Monday, July 22, 2013

A Simple Fix

Drummers are fortunate these days. There are so many makes and models of drums available that there's something for everyone. But the real good news is that drum quality is at an all-time high. Many brands offer a bewildering away of choices, often starting at entry-level prices (and then heading off into the stratosphere). And some of these lower priced drums are diamonds in the rough.

The main differences between modestly priced drums from good makers and their more expensive siblings are the quality of the raw materials and the attention given to the drum during assembly. An easy way to keep costs down is to skimp a bit on parts and labour. What this means is that less expensive drums can often be improved considerably with very little cost and effort.

I recently bought a used snare drum produced by one of my favourite makers. These drums are solid, but are the company's second lowest tier. Looking closely at the drum, what I saw was a high quality, well-finished shell, decent enough hardware, budget snare wires, medium quality heads, and a snare retainer that's probably going to fall apart before long.

The first thing I did with the drum was remove the heads and snares. A quick check of the bearing edges and snare beds showed that they were well done. No need for attention there. Next I got out my socket wrench and tightened all of the components attached to the shell. If the tension casings aren't snug enough -- and they weren't -- the drum won't stay in tune. (In fact, the reason the drum was for sale was because the original owner complained it wouldn’t stay in tune.)

I like to lightly sand the bearing edges with very fine sandpaper -- just a few swipes with 600 grit to polish them. This makes it easier for the heads to seat themselves. And now let's reassemble. (Eventually I'll replace that retainer at a cost of about $10.)

I gave all of the tension bolts a wee drop of general-purpose oil. Never use grease here as it can promote loosening. I opted to keep the snare head, and replaced the batter head with a top quality one. When tightening the tension bolts, I keep them as even as possible,  counting turns ... half-turns, actually.

I set aside the snares to use on another drum and installed a better set. While doing this, I had a look at how the snares are attached. It's surprising how much difference a change of string can make here, and it’s a good idea to experiment with different strings and straps. I discarded the original plastic straps and used the fine string that came with the new snare wires. When installing the snares, I positioned them so the end plates are at the same distance from the edge of the shell on both sides while under tension.

And that's all there is to it. This is a small bit of maintenance that you can do with any drum, and it's pretty much guaranteed that your drums will sound and feel better, and that they’ll stay in tune longer.

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