The Tuning (Tensionable) Systems
*Updated on the 20th October, 2012.
Reworked Cam Tensioner System
Many years ago I used to make bodhráns with a plywood cam tensioned system, as can be seen below in this page (the tuning section of this website). I designed and made only a few so that girls interested in playing would not have to use tools to adjust the skin. For no good reason I stopped making this type, but now revisit the idea because of the availability of more modern and more suitable materials.
I have tested and modified the idea over these past 3 months and had one trialled by Cathy Jordan at a great Dervish concert in Strokestown, Co. Roscommon where she played during the Féile Frank McGann weekend 2012. Cathy liked the system a lot.
This was so appropriate, since Cathy played the first of the old cam system type for a few years and remembered well the drawbacks of the old model. She will be getting another one very soon.
I must take this opportunity to thank Cathy and all of Dervish and their families and friends for the great times we have shared in the past. …and for all the support they have given to me through all my difficulties.
So, the old system has been revamped, ironing out all the problems that existed with the plywood rotating against plywood. Delrin replaces the wood. Lock nuts hold the pivot at a nice tension to prevent slippage, rattle or loosening. Attached to the cam is a strong lengthened lever and decorative wooden bead handle.
The whole system works very smoothly, looks good and has a nice feel. It is a very good example of how new material availability can allow a design to progress. The player simply rotates the lever to adjust the skin tension, ensuring that all the levers are parallel for perfect tuning. It is very simple, sensitive and user friendly.
The production of the single tuning systems has forced me to perfect new skin tensioning techniques when stretching the wet skin initially onto the shell. In these single screw systems even the slightest incorrect stretching of the skin is fatal. With the old 8 screw type and the moving tone ring, there seemed little need to be absolutely correct. That’s because I knew no better.
When I did the same with the single screw type it was just not good enough….and I had many failures in sound quality before identifying and isolating the problem and developing a new way of doing it. So the making of the single screw type has forced me to get the tuning more correct than what was acceptable in the older designs.
Most players who have bought new drums from me over the past 2 years will have noticed a marked improvement in the sound because of this new method. Additionally I use some other skin treatments for improving the sound quality. I now use these techniques on all my drum types.
The new type will be available in 3 weeks time. Cathy first.
20th October 2012.
:: Click here to be taken to the "OLD cam photos" on this page ::
*Updated on the 19th May, 2011.
USING THE 1 SCREW TUNING SYSTEM
In the past 4 years the system has proved to be strong and reliable. Because of the newness of the idea a small number have been broken. This is my fault because I have supplied the drums without supplying proper instructions on how to use it. I have made about 20 small design improvements/modifications to counter unforeseen faults.
First of all might I say that every musical instrument is breakable if stressed beyond normal settings so common sense is needed. The T bar Allen screw is capable of exerting massively more torque than is needed to tighten the bodhran skin , so could I caution new users not to use it too forcefully, particularly when they are experimenting to see how high they can raise the pitch/tension.
Since the system is so new I still use the T bar, just to ensure this part is as reliable as the mechanism it drives. Later on I will replace it with a thumb screw system , as some of the customers already have done ( see photographs). Anyone who has already bought the system will be able to do the conversion themselves as it is simply a knob driven onto the socket screw end ( where the T bar Allen key engages.) As a seller , however , I have to establish how reliable the system is for customer confidence and continue to use the T bar. I hope to change over very soon.
When you receive the drum do the following:
- Using the blue T bar tool loosen off completely the screw . Turn the T bar anti-clockwise. Be gentle. You will feel a definite stop when the screw is fully loosened. Do not try to force it beyond this point. This is the weakest part of the system... but you will feel a definite stop.
- THIS IS THE 0 SETTING...COMPLETELY LOOSE. The skin should be loose.
This should take:
- 24 half turns in Ireland and Britain
- 36 half turns in Europe, USA, Baltics and Russian states
- 50 half turns in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden and Pyranneean regions
By doing this you will find out where the 0 setting is and be in complete control of the setting that suits your playing.
- Now turn the screw clockwise to tension it. Once you have the skin tensioned to a nice bass setting, turn clockwise four half turns. This will raise the tuning 1 pitch. Each 4 half turns will raise the tuning to the next higher pitch. The skin tension will move comfortably through 5 pitch settings.
