How To Repair Your Damaged Drums
Drum and cymbal repairs. We show how.
John Clarke (our man with the hammer, nails & tin of Elastoplast) tells you how to repair your damaged drums.
With the advent of Heavy Metal came the multi-drum set, along with the need for hardware capable of withstanding not only the onslaught of new playing styles, but also the strains imposed by having to hold the ever-increasing number of parts used in the modern drum kit. Before HM arrived on the scene, stands and holders had never been very satisfactory anyway. Hi hats were liable to shoot across stage should you dare to attempt to operate the pedal, and bass drums came fitted with 'walking spurs' that had the drum starting in the correct place at the beginning number but which would frequently give audiences the fabulous spectacle of seeing the drummer in the splits position, as he tried to play a bass drum that had crept to the front of the stage, while the remainder of the kit was still at the back! To their credit, the drum makers responded well to this new challenge, and came up with fittings more in keeping with the drummer's needs. Of course, we saw the inevitable 'over the top' type of gear as well — bass pedals that would rupture the Incredible Hulk if he tried to lift one, and boom stands that could easily support a Boeing 747 during wheel changing. I wonder why it is that these latter devices usually end up being used to mount 8" splash cymbals? Nevertheless, parts still wear and break, irrespective of their build quality or how well they are cared for, and having seen a lot of good drum gear cast aside for the want of a simple repair, it seemed high time that someone told drummers just how much damaged equipment can be salvaged, thus saving a bit of your hard-earned loot.
By their very nature, hinge and link pins are the sort of items that you are very likely to encounter problems with from time to time. In a lot of instances they're employed in moving parts on both your hi hat and bass pedal link sections, and they also provide hinges for heel and footplates, which is why they are vulnerable. Not only do they have to contend with the friction caused by constant movement, but they also take a hell of a pounding from the very force of your playing. In a perfect world, both pedals would share a strap of common usage (provided, of course, that your hi hat and bass pedals were of the same make) with a quick-release fastening in the event of breakage on stage. As I've yet to find any such pair of products, and one cannot hope to receive too much sympathy when trying to fit a new strap in between numbers (!), I'm still of the view that the strong length of wire I always carry with me is the best method of getting you through a night's trouble in the event of a breakage. It's a bodge, yes, and it's crude too — but it works! Getting back to pins, these always seem to break without warning. In most cases simple wear is the cause, although it can happen because cheap and weak pins have been used during manufacture. If wear is to blame then you've probably had some forewarning (if you've recognised the symptoms) from a loose or noisy action, footplates also showing excessive side to side movement. If you happen to have a pedal starting to exhibit any of these symptoms then I recommend pretty quick surgery, as a loose pin will result in holes being elongated by its movement, and getting over that problem may not be possible with a simple repair, assuming that it's possible at all. Unless you happen to have a handy workbench fitted with a vice and are inclined towards DIY, you may do best to enlist the help of a local mechanic or engineer, who will probably be able to fit new pins for a couple of quid. However, do remember to show your tame boffin how the pedal works, because he needs to know that you need hard steel pins, as well as how much movement is required for the unit to function properly.
If the thought of this type of breakage scares you rigid, there's one simple spare which you can carry — ideally by taping it inside the lid of your stands case. First, find the diameter of pins used on your pedals and buy yourself a split-pin of the same size from a hardware store or garage. If you should have a pin break during mid-set, then, the split pin can be fitted in seconds and, if nothing else, it will get you through your gig.
Elongated holes can, as I mentioned earlier, can be big trouble, often becoming so worn as to leave you too little material to effect a decent repair. If caught early enough, you can probably save the situation by drilling out the hole to a greater diameter and fitting a larger pin. Unfortunately, a lot of pedals I've come across have been allowed to wear so far that the best anyone can hope to do with them is repair them in a half-and-half way, leaving them really only fit for use as spares. Sadly the main problem is simple lack of maintenance, and with good bass drum pedals costing between £70 and £100 it's definitely in the drummer's interest to look after them.
