People have been playing drums for thousands of years and the drums are important aspects of religious ceremonies, military events, and modern music compositions. These percussion instruments have been experimented with and refined through time, and the drums we use today continue to be tweaked so each instrument plays at a perfect pitch.
Despite the varying sizes, shapes, and materials used for past and present drums, one consistency has remained: all have a drumhead that is held in place by a solid foundational frame.
Today, we will discuss how drums are made to produce meaningful beats in a variety of social, functional, and cultural settings, and how the manufacturing process affects the sound each drum makes.
Understanding Drums' Parts
Before diving into the manufacturing process, it is important to understand each part of a drum.
There are a variety of types of drums that both novice and expert musicians play, such as snares, kettledrums, bongos, congas, and djembes. All of these have the basic framework of the tom-tom, which is the simplest drum in terms of structure. All drums also include these basic structural components:
- Head: The drumhead is a stretched membrane that is tightly secured over the drum shell. A head can be placed at either one or both ends of the drum. The player strikes it with sticks, mallets, or hands to produce vibrations that resonate throughout the instrument and produce beats. Pitched percussion instruments, such as timpanis, need to have properly tuned heads in order to produce the correct notes. Unpitched percussion instruments, such as snares, do not need to have tuned heads but their heads still need to be properly tightened.
- Rim: The rim, also known as a hoop, is what holds the head in place. It is tightly secured around the shell.
- Shell: This component is the basis of a drum. The shell, which is cylindrical in shape, is the drum's easiest part to spot. When a player strikes a drum, the sound originates from its shell.
- Tuning screws: Tuning screws are small, rod-like parts that are placed around the rim. Tuning screws, also known as tension rods, allow the musician to tighten or loosen the head and change its tone and pitch.
- Lugs: Lugs are larger bolts that keep the tuning screws in place.
The components of a drum can be made of a variety of materials that include wood, metal, and synthetic materials like acrylic or carbon fiber. Some parts are composed of a hybrid of materials to increase durability, lower cost, or produce a specific sound effect.To learn more about how specific materials affect a drum's sound, refer to this article.
How the Process Works
Now that you are familiar with the parts and materials that drums are composed of, let's take a deeper look into the manufacturing process:
An entire portion of the manufacturing process is dedicated to the creation of the shell. While shells are sometimes constructed with different materials, they are usually created with woods like maple, birch, or beech, and two or three-ply plywood is typically used. The actual process looks like this:
- Shells are made with anything ranging from six-ply to ten-ply plywood. The process begins by determining how many two or three-ply plywood pieces will be needed.
- The plywood is prepared by carefully selecting and cutting each piece. The outermost piece is set so that its grain runs horizontally, while the inner pieces are placed so that their grains alternate horizontally and vertically.
- An adhesive is applied and the molding process begins. The wood pieces are pressed tightly into the manufacturing mold.
- An airbag is inserted into the center of the mold and forces the plywood pieces against the mold. This allows the wood to be formed into a perfectly round cylindrical shape.
- After the adhesive-covered wood is stable in its mold, it is placed into a microwave oven. Here, it is given time to dry and permanently maintain its round shape.
- Once dry, it is cut to the required size of whatever drum is being produced.
- In drum kits with multiple shells, the same plywood is used for each shell to keep a uniform physical appearance and to maintain consistency.
- The molding process must be performed quickly, as the adhesive dries quickly.
The Beautification Process
Once the wood is cut, the drums go through a beautification process to finish the wood and enhance their aesthetic appearance.
- A machine is used to sand the wood various times. The initial sanding process is completed with a final sanding done by hand.
- The painting process commences at this point and an initial coat of paint is applied. A rag is used to apply this initial coat in order to bring out the wood's grain.
- The shell is sanded, another paint coat is applied, and another sanding takes place.
- After painting, a machine polishes the shell.
- Sometimes, shells have intricate designs that can't be created through painting. In place of paint, polyvinyl chloride or polyester sheets with adhesive backings are used to give the shell its singular and intricate design.
The Hardware Additions
At this point, it is time to add the hardware additions to the drum. These additions will vary depending on the specific drum type.
- Using precision drills, small holes are drilled into the shell. These holes allow the hardware parts to be securely attached.
- The lugs are screwed into the drumhead.
- The rim and tuning screws are secured, and the head is put into place.
- Quality control is conducted to ensure the drum meets visual and sound standards.
- All holes are drilled as small as possible in order to not negatively interfere with the drum's sound.
- Sometimes, the heads are not placed on during the manufacturing process in order to minimize damages during the transit process.
That's it! Now you know all there is to know about how drums are made. Knowing about the manufacturing process will help you choose a drum with parts built to capture the sound you're looking for. You can always read up on which drums have the specific parts your sound needs in our latest drum reviews on our blog!