In a session situation you can tension/loosen the skin with 1 or 2 turns now. Its so fast that getting perfect pitch is much simplified. I normally would adjust my settings about 10 times in a long session. It is impossible to knock the system out of its tuning as the skin tightens/slackens perfectly evenly around the whole circumference giving the optimum sound.
If I have guessed properly when setting the skin tension at the making stage the skin will begin to give a bass sound at 24 half turns from 0, and move comfortably through 5 pitches. This takes the setting to 24 +( 5 x 4 ) = 44 half turns. IT IS CAPABLE OF ABOUT 32 MORE HALF TURNS BUT PLEASE DONT TRY IT TO THESE EXTREMES... but it is good to know that the drum had this in reserve for the future.
If I have not guessed correctly and the system does not operate at 20-40 half turns, simply email me and I will advise you so that you can reset it for yourself.
As no one else makes this system I have had to rely on customer feedback for improvements. There have been some breakages.
3 breakages caused by overloosening... forcing the system beyond 0 setting.
8 breakages caused by overtightening the system. Most of these were done by someone who was not the drum owner and caused by brutality... just to see how stong it was.
In 3 drums there was shell failure. I tried to push the limits of the groove lip too far by making it the minimum size. The glue failed and and the lip collapsed. So I have learned that lesson.
As problems arise I modify the design of the system. So far about 20 modifications.
Because of customer feedback on incorrect tension settings I have advised about 40 customers on how to reset the tension setting.
With this system you can safely slacken off the tension without any danger of knocking it out of tune... about 4 half turns is enough.
Store away from direct heat sources.
Rubbing the skin with oils or waxes will ruin the sound.
After about 1 years hard playing soak the skin and dry slowly will refresh the skin response.
When I change over to a knob tightening system I will get in a supply of knobs, sufficient to provide to customers who already have the 1 screw type so that no one is disadvantaged.
NEW PRODUCTS USEFUL FOR BODHRAN PLAYERS
Two new products have appeared on the market which will be very useful to bodhran players:
PICK STUFF and GORILLA SNOT
Both products are designed to solve the problem of plectrum slippage for guitar/ mandolin players.
Bodhran stick makers have tried a lot of things to prevent slippage. These products solve the problem, and allow the player to relax the grip with confidence.
A friend gave me a couple of boxes of Pick Stuff to test. It is absolutely perfect. No slippage happens. Gorilla Snot is equally good. I recommend both. You will be able to find a supplier on Google. Please try them.
Phyllida's story of a new stick type... another inventive step.
Here is Phyllida Howlett's story of how she came up with the idea of her new stick type. She has given me full permission to copy her great idea.
"I arrived at my local session one night only to find out I had been robbed... somebody broke into my bodhrán case and stole my stick... I sat fuming at the session and the barman noticed I wasn't playing. He asked why and I went to the bar and told him my sad tale of woe.
He gave me a free drink and a nice hug, we chatted more and one thing led to another, as they do. He invited me into the new lounge that he was refurbishing, to have a look. It was not yet finished, and he said he wanted my opinion on the decor.
He closed the door softly behind us so that we had total privacy, and walked cooly up to me to give me another embrace. His eyes were watering dangerously and I didn't like the cut of him. Just before the grapple, I saw his small ¾" paintbrush sticking up on the shelf. I grabbed it and gave him a poke in the guts, thinking the soft bristles would do him little harm. He let out a squalk and his eyes really watered now. His strong manly arms now closed round his own belly and he fell to his knees groaning and roaring like a stuck pig.
'What a big sheila' I thought.
Then I examined the offensive weapon. The bristles had dried hard from being unwashed after applying glue. It was sharp and rock hard so it's no wonder it really hurt him. Served him right for being so lazy in not washing it after use... and for grabbing at me. I slid past him and escaped intact back to the session, pointing and waving the brush at him to keep the beast at bay. It did the trick. Talk about getting the brush off!!
Sitting back in the session, as I cooled down, and had a closer look at the weapon. Then I realised this might also do as a bodhrán stick and I tried it. What a Eureka moment!!!
It was fabulous... a new discovery... it sounded great and when I got used to the deep soft sound the session really started to rock. The musicians were delighted with my big soft bass.
