Premier “1026” Chrome on Steel Snare Drum. Fitting the drum heads

With spare parts mounting up for my “Elite” kit restoration – I really need to clear the decks a bit. The workshop’s filling up with various bits and pieces. I’ve finally tracked down a suitable replacement head for my 1026 snare rebuild. Time to fit the heads.

Cleaning the original square head tension rods

But first, I’ll have to clean the tension rods. I’ve kept the upper and lower set separate – although now that I look at them – they all seem identical anyway. There’s plenty of age-related gunk in the threads, but no sign of any major corrosion. All they need is a good clean. They’re brushed – using a nylon bristle, (an old toothbrush, dipped in WD-40). Once the worst of the grime has been dissolved off and brushed away – I trace the helical threads with a fingernail wrapped in paper towel. That cleans them out nicely enough. Once completely clean, the tension rods are given a wipe over with a clean rag, which has a little gun oil residue on it. Any excess oil is then wiped off with a clean paper towel, and the rods are re-bagged – ready for re-fitting.

Replacing the tension rod washers

As they’re prepared for use – I see that the original washers are quite dull and corroded. On a vintage re-build, I might try and preserve the original washers wherever possible – but I’m more concerned about basic function here. With no access to original or NOS Premier washers – I have to try and source some identical replacements. After a few hours trying in vain to decode various Engineer’s Washer Size Table Charts – I finally discover Gibraltar’s “Universal” “SC-11” tension rod washers, which are all I can find in anything like a similar size. They’re a little bit larger than the original premier parts – but they have a nice bright finish. I plan on doubling up anyway, with a set of white nylon-sleeved washers – (by Hendrix Drums). The sleeved washers sit underneath the metal washers, with the sleeves extending down through the hoop flanges – helping to prevent the metal of the tension rods from coming into direct contact with the metal of the head hoops. It’s all supposed to prevent unwanted rattle and buzz, and is also supposed to allow the heads to be tuned more easily, and stay in tune longer.

Original hoops showing some signs of pitting after cleaning

The worst of the corrosion on the hoops has already been cleaned off with Autosol and a little 0000 wire wool. The rust has gone – but there’s still some signs of damage to the chrome – especially on the top hoop, and around the rod flanges. It’s mostly showing now as fine “pinhole” pitting, and appears as a fine, dark rash in the shiny chrome. These hoops – being the “more standard” triple flange type, are quite easily replaceable, and wonder if I might even eventually swap them out for a set of cast hoops. However – these polish up quite nicely for now – despite the pinholes. I’ll stick with them for the time being. I’d much rather concentrate on getting the drum into a functional, playable condition before considering any further upgrades.

Fitting the snare side reso head

I’ll fit the lower, snare side, “reso” (resonant), head first. I’m re-using the original, clear “SD Snare” head that was previously removed from the drum. Apart from a few decades worth of grime – it’s still in a fair, but useable condition. The grime mostly consists of a few areas of in-grained rust – around the inside rims – and some dirty grey snare wire imprints across the centre. Most of the rust stains and general grot easily cleans off with some naphtha, and a paper tissue, although the worst of the snare wire imprints are still visible in a two inch wide, striped area across the head – underneath where the snare has previously run. If I re-fit the head with the new snare wires in the same alignment – then the marks won’t show too badly.

Checking the head for other damage – there’s a very slight pinhole, just showing, close to the outer edge. I tape that over with a couple of tiny slugs of Sellotape – one inside, one outside – to stabilise it. The reso head, although tensioned roughly the same as the batter head, doesn’t suffer anything like the same level of physical abuse – so the tape should be enough to stop the tiny pinhole from “running” any further.

Seating the snare side reso head

When fitting drum heads – it’s important to seat the heads onto the shell properly. This allows for better stability and helps with tuning issues. I want to have the throw-off lever at about eight/nine o’clock, as I sit at the drum – so I position the reso head on the upturned shell, with the snare marks running roughly from nine o’clock to three o’clock, as I look at it. The snare side hoop has slots cut to allow the snare wires to pass through, and attach to the butt plate and strainer. The hoop is placed over the top, so that the rod flanges align with the lug boxes, and the snare path runs directly across, from strainer to butt plate. The head fits snugly inside the hoop, and its’ seating on the bearing edge of the shell needs to be carefully checked – to ensure that the head can be evenly stretched over the edges, all the way around, as the rods are inserted and tightened down.

