Portable Timpani

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Matt the Shed, Feb 17, 2011.

  1. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member

    I’m doing a bit of research into portable pedal timpani with a view of one day purchasing a decent pair of portable copper timps. I’ve not really had much of a chance to play portable timps and was wondering how they compare to some of the standard copper timps I’ve used before, i.e. the type of timps that are provided at contests - Eventz Premiers (Concert/Elites I think), Ray Payne’s Majestics, etc.

    There are 6 models I’m aware of:

    • Adams universals
    • Adams revolutions
    • Majestic Harmonics
    • Majestic Prophonics
    • Majestic Concert
    • Yamaha 3100 Series (OK, these are aluminium not copper)
    So a few questions:
    1. Has anyone had any experience of these?
    2. What should I look for? Has anyone got any advice re portable timps?
    3. How do they compare to standard copper timps?
    4. How much should I be looking at paying for a pair?
    5. What are the advantages/disadvantages of hammered bowls?
    Any help/advice appreciated…
  2. satchmo shaz

    satchmo shaz Active Member

    we have some tour timps and they are great for transporting about and the sound isnt bad just not quite as good as proper ones
  3. sbandsman

    sbandsman Member

    Have you thought of talking to E vents or Ray Payne? I'm sure Ray has/had a set of Majestic portables? If so the feedback from someone who moves percussion around as much as these should be of use.
  4. satchmo shaz

    satchmo shaz Active Member

    we are also looking into Adams revolution and more portable timps , hopefully replacing 2 hand tuned timps, any offers on 2 hand tuned timps?
  5. Colin Gray

    Colin Gray Member

    Hi Matt,

    I have a set of Adams Universals with a copper bowl. They sounds ace and give much more warmth and sustain than the fiberglass versions. In comparison to fiberglass they are very heavy.

    All the prices are listed on JAM percussion website so you'll be able to do a comparison between hammered and normal bowls.

    I haven't tried the Yamaha/Majestic versions but i am sure JAM or Ev-Entz will give you good advice.

    Because the bowl of the timp is pierced with the legs, the overall sound and projection isn't as good as the top or the range timps - but then you will be saving a lot of money and you can fit them into cars with ease. I usually take two in the boot of an estate for a show, but have got 3 in before.

    Only other thought would be the type of pedal. In my experience balenced pedals do not react well to being moved often whereas the clutch action pedal does. Other people might have different experiences.

    Hope this helps.

    Last edited: Mar 1, 2011
  6. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    Hi Matt,

    We have a pair of Ajax portable timps. Not sure of the Model/No, but they are fibreglass. They work well enough, except for one thing: with the smaller one, when pushing the pedal down for the highest notes, the amount of resistance combined with the light weight of the drum sometimes means that the whole thing tips towards you. Not difficult to work around, provided you have a spare hand and are not trying to change pitch whilst playing!

    I note that you are inclined towards copper bowls anyway, and I suspect that the extra weight would mean that you wouldn't have this problem, but it is something to check, just in case ...


  7. DMBabe

    DMBabe Supporting Member

    My band just got a set of majestics which fit into zipped gig bags rather than top only covers and have folding legs. Not sure of the details but if you PM our Karen (Mrs C) she should be able to give your more info re cost and spec/model and Ali (Cannonfodder) should be able to tell you how they play?
  8. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member

    Hi guys,

    Sorry I haven’t responded earlier, but I’ve been collecting my thoughts… Thanks for the info so far – please keep it coming!

    I’ve been talking to a few different people and have contacted a few knowledgeable retailers for advice, all of which have been very helpful. I’ve also been doing some research on t’internet and reading a good book regarding timpani available on Amazon, called “Timpani Tone and the Interpretation of Baroque and Classical Music”, which is well worth a read.

    Here are some of my thoughts so far. I’ve split this out into a post per section that I recon it’s worth thinking about because I ramble quite a bit…
  9. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member

    Sound Quality

    As Colin says the sound and projection of many, if not all of the portable models is not going to as good as the top and mid line standard timps because the bowl is pierced. Also, none of models I have seen, with the exception of the Majestic Prophonics, have suspended bowls so there will be some resonance lost here.