Thankfully, the use of nylon inserts and bushes on all but the cheapest of stands has eliminated much of the old problem of stripped threads which was often a regular feature in the past (helped, of course, by drummers who thought it was essential to apply maximum torque to every fitting!). However, thread stripping does still happen, even with today's products. Changing a tension lug insert isn't a difficult job in itself, even for the relatively non-mechanical drummer. In fact my article on kit maintenance (See IT Issue 6 for John's Kit Care article —Ed). Once you have removed the lug (or 'nut box' if you prefer) from the drum, you'll see that it contains an insert of threaded tube which protrudes through the end of the casting to accept the head tension bolt, and is held at the back by a spring that allows a little flexibility for aligning the head tension bolt. Do note, though, that in some of the narrower snare drums you have an insert at each end, with the spring fitted between them.
To remove an insert, all that's needed in the way of equipment is a pair of eyebrow tweezers. Compress the spring, and the insert will fall back inside the casting and into your (no doubt) sweaty palm. You may wonder, incidentally, why I specify the use of tweezers here, when you may well be able to get the spring out just with your fingers. The reason is that by pulling the spring by hand you are very likely to end up with a longer, U-shaped spring which when refitted will cause the insert to sit an angle in the casting, thus not moving in and out as it should. By the way, if your drum is an old model it might be advisable to take the head tension bolt when going for a replacement insert, as some older drums used different threads to the more modem types. Meanwhile, don't forget to lubricate the new insert, and take care not to overtighten the lug when fastening it back onto the shell. I always use a small quantity of non-setting 'Locktight' on fittings of that type as, whilst not wishing to overtension against the wood, nor do I want a bolt to come loose and ultimately end up rattling round inside a drum. This method holds the bolt in place, yet allows it to be removed for the work mentioned. Other places where one may encounter thread damage are tom tom leg mounts, bass pedal clamps, and some spurs and their shell mounts, not forgetting the numerous other parts on older drums and their associated fittings. The very last thing you should do when you discover that a thread has 'gone' is grab the nearest size rusty bolt and force-thread it into the fitting (and I've seen plenty of examples where this has been done in the past). What you should do is take the bolt which fitted the now useless thread along to your nearest drum dealer, and start to root through his parts box, where you'll usually find one that is conveniently one size larger. Now, remember that chap who repaired your pedal? Take the new bolt and damaged fitting and have him drill and re-thread the part so that it will now accept the part concerned. Hey presto! The fitting will work as good as new. Incidentally, if it's a stud that has gone threadless you'll need a wing nut one size smaller, as the stud will be rethreaded down in size. By the way, don't forget to lubricate these parts during your regular clean-up of the kit — that sort of preventative maintenance will avoid quite a number of these problems, and prevention is always better than cure!
Now in use on virtually every item of drum 'scaffolding', the humble rivet does a damned good job and isn't likely to be a source of trouble for many years. By and large, the first sign that this little so and so wants attention is likely to be when there is some instability noticeable in the legs of a stand. This indicates either wear in the rivet or hole in the leg joint, showing that it has enlarged somewhat through normal wear and tear. Rectification of this is simple. All that is necessary are the following items: a hammer, centre-punch, a metal surface large enough to accommodate the rivet head, a piece of thin cloth to cover the metal surface... bandages, splints, sutures, a gallon of your matched blood group and tranquilisers for any hapless onlookers! Seriously, when tackling this sort of job you should place the cloth over the metal surface, so as to protect the chrome from scars should the stand slip while you're working on it. The centre punch should then be placed in the cup (or indent) of the rivet. Give it a hard, sharp blow with your hammer, checking continuously, and only repeating the hammer strikes until the joint is tight once more and that all surplus movement has been stopped.
In theory this is the sort of job that you can undertake on your own, but due to the ungainly shape and size of most pieces of hardware it's a lot easier if you can have someone on hand who will hold the stand in position for you, leaving you free to hold the punch and hammer. (It goes without saying that ideally this person should be a prominent member of a rival local band, as a mis-hit will entail any number of lost gigs!) Finally, stick to metal as the surface on which to undertake this job, as wood will tend to absorb the impact of your blows too much.
