Custom Chain Timpani

The designing and building journal

Goal: Build a chain-tuned timpani that is fine tunable from the top and the chain is below the hoop.

Status: This page was the original build journal for the first version of this chain timpani design. To see the current page, please visit

Most current picture:

Details: I am purchasing a used 20" Ludwig timpani bowl that is drilled to have six struts. I will use the original holes to bolt on a ring, much like a support ring for suspended bowls, which will be 1/2" in diameter bigger than the bowl. This will allow me possibly go to five lugs, or eight of I really want to. I will most likely go with six. This will also allow me to get rid of the problem of the lugs being mounted "crooked" in relation to the hoop. I will coat this hoop with some sort of black paint. The ring will be rolled by the same company that will roll the custom sized counterhoop. I decided to go with a 2300 timpani head rather than the Ludwig standard 2200. Getting new hoops rolled also gives me the ability to decide the finish for the hoop. I don't want it chromed, but I could easily have that done. The hoop will match the ring. For ears, still undecided. Should I steal some off an old (perfectly good) timpani hoop I have laying around? Should I have the metal rollers roll a section of stock to fit the outside of the counterhoop and simply slice that into ears? Should I buy my own stock and grind the back to fit the hoop? Whatever I do, I will counter sink the bolts to attach the ears from the back side of the hoop. I will most likely thread the ears and use an acorn nut on the outside. These ears need to be flush with the top of the hoop in order to support the roller bearings.

I have a design for a tension rod and lug combination that will allow me to tune the chain mechanism (all six or so stations) at once, or just one at a time (fine tuning.) This will all be done from the top of the hoop. The chain rollers will be attached (with a set screw most likely) to the tension rod which will have two different threads. The thread on top will be smaller to fine tune, and the bottom will be Acme or something close for a drastic difference in pitch with a 1/4 turn. The Acme thread will feed into a barrel nut that will compensate for any angle in which the tension rod might meet the lug. Tension rods will hopefully be made from stainless steel, the barrel nut will be brass, and the lug will be polished aluminum. I will most likely use a square or rectangular shaped stock for the lugs. These lugs will be attached to the ring mentioned above by one or two 5/16" bolts. The extra 1/4" between the bowl and ring will allow the bolt head to sit on the ring rather than go into the bowl or have to be countersunk.

If this design works well, I will try to market it as a Do-It-Yourself chain timpani kit. I could potentially have hoops rolled and supplied with the kits, or people can order hoops from Ludwig. I'm purposely not explaining the design of the tension rod and lug in order to preserve my design, which is based on many others that have come before it. A great part of the design is the ability to change tension rod sizes in order to accommodate other lug designs such as the Goodman timpani lugs. The only thing really needed is a "static" or stiff lug like on most hand screw and chain timpani designs. There may also be a way to adapt the design to work with Anheier cable timpani lugs, which have no threading at all.

Questions that remain: Will I need a chain tensioner? How much will this all cost? One great thing about the ring is if I need a chain tensioner, I can just add it to the mix rather than having to bolt it onto the bowl. Last question - will this design work? (6/8/2009)

The ring and hoop rolled by Chicago Metal look great! I plan to go to Northern Tool tomorrow to buy an angle grinder to clean up the weld joints. Whoever rolled the hoop took the time to make sure it was level and a good 360 arc. While at Northern Tool, I'll be sure to purchase some metal countersinking bits for the hoop and ears assembly, along with some other small tools and deep sockets for the tuning mechanism. I need to start laying out and drilling the ring and hoop and eventually move on to finishing (priming and painting) the metals. I'm not sure if I'll go with a black ring or a reddish/maroon colored ring much like the current American Drum Mark XI frames are painted. The hoop will be glossy black with polished brass ears. (How sexy will that be?!)
The bowl I picked up looks fantastic for this project. I could have gotten away with simply using back plates rather than a ring, but this will be better for the bowl in the long run.

I finally cleaned up and set up my workshop in the basement. It only took a year! I figure this project is a good excuse to clean the place up. (I also bought some stuff at Northern Tool that deserved a better workshop than what I had set up before...) I took some photos of the ring, hoop, and bowl. Soon I will grind the welds down and begin sanding the rust and scale away. I will drill all the holes needed before I do a final cleaning and priming.

The hoop.
The ring.
The bowl.