    Obviously because we’re looking at portable timps we won’t get extended head sizes that can be found on some of the high-end models such as the Premier Elites, which is meant to give you better resonance and projection across the range of the drum. Having said that I did find a video of some Adams Universals that had been modified to take larger heads on YouTube, but I’m not sure I’m really able to comment on the impact of doing this… Many of the southern contests (where my band is based) have kit supplied by ev-entz, who I believe tend to supply either Premier Concert Series or Premier Elites. I’ve played both of these on the contest stage and it’s taken a little while to get used to the extra movement required to play the larger Elites – obviously with portable timps (and a number of other models of standard timps) you won’t get the opportunity to get used to this in the rehearsal room.

    In the rehearsal room (and I’m guessing this will be the same for many brass band percussionists out there), I’m used to playing Premier fibreglass timpani with clear plastic heads fitted. Sound wise, these are not great, particularly in the lower dynamics because they lack so much tone and resonance that copper, or perhaps even aluminium models can offer. I would guess that changing the heads to something like Remo Renaissance heads would have a positive impact, however at £80-£100 a head I’m not sure you’d really want to invest this sort money given that you still won’t get the resonance and tone produced by copper bowls. It would be an interesting experiment – perhaps there is someone out there in tmp world that could comment upon this. Sound wise, for me, copper is the ultimate and as this is what you’ll end up playing on the contest stage why would you choose anything else? Well, there are a few reasons, which I’ll talk about in a bit…

    So, assuming I’ve decided to choose some copper bowls, do you pick spun or hand-hammered for the best sound? I’m going to be honest, I’m not totally sure about this, although I’m pretty sure a hand-hammered bowl is the same as a spun bowl that have been subsequently hammered rather than a bowl hammered straight from sheet metal. In theory I think hand-hammered bowls are meant to give you a darker tone, which should blend better with the ensemble rather than cut through it. Well, I play in a brass band not an orchestra – are the rules different? From my experience, yes. Fine, I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb most of the time, but we’re not trying to blend in with warm sounding strings or anything , we’ve got 25 loud brass instruments being blown constantly that we have compete with! I’m guessing these thoughts won’t be shared by everyone, perhaps Gareth could comment upon the role of the timpani within the band and the sort of sound we should be looking to obtain? Having said that, I’ve been told by more than one person that the difference in sound, particularly at this level, is minimal and as you’ll add another 20%-30% to the price for hand hammered it’s perhaps difficult to indulge this option especially when you’re considering we’re looking at portable timpani. They do look very pretty mind you!

    If we ignore tour timps for the minute there are two basic shapes for timpani bowls: Parabolic and hemispheric. Again, I’m no expert on this, but parabolic bowls are meant to have a darker sound than hemispheric ones (which are meant to be brighter), however as far as I can tell most portable timpani seem to have a parabolic shape so I haven’t really looked into this much yet. Tour timps have what I’d describe as ‘open shells’, that is they look more like over-sized timbale than timpani. My old band has some tour timps, so I’ve had a chance to play them quite a bit over the years. Sound wise you wouldn’t choose tour timps over standard/portable copper of even fibreglass timps, but then that’s not really what they’re designed for, although they do sound better than you think they would by looking at them! Interesting, I read on Marcus’s (the maker of tour timps) website that the fundamental tone of the tour timp is an octave lower than conventional timpani – great for supporting the lack-lustre bass section perhaps?

    There are a number of other factors that are going to affect the sound of any timpani. Firstly, the ability and technique of the player and the style in which they play will affect the sound of the timpani – I’ve never had any timpani lessons (I come from a kit background), but have done a lot of reading, talking to people and studying timpanists, which has vastly improved my sound over the last couple of years. Lessons one day would be great please Santa. I guess my main comment on this is that timpani are naturally resonant instruments, so don’t play into the head if you want your timpani to sing! Secondly, the acoustic in which you play will have a large bearing on the sound of the timpani – any timpani will sound differently by themselves and with the band, in different rooms, standing over the drums or sitting in the audience. I figure I need to play and listen to as many timpani as possible before choosing. Thirdly, mallet selection… I have a strange obsession with timpani mallets, have been experimenting making them (with various levels of success) for the past few years and could talk about them for hours... I think the main thing I’d say is that portable timpani are going to be smaller than conventional timpani, so I would guess that they wouldn’t benefit from large cores as much as standard timpani.

