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Studio Class 7

Timpani Master Class: Mechanism Adjustments

Jason Kihle, D.A., Associate Professor of Percussion

Texas A&M University-Kingsville

The following information is for Ludwig timpani, though some of it may apply to other models.

Balancing the Tension: 

The procedure for balancing the tension on the Professional, Standard and Universal model timpani follows some simple steps that, once understood, insure the proper action and tuning of pedal timpani: 

Place the foot pedal in the “heel‐down” position.  Then tune the head to its proper fundamental pitch using the key tension rods.  If the pedal has a tendency to move partially or totally to the “toe‐down” position, turn the string tension knob in a counter‐clockwise direction, two or three half‐turns. 

If the pedal refuses to hold upper pitches, turn the spring tension knob located at the base of the timpano in a clock‐wise direction, two or three half‐turns.  Make additional adjustments if necessary. 

Should the pedal still not function properly after making these adjustments, carefully repeat the above procedures.  Minor slippage of the foot pedal can be easily adjusted by using a regular drum key, tightening the pedal pressure and adjustment screw at the base. 


If a drum tends to creep up or down from a set pitch, this can usually be corrected by increasing the pressure on the friction pads slightly (if the drum is so equipped).  If you use too much pressure on the “brakes” the pedal becomes difficult to move. 

• If the problem cannot be solved with a small amount of brake pressure, it may be necessary to adjust the spring tension knob.  Increasing the tension on the spring (turning the spring tension knob clockwise) will help prevent the pitch from sliding down, while decreasing the tension of the spring (turning the knob counter‐clockwise) will help prevent the pitch from sliding up. 

• If the problem is pronounced and localized at one end of the drum’s range, it is probably Toe 

Snap, Heel Snap or Spring Lift 

Toe Snap:

Symptoms: Typically, the drum will work in the lower range, but somewhere near the top of the drum’s range, the toe of the pedal “snaps” down and the drum goes to its highest pitch.  

Cause: Spring mechanism has too much leverage because it is positioned too far from the center pivot point.

Cure: Re-position the spring closer to the center pivot point by lengthening the horizontal pull rod.

Heel Snap: 

Symptoms:  The opposite of “Toe Snap”, this is where the drum works okay in its upper range, but somewhere near the bottom the heel “snaps” down and the drum goes to its lowest pitch. 

Cause:  The spring mechanism does not have enough leverage because it is too close to the center pivot point. 

Cure:  Re‐position the spring farther from the center pivot point by shortening the horizontal pull rod. 


Spring Lift: 

Symptoms:  When the toe of the pedal is pressed down for the highest pitch, the spring mechanism “lifts” out of the base casting.  The drum will not stay at its highest pitch. 

Cause:  The spring has run out of travel before the pedal is fully depressed. 

Cure:  Increase the tension on the spring.  This will extend the amount of travel that the spring has to match the range of the drum.  Push the pedal all the way toe down, lifting the spring adjustment knob out of the base casting.  While holding the pedal down, turn the spring tension knob until the bearing seats itself in the casting.  The drum may now exhibit “toe snap” because of adding the extra tension to the spring mechanism. 

Limited Range & Spring Lift: 

Symptom:  The timpano has limited range and the spring knob (and case) are coming up out of the base casting. 

Cause:  Leverage is incorrect. 

Cure:  Increase the spring tension by turning the tension knob clockwise.  This will ensure that the spring case provides enough travel for the rest of the linkage.  After doing this, the toe of the pedal will probably be stuck in the toe down position because the spring has too much leverage.  Reduce the leverage by making the horizontal pull rod longer.  A couple turns on the pull rod does not seem like much but it makes a BIG difference because of the way it re‐positions the spring.   

*The standard dimension between the two clevis is 8 5/8”.  Your set up may vary slightly due to adjustments made at the plant to properly balance the timpani. 

Adjusting the Horizontal Pull Rod: 

  1. The horizontal pull rod connects the pedal to the spring mechanism.  Drums made within the past 20 years have a flat section in the middle of the rod for friction pads to give resistance to pedal travel.  Each end of the horizontal pull rod is threaded and is held a clevis by two hex nuts.  One end of the pull rod has left hand threads so the length can be adjusted by turning the pull rod like a turnbuckle. 
  2. Carefully turn the drum on its side to gain access to the underside of the drum. 
  3. If the drum is equipped with friction pads (“brakes”), use a regular drum key to spread the pads enough to allow the pull rod to turn. 
  4. Position the pedal somewhere in the middle of the drums range. 
  5. Loosen the two hex nuts that are closest to the center of the pull rod (you will not be able to turn the ones trapped inside the clevises).  Remember, one of them has left hand threads.  If one is painted red, that is the one.  If neither is painted red, you must look carefully at the threads to determine which one it is. 
  6. Adjust the length of the pull rod by turning it one or two turns.  Two turns will make a pretty significant difference so start with no more than that. 
  7. If the drum has “brakes”, tighten the brakes enough to align the flat spot in the pull rod and then re‐tighten the hex nuts.  Loosen up the brakes, stand the drum back up and try it out.  You should at least notice improvement.  Repeat the procedure as necessary. 
  8. Changing the length of the horizontal pull rod will change the lowest pitch of the drum, so you will have to re‐tune the drum to the correct range.