Percussion instrument making
The making of percussion instruments. See the separate entry for drum making.
|Historic area of significance||London|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
The family of percussion instruments is huge, therefore the making of instruments also covers a broad spectrum and so makers tend to specialise in certain fields which is probably determined by market forces. Even when specialised to certain instruments there is a great diversity of materials used and thus a wide range of skills and knowledge base are required.
Today, most percussion instruments are mass-produced by large manufacturers.
Almost everything: bench joinery and wood working, leather working, metal working from blacksmithing, coppersmithing and fine machining, plastic and composite forming skills, electronics and electrical fitting, structural engineering, as well as acoustics.
Timpani making: made in the UK by Henry Potter & Co. Drums Ltd.
Gong making: originates in the near/far east – only two resident UK craftsmen practising the craft professionally (Matt Nolan and Dave Collingwood)
Cymbal making: originates in the near/far east – only two resident UK craftsmen practising the craft professionally (Matt Nolan and Dave Collingwood). There was factory production of cymbals in the UK in the mid- to late-twentieth century, mostly by the Premier Company of Leicester (other brands included Ajax, Boosey and Hawkes, Beverley, but many, if not all of those were probably made by Premier or by overseas companies). It has been suggested that Premier cymbals were made by Italian immigrants and ex-POWs who had the knowledge and skills already, having come from the Pistoia region of Italy.
Triangle making: dates back to mediaeval times and were originally by blacksmiths. They were used in folk music, mostly in different form to the triangle we know today, and came into the orchestra in the late 1700s. Orchestra quality instruments hadn’t been made in the UK for years before Matt Nolan started to make them (both contemporary and older styles).
Bell plate making: a percussion instrument consisting of a flat and fairly thick sheet of metal, producing a sound similar to a bell and originating in the East. There were some made in the UK 20 to 30 years ago by the late Arthur Soothill and there have been other, less than professional, attempts to make them in the UK again. Today they are made by Matt Nolan.
Tubular bell making: an English invention first patented by Harringtons in 1884, although there is history of them being used in France a decade or two before this date. They are currently made in the UK by the Premier company, Matt Nolan and Paul Jefferies and occasionally by Henry Potter & Co. Drums Ltd.
Mallet/keyboard percussion instrument making (e.g. xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel etc): modern instruments although there is some history of them being made by Premier and others in the twentieth century. Some are made by Paul Jefferies and by Hope Street Marimba.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
The biggest problem is that most instruments are made for the cheaper end of the market and consumers buy from known brands. These manufacturers are driving standards down as they constantly aim to reduce costs. Additionally there are a large number of drum makers who assemble components to produce bespoke drums – there are still quite a few who even make the shells and components themselves. Becoming more specific there are very few people who make kettle drums and specialise in specific areas of percussion making, but the market is very small and niche, so increased supply from emerging makers actually reduces the viability of established small businesses. Ultimately what needs to happen is that players should support instrument makers by buying from them, but that is my job to persuade them of the merits of doing so.
Raw materials are a problem. For instance Honduras Rosewood is used a lot in china for making garden furniture whereas it is an endangered specie and one of only a few tonewoods that are suitable for making percussion instruments. Equally copper reserves are falling, so prices are going up constantly for it and all copper alloys. Because of the relatively small quantities used in percussion making it is difficult to compete with the larger manufacturers on both price and the ability to invest in stocking raw materials.
No training courses for percussion instrument making.
There are no specific organisations supporting the manufacture of percussion instruments.
Craftspeople currently known
Paul Jefferies, South Yorkshire.
Matt Nolan. Cymbalsmith, specialising in handmade cymbals, gongs, triangles and other metal instruments.
Dave Collingwood, Bristol. Cymbalsmith, specialising in handmade cymbals.
Crafts businesses that employ two or more makers:
Percussion Plus, Market Harborough, Leicestershire
Henry Potter & Co. Drums Ltd, Aldershot, Hampshire. Specialise in the manufacture of timpani, custom-built drums and maces.
Cambridge Drum Company, Cottenham, Cambridgeshire
Liberty Drums, Shildon, County Durham
British Drum Company, Heaton Mersey, Stockport
Hopestreet Marimba, Cambridge. Make hand-crafted marimbas and other tuned percussion instruments.
- British History Online, Industries: Musical Instruments