    I think if you’re choosing timpani on the basis of sound alone you’d choose copper and you certainly wouldn’t choose a portable model. Ignoring that, and without playing them, I would guess that the best sounding portable timpani are likely to be something like the Adams Prophonic series because they are the only timpani I have seen that have fully suspended bowls. According to Majestic’s website they sound very similar to their Symphonic Grand series timpani, which I think are the ones that Ray Payne supplies. Ray’s Symphonic’s are my personal favourite timpani that I have played so far. Having said that, the Prophonics aren’t cheap – for the price you could buy a decent set of standard timps and pay for van hire!
  10. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member

    Note Range

    The Adams Revolution timpani have a range of over an octave, whilst all of the Majestic models appear to have a range of around an octave and most others, such as the Adams Universals, have a smaller range. So what does this mean? Well, if you have a set of four (or five) timpani then the range of the timpani probably isn’t too important because you can play notes on the sizes of timpani they were written for. However, if you only have two or three timpani then you might find yourself needing to stretch the range of each timpani a little to cover the full range required by the brass band repertoire. A 29” Adams Universal will struggle to reach a bottom Eb and almost certainly won’t make a bottom D like it’s counterpart 32” would do, however a 29” Revolution Timpani would be more comfortable in this range. A 26” Adams universal will struggle with much of an F, whereas a 26” Adams Revolution allows you to extend your range over the top F.

    Also, remember that we’re looking at portable timpani here, so odds are you’re just as likely to be carting a couple of them to park jobs in the back of a car as you are transporting a set of four about in a van for concerts and contests. Having said that, a lot of ‘park job’ music may not require the full range of notes, so it might not be such a problem anyway.
  11. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member

    Pedal Action

    It looks like portable timpani tend to either come with the balance action pedal mechanism or the block (clutch) mechanism, so we don’t have to worry about other pedal styles (e.g. Berlin, Dresden or Ratchet) when selecting, which is lucky because I know absolutely nothing about these! I’m not 100% sure on this, but I get the impression that you won’t be able to put calf skins on balanced action timpani – not that it’s likely that you’ll ever want to do this for a brass, but I thought I’d just share this to see if someone can confirm this.

    The Adams Universal and Majestic Concert timpani use the block system. For these you touch the tip of the pedal to disengage the clutch mechanism and lift your foot to lower the note or push down to make the note higher, you then reengage the clutch again. Most other portable timpani seem to be supplied with the balance pedal mechanism, which requires you to push the tip of the pedal to go higher and push the back of the pedal to go lower. In my opinion, the balance system is easier for a beginner to use because you can keep tweaking the tuning of the drum without having to disengage and reengage the clutch; however every timpani I’ve ever used on a contest stage has used the block mechanism, so if you choose timpani with a balance mechanism be aware that you may struggle with any quick changes when it comes to the day of the contest. I think the reason block mechanism timpani are usually supplied on stage is because they are slightly more accurate and hold better in the extremes of the drum’s range. I could be wrong on this though – perhaps if Ray Payne or someone from Ev-entz or Bell Percussion reads this they can comment on this further?
  12. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member


    The title of this thread is ‘portable timpani’, so I guess portability is an important factor to consider! For me, portability doesn’t just mean I can fit a pair in the back of your band secretary’s mini – I don’t think she’d go for that anyway. Yes, the timpani should be compact, but ideally they should also be light and shouldn’t be so fragile that you dent them every time you get them out of the boot. Decent head protectors and covers should help with this problem, however the material and design of the drums is also going to be a deciding factor on the durability of the drum. This is a particular consideration when looking at portable timpani because all models I have looked at, with the exception of the Majestic Prophonics, don’t have ‘cages’ to hang the bowl from and, more importantly for this section, protect your bowls from knocks and scrapes. It is this reason that I think portable fibreglass timpani are so popular – fibreglass can take more knocks in transit than copper or aluminium. In addition to this, fibreglass drums are considerably lighter than copper drums. This is where aluminium drums show their true worth. The Yamaha 3100 Aluminium timpani are significantly lighter than copper timps and still retain much of the tone of a traditional copper drum. I’m pretty sure that the other makes also make an aluminium bowl version as well. Going back to the Majestic Prophonics for a second, if you don’t mind a larger, heavier unit to transport , but one that will still fit in the back of a car (OK, possibly not a mini) and you can afford them then these could be a good option.

