Pearl Heavy Duty “Black Label” Snare Stand. Fixing an age-related wobble

One of the advantages of dealing with old-style “analogue” instruments, is the ability to fix, mend, upgrade and recycle older pieces of kit. One of the reasons I so love Fender guitars, is the way Leo Fender used quite basic, often automobile technology to enable jobbing musicians to fettle and customise their own gear. I’d argue that getting involved with maintaining and modifying your own instruments is an important part of developing a much better understanding of how they work, and how you can get them to work better for you.

Of course, it’s so much easier with instruments that were designed with ongoing maintenance in mind from the beginning – as is the case with Fender guitars. The development of more complex, predominently PCB-based, electronic instruments has drawn something of a veil over the familiar ritual of “service and repair”. In recent years, the ongoing rush of consumerism means that so many of today’s instruments – whilst perhaps cheaper to begin with – will soon be destined for land-fill the moment they stutter, or creak, and then drift out of tune – even fashion. That’s not to say they aren’t repairable in some way. It’s just that the world of circuitboards, capacitors and resistors is so much more opaque to most, than the simpler world of wood and wire redolent with a trusty Fender electric guitar. Once again – I’m reminded that the maintenance of the finish and performance of a Fender guitar is analagous, in so many ways, to the fettling of a favourite car or motorcycle.

However – the cars and bikes I’m thinking of are probably at least ten or twenty years old and, in reality, probably date back to earlier days where hot-rodding and customisation went hand in hand with re-bores, thick chrome plating and custom coachwork. Automobile maintenance in modern vehicles now seems to be much more about getting circuit boards or fuses swapped out, than it is about simpler metal and woodworking skills. DIY maintenance seems to be almost deliberately made harder – with the requirement for more and more individual and specialist tools to get particular jobs done, together with hardware which seems pre-designed to destroy itself, with any attempt at removal from the chassis. Another of Leo Fender’s blessings was that he enabled the jobbing guitarist to maintain an instrument with an extremely limited tool set. The “Henry Ford of instrument manufacture”. Basically – a screwdriver and perhaps a couple of hex-spanners will usually get you by. Anything requiring more specialist knowledge – such as pickups, for example, are easily swapped out and dropped in – again, usually with just basic tools required to do the job. (For absolute emergencies – Gaffa tape will usually get you through at least one more gig…)

Another consideration in all of this is, of course, money. We, somewhat frustratingly, live in an increasingly throw-away world, and part of the drive to keep things “nice and cheap” for the consumer, contributes to the single-use, throw-away nature of many of the modern instruments. Stuff we’re encouraged to buy, just “to keep up with the Joneses”. Nowadays, it’s incredible just what can be achieved for a modest outlay – how “professional” a sound can be realised with even entry-level kit. However there’s often a hidden, much longer term price to pay for all this, and cheaper kit often, inevitably leads to additional longer-term spending on replacement, repair and upgrade. It’s almost a deliberately designed path to sell more “stuff” – and it also produces much more redundancy and waste in the long run – wheras a few running repairs here and there, might keep things running and help better forge a personal understanding and relationship with a particular instrument. As with so many things in life – “you get what you pay for”. I’d simply argue that we ought to be demanding a little more permanence from all of our manufactured goods – with the pre-conceived and in-built possibility to nurse then along and elevate them ourselves as we go, into better, even more personal objects with real purpose.

Second-hand Pearl Heavy Duty Snare Stand

Upcycling – the restoration, repair and sometimes re-purposing of objects, has become something of a “trend” in recent years and, indeed, the emotional attachment some owners display to favourite objects, has even become the central tenet of TV restoration favourites like “The Repair Shop”. In this TV world, certain objects are bestowed with great emotional import – almost as if they’re capable of recording time and experiences. Their restoration somehow activates the playback, and broken things – once fixed again – appear to open the floodgates of memory. However – this isn’t necessarily just about purely decorative items. The experience of playing a favourite musical instrument over time, often builds an extra special bond, and to the player – if that player is interested in truly getting to grips with the construction and adjustment of any instrument – it can develop a highly emotional bond. There’s nothing like that first electric guitar. (Mine was a humble Hondo, and I often regret passing it on). Whilst some will always defer to luthiers and technicans to carefully manage the performance of their favourites, I’d argue that there’s a basic technical level to the maintenance of most instruments – often just an extension of basic practical skills – which practically anyone can master, and which builds on the attachment and understanding of the thing. There’s a deeper understanding, via a process other than the actual playing of the instrument which, in itself, has reward through a sort of praxis. You discover what it is as you go about the process. A separate, personal involvement in an instruments creation – (or at least its’ extended life) – and one which can be fulfilling on many levels beyond simply that of playing it.