Every night that I go back to the session, I keep an eye on Romeo as I unzip my bag and pull out my new invention with a flourish. He always blinks and his face twists at the sight of it. He'll wash his brush in future.
I want to call it the barmanner. I think I will allow Police Forces to use it, now that ASBO's are on the way out... good for making the eyes water!! It will soon teach the hoodies to avoid brushes with the law."
Instead of paint Phyllida now uses PVA glue to stiffen the bristles and chews back 5mm from the tip to achieve soft sound. I have tested the one in the photograph and it is excellent.
Photo to Follow...
*Added to the website on the 28th April, 2010.
TOOLESS KNOB FOR SINGLE SCREW TENSIONER / BAND TENSIONER SYSTEM, BY JIM YULE
I eventually got the knob you sent me after some issues with the postage.
I had to do some 'engineering' to make it fit and also glued in a cut down allan Key.
Although it does not look too attractive (pics. attached) it works very well and re-tuning is very quick.
I'm sure you could adapt your tensioner drums with a much more aesthetically pleasing knob.
It is so much better than having to use the allan Key, and would be a very strong marketing point for the drum.
Bodhrán Knob 01
Bodhrán Knob 02
Bodhrán Knob 03
*Added to the website on the 21st April, 2008.
NEW CONSTRICTOR TYPE TENSIONING SYSTEM
The system that I had patented for a single tuner for
bodhráns 5 years ago caused me very bad headaches
when I came back from illness. It was very mentally
stressing to make. The system is good, well tested now
and successful. The only drawback is the mental difficulty
in making them.
As I had taken out a patent on the idea, other makers
felt this was to prevent them from using the idea. This
stopped the normal design development that happens when
other designers refine and improve a new idea. It was
not my intention that people should not try the idea.
Hopefully many other young designers will copy and improve
it. This happened to the pushed tone ring type, when
different makers brought their ideas to the raw design.
David Gormlie introduced the brass adjuster screw brackets
and Allen head machine screws. His drums were an unbelievable
upgrade in neat making and neat finish. His sensitive
skins with their lovely mellow sounds could go deeper
and rise higher than the normal drums of the day and
the sounds of his good drums have never been bettered
(never bettered by me anyhow). Mark Moggy with his introduction
of a new synthetic screw block and beautiful shell decorations
added to the design progress. Brendan White with his
innovative tensioners added yet another dimension.
I had the bad experience previously however, of many
other people claiming that they had come up with the
idea. Like everyone else, I have an ego and this was,
and still is extremely hurtful to me. The patent was
my way of preventing a repeat of this. I hope never
again to block anything to do with improving the function
and musicality of the bodhrán, as it is more
important than me.
I saw an idea that Tony HedgeWolf © 2005, posted
on the internet about making a drum from a drainage
pipe and Jubilee clips. He uses 3 interconnected clips.
I decided to develop this idea. I had used it as a boy,
making my own drum kits from thick plastic stretched
over Snowcem tins. My tensioner in those days was a
rope tourniquet. Jubilee clips had not reached Dungiven
in those days, but rope and bailer wire were as good
a substitute anyway.
My first attempt is as in the photograph below:
Photo 1 of drum.
First prototype of my new constrictor system.
The big danger with the system was the possible damage
caused by local pressure on one part of the skin, that
would burst it. I overcame this difficulty through a
lot of failed experiments and long sleepless nights.
Every solution that looked good on paper proved to be
either too cumbersome, too weak, too dangerous to the
skin or shell, until after about 20 failures I got it
working and simplified into a rugged system that tensioned
the skin equally, all the way around the shell equally.
I have tested it now for 2 years so that I would not
end up looking stupid or let down customers by selling
an unreliable system. Finally to retain the image or
look of my other drums I added some cosmetics and sin
é (that's it) or rather seo é
(this is it).
Band Tensioner System Bodhrán.
Single Screw Tensioner / Band
Tensioner System Bodhrán
This is my new drum model and is now available. I call
it the Band Tensioner System because the old bicycle
makers used a similar system for brakes on their tricycles
in the 1880's. They called them band brakes.
The big advantage of the system is that the drum cannot
be knocked out of tune by uneven tension that can be
caused by loosening / tightening one screw more than
another, in the first tone ring system. The single screw
on the outside is easy to operate with a T-Bar Allen
The Patent Application Number is 0803435.7.
