Tag: Paul Jefferies

Vintage Bass Drum (part 1) (Job No: 1233)

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It seems like I have been occupied taking lots of small steps with large projects recently and have neglected to take photographs and write posts about them. This is one of those jobs that have been on the go for a while.

As can be seen this vintage bass drum has seen better days. There are several aspects that need to be repaired. First on the list to make a new counter hoop to replace the original which is in several pieces and cannot be practicably repaired.

I have never needed to make a counter hoop in wood before, the hoops I make are normally polished stainless steel. This lack of prior experience is never a problem, the reality is that I spend most of my working life going into the unknown, which is how I develop new methods and techniques to constantly improve quality. What I therefore do have is a lot of know how.

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So I started by planing a long board of oak to the depth of the hoop and cutting off a thin strip, in the above picture I am using the thicknessing sander I built to clean up the sides of saw marks and make the width uniform.

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There are two types of jigs or pattern used to make things; internal or external. A pie dish is an external mould. I made an internal mould to prevent the hoop forming below the correct diameter. Then I calculated the circumference which gives me the length of the strip of wood so that I could angle the ends to create a scarf joint.

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The long strip is then steamed (inside a long tube) until it goes floppy, then bent around the mould and clamped in place until the wood has cooled and set. The next day the hoop came out of the mould so that it could dry off for a while.

When oak gets wet, the tannins are pulled out and the surface of the wood (and my hands) get stained black. The moisture will also lift surface fibres. Both issues are resolved by sanding until that surface layer is removed. The final step before varnishing is to create the radiuses on the external edge.

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The next job is to make replacement barrels for the tuning lugs. These are solid with the thread cut into them, so to replicate them it is lathe work: drilling a small pilot hole a long way into a thin rod. This is a heart in the mouth process, if that drill bit snaps inside the rod, then it goes in the scrap bin; obviously there is a hole at either end. Patience, care and feel gets there in the end.

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With the barrels made, they can be sent to be chrome plated. In 1233: (part 2) I will assemble and finish the drum.

Rope Tension Drums (part 3) (Job No: 1249)

In the previous part of this post – 1249: ropey drums (pt2) I was making up new lengths of rope and repairing the buffs, all preparation to do most of the drums.  However I was left with three drums that needed new buffs to be made because I have changed the rope to match all the others in two cases or there were several missing in the third case.

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As you would expect, there were also repairs to be made, whilst the drums were in pieces in my workshop.

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Flesh hoops had to be made the correct size for the heads to be lapped onto.

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But finally, having everything needed and repairs and parts made, I am ready to put new heads on the drums.

The first thing I do is to spray the heads with water to make the skin become soft and pliable.  There are a few reasons for doing this, skin (and wood) are hygroscopic which means that they absorb and release moisture.  If it is cold and dry, our own skin suffers, if we stay in the bath too long it becomes baggy soft and wrinkly.  Therefore we utilise this property to our own advantage.

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First of all by wetting the playing surface (but leaving the lapping dry), the strain is taken off the flesh hoop allowing it to flatten.  When the head is put on the drum, the skin will mould itself to the profile of the bearing creating 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.  Lastly, it can be easily stretched, so that when I put it on the drum, I can pull the skin down the sides of the drum and create a collar.

However, in use, the hygroscopic nature of the skin can be a problem,  well judging on what I see coming in for repair, it is a problem.  Therefore I have written a post in the Every Percussionist Should Know…   series called: …How to look after vellum heads.

Whilst the drum heads are softening, I prepare the bearing edge by lightly sanding it so that all the dirt and proud wood fibres are removed.  I want a nice smooth surface for the head to slide over when it is being tuned.  To further help the head slide, and to prevent it from sticking to the wood (the proteins in skin make exceptionally strong adhesives) I lubricate/seal the surface with tallow.

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Now it is just a case of threading the long bit of rope through the counter hoops and buffs, and tightening it up.

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The drum above is the shell that I painted to make it look, “as natural as possible,” as was the remit.  It has new rope and the new buffs I made above.  To remind yo what it looked like I shall end with a before after picture.

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Rope Tension Drums (part 2) (Job No: 1249)

A lot of rope has now arrived. In 1249: ropey drums (pt1) I started to dismantle and paint stuff whilst the materials I needed were on order.  Now they are here, I can start tackling the pile of drums and try to reduce its height.

When these types of drum are sat on the floor, the rope going around the counter hoop gets abraded.  Obviously this considerably weakens the rope until it snaps, but it also makes getting the rope off the drum all but impossible without cutting it anyway.

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What I get invariably are drums with various types of rope on them.  What I always notice is that some ridiculous made up knot is used to join the rope.  There is a guideline for rope work; “if it looks like shit, it probably is”.

