Vintage Vellum: How To Tuck Calfskin Heads
Old School Gear: How To Tuck Calfskin Heads
By Jeff Stern Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s September 2007 Issue
It wasn’t always so easy. Before the invention of Mylar drumheads, drummers had to keep special tools beside their drum keys and wrenches, and possess delicate skills that ventured beyond paradiddles and flams and into the world of woodcraft. Instead of taking a minute or two to replace a broken head, it would take hours of work to prepare a single head made of calfskin. So why in the world would anybody want to play on calfskin heads when synthetic ones are so user-friendly? Easy – because it is the most reliable way to attain an authentic vintage drum sound, if that’s what your music demands. Today a handful of tanneries provide calfskin heads that are already mounted on a flesh hoop. But those diehards who insist on doing it on their own should set aside a day to follow the proceeding step-by-step instructions for tucking a drumhead. Before getting started you need to prepare the raw material, which is delivered as a stiff disc. Soak the head in tepid water until it is completely pliable – which can vary in time depending on the head, and can take as much as a day – and then turn the page.
Step 1. Lay the drumhead flat (a Formica table works well) with the playing side facing down. Use a squeegee to remove excess water.
Step 2. Center the flesh hoop on the drumhead.
Step 3. Fold the edge nearest to you over the hoop.
Step 4. Roll the hoop up toward you so that it is perpendicular to the table. Slightly lift the hoop and tuck the drumhead under the hoop. Fig. 5 shows how the first edge should look after tucking the drumhead beneath the hoop.
Step 5. Lay the hoop back down on top of the head.
Step 6. Tuck the opposite side of the head, and fold the drumhead over the hoop.
Step 7. Use the tucking tool to push the drumhead underneath the hoop.
Step 8. Repeat Step 7 by folding the drumhead over the hoop and tucking the head. Complete four quarters, then fold and tuck halfway between each quarter point, continuing to tuck opposite sides of the head to keep it centered. Fig. 10 shows how the head should look after it has been tucked at eight points.
Step 9. Tuck the rest of the drumhead by pushing the skin underneath the hoop. Fig. 12 shows how the drumhead should look after all of the loose skin has been tucked.
Step 10. Examine the drumhead to make sure that all of the material is pushed under the hoop. Push any untucked material under the hoop with the tucking tool.
Step 11. Carefully pick up the drumhead and turn it over, so that the playing side faces up.
Step 12. Using the side edge of the tucking tool, pull the tucked material underneath the playing side to the outer edge of the hoop, so that it moves outward. It should look like Fig. 16 when you are finished.
Step 13. Lift the drumhead so that it is standing on its edge. Using the side of the tucking tool, pull the underlying material that was previously pulled to the edge down with a scraping motion. Repeat the process until all material has been pulled down along the outer side of the hoop.
Step 14. Lay the drumhead on a shell and gently push down so that the flat edge of the drumhead touches the bearing edge.
Step 15. Put on the counterhoop and tension rods to set the desired collar. Gradually add tension by tightening down the counterhoop on opposing edges. Measure the distance between the counterhoop and drumhead, and make sure that it is consistent around the head. The amount of collar will depend on the type of drum onto which it will fit – the larger the collar, the less adjustment will be available to you for future tuning.