MAKING MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
I have made a wide variety of
instruments, but my main production ranges are TOUR TIMPS,
and BUSKER drums.
were invented to provide a much more portable and
affordable alternative to orchestral pedal Timpani (or Kettle Drums). To
meet modern demands it was important that they should have all the
functions of timpani, including fully chromatic foot pedal tuning, a clear
tuning indicator, compatibility with standard heads and beaters, and of
course a strong resonant tone and clear definite pitch.
Tour Timps were specifically designed
for those for whom pedal timpani were too expensive and/or too difficult
to transport and store. Within 2 years of production starting Tour Timps
had sold to every category of player and ensemble for which I
painstakingly designed them, now totalling about 800 sales world-wide.
They have been praised by many of the world’s greatest percussionists and
received the Honeywell / Sunday Times Award for British Innovation.
Many people are surprised that Tour
Timps have a greater resonance and produce an extra fundamental tone one
octave below the principal tone of timpani. I therefore suggest that
players use beaters 1 grade harder than on normal timpani. The full
tone is often desirable, but it can be reduced by Sound Discs, Tone Arms,
finger tip harmonic muffling, and/or EQ to make the tone closer to
timpani. This was confirmed by scientific research undertaken at South
London Innovation Centre, North Texas State University, and Brunel
University’s state-of the-art Acoustic Engineering Department.
Tour Timps comprise two main parts,
the drum and the stand/pedal unit. Setting up and packing them is quick
and easy. A full set can be carried in a small car, and plane train and
coach travel is no longer a problem.
Sound Discs provide an easy way to
control the tone and resonance in a way which is not practical with
conventional timpani. Sound Discs consist of semicircular discs which rest
on brackets which can be fitted to the stands of all Tour Timps then slid
down or up the stand to increase or decrease the gap between the bottom of
the drum and the disc. When fully down (approx 20cm below the drum) the
standard Tour Timps tone is produced, with the fundamental tone and
maximum resonance. For maximum definition and clarity the discs are
raised. Fully closed gives a hard bright tone which provides great
definition on complex phrases; this can sound harsh to players, but is
much better at a distance. To get the best “compromise” tone the discs can
be set at about 2-3 cm open which gives good definition, rounded tone, and
the closest sound to normal timpani. Although some players only use Sound
Discs to mimic the tone of timpani, many players and conductors actually
consider them to be valuable accessories which permit the sound to be
rapidly adjusted to suit the music.
Tour Timps are available in four
sizes: 32”, 29”, 26” and 23”. It is sometimes possible to make extra sizes
or modifications to special order.
This unusual range of drums is a
direct descendant of Tour Timps, and shares some of their production
processes and materials. The original concept was an attempt to make a
quieter drum kit but it turned out to be very loud, especially the Snare
Drum which has an astonishing dynamic range and crisp tone. In terms of
fulfilling the original design brief they are thus a total failure!
However, as a fine and distinctive range of drums they are - accidentally
- superb. The Snare drums are in production, complete drum kits are made
to special order.
The Snare drums are normally supplied
with cast aluminium bearing edges finished in black powder coat, and
polished brass spacers, with a choice of snare strainer and heads. The
tone is very clear and crisp, and the available volume and projection is
exceptional. Furthermore, the drums are incredibly sensitive, with snares
responding to the lightest tap.
The Snare drums are supplied with a
Snare Damper Bar fitted across the bottom bearing edge which can be used
to position foam latex dampers to reduce snare buzz. Magnetised rubber
strips can also be easily fitted. A small cloth can be placed inside over
the bottom snare head to produce a tone comparable to a wooden snare drum.
Also one or two blocks of foam latex can be positioned in the drum, set
between the heads. Set at the outermost part of the heads they act as
mufflers and control the ring, but if they are moved towards the centre
and set in a “V” shape they will produce the tone of a piccolo snare drum.
As well as normal microphone placement
options, Spacer drums can also be mic’d from the side. With side mic’ing
the tone of the drum can be easily and dramatically varied: a little
distance provides a crisp and clear sound, then bringing the mic closer
makes the tone deeper and thicker. If the mic is actually placed inside
the drum the tone is explosive, like a snare drum, bass drum and cannon
combined. Side mic’ing can also be used to improve separation between
different drums. Although the Spacer Drums are particularly “mic
friendly”, in many situations, inside and outside, they really do not need
After Spacer drums turned out to be
anything other than quiet, I again strove to design a quiet drum kit, and
eventually the Busker range evolved. The plan was to make a practice kit
which could also be used for small gigs and quieter situations. The drums
are about 50% quieter than standard drums, and FAR more portable. The
rectangular head shape and linear tensioning provides a surprisingly thick
and punchy tone.
Busker drums have been used
extensively, and amaze everyone who hears them. By lucky accident they are
also especially “microphone friendly”, giving a great sound for bigger
gigs and recordings. They have surpassed their design brief by a huge
The Busker kit attaches firmly to the
optional Trolley/Rostrum, and can easily be taken from one venue to
another fully set up, ideal at Festivals. The Trolley/Rostrum is fairly
expensive, but is only required by those who regularly use the Busker kit
for gigs and recordings where it contributes enormously to provide a
practical, stable and easily transported drum kit. If a Busker kit is to
be primarily used as a practice kit, then the Trolley/Rostrum may not be
Busker drums are made to order, based
on individual requirements. The most frequent 2 questions asked about them
“Are they electronic”, (this
often from people standing right next to them, being played with no
visible leads or amplifier). Answer: No. They are totally acoustic, but
they do sound great when mic’d up.