So, what knot should you use?  One of the easiest, the Reef knot.  Used to join dissimilar ropes, also lies flat so it is also used for tying bandages and slings – so everybody should know it!  If you can play a paradiddle, then this knot is similar:

Right over left and under.
Left over right and under.

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Compare the two pictures, and you can see immediately what I mean when I say, “if it looks like shit…”  Without getting too in depth about why, but the reef knot is also a lot stronger, and a lot easier to untie after it has been tensioned.

I often get amused by how many of my life experiences get used in my work.  When I was a boy scout I learnt about knots, we had to know, we built everything we needed when we camped.  Then rope was a tool, and different applications required different knots.  Later as a rock climber I was using knots to protect myself and others, in two instances it was my skill that got fallen climbers off cliff ledges and into the back of ambulances (that makes me feel proud!)  Now I am reminded about all this when I am making drums.

So I will have been about eleven when I learnt to splice a rope, which simply means weaving rope together.  On these drums it is an eye splice that is needed to create a loop for the rope to feed through.

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The splice doubles the thickness of the rope, so it won’t physically go through the hole in the counter hoop.  So a back splice (just folded back on itself) wouldn’t work on the other end.  In order to stop the rope from fraying a whipping is tied.    

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The whipping is very tight, using special thread it actually compresses the rope.  It certainly makes it easier to thread the rope when assembling the drum.

With the rope prepared, the last part of the equation are the buffs or tensioners.  These are tied together with vellum or gut.

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If they are present but broken, I cut a strip of vellum off an old drum head, and repair them.

In the next post, 1249: Ropey Drums (pt3) I might even get around to assembling a drum!

Bergerault Pedal Glock (part 2) (Job No: 1239)

All the metal work needed to stop this Bergerault pedal glock collapsing at every inopportune moment was made in 1239 Bergerault pedal glock (pt 1).

I have a few golden rules when it comes to making and repairing percussion instruments, for instance it has to sound good, work, last, etc. In application I also have considerations to make and using experience I identify and remove potential problems before they happen.

This glockenspiel has two examples, first on the list are rattles.  Has it not dawned on the manufacturers that percussion instruments are played by hitting them, and that due to their very nature of being musical instruments they vibrate.  So anything that can work loose and vibrate will do.  Why on earth then would you choose to use a buckle on a percussion instrument?

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Needless to say, they go in the bin!

The next problem is the damper pedal which just hangs off the end of the connecting rod.  Of course this is fine if the instrument never moves and of course the world has a perfectly flat uniform surface.  The damper bar is sprung, so any movement on the instrument will cause movement in the springs – they bounce.  Low and behold the pedal becomes detached, bits snap off, get bent….

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It is only because I am also a quantum physicist as well as an instrument maker, who does a bit of neuro surgery on the side, that I am capable of coming up with solutions to these problems.  Webbing loops instead of buckles, and I remake the pedal connector with bigger sides so the pull rod cannot come off (which is fine if the instrument always stays set up). 

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With those bits of idiocy resolved, the instrument can be assembled and finished.

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Musser M55 Vibraphone (Job No: 1251)

Of all the vibraphones on the market, this is the one to buy, especially if you want an instrument that you might be able to sell again in the future and get a decent price.

The Musser M55 is the bench mark vibe, when I look at other instruments from different manufacturers, I can see that they have essentially copied this design.

There are however problems with this vibe, mainly down to using poor materials in the frame, but you show me a major manufacturer who doesn’t make frames for percussion instruments as cheaply as possible.

If distributors don’t send me catalogues I am never going to see “new” instruments until they have broken, so consequently I’m not very up to date on Musser’s entire range of vibraphones, but I can’t see any reason to not buy this vibe with no added extras that cost extra money but don’t do anything or work.

Anyway, I last saw this vibraphone when I had a workshop in London, probably around 2003.  This is the players gigging vibe as opposed to the practice instrument at home, and it gets used a lot, but now it needs some attention.

The biggest problem is that the pedal moves all over the place, and as soon as I take a look, I can see why.

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Basically the screw that holds the pedal onto the bottom bar acts like a rasp on the very thin aluminium.  The main issue I have with the way this instrument is built is the thinness of the aluminium.  Structurally it is not up to the job, and this level of wear is a further reason why it is no good.

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What I did was make a new bit to replace the old bit – I have no idea what to call the extra bit of square tube that Musser put on the underside of the main cross bar, the piece that makes the pedal sit at the correct height.  (A classic case of bodging it when you make a mistake on the drawing board, which never gets changed.  I reckon that even Musser believe the excuse for it’s existence – but let’s face it, it’s a cock up!)

So yes, I made a new “bit” and enlarged the holes through where the pedal attaches.  Then I made a nylon insert through which the pedal fixing bolt passes.

