Updated: Jun 17, 2020
Review by Fred Taylor
Most people know what timpani are, but typically, only percussionists who perform upon them understand what makes them so special. It’s the ability to instantly tune the drum to any note within its range.
The secret to this instant and accurate tuning is a central-tension-point system that uses a hand crank, or, more often, a foot pedal attached to the base of the drum. In either case, the crank or pedal changes the tension at each point on the drumhead by either pulling upon an array of tension rods (increasing pitch) or releasing them (decreasing pitch). By acting on all tuning points simultaneously, a well-made timpano is capable of having the exact same pitch at any point on the head.
"...Welch has created a modern drum unlike anything else on the market."
Samuel Welch, Founder and CEO of Welch Tuning Systems of Colorado, has taken this time-honored principle to new heights with the introduction of his WTS line of cable-tuned, double-headed drum sets. Using a rotating, gear-driven crank system attached to each drum, in combination with a pulley system instead of the standard tension rods, Mr. Welch has created a modern drum unlike anything else on the market. His drum system allows instant changes to pitch, whether a perfect note or indefinite, that apply evenly all around the tension points on both top and bottom heads.
"The tuning possibilities between snare, toms and bass drums are infinite and can be applied in seconds."
As shown in the photographs, high-quality aircraft-control cable is strung from the tension mechanism in an up-and-down pattern, alternating between top and bottom heads, and runs across pulleys. The mechanism, which is as sensitive as the tuning crank on each string of an acoustic bass viol, applies even tension to each point of both heads. After changing the tuning, the player can ascertain the accuracy of this by tapping around the inner rim of the head. There are no differences in pitch anywhere in the circumference of the head. The same test can be applied at any distance from the rim – the pitch of the drum is absolutely uniform at every point.
This is a great accomplishment when applied to one drum, but its obvious benefit is even more pronounced when applied to an entire kit. The tuning possibilities between snare, toms and bass drums are infinite and can be applied in seconds. When I demo’d these drums at PASIC 2019, I was able to change the entire tuning qualities of a five-piece set at will. I tried all sorts of tuning combinations among the pieces; high-pitched snare and deep bass; toms tuned to perfect fourths or fifths; even all five pieces (bass, snare, one rack tom, two floor toms) tuned together in a scale.
To accomplish any one of these changes on a standard drum would take, at best, several minutes per drum. To get them all to sing in harmony could take an hour or more, since both heads on each drum would have to be tensioned separately and then minor adjustments made to various points in order to resolve sharp or flat points.
"The tonal quality of these drums, regardless of their pitch, is phenomenal; bell-clear, clean, with no unwanted variances from one part of the head to another."
The tonal quality of these drums, regardless of their pitch, is phenomenal; bell-clear, clean, with no unwanted variances from one part of the head to another. Although there is the normal muting of tone immediately near the counter-hoop, even it is uniform throughout the drum. Furthermore, the central-point tensioning cuts out most unwanted ringing, reducing the need for gels or other mufflers unless desired for special effects.
In my 55-year drumming career, I’ve played drums from just about every major manufacturer in modern drum history: Ludwig, Slingerland, Rogers, Tama, Pearl, DW, Gretsch, Camco, Sonor, Mapex, Craviotto, Yamaha, Ayotte, ddrum, Fibes, Noble & Cooley, Orange County, George Way … and owned kits from many of these fine companies. Currently I own classic sets from Rogers, Slingerland, and Gretsch; and my prize set of custom Sonors. These are each great sets, each with its own qualities. But not one of them produces a sound as precise and pure as is easily attained with Welch’s Tuning System, without hours of work with a drum key, a pitch pipe, and lots of adjustment.
"I simply can’t imagine a better set-up for studio operations..."
As a recording studio owner and session musician, I simply can’t imagine a better set-up for studio operations, where frequently the need for a different drum sound changes from one tune to the next, from one artist to the next, from one drummer to the next. The WTS drums have become the primary kit in my studio.
This is why I feel that the WTS line of cable-tension drums is the greatest in all modern drum history, and why I am proud to endorse them due to their extremely high quality of design, manufacture, finish, and all-around workmanship.
For the complete story on Welch Tuning Systems drums, visit their beautiful website at www.welchtuningsystems.com.
Fred Taylor is an accomplished drummer, percussionist, composer/arranger, producer, and engineer. He is the founder of Fred Taylor Music and Rising Fawn Recording, and has been a WTS Artist since the spring of 2020.
Check out his full bio here!