Phil Ehart's Secret Slingerland Timpani Tom Set

phil ehart

Phil Ehart signed on as a Slingerland endorser in the mid-1970s just as Kansas was breaking out as a major worldwide progressive rock band. Ehart soon became friends with a fellow at Slingerland named Rick Piccolo, who was younger than most of the people at the company and as progressive in his ideas about building drums as Ehart was in playing them. As a result, Piccolo often found himself at loggerheads with the older, more traditional Slingerland management.

Piccolo came up with the idea of “timpani toms” for a drum set. He believed that by fitting an oversized head to a drum shell with extended hoops and lugs, it would resonate more freely and accurately like a timpani head does.

It would be perfect for Kansas' symphonic rock sound, and Ehart loved the idea, but Slingerland management quashed the plan. They didn’t want Piccolo wasting time developing drums they didn’t believe were marketable. Undaunted, Piccolo pursued the idea in secret, smuggling the pieces he needed to his girlfriend’s apartment, where he set about building the drums in her living room.

Every hoop and hinged timpani “lug” had to be hand built, since standard timpani parts wouldn’t fit on a tom-sized shell. To further the whole timpani concept he covered the maple/poplar shells in sheets of copper and had all the cymbal stands copper-plated to match.

Ehart played the set on Kansas’ 1979 Monolith Tour, the band’s biggest to date. It was one of two sets he used at each show. He played a regular Slingerland set for the beginning of the show. For the encore his riser would rotate to reveal the copper Timpani Tom set, which he would play for the remainder of the performance.

This massive set includes two 26" basses, a 14" x 6.5" snare, and eight timpani toms ranging from 8" to 22". Ehart loved the drums, but was never a fan of Slingerland’s tom mounts, and insisted on having these and all of his Slingerland drums fitted with Ludwig mounts.

The Timpani Tom never caught on at Slingerland, and this wound up being the only such set they ever built. However, Tama employed a similar “oversize head” philosophy with its Gong Bass Drum, which was popularized by drummers like Billy Cobham and Neil Peart and is still featured in the company’s catalog.