    Looking briefly at the design, the balance action type of timpani seem to fold down more readily than the block action timpani and I’d be a little less worried about breaking the pedal on a balance action timpani if it were accidently dropped. In this respect, I particularly like the look of the Adams revolution timpani, whose undercarriage can be completely removed from the bowl for transport and storage.
  13. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member


    Unless you’ve got an unlimited budget, in which case why aren’t you buying high end timps, a van and a bandroom of your own, cost of purchase and maintenance is going to be a large factor when it comes to choosing the drums. I got a couple of quotes for a pair (26” and 29”) of copper timpani from one of my favourite suppliers:

    - Adams Universal - £3252
    - Majestic Harmonic - £3670
    - Adams Revolution - £3950
    - Majestic Prophonic - £4695

    I’m not saying these are necessarily the cheapest prices you’ll find, in fact I found them cheaper in a store closer to where I live, however these guys do know what they’re talking about and it does give you an idea of the figures you’re looking at for portable copper timps. Remember you’ll also need to factor is the cost of head protectors, cover, a stool and lots of lovely mallets. I’ve trawled ebay on and off for the past couple of years looking for decent second hand copper timps, but they hardly ever come up, so unfortunately this might not be an option, especially if I get there first! If you’re considering second hand timps remember that you may need to spend some time and money repairing them and replacing heads – this cost needs factoring into the purchase.
  14. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member

    Other considerations

    I can think of a couple of other consideration that it is worth bearing in mind before making a decision. Firstly, how do they fit in with your band’s current timpani? If you’re planning to buy a pair of timpani and your band already own some, then ideally it should be easy to use them together. Fine, they might not be exactly the same, you might be looking at a pair of coppers whilst your band has a set of fibreglass timpani, but one nice feature of some models of portable timpani, such as the Adams Revolution timpani, is that they have height and/or tilt adjustment features that will make it easier for the play to position around other models of timps. Secondly, if like my band timps, they’re stored in a garage or shed and played elsewhere the timpani the tuning will move as they warm up or cool down. In the middle of winter, my band’s fibreglass timpani can take a couple of hours to warm to room temperature, which means I have to keep retuning them whilst playing until they reach room temperature. I can’t decide which would be worse, but I’m guessing that fibreglass, aluminium and copper bowls will reach room temperature at different rates. Anyone got any thoughts on this?
  15. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member

    Last thought for now…

    To purchase a pair or set of timpani, portable or otherwise, is a major investment and I think ultimately you need to try as many makes and models out as possible before investing. I need to keep saving so I’m not too limited by budget and/or try and convince my band to upgrade our existing timps. In the mean time I’m going to be keeping my eyes wide open in case a decent pair of second hand timps comes along…

    Hopefully what I’ve said makes some sense. Sorry I've rambled on so much! I’d love some feedback about the things I’ve said or not said ‘cos I like learning.

    I’m off to knock out the timpani part for Paganini now.


  16. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member

    Hi Gareth,

    Thanks for posting. I'd say that this shouldn't be happening and that it would be worth tinkering with their setup to resolve this issue. If you're still having problems it would probably be worth giving someone like Bell Percussion (in acton) a buzz to see if they have any ideas...
  17. CorelliClash

    CorelliClash New Member

    Hi matt, it looks like you've done a lot of good research already.

    From experience I'm a massive yamaha fan. Nice bowls and the pedal action is second to none and they stay in tune pretty well. However im not so sure about the portable versions so much. However, I did some work not too long ago where I didnt have the luxury of the space for proper timps, so had to use portables. I found the majestics version pretty good, the pedals are very similar to that of the yamaha's and also had the ability to easily adjust the action (which is important to remeber). But the Majestics did me fine.

    On premiers, I know some people love them but im not a fan, i find them quite clumsy. There is a reason why the big orchestra's dont really use them anymore.

    Another food for thought, I use the renaissence heads almost everyday and if cared for theyre quite durable but where they come into their own is that they are very easy to tune and again produce a very nice tone...(second only to calf...n.b. dont use calf in a brass band :p)

    Another make I have used a fair amount is the evans heads. they are VERY durable and produce a very good tone as well. Check them out.