I used an angle grinder to clean the welds on the ring and hoop and they turned out great! I primed both pieces of metal to keep it from rusting after I used a wire brush to clean off all the grease and grime from the rollers used to make the hoop and ring. The hoop ended up looking like shiny steel, almost chrome, where the ring just remained a shiny black. I've drilled the ring to attach it to the bowl - tip of advice if you ever do this, own a good drill press. I do not. I wish I did. Anyway, the ring fits well enough on the bowl, so well, that I may not use washers behind the ring to support it. I'm afraid if on of the areas with washers gets a little loose that it may become a rattle. The pressure from all sides keeps the ring from moving around - it's something to consider in the near future. My next step is receiving the machined parts from the machinist working with me. Until then, I can't really drill anything for the fear that I may measure slightly wrong. I figure I will drill the counterhoop first and get that all put together. I need to make sure the ears are flat on the top of the hoop in order to accept the thrust bearings that will make tuning the chain easier. See pictures below.

The ring, primed and centers laid out.


Drill press ready to drill the first hole.

The first larger drill bit I used caused this, so I replaced it with a nice one.

The ring being attached to the bowl.

I plan to purchase stainless-steel acorn nuts for the finishing touch.

The ring all attached!

My crude method of getting a rough layout.

The wire brush and hoop half done.

The weld seam after using an angle grinder and brush.

The hoop is ready to be primed.

A better shot to show the shiny hoop after being wire brushed.

The hoop centers are laid out and marked after initial priming.

The t-handle to attach to the chain tuning socket.

The t-handle before being cleaned up.

The t-handle and 2 sockets. (One 12-point, one 6-point.)

The t-handle and socket before being welded and buffed.

I decided to use washers behind the ring - I found the perfect combination of 5/16" washers that not only spaces the bowl and ring evenly, it allows the bolts to be fully torqued. I will use loc-tite on the bolts prior to finishing, just to make sure nothing rattles loose. I put all 12 bolts and nuts together today just to "settle" the ring some - if it need to bend a little, it can do it while I wait for the machine shop to finish parts. (I'm starting to wonder if they'll ever be done! But, patience brings good things.)

I contacted a metal finisher to see about having the bowl refinished, just to see what kind of pricing was out there. Estimate - $50-$75!! I think it may be worth it. Also, this will give me a chance to discuss having future made parts buffed and finished for customers. I talked to the machinist today and I'm going to pick up the parts in two days! I'm very excited and plan to spend some of this weekend putting stuff together. I'll post pictures when I have them.

The parts are here!! They look great, too! There are a few little things to clean up on them (sharp edges on the bottom of the acme threading), but otherwise everything looks great. The machinist was nicest enough to include the thrust bearings I needed, in addition to boring, tapping, and black hard coating the sprockets for me! The ears look nice as well. A few pictures are included below. Soon I plan to "archive" this page and start over with less talk, more photos, and more information on how this machine really works.

Some parts!

I finally got most of the parts put together to do a little testing of the mechanism. It's awesome! Everything lines up really well and I look forward to attaching it to the bowl in the next few days to check out completely, before disassembling and finishing all the metal parts. I ran into a few problems. First, I want to use a deep socket to work the tuning nuts and attach that socket with a thumb screw. I cannot tap the hardened metal sockets that I want to use, but can tap others! I may end up using the 12 point sockets that can be tapped, or a standard depth socket, which I have yet to try, but believe I can drill into. The problem with a standard depth socket is that it may limit the fine tuning range, which really isn't that huge of a deal. The other problem I had was when everything was put together the fine tuning nut seems to move the entire shaft. I may be jumping the gun on this issue since the chain will most likely keep things in place. I'd like to find the correct bushing or bearing so that a player doesn't have to hold onto the chain in order to fine tune a single lug.
Below are photos that include a tapped socket (experiment to see if I could, and I could on just that one!) with a brass knurled thumb screw. There are also photos of the drilling jig I made to make drilling the ring for the lugs way easier. Also are photos of the ring put together with the mechanism but not installed on the bowl. And just for fun, I included some pictures of new toys including my buffer on its stand, and my new awesome coffee grinder...

Tapped 1" deep socket.

Tapped 12pt socket below and tool-dulling 6pt socket.

I added a light and "fence" system to the drill press.

Drilling the hoop for the ears.

Countersinking the hoop.

The ears - notice the curvature which is perfectly fit to the hoop!

Half done on the hoop.

The assembled hoop.

A drilling jig I made for the lugs.

Testing the drilling pattern.

I wish I could say I made the jig out of scrap, but I had to purchase this whole piece of angle steel. I'll find a use for it someday.

Using the jig and fence system.

Done drilling the ring.

The drilling pattern. I think I'll simplify this design next time.

The assembled ring with lugs. Note the diagonal mounting pattern.