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This was made so that it is held in place by the ally plate on top and the “bit” underneath.  Because the nylon is now proud of both surfaces of the cross bar, the pedal rotates silently and smoothly – no metal to metal contact.  The bolt is now supported over its length, so the pedal cannot twist backwards.

I was unwell at the time, so didn’t take enough pictures, because my brain was like custard.  I did find other problems but I will undoubtedly cover them in the future on other vibes.

Rope Tension Drums (Part 1) (Job No: 1249)

I have a big pile of tenor drums, snare drums and field drums to repair.  All have calf skin heads, and are rope tensioned.

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Just like doing the job, it is difficult to decide where to start.  All of the drums have something broken, missing or worn out, so whilst waiting for materials to arrive, I just started doing what I could.

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There are two drums like the one above which I am changing.  The maker has used the wrong type of rope.  These drums are often to be used on stage as a period prop, the rope used is a 16 strand weave which is modern.  I’m not sure what the material is, (I know what it isn’t) but it is thin, course and aggressive (just like me!)  So I can modify the counter hoops to accept the same diametre rope as all the other drums.

There are two drums that require some sort of aesthetic treatment.

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The drum on the left has just been really badly painted, the drum on the right, well it’s just hideous!  Both need to painted so they look more natural – brown then.

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According to the man at the Dulux shop (I only use Dulux oil paints) who has worked there for 22 years, he has never mixed up brown paint.  I’m not surprised, the previous owner of my house liked brown – I have it on all the skirting boards and doors, and yes it does look horrible.  Because of this, there are only three shades to choose from, so I went with hazelnut which was actually the only one close.

To break up the brown and make it look a bit more natural, I used black to replicate knots and grain.

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For now, the paint has to dry, and rope has to arrive, so in 1249: Ropey Drums (pt2) we will see a lot more knots.

Bergerault Pedal Glock (part 1) (Job No: 1239)

There is a big problem with the Bergerault pedal glock; it falls apart if you move it. Besides from being highly irritating, this self destructive characteristic also causes things to break, fall off and get lost. This is a shame, because the instrument sounds nice.  So what happens is that they get sent to me to be sorted out!

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In explanation of what the problem is I’ll use an analogy with our old friend Paul the Porter:

Paul the Porter is playing on the see saw, in the park with Preschool Paul.  When the two Paul’s are sat at either end, Preschool Paul gets flung high into the air which he loves.

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After a little while Paul the Porter’s nerves have been sufficiently jangled so he moves towards the centre.  Preschool Paul is amazed that they now balance and he begins to understand the mechanical principles of leverage.

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So returning to our glockenspiel and looking at the base of the instrument, it is immediately apparent (to me) that there are serious design flaws which mean that there will always be problems with this instrument falling over.  Thus the Bergerault Pedal Glockenspiel appears in my top ten bad designs, which includes a detailed explanation of what is happening.

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In brief, the picture above shows the main offender – the bottom bar has an adjustment on it to alter its length.  This facilitates removing it from the glockenspiel when it is being folded down, but also now means that the legs are not fixed at the bottom.  So when the glock is being wheeled along, this bottom bar offers no structural support.  Returning to our analogy of the see saw,  looking from directly above, the two wheels move about this point like a see saw, compressing the adjustment shorter so it actually falls off immediately prior to the instrument collapsing!

My solution, which applies to just about every instrument I look at, is to sort out the very bottom of the instrument.  It is only when the four wheels are fixed firmly in place that there is any hope for the rest of the instrument to be stable. 

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A large part of the job is getting the attachment of the new frame to the existing working well.  All of my designs keep the number of wing nuts for the player to remove to the absolute minimum; I spend time making it properly to save my customers time every time they set the instrument up.

In the first picture the screw is soldered in place so that it cannot rattle loose and fall off.  The second photo shows the screw and a bolt holding the metal in place.  In this instance I have used two points of contact (usually I have three) so that the see saw effect cannot occur.  The third picture shows the cutout around the peg onto which the pedal arm will rotate; the cut out enables the subframe to be lifted off the glockenspiel.

Once both ends are complete they can be joined together with a bar of fixed length.  The two legs cannot now move apart, but the entire strength is still reliant on the welded joint in the centre, and the screws holding the frame onto the glock.  One of the reasons why I extend the connection to the transom as wide as possible is so that I can triangulate between the two points, and therefore massively increase the strength of the frame.

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Bergerault have already got diagonals from the note bed to the legs, but because the instrument is height adjustable they come down from the top to ensure that the uprights (theoretically) remain parallel.  However they have built a castle on sand, like all the manufacturers (and me) instruments are designed from the top down, but I build instruments from the ground up making sure that the foundations are solid.  Therefore I make sure that the uprights are triangulated to the (now) solid base frame.

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With all the metal work complete, I can send the frame to the powder coaters and resolve the other problems which irritate the customer in 1239: Bergerault pedal glock (pt2)

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

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!