I’ve recently acted on an interest in learning how to drum. I’ve always felt that it’s a wise thing to start any instrument learning with the best instrument you can possibly afford, but I don’t, at this stage, know if my initial interest will ultimately lead to anything much more than a bit of a deep dive into certain aspects of rhythm. I suppose I’m hoping to find another way to exercise control and expression of my internal rhythm “clock”, (but whether that’s better expressed on a bass or a drum – we’ll see). For that reason alone, at this early stage, I’d simply be crazy to splash out on top level gear, like a new Ludwig Supraphonic. Instead, I’ll pick up a solid, second-hand instrument, and the best value will likely be in something with a good sound, but which needs a little restoration – rather than buying new, and at the cheap end of the market. Whilst I learn the rudiments of stick work, I’ll also learn the basics of how to strip-down and maintain the thing. Of course – any snare needs a stand to sit on, so rather than splash out on yet another import from China – I’ll see what I can pick up on the second-hand market.

Second-hand Pearl Heavy Duty Snare Stand. Quality heavy metal, albeit with a slightly wobbly mount

After a trawl through various online ads – I come across a solid-looking, heavy-duty Pearl, “Black Label”, double-braced stand, for a very reasonable price. Looks possibly 1980’s / maybe 1990’s. It’s a little tired, but it’s quite clean. The chrome shows very little pitting, with no rust evident at all. A few bumps and bangs here and there, but having help load and unload drum kits to gigs over the years – I don’t see how any second-hand example of this age is going to turn up completely unscathed.

The only flaw seems to be just a little bit too much play above the adjustable joint at the tilter mechanism – where the upper stem joins the rotating mount. Since the sole purpose in life for a snare stand is to keep the snare drum precisely and firmly in place between the drummer’s knees, any unnecessary play or – (especially in a studio environment) – squeaking, easily renders any wobbly stand “useless”. On some other, newer, cheaper stands – this joint might well not be saveable, and the whole stand therefore likely chucked out for scrap. In this case – that’d be a waste and a shame. All of the other metal work is rock-solid with nice heavy castings, and the chrome is good and thick and will polish up well. With a minor bodge (or two) – that joint can be made as solid as a rock again. Perhaps even more secure than it originally was.

Second-hand Pearl Heavy Duty Snare Stand. Disassembly and cleaning

All of the other parts of the stand are checked over and cleaned using either a light oil, or a good quality automotive metal cleaner. There’s no major corrosion evident anywhere, and even the thick rubber foot pads are in excellent condition. The offending joint seems to wobble about the line of the roll pin which holds the joint together. At this stage, I’m not even sure if a slight motion was actually intended. Once the pin has been knocked out with a suitably sized drift – the actual shape of the end of the upper mount, together with the slightly rounded appearance just inside the cup of the joint, make me wonder if the stand was originally supposed to have a bit of play here. (One thing’s for certain though. It would eventually drive me mad. I’d much rather the drum didn’t flap about at all). Looking at things carefully – the two halves of the joint do appear to display a fair amount of ground up metal suspended in, what looks like, a smear of grease. The joint is milled around, and is extremely snug-fitting at it’s mid-point. With the grease obviously required to ease the two halves together, and with the apparent wear occurring either side of the pin – I’d say that a slight amount of play has, over the years, gradually become exaggerated as the two halves have moved, and ground together. This will have gradually made things looser and looser until, presumably, the ex-owner called “enough!”.

Now – I’m not claiming to be any sort of ace metal-worker. But I do recognise a possible, effective bodge when I see one… and I’m looking at one right now…

Second-hand Pearl Heavy Duty Snare Stand. Roll pin replacement

Simply replacing the extracted roll pin won’t, in itself, actually firm up the joint that much. There may be a little bit of wear there too. However – if I enlarge the hole through the two halves of the joint a little – I can drive in a new pin, and ensure, at least, that any play there is eliminated as much as possible. I don’t know if the original pin is supposed to be metric or imperial, but I do have some larger pins sized at 3/16″ diameter. Crucially – they are also just the right length for this casting. I have an HSS drill bit which looks like it’s a 3/16″, (although it may actually be a metric bit coming, as it does, from my impressive “bag of mystery drill bits”). It’s certainly larger than the original, and if I measure the width of the bit with my digital calipers – it certainly looks like it should do the job.