Should your kit happen to be one of those modern types with a plastic finish, it's unlikely to come to any major harm other than the occasional scratch caused by the guitarist in your band leaping onto your bass drum during his frenzied and 'artistic' solo. A colleague of mine swears by metal polish (Brasso for example) as the ideal material to remove these blemishes, but, not having tried it myself, I can only pass on his tip. One point worth mentioning, however, is that on some bass drum hoops the matching colour insert does seem to come loose after a while. If your hoops are wood, therefore. I'd seriously recommend that you borrow a good staple gun and put two staples through this into the hoop on opposing sides, where they will be covered by tension claws. It's an old trick, but it works! In the event that the hoops on your kit happen to be of that rather grim metal style that seem to raise their heads, I suggest you remove the strip and re-glue all the way round, using a good quality impact adhesive which should serve to bond these on for at least a reasonable period of time before you need to repeat the exercise.
Wood finishes are another matter altogether, being more delicate than plastic. This doesn't mean that they won't take a knock, just that the lacquer and wood will damage more easily. For practical purposes. I'm afraid, you'll just have to accept that wood finished kits do get chips and marks in their lacquer. Mind you, after a suitable number of years have passed, your kit can be quite easily re-finished in the same or perhaps a different wood stain. Although it's not overly expensive to have one of the few people in the UK who can undertake this work strip and re-finish your drums, you could still save quite a bit by undertaking it yourself. My only advice on lacquer is that if you have a chip or crack and are afraid that it could spread, then apply a thin coat of polyurethane with a fine pointed modelling brush. I have heard that nail varnish works pretty well, but having just run out of my favourite shade of glittery pink, I can't test it to see. (Oops, what a giveaway! —Ed)
Where damage to chrome is concerned I'm afraid that there really isn't very much you can do about it. If you've seen (as I have) kits where players have used silver paint to 'repair7' damaged chrome, then I'm sure that you'll agree with me that tatty chrome looks better! On the other hand, assuming that the chrome plated parts of your kit really have have passed the point of no return, why not take all the fittings off, stroll down to your nearest car accessory shop, treat yourself to a large aerosol can of primer/undercoat with another of a suitable top coat, and finish off the metal work with a shade either to match that of your kit, or in stunning black? Given that makers like Sonor and Trak are now using black finishes on their hardware, you could even regard such a job as a cosmetic update!
Believe it or not, damaged cymbals can be repaired! This is a subject that I've discussed at some length both with colleagues in the American drum world and with Zildjian's UK office (who have been more than helpful in supplying the necessary info, I should add).
Broadly speaking, repairs to cymbals are very much a Lap of the Gods affair, the effect and duration of a repair job being unpredictable. You have to approach it with a 'nothing to lose' philosophy, I'd suggest.
Splits which damage the edge of a cymbal should be dealt with in the following way. First, drill a hole of 1/8" at the end of the split to prevent further travel of the tear. It's essential that the two ends of the split are than separated, otherwise they will vibrate together, resulting in further damage. Achieving this calls for you filing a gap to separate the edges, so that when you've finished you effectively have a 'V' in the damaged cymbal, with your drilled hole positioned at the end of it.
Where splits occur at the centre hole of your cymbal, the repair procedure only differs inasmuch as the file clearance of the two edges must be parallel, ensuring that the gap is considerably less than the diameter of your cymbal stand mounting section, otherwise the cymbal won't stay centred on the rod.
A tear which follows the path of the tone grooves calls for a different approach. Here the drill holes need to be at either end, resulting in what I perhaps can best describe as a 'smile' effect in the body of the cymbal.
A major point worth making is that you should always use a very sharp drill at a fast speed for all cymbal drillings, as it's very important that you don't let the cymbal get hot for any longer than is absolutely necessary.
One aspect of kit repairs which I've deliberately not covered here is restoration work to shells. This on its own could fill several issues of IT and I can't consider it as a routine sort of repair that an average drummer will undertake for himself.
Snare restrainers, meanwhile, are as different in their construction and operation as the wide variety of drums on offer today. Common failures, as such, just don't exist here, so repairs have to be considered on the individual problems that occur with each type. Where springs are concerned I have to say that I've rarely encountered these breaking; but if one should happen to break it's usually possible to re-shape the next loop in the coil, forming an adequate fastening until a whole new spring can be found.
Castings can be of very poor quality on some of the ultra-cheap kits one sees around, but by and large they are satisfactory on most reasonable quality/price kits these days. Do remember, though, that castings (frequently used on lugs, spur mounts, tom tom legs and suchlike) will not stand being dropped or banged around in the same way as steel. Castings are relatively brittle and have a tendency towards allowing threads to be stripped if any brute force is applied to them.
Feature by John Clarke
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