“What are the heads made
of?”. Answer: They are made of Polyethylene Terephthalate, like other
plastic drum heads.
My own Busker kit has now been seen in
use by many thousands of people, and I have answered so many questions
about it, how it works, how it responds, why the shape, etc., and to me
now all these questions have little relevance. The fact is that the Busker
kit works amazingly well and has made a huge difference to my life as a
drummer. They are far easier to carry around, and have enabled me to play
in places where a normal drum kit would be too large, too awkward and too
loud. With the Busker kit I can still play hard yet not drown out the
band. Even at bigger/louder venues I often prefer to use the Busker set
because it mic’s up so well.
An interesting problem arose when I
designed the Busker drums: if the drums are significantly quieter than
normal drums then the cymbals and hi-hat would be disproportionately loud.
If you use significantly smaller cymbals the pitch and tone becomes
unsuitable. Much experimenting, and years of making cymbal substitutes for
practising, led me to realise that the diameter of a cymbal has to stay
comparable, but the area needs to be reduced to make the cymbal quieter.
This is achieved by drilling a large number of holes in its surface.
Amazingly, this not only reduces the volume but also greatly improves the
tone of even very cheap and nasty cymbals. Although I do not make cymbals,
I can provide advice and drill cymbals on request.
Perspex is an acrylic polymer which
has one bad quality for making drums. Although it is strong it is
vulnerable to cracking and shattering, so Perspex drums must be carefully
made and well cared for. The advantages are: fantastic looking, great
sound, and the ability to make for the most gorgeous polished bearing
edges...when time permits! I make various Perspex drums for myself and to
order, though I remind customers that, like other makes, mine have to be
I have made small snare drums of 8”,
10” and 12” with solid brass tension lugs. The 8” drums are known as
“Castrato”, the others Sopranino and Soprano. These are lovely snares with
a wonderful poppy sound. Also I make Boo-bams with clear Perspex tubing,
some 6” others 8”, a distinct and engaging sound.
Sometimes people ask me about making
their own Perspex drums, but this should only be done by those with good
practical skills and tools, because Perspex can be a very tricky material
to work with.
Over the years I have made, and
continue to make a wide variety of instruments, and I am always happy to
consider commissions. Instruments include wind chimes, lujon, vibraslaps,
cowbells, tuned percussion, wood blocks, Kodaphone, Cabassas, Crashers,
boobams, trigger pads for electronic drums, scrapers, and many, many more.
PROPS AND EQUIPMENT
FOR TV and MUSEUMS
I continue to undertake a wide variety
of commissions for TV and museums, sometimes on my own, sometimes as part
of a team.
BBC “What the Victorians did for
us” and “What the Tudors and Stuarts did for us”
Papin’s Digester, working recreation
of the first pressure cooker
Newcomen atmospheric steam engine, working schematic model
Ice Making machine, using ether as refrigerant
Jethro Tull’s seed drill
Caxton era printing press
First flushing toilet
Halley’s diving bell
Mercator’s globe projector for map making
Velocipede Shower Bath, a pedal powered shower
Steam powered model boats, Rattler and Alecto, one paddle, one propeller.
Humane Spider Trap
Rutherford’s Alpha Particle
I have made Equipment and
inter-actives for The Livesey Museum, Cuming Museum, London Transport
Museum, and Brent Museum, including:
Dragon, 10 metres high, steel and
canvas with cantilever structure.
Giant spinning/battling tops
Giant Marble Maze
Activity table and stools
Giant Bagatelle/ pinball
Water wheel and pumps
Wind power turbine
...and many more.
(see www.liveseymuseum.org )
BACK TO TOP
Many of these were made as a challenge
or for fun:
Camera Protea, a large box in which
solid objects change shape as a handle is turned.
Spring Chickens, based on apparatus
designed by Gallileo.
London Bus, use a handle to drive a
tiny bus around a model city
Marble mazes, with gimbals and turn
handles, some based on Tower of London
...and many more!
I play a variety of musical
instruments, primarily drum kit, timpani, percussion and soprano and tenor
ukuleles. I sometimes play banjo, guitar and keyboards, including a Spinet
made from a kit.
I have played in a wide variety of
ensembles, including jazz and rock bands, amateur Symphony Orchestras,
Musicals and Pantomimes, and now regularly with the Fabulous Fezheads (
I have made several records, played for BBC Radio 1 sessions, and I also
do a moderate amount of home recording. I have played in the smallest
dives, at the biggest festivals, and all points between. I mostly play
instruments I have made or modified myself, the notable exception being my
superb RISA Solid electric ukuleles (
www.risa-music.de ) .
This was restored from a rusted out
shell, with several others doing some restoration work, then giving up. I
spent a year welding, hammering, measuring, sanding etc, then various
others helped with upholstery, painting and Mike Shepherd re-built the
engine. There are only about 100 on the road, so they get a huge amount of
interest and curiosity. It does about 65-90 m.p.g. on unleaded fuel, it
has hydraulic brakes room for 3-4 people, and - contrary to urban legends
- reverse gear and a 4 stroke engine. It can zoom along roads and
motorways at over 50 mph, and pays no road tax...the perfect urban
Trojans were originally designed and
built by Heinkel, which was one of the most important German aircraft companies;
they made the world’s first rocket and jet aircraft. After WW11 they were
not allowed to make aircraft for several years so they started making
scooters and then “Cabin Scooters”. When Heinkel stopped producing them
Trojan of Croydon bought the rights and machinery and made them for a few
more years, by which time the Mini had put an end to the brief post-war
popularity of Bubblecars, Micro-cars and Cycle-cars