Fitting the tension rods

With the head and hoop seated and lined up, the first of the tension rods is fitted. The swivel nuts in the lug boxes have already been lightly oiled with a wipe of gun oil – so a tiny smear of grease is all that’s required, on the very last few turns of the thread. The rod threads down through a new metal washer, which in turn sits on top of a nylon sleeved washer, and through one of the hoop flanges – down into the lug box on the side of the shell, below. The rod is tightened only to finger tightness. It’s important not to overstretch the head at this stage. More important to evenly spread the pressure, and keep the head central, under the hoop.

Tension rod tightening sequence

Once the first rod is fitted – the rest follow in exactly the same manner. To help maintain an even pressure all around – the second rod fitted is positioned directly opposite the first. The third rod is then at the next lug clockwise, (or anti-clockwise) around the hoop from the second. The fourth is opposite the third… clockwise round to the fifth… and so on.

Once all of the rods are fitted – it’s usually necessary to re-visit each one in turn, and to gradually dial out any “slack”. By checking the seat of the head on the bearing edge with my fingers, and visually checking the outer edge of the skin for any “wrinkling” or “puckering” – any looseness or inconsistency can usually be ironed out by bringing each rod to an equivalent finger tightness. A quick tap on the head at each rod position confirms that the head is just about evenly tensioned all around. That’ll do for now. (I’ll finally tune both heads, and fit the snare wires, in the next post).

“New Old Stock” Premier SD Studio Batter head

It’s taken a while to find an authentic replacement batter head. The coating on the original head is quite badly worn. I was originally going to use a modern Remo “Coated Ambassador” batter – but eventually managed to find a genuine Premier, coated SD snare head, which promises to better “match” the preserved snare side head. Certainly – the printed logo appears the same. I presume that might further help refine my estimated dating of the drum to the late 80’s, (most likely 1987), when the company noticeably changed their visual branding. (In 1987, Premier entered a five year partnership with Yamaha – eventually buying themselves out again in 1993. With electronic music becoming more dominiant in the charts – Premier’s marketing strategy was to nominate 1987 as “the year of the snare”).

The replacement batter head for my 1026 snare, is “New Old Stock” – unused and still in it’s original wrapper. The original £6.30 price-gun sticker from “Harker and Howarth Music and Records” shows me that, not only does the replacement head originate from a now-defunct Bolton music store – (interesting on one level since the drum itself originated from nearby Salford, and I was born somewhere roughly between the two places) – but also keenly demonstrates the sobering effect of time and fiscal inflation, on instrument prices. A new, comparable Remo head would likely cost around about £20 today. This one – because of it’s rarity – cost me £28. That’s quite a price hike over thirty-odd years. But, it’s authentic – and seems perfectly fitted for this job.

Furthermore – another printed label gives me the descripition “8313 14″ STUDIO BATTER 87”. Looks like a possible original product code. A quick search online gets me a little more info from a 1986 article in “Studio Sound”…

The Premier 8313 studio batter head has a laminated construction, and the top ply is coated for brush work. The head is claimed to provide an exceptionally thick sound making it much more controllable than single ply heads. It is also claimed to work well in live situations giving a thick, meaty, `studio’ sound with the minimum of doctoring on the console – Mark Jenkins and Carl A Snape, Studio Sound, December 1986

It’s good to have been able to find a head which seemingly fits well with the rest of the components, and it will be interesting to see how the “studio” head stands up to it’s billing from the time. That “87” on the label, looks like further confirmation of a circa 1987 guestimate too. If I think “snare sound, 1987” – then I’d be happy enough if I can eventually get the snare to sound something approaching the one on R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know it”. Too much to ask for a bog-standard Premier steel shell with a seamed construction? – We’ll see…

Fitting the tension rods (batter side)

The shell is turned right-side-up, and the batter head is fitted with exactly the same procedure as the reso. I position the printed logo at the twelve o’clock position as I’d sit at the drum. I can use this as a visual aide when it comes to setting everything up in a hurry. The rods are all tightened up to finger-tight, and the batter looks reasonably evenly stretched.

Now I just need to take a few lessons from YouTube, on how to properly tune the heads, and fit the snare wires. Strange – but in all my years – I’ve never actually done either myself. I’ve seen it done by others before, (including once watching our drummer hurriedly fix a broken snare cord mid-gig at London’s Bull and Gate) – but I wasn’t actually paying much attention then. Still – I’m a great believer that you can achieve anything with a little education, so I’ll check-up on as much advice as I can find over the next day or so, and deal with the fine tuning in my next post.

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