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The RotoTom Revolution


Article from Sound International, June 1979

Roto-Toms in their various forms have been with us now for more than 10 years and have enjoyed a steady rise in popularity over those years.

There are a few hybrids of the RotoTom such as the Pearl Vari-Pitch Kit, which is basically Roto-Toms with fibre glass shells. Remo (who make Roto-Toms) also make a half shell reflector and a full shell reflector to project a bit more tone and volume.

Originally conceived by Mr Al Payson (a noted percussionist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) in 1968, they perform a similar function as tympani drums being tunable by spinning the rim whereby the head is tensioned up or down giving a range of timbred sounds from high to low over an octave, even allowing glissandos.

Rototoms on stands

There are many applications for Roto-Toms in all styles of music; in the jazz or rock field they are very popular for that flat funky sound with the characteristic of no overtones.

This lack of overtones means they are very easy to record and by using different heads an even wider range of sounds can be produced. Roto-Toms can be used to take the place of many specialised drums including timbales, tymps and concert toms mainly by using different heads and tunings.

In education and schools they also have many uses for teaching proper tympani techniques for a number of students at one time when a full size tympani may not always be available. Roto-Toms are very useful for ear training and the large sizes duplicate the pitch range of standard tympani.

Roto-Toms are available in seven sizes 6in, 8in, 10in, 12in, 14in, 16in, and 18in diameters. Each Roto-Tom can be tuned over an extended range of almost two octaves.

If you have kept an eye on drummers such as Bill Bruford just lately you will notice that Roto-Toms have been replacing standard tom-toms altogether and with some very pleasing results, but one thing I must emphasize is that Roto-Toms unmiked on stage are not that loud due to the lack of shell and certainly cannot compete with a good snare drum for volume and projection.

Enter the sound reflectors. These devices focus the sound to increase the effective volume. Half shell reflectors project sound towards the audience, the full shell reflectors perform a similar function to normal drum shells.

The reflectors are made from a clear acrylic with aluminium rims and black mounting hardware with a metal bracket which attaches to the Roto-Tom.

Mounting Roto-Toms

Rototom adaptor

There are many methods of mounting Roto-Toms, the simplest being to mount one Roto-Tom on any normal cymbal stand with an adaptor. Remo make such an adaptor which will fit most popular makes of cymbal stands and costs about £3.75. A company called Percussion Service manufacture a multi-perch which will accommodate all seven Roto-Toms around the kit or on their own.

Rock Constructions are another company run by engineer Trevor Stevens who, when not making drum risers and repairing drum hardware, make a good selection of adaptors and Roto-Tom stands and will undertake special orders for your own particular needs or requirements.

As most drummers tend to use a standard drum kit with two or three Roto-Toms set alongside the toms, the aforementioned companies do a Roto-Tom bar which comes in various sizes depending on the sizes of Roto-Toms in question which will mount on a reasonably sturdy heavy duty cymbal stand.

Pearl Vari-Pitch outfit

Pearl Vari-Pitch Drums

This kit consists of a variety of shell sizes from 10in to 14in single headed mounted toms, 16in x 10½in single headed floor tom and three sizes of snare drums 14in x 5in, 14in x 6½in, and 14in x 10in.

All the drums with the exception of the snare drum are single headed and a standard double-headed bass drum is recommended for use with the toms and snare drum. The shells on this kit are fibre glass and longer than the normal concert tom, giving a really bright sound with ample volume which would be lacking without the shells.

Rototoms set around a kit

There are no internal dampers with this kit, and I don't think they are needed. If you are not getting a 'dead' enough sound then change your heads; Pinstripe heads by Remo are very good for getting a 'dead' sound, Remo C S Black Spot are somewhat down the middle and Remo tymp heads are very bright, live and thin and will give a lot more ring. All fittings on the Vari-Pitch kit are the same as the normal Pearl professional range so I won't waste any space rambling on about them here.

As yet the Pearl Vari-Pitch is unavailable in the UK but this will soon be rectified when Pearl open up their new warehouse and distribution in north London.

The price for the five toms and snare drum will, I'm told, be around £650. So if you are really stuck on Roto-Toms but want more volume and less junk to carry around this could be what you are looking for. The shell sizes are all one size bigger on the Toms than the Roto-Tom that fits on top, ie a 10in diameter shell takes an 8in head and a 12in shell takes a 10in head and so on. They come in most of the standard Pearl finishes and chrome which looks very impressive.

Roto-Tom Pitch Changer

I recently met Mr Remo D Belli on his way back from the Frankfurt Trade Fair with his new prototype Pitch Changer for use with Roto-Toms. Mr Belli pioneered the famed 'Weather King' plastic drum head in the late 1950s. His factory in North Hollywood, California is now world famous not only for heads but Roto-Toms, practice kits, adaptors and reflectors for Roto-Toms etc.

The Pitch Changer works on the principle of the Tympani Pedal which changes the pitch of the drum by pulling the head taut by means of rods connected to the tension rods. The basic stand part of the Pitch Changer is Pearl with double braced legs and the Pearl memri-lock system at the centre tube. The pedal works on a ratchet system with cable and bike chain linkage. When the pedal is pressed down the rim of the Roto-Tom is pulled down tensioning up the head which has a range of a 6th to an octave. If you wish to stop the pedal at a certain pitch you press the front part of the pedal which engages the ratchet and locks into place. To release this locking mechanism press the back part of the pedal and the ratchet will be disengaged allowing the pedal freedom to go up or down at will.

Remo Pitch Changer

To place the Roto-Tom on the Pitch Changer is a fairly simple operation which takes about two minutes to the inexperienced hand such as mine but familiarity with this device would speed this up a great deal.

The Roto-Tom is fitted on by inserting the Roto-Tom rod into a receiving hole on the top part of the pedal, a U-shaped bracket fits between the top and bottom section of the Roto-Tom rod between the rotating frame locking it in place to enable the frame to be pulled down tensioning the head up. As I said this is a prototype and it will not be available until autumn this year and the cost has not been finalised; but a figure of 300 dollars has been discussed.

All this then adds up to a good selection of sounds and applications from the original Roto-Tom concept and I'm sure as I write this article somebody somewhere is dreaming up another idea for a different use of Roto-Toms.

Roto-Toms and Sound Reflectors are made by Remo US and are available in the UK from any Remo retailer.

Pearl Vari-Pitch will be available from your local Pearl Dealer in the near future. Remo Pitch Changer — as yet unavailable in the UK.

Peter Randall is an ex-pro drummer now working as a salesman at Henrit's Drumstore in Central London.

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Klark-Teknik DN34

Publisher: Sound International - Link House Publications

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Sound International - Jun 1979

Donated & scanned by: David Thompson

Gear in this article:

Drums (Acoustic) > Remo > Roto-Toms

Feature by Peter Randall

Previous article in this issue:

> Sequencers

Next article in this issue:

> Klark-Teknik DN34

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