Second-hand Pearl Heavy Duty Snare Stand. Enlarging the pin path

The milled joint is cleaned, and lightly greased, (just enough to help guide the two parts back together easily. I don’t actually intend to have to do this job more than once), and the two halves pushed together so that the pin path runs through the casting, as before. Using the existing hole as a guide – the path is then drilled out with the slightly larger, (3/16″?) HSS bit. As with all metalwork “bodges” like this – it’s vital to clamp the work securely and to use eye and hand protection at all times. Those little shards and bits of minced up metal are lethal. Get them under your skin, and you’ll regret it. Get them in your eyes… don’t even think about it.

When drilling through metal – let the bit do the work on quite a slow speed setting. You can get away with using a hand drill, but it’s safer to use a drill press if you can. A little bit of oil helps stop the bit from heating up too much and breaking. Slow, steady and keep the cut lubricated and cooled, with a little more oil if it needs it. You can’t use too much – but you can use too little. Once through – carefully clean up any loose scurf, and lightly ease any sharp cut edges with a suitable metal reamer. With everything cleaned out, and with the stand and joint held firmly and securely in place – tap the new roll pin home with a hammer.

Second-hand Pearl Heavy Duty Snare Stand. Driving home the new pin

Clearly… that HSS bit wasn’t 3/16″. More likely – a slightly smaller, metric alternative. Roll pins draw their effectiveness from being precisely sized to fit a particular drilled path. If the pin is too tight – the actual spring action of the pin is required to bend just that little bit too much, (as is the case here). The two sides of the pin “spring” almost touch, and the pin can deform – flaring out slightly at the end, a little like a rivet. The pin drives home – but perhaps not quite as smoothly as might be expected. It’s not pretty – but it’s certainly a solid joint now. It will do for now, and if I get hold of a proper 3/16″ HSS bit in the future – I’ll drive the (slightly mashed-up) pin out and replace it with a new one.

For now – the larger pin holds the upper, threaded shaft much more securely – but since it’s only been secured in one plane – the shaft does still “play” and slightly rocks around the path of the pin. Less than it did a while ago – but probably much as it did when it was new. With repeated use the joint will, again, become gradually looser with time. However – a second pin – drilled in at right angles to the first – should completely prevent any such movement, and will totally stabilise the joint.

Second-hand Pearl Heavy Duty Snare Stand. Adding a second pin

Since there’s probably not enough space below the original pin – any new pin will be best located above the original – halfway up towards the opening in the casting. Since I’ll be drilling a complete hole this time – rather than just enlarging an existing one – I’ll need to go extra carefully, and use plenty of oil to keep things cool whilst drilling. Because space is a little bit tighter here – I’m using a smaller, 1/8″ roll pin, and a new HSS bit which, this time, I know is correctly sized. It helps to punch the start position of the new opening with a drill punch first. This gets things in the right place, and allows the bit to get a bit of initial purchase without slipping. I can’t actually drill all the way through the casting in this location – so the hole needs to be drilled through the casting and shaft, just down to the correct depth for the selected roll pin. Driving the pin into place will be a one-way trip, and if it ever does need to come out – it’ll have to be drilled out. (Not an easy job).

Second-hand Pearl Heavy Duty Snare Stand with stabilised joint

The hole takes a while to drill. The metal of the shaft is especially hard. However – with the shaft sunk to the correct depth – the new opening is cleaned up, all sharp edges are rounded over, and the pin is driven home. Now, with its’ only direction of travel completely firmed up – the support shaft is rock solid. With the joint stabilised, and without any play at all to slowly work away at it – I’m confident that the stand will hold the snare exactly where I want it without rocking at all. Once the securing screw which operates the snare basket has been tightened – there’s absolutely no movement anywhere, and there are no annoying consequential creaks or squeaks either. This might not be the most earth-shattering bodge on the planet – but for the outlay of just literally pennies on a couple of roll springs – this second-hand snare stand has a brand new lease of life. I’ve saved myself maybe £50, and kept a few pounds of “useless” scrap metal from landfill.

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