It is important to always sound your best. With regular maintenance, timpani heads can last a year or more. Always wipe down the heads with a clean cloth after playing to keep finger oils and dirt from accumulating. Replace heads that sound dull and which fail to resonate. Heads with dirt and grime should also be replaced. A good rule for a secondary school program on a smaller budget is to replace at least one head each year.
Be sure to have a bag in which to keep all materials needed for head replacement (spray dry lubricant/Teflon tape, several clean cloths, Windex, a timpani key, one baseball, white lithium grease, a digital tuner, DrumDial, a Sharpie).
When you decide to change timpani heads, there are a number of things to keep in mind…
- Place a baseball under the toe of the pedal. This prevents the pedal from slamming forward when tension is released from the drum during replacement.
- Loosen the lugs. Begin by turning one of the lugs in front of you to the left one complete 3600 turn. (Keep your hand which is not turning the key near this lug. This helps you remember where you began so you do not move lugs more than once in a single go-around.) Be sure to always move across the drum to the next lug. Do this as many times as needed until the lugs can be pulled from their hole.
- Remove the old head, rim, and lugs from their place on the drum. Remove the old head from inside the rim and set it aside. Place the rim (w/ lugs still in their places in the rim) aside.
- Clean everything. Using a cloth and Windex, remove any dirt or objects from inside the bowl. Also, wipe down the bearing edge of the bowl. Remove any old grease from the lugs and any dirt from both the inside and outside of the rim. Be sure to clean the holes in which the lugs sit. Spray dry lubricant onto the bearing edge or replace Teflon tape on the bearing edge.
- Place the new head on the instrument. For the best sound possible, examine the head (before placing on the timpano) at eye level. See if there are any dimples in the head and be sure to put the dimples in the secondary channel of the drum. Placing the logos all in the same arrangement may look uniform, but will not always provide the optimal sound.
- Replace the rim (w/ lugs) on the head.
- Add a tiny amount of white lithium grease to the tip of each lug. Go around to each lug and start threading it just enough until it catches.
- Center the head. Place your fingers under the head between the inside edge of the rim and the frame on either side of the drum. Check all sides of the head to be sure the head is as centered as possible over the bowl. This is an important step to ensure an even pull on the head.
- Finger tighten each lug. Start with a lug nearest you. Tighten it with thumb and index finger until it starts to feel a little snug. (Keep one hand on this lug to remember your starting point.) Go across the drum to the next lug and repeat the process. Stop when all lugs feel a little snug.
- Using the timpani key, turn each lug one complete 3600 turn. (As tension is added, some lugs may not remain finger-tight and need finger tightened again before the key is used). Repeat this process one more time. By time point, each lug should have been turned exactly twice.
- Check the head for even pull with the DrumDial. Place the dial in front of each lug and be sure they give the same reading. (Remember only to ADD tension at this stage, do no REMOVE tension.)
- Put the drum into range. Tune the drum up to the pitch you wish to have on the bottom of the drum.
- Clear the drum with the DrumDial. This is a good point to ensure the head is still being pulled evenly. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. How the head is pulled the first time will determine the memory of the head. Skipping this step can make it impossible to achieve a clear tone with the head.
- Remove the baseball from under the pedal.
- Slowly push the toe of the pedal ALL the way down without stopping. Do NOT stop at any point. The first time the head is stretched is the ONLY time it will develop its range. NOTE: You may hear some small cracking sounds – this is normal. The plastic is simply stretching.
- Check the range of the drum. Evaluate the top pitch and bottom pitch. Do you have at least a Perfect 5th? If the bottom pitch is correct and your top pitch is higher than a Perfect 5th, this is okay. If the drum has a Perfect 5th, but the bottom pitch is too high, put the pedal in mid-range and turn each lug 450 to the left. Repeat this step until the desired pitch is on the bottom.