I didn't hook up the chain when I did the test fit.


Those are some blue bearings...

New toy no. 1.

New toy no. 2. I can't wait for the coffee/espresso maker...

The drum is together, functioning perfectly, and is super smooth! It is actually better than I could have expected. To be honest, it worries me that things worked out so well. I'm sure I'll find a tweak or two to make. Patience really is a virtue throughout this project! One thing I plan to do is buy some large stainless steel washers that will fit below the bearings, directly on top of the hoop and ear, to prevent the tuning handles from creating circle marks on the painted and polished metal parts. I'm going to test play this drum for a little while before taking it completely apart and polishing parts and re-priming and painting the hoop and ring. On an unrelated note, my new coffee/espresso maker is incredible.

Almost finished product! I can't wait to see the machined parts polished,
the primed metal painted their respective colors, and the bowl stripped and refinished.

It's been a while since I updated this, so I figured I'd let everyone know what's going on! The lugs, ears, and bowl are all at a metal finishing shop in northern Milwaukee. When they are done, I expect the aluminum to be mirror-polished and the brass to be golden! I started painting the hoop and ring - the brown color is PERFECT. I decided I will paint the hoop the same color - it seems to be the best look. I'll also gold pinstripe the hoop and ring for extra awesomeness. I still need to finalize the design for the t-handle/socket combos. I think I'll place a pin in the well of the socket to prevent it from touching the hoop and scratching the paint. The washers I put there for that purpose just don't look nice. I also am working on a tuning gauge design that will be easily removable, just like the tuning handles.

So obviously school takes up 99.99% of my time! I've been extremely busy with school and auditions - I was recently appointed to Principal Timpanist of the Symphony Orchestra Augusta! And now back to the chain timpani... I was getting close to finishing when one of the few layers of paint decided it wanted to wrinkle. Not only did this happen, but I was trying to cover a few drips in the paint. So, I've given up on using good quality spray paint, and will now use automotive paint. I'll spend January striping and re-preparing the hoop and ring to be sprayed with the perfect color. I've found a nice gold leaf marker to use for pinstripes, so once this drum is finished, it will look very, very nice. I've finished putting together the tuning handles and they look great. Still working out the design of my tuning gauge. I will have to wait until the drum is all put together to test some ideas before making anything.

It's been busy with school starting up again and my travels to and from Augusta, but the 20" chain timpani is done! The paint turned out fantastic and the mechanism works even better than the prototype stage. It sounds amazing and blends well with my American Drum Mark XIVs. I'll post better pictures and more info soon. In the meantime, if you're interested in purchasing mechanisms to make your own chain timpani, please contact me.

Well folks, it's done! I'm in the process of figuring out what the costs will be to sell "do it yourself" kits for these drums, as well as offer custom chain timpani manufacturing. The tuning gauge works better than expected! I plan to tweak only one thing in the entire design and that is the ears that attach to the hoop - they need to be slightly bigger to adding a bushing inside to prevent the tension rod from rubbing against the metal. No big deal - I really like how this entire drum turned out. If you're interested, I plan to start selling these things very soon! I'll update this page later on to have less journal/blog-like entries and more information on the product. So expect a separate product and a project page shortly.

It's been too long since the last update. Let me fill you in on some stuff! I've had many people over the last three years email to ask about this project and to be let in on the details if and when they came around. There were some hurdles to jump over to figure out the business end of things, but I think it's ready to go! I've been discussing the design with a local machine shop here in Greenville, SC and will have some pricing hopefully in the next few weeks. This may be a one-time order, or only an occasional order, based on bulk pricing. It's possible I could get pricing for 6 pieces at a time (minimum for a chain timpani of this design), but that will command a much high price. SO... if you're even remotely interested and it's still October 2013, please email me. At the moment, I estimate the first order will consist of somewhere between 18-72 parts. The more parts ordered, the better the pricing will be, so I'm going to try to collect as many interested people as possible. In your email me, please let me know how many "stations" you'd be interested in purchasing and we'll get more details from there. The goal is for each "station" to include a lug, barrel nut, tension rod, bearing, chain sprocket, specially designed nut, and fine tuning nut. For every six stations, I'd like to include a fine tuning handle, tuning handle, and offer the option for a second tuning handle. Tuning gauges will be special order. I'll figure out chain and hoop ordering later. I have good contacts in the industry for metal rolling, and chain tools aren't expensive. This is DIY, remember?! But that doesn't mean my services aren't available to you.

If you're interested in purchasing this chain timpani mechanism for your own use or simply want to be informed of when they are available, please email me.

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