Lord Stirling's Fifes & Drums


Field Guide & Manual for Rope-Tension Drums
by Terry Cornett


Bracing (Tightening) - Squeeze rope and pull ear to a point midway down the shell.  Repeat on opposite side of drum.  When completed, repeat until all ears have reached their lowest possible position or until satisfactory pitch (tension) has been achieved.  Squeezing rope below the ear, when sliding it, reduces abrasion to the leather.

Unbracing (Loosening) - The drum should always be unbraced when not in use.  This will reduce the stretching of the heads and ropes, which could require more frequent overhauling.  The relaxed state of the drum will also help prevent warpage.

Snare Adjustment - Loosen the tension knob on the snare strainer until no snare effect is heard.  While tapping lightly on the batter head, tighten the knob until a bright, dry snap is heard.  Too much tension will result in a choked sound with an increased tom-tom effect.

Head Removal - Secure muffler strip with tape.  Undo the drag rope (chain knot), pull out any Dutching, undo the pigtail and pull the surplus rope through the eye splice.  Remove 3 ears and work remaining rope around the drum leaving 2" slack above the hoop at each hole.  Lift the head and hoop to clear the shell and slide the head out.  Reverse to install new head.

Overhauling - When the drum can no longer be braced tight enough due to stretching, then excess slack must be removed.  Remove drag rope and any Dutching, push the ears down as far as they go.  Check to see that hoop is level.  Place drum on its side on a padded floor, loosen the first ear to the right of the pigtail and, while steadying the drum with your heels inside the batter and snare hoops, pull out the slack in the rope.  Loosen the next ear and do the same.  Continue around the drum until you reach the pigtail.  Undo the pigtail, pull the slack through the eye, and replace the pigtail.

Making the Pigtail - Pull the rope tightly through the eye and begin twisting the rope clockwise until the rope begins to loop back on itself.  Place the first loop against the eye and continue twisting–creating more loops.  Position each new loop between the eye and the previous loop.  Make at least 3 loops and check tautness of the last length of rope.  When it is tight, tie-off the pigtail with an overhand knot.  The remaining rope is used for Dutching or the drag rope.

Dutching (Optional) - Proceeding clockwise, pass the rope under both tension-ropes, then back over the right and under the left.  Pull the rope taut to the right (causing the left to cross over the right) and proceed around drum.

Making the drag rope - This is a process that is easiest when seen performed than read from a document.  I will provide a crude illustration.   Starting at the pigtail, be sure the knot is secure, then pull all the remaining rope to your right.  Make a small loop, near the snare hoop, with the left hand, with the loose end passing under.  Reach through the loop, with the left hand, and grab (hook) a portion of the loose end.  Pull that portion back through the loop (left) which will create another loop.  Pull down on the entire “assembly” to tighten the knot.  Repeat this process until only 8 inches of loose rope is available.  Pass this through the last loop and pull tight.  Secure the loose end to tension rope opposite the pigtail.  If drag rope is too long, weave loose end between tension ropes prior to creating drag rope.  Do not weave the “chain knot” under tension ropes.  Never cut the rope.

drum rope