20150427_160010.jpg

The bottom bar which carries the pedal, and around which the pedal rotates, has been welded to the frame.  How could I resolve any damping problems if I were to ignore the point of operation?  First big question therefore is why the damper bar was removed for repair when the whole instrument should have been taken.

I know why the damper bar was welded into place.  As can be seen from the photo, several attempts have been made to sort the problem.  It’s unbelievably bad and so obvious only someone stupid would have failed to realise that the pedal acts against springs which therefore will try and rotate the tube.  So the two screws in the ends didn’t work because they have created a nice axle.

wpid-photogrid_1430294141180.jpg

The first thing to do is to make a new bar, because the only way to that one off is with an angle grinder.  Because the damper bar and springs slide onto the tube and are riveted in place the ends need to be both the same diameter of the tube and removable.

wpid-img_20150428_110324.jpg

I put flats on the under side of these caps which sit on a little square bar welded to the leg frames to stop the rotation.

wpid-img_20150423_172802.jpg

Whilst I was welding, I put mounting plates on for the casters – in the picture above it can be seen what the previous person did.

wpid-img_20150428_133620.jpg

The damping system will not work if the legs aren’t attached to the top frame or the frame to the note rails.

wpid-photogrid_1430297641776.jpg

The whole thing needed to be removed straightened and refitted, so that the top and bottom are now both solid, all I then had to do was join the two halves, except the holes don’t even line up.

wpid-photogrid_1430297818980.jpg

I think that the owner said that he bought the instrument from a school – I certainly hope that this is not the work of the metal work teacher, but I suspect it is.  As a digression, I applied to do teacher training in the early 2000’s, become a craft and design teacher; I was told that I was under qualified.  You don’t need a bloody degree to make something square!

wpid-screenshot_2015-04-29-10-03-532.jpg.jpg

That was hot, hard work!  Fire and brawn to pull the thing straight.  The frame that has been built (which actually needs to be binned) is massively heavy 6mm steel!  I would make a shelter out of this stuff and still guarantee it for life.

Finally I can assemble the instrument and begin to look at the actual damper bar which will be in 1260 (pt 2).

wpid-img_20150428_153742.jpg