How to Change a Timpani Head

Changing the heads on your timpani is a necessary fact of drum maintenance. If you are playing your drums regularly you should really change the heads a least once per year or more often if they become damaged with dents or holes.

It’s really not that difficult to change the head, but it does become easier with practice. Follow these helpful steps and you should end up with a well mounted timpani head that will sound very good.

This lesson is on how to change a timpani head on drum with a balanced action pedal like the Yamaha 6000 and 7000 series, the Ludwig Symphonic or any other type of drum that does not have a ratchet mechanism on the pedal. Balanced action pedal timpani have a spring in the pedal that counter balances the tension on the head which allows the drum to stay in tune while you play it.

What Tools Do You Need to Change a Timpani Head?

  • Block of wood that will fit under the pedal that will stop it from moving
  • Two timpani keys
  • New timpani head of the appropriate size
  • Teflon Tape (you only replace the Teflon Tape if it is necessary)
  • Cleaning rag, degreaser, oil and grease

Watch the Video for a Step By Step Guide to How to Change a Timpani Head

First Step to Changing Timpani Heads

Put the pedal all the way down to its lowest position with the heel all the way down. Take a block of wood and put it under the toe of the pedal so that the pedal cannot move. Instead of a block of wood you can clamp the pedal down, tie it down or use a heavy weight to hold the pedal from moving once the head tension is released.

If you don’t block the pedal the internal spring will make the pedal go to the highest position and you can’t put the new head on the drum with the pedal like that

Next You Must:

  1. Using your two tuning keys, loosen each tuning lug on the drum. Always loosen the lugs a little at a time and loosen the lugs opposite each other simultaneously. Until the lugs are very loose turn each lug no more than one or two full turns. You want to avoid uneven tension on any one spot on the rim.
  2. Once every lug is loose and free from the drum you can carefully lift the counter hoop and head off the drum and set them aside.
  3. Inspect the lip of the bowl. In this lesson the bowl of the drum has been covered with Teflon Tape so you want to inspect the old tape for tears and replace it if necessary. If it is fine you don’t have to replace it. There are many other ways to lubricate the lip of the timpani bowl. You can use cork grease, or a Teflon Spray and these substances are applied directly to a thoroughly cleaned lip of the bowl.
  4. Place the new head on the drum so that the manufacturer logo is directly opposite the pedal. I like to use Remo Renaissance Timpani Heads www.remo.com because of their tonal quality and clarity of pitch. Remo’s Renaissance series of drum heads do well to capture the positive qualities of a natural skin head but they are impervious to changes in temperature and humidity like a natural skin head would be. I like the texture and feel of the Remo heads and I feel that I’m able to play my drums to their maximum potential because of the Remo product.
  5. Now place the counter hoop on the head over the bowl and line up the tuning lugs with the struts on the drum
  6. Each lug is now threaded into its tuning rod nut
  7. Tighten each lug but do not apply any down ward pressure to the counter hoop. You’re just taking the slack out of the tuning lug and bringing the tuning rod up
  8. Using your hands and fingers feel the distance between the counter hoop and the timpani bowl. Go all the way around the drum and measure by feel that the head is as centered as possible on the bowl of the drum. You can use a ruler, but I’ve always found the by using my touch I can be just as accurate. Most drums are not completely round so expect that there will be some moderate measurement differences. Unless the differences are bigger than a quarter inch don’t worry about it. If they are terribly different then you may need to have the bowl fixed or the counter hoop replaced.
  9. Tighten each lug around the drum with your fingers and once it becomes difficult to turn stop.
  10. Using your two tuning keys at opposite lugs turn them only a ¼ or ½ turn at most. Turn two then turn the next two which are perpendicular to the first two and then tune the others in this pattern so that you are applying equal downward tension all around the counter hoop
  11. Continue doing this until the pitch of the drum is close to the lowest possible pitch for that particular drum. i.e. 32”=D, 29”= F, 26”=B, 23”= C
  12. Once the pitch has been reached it is safe to remove the block of wood from beneath the pedal. The tension on the head will counter balance the spring tension and the pedal will stay in place. If the pedal moves you need to tighten the head some more.
  13. The second to the final step is to check to make sure the head is still centered and that the tuning lugs are completely straight up and down. Use your fingers as gages by reaching under the counter hoop. Touch the side of the bowl with your finger tips and feel where the counter hoop touches your fingers. If you do this on opposite sides you’ll be able to tell if everything is evenly centered
  14. Finally, push the pedal all the way to its highest position so that the drum is at its highest note and leave the drum over night to set.

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Comments

  1. Hi Andrew: Regarding timpani head mounting. What position should the tension spring knob be after you have the head in place and have tightened the lugs with
    your fingers and are ready to use the two lug keys ? OR does it matter at what tension the spring is at .
    Thank you
    Wilfred LeBlanc
    Brighton Symphony (a community orchestra in Brighton NY)

    • Thanks for your question which is pretty tricky to answer. My first advice is to never touch the tension adjustment, but if you know it’s been altered try to place it in the middle of its range. Once you put the head on and it’s in the right playing range you may have to loosen or tighten the tension depending upon whether the pedal won’t hold the high note (tighten the knob) or the the low note (loosen the knob)

  2. Bill Porter says:

    Why do I need grease if there isn’t a need for it? It seems everywhere I’ve looked says to get grease but then doesn’t say anything about using it. I’m assuming it’s car door grease (synthetic). I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Hi Bill,
      You are correct that it’s not always necessary to grease parts. You have to make that call based on your own observations of the instrument. I use a very small amount of grease on the tuning lugs when I change a head. And I do mean small. You don’t want a lot of grease that will attract dirt and be counter productive. I put a dab of grease on the bottom threads and wipe away any extra that I can see after threading the lug into it’s casing.
      The grease I’ve always used is Marine Grease. I don’t really have a good explanation for why, other than that someone with more experience than me a long time ago suggested it as the best of the greases to use. I suppose car grease would also work, but I’m not a grease expert by any means.

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