    Hope this Helps!
  18. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member

    Thanks for the reply.

    I've not really had much experience of the yamahas, with the exception of a couple of minutes playing the aluminium portables, which were pretty decent (at least compared to what I'm used to). So, do all yamahas have balance action? I think I'm starting to head towards the block mechanism because that's what I'm most likely to use in contest situations. Unfortunately if I do go down this route it seems to limit me quite a bit...

    I must admit that I really like playing the elites when given the chance, although I know what you're saying about them. If the timps are anything like the mallet instruments then they've probably gone downhill in the last 10-15 years. Perhaps looking for a second hand set of premiers would be a good idea, but as Premier don't make a portable pedal model I don't think it's really an option for me.

    I think the renaissence heads are pretty standard these days and I love playing on them. As I've already said, I'd be intersted to see what sort of change they'd make if I put them on my band's timps to replace the remo clear heads, but it's a lot of money if they don't make that much difference to them.

    I've never played on evans timpani heads, although I do sometimes use evans on my toms, but a mate of mine has a pair of evans and some renaisance heads (as well as calf skins). Which model evans do you use?

    Another thought I've had that might be worth looking into is the number of tension rods on the drums. Obviously the more rods, the better tuning (and even note/tone) you'll get. I think the 26" and 29" universals have 6 rods. It's difficult to tell from some of the pictures whether there are any models with 8 rods for these sizes. I assume the 32" drums are likely to have 8 rods on most makes/models, but I could be wrong.

    I guess sound wise, having the tension rod positioned on the outside of the bowl is going to be better than on the inside. I think the rods/spider rod is positioned at the bottom of the bowl on the Prophonics, although it is difficult to tell from the pictures. If this is the case then because they are the only portable model with external struts they are also likely to be the only ones with external rods on the market at the moment.
  19. Matt the Shed

    Matt the Shed Member

    Colin, I've just re-read your post and spotted this:

    Do you mean that when moving them the tuning goes completely pear shaped, or do you mean something else? Up until recently (using our clutch timps) I'd always dropped the pedal to the lowest note before moving them - I guess I alway considered leaving the head tension as low as possible would increase the life of the heads, but this probably is more of a problem for calf skins than plastics. Recently, however I read somewhere that tuning the head to a high tension meant that the tuning had less room to move when moving them. Our timps always move a lot, probably more because of the change in temperature between storage and play and the way we move them (not always carrying them by the struts, tut tut), but I thought I'd give it a go to see if it makes any difference...

    Given 80% of portable timpani seem to have balance mechanism it would seem strange that they weren't great at being moved. But I guess there could be other reasons for using them, like them being more compact. I'm guessing it would be more complicated to remove and then replace a clutch mechanism for transport than a balance system... Infact I know what it's like to remove the clutch - don't do it unless you really have to!!
  20. Tub Thumper

    Tub Thumper Member

    Re. the original question of the models listed, I only have experience of the Adams Universal timps (although the others all look pretty good on paper, esp the Adams revolution ones). I now helped several bands/ orchestras to buy sets of these (from JAM) and can't praise them highly enough.

    Very portable, very robust, good sound (even with the fibreglass ones with Remo Renaissance heads on them - certainly far superior to Premier fibreglass timps) and good value for money when bought as a pack (26/ 29" timps plus covers/ head protectors and a stool) from JAM (and before anyone asks, no I don't work for them and I'm not on commission, more's the pity...). From a band point of view, they also have the same type of action/ clutch as Premier Timps which, of course, are usually the ones provided at contests.

    Regarding range, in my experience, Matt is spot on - you can just about get a low 'F' on the 29" and you can just about get it up to a Bb. The 26" with again just about to a Bb and can just make it to a high 'F' but in most band (concert) repertoire, you won't need much outside that range, I wouldn't have thought.

    From a sound point of view, I have it on good authority that when they first came out about 10/ 12 years ago, Graham Johns (Principal Percussionist of the Liverpool Phil and proprietor of JAM) organised a 'blind' sound test of the fibreglass universal timps for other pro percussionists and the result was (allegedly) that they found it very difficult to hear much of a difference between the copper and the fibreglass universals (although, again, they were far superior to Premier ones).

    Hope that is of some use! Good luck!!

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