Tom Toms

[return to percussion music home]

A tom-tom (not to be confused with a tamtam) is a cylindrical drum with no snare.

The tom-tom supposedly originates from Native American or Asian cultures. The African drum known as the djembe is sometimes called a tom-tom.

Tom-Toms can be fitted with an adjustable mounting for a floor stand, or attachment to a bass drum or marching rig. They can be single or double-headed.

Shell depth standards vary according to the era of manufacture and the drum style. Diameters usually range from eight to 20 inches, with heads to fit.

The tom-tom drum was added to the drum kit in the early part of the 20th century. These first drum kit tom-toms had no rims, the heads were tacked to the shell. Jazz drummers used the heat from a match and water (or whisky depending on the venue) to tune them. The best were imported from China.

As major drum manufacturers began to offer tunable tom-toms with hoops and tuning lugs, a 12" drum 8" deep became standard, mounted on the left side of the bass drum. Later a 16" drum 16" deep mounted on three legs (a floor tom) was added. Finally, a second drum was mounted on the right of the bass drum, a 13" diameter drum 9" deep. Together with a 14" snare drum and a bass drum of varying size, these three made up the standard kit of five drums for most of the second half of the 20th century. Later, the mounted tom-toms, known as hanging toms or rack toms, were deepened by one inch each, these sizes being called power toms. Extra-deep hanging toms, known as cannon depth, never achieved popularity. All these were double-headed.

Today two "power" depth tomtoms of 9x12 (9" depth by 12" diameter) and 10x13 is the most common hanging tom configuration, and would be considered standard by most drummers. Also popular is the "fusion" configuration of 8x10 and either 8x12 or 9x12, and the again popular "classic" configuration of 8x12 and 9x13, which has never fallen from favour with some jazz and retro drummers. However a wide variety of configurations are commonly available and in use, at all levels from advanced student kits upwards. A third hanging tom is often used instead of a floor tom.

Single-headed tom-toms have also been used in drum kits, though their use has fallen off in popularity since the 1970s. Concert toms have a single head and a shell slightly shallower than the corresponding double-headed tom.

Roto toms have no shell at all, just a single head and a steel frame. Unlike other toms, roto toms have a definite pitch and some composers write for them as a tuned instrument, demanding specific notes. They can be tuned quickly by rotating the head. Since the head rotates on a thread, this raises or lowers the head relative to the rim of the drum and so increases or decreases the tension in the head.

The tom-tom drum is also a traditional means of communication.
[edit]

Construction and Manufacture

Typically a tom consists of a shell and chromed or plated metal hardware.
[edit]

Shell

A crucial factor in achieving superior tone quality and ensuring durability, especially with wood, is the creation of perfectly round shells and much research and development effort has been put into this manufacturing technology.

Shells are often constructed of 6-8 wood plies (often using different woods e.g. mahogany and falkata - birch or maple are commonly used for single-wood plies), solid wood (turned) or man-made materials e.g. fibre-glass, pressed steel, plexiglass, resin-composite. Wood or composite shells can be finished by laminating in plastic in a large variety of colours and effects e.g sparkle or polychromatic or natural wood may be stained or left natural and painted with clear lacquer. Steel is usually chromed, fibre glass self-coloured and plexiglass tinted or clear.

Hardware

One or two cast or pressed metal rims attach by threaded tension rods or lugs to nut boxes bolted onto the shell holds the heads onto the bearing edges of the shell. The tension rod assembly needs to be precision machined, cast and fitted to enable predictable and secure tuning without inhibiting resonance or introducing extra vibration. All components will be placed under great tension and experience added stresses from playing.

Mounting systems vary greatly, from a simple cast block on the shell which accepts and clamps to a rod attached to a clamp or holder to much more sophisticated arrangements where there is no attachment to the shell, instead a frame clamps to the tuning lugs.

Another sort of rod clamp system allows attachment of the drum to the tom holder without the need of a hole in the drum shell for the rod to pass through. The clamp is attached to the shell at the nodal point with two bolts so as to allow the shell to vibrate freely without degrading the shell's dynamic range and sustain. The nodal point is the location on a shell with the least amount of vibration allowing for the mount to have minimal affect on the resonance of the shell.