*Added to the website on the 1st December, 2008.
THE SINGLE SCREW TENSIONER SYSTEM
I have been making bodhrans since 1969 and have tried
to establish a reputation for making high quality drums
at a fair price. Customers can buy sight unseen and
be sure of getting a very playable instrument. I also
feel that it is important to improve on the design of
older instruments for both the benefit of the player
and traditional music as well. Hence the new system
I was very afraid that I would make a new design that
would later prove faulty. Consequently I tested the
system rigorously for 2 years before showing it to anyone.
I gave the prototypes severe abuse to test the durability
of the system. Like any other design, small faults emerged
that needed to be resolved, materials needed to be changed,
new ones resourced, making procedures changed and every
part tested for ruggedness and practicality. Many friends
from other parts of the world tested the new drums and
reported back. When I got to the selling stage I was
happy that the system was very very reliable. The ultimate
test however is the customer feedback.
• One customer had a problem with the drum mechanism
not loosening the skin.
• A second customer after buying one just simply
preferred the 8 screw system and I exchanged it.
All the other customers who reported back are very
positive. What pleased them most was its tensioning
range, sensitivity and speed of the tuner, ease of use
and the very definite improvement in sound. Some who
have used many, many of my drums (and those of mostly
all of the other makers) say that it is the best drum
I have ever supplied to them.
that the new system brings.
The new system cannot be knocked
out of tune. With the 8 screw type the maker
must stretch the skin perfectly evenly. When the tone
ring is fitted a good maker takes great care once again
to keep the tension over the skin’s full surface
perfectly even. The player must maintain this even tension
for the remainder of the drum’s life by ensuring
that each screw is tightened/loosened exactly the same
as each of the other 7 screws. As experienced players
well know this is virtually impossible.
As an added problem some teachers have in the past
been teaching their pupils to sectionally tighten the
skin ...tighten 2 or 3 screws more than the rest to
achieve some effect. The effect that this achieves is
to knock the drum out of tune and ruin the sound. The
bodhran’s uniqueness surely comes from the use
of the hand on the back of the skin to sectionally tune
the skin momentarily to produce tonal changes whilst
retaining the capacity to immediately revert to perfect
tuning again by lifting off the hand.
With the new system perfect
tuning cannot be ruined by misuse. For inexperienced
players, this is a big improvement.
The bodhran can now be slackened off gently after play,
as there is no danger loss of tuning. This
will prolong the playing life of the drum
...unfortunately for me!!
As all the major drum makers know shell design is very
important. Makers go to great lengths to achieve shell
activity, so that when the skin is struck it transfers
the shock onto the shell to vibrate the shell also...
the more the shell vibrates the better the drum.
shell vibration three things are needed:
- A lively skin
- Maximum vibration transfer from skin to shell, so
the less the air gap, the better the transfer
- Maximum shell tension... a tight string on a fiddle
vibrates... a loose one does not.
In the new system the vibration
of the shell is so complete that the split tipper vibrates
when it strikes the drum, and a very strong clean sound
is produced. There are no air gaps to dissipate
transfer and so the pre tensioned shells shiver.
Shells are often bought in tube form, where a veneer
is wrapped around and around in layers to produce perfectly
round stable tubes of wood in varying diameters, densities
and wall thicknesses. The drum maker need only slice
off a bit, finish the edges and he has a very neat drum
The problem for me, is that there is stability and
exactness but no tension... like the loose string. This
I must, in fairness to other makers, qualify by saying
that this is only my personal opinion. It’s a
hunch, unproven by any scientific measurement that I
have carried out. So I make my own to try to achieve
tension, sacrificing neatness and stability for sound
vibration... like a tight string. The
tensioning system increases this tension, in that it
squeezes it around its full circumference.
The tensioning screw acts so quickly that sometimes
it takes about 20 seconds for the skin to slacken after
adjusting so that sometimes the player has to wait for
it to come down. Sometimes I speed this up by butting
it with my elbow.
My overall feeling is that the system is now well proven
to be rugged and reliable and I feel more confident
to recommend it to customers. It is quick and simple
to use and produces a slightly better sound that will
improve with use.
1st December, 2008
I now sell 2 types of stick:
This is simply the fiddle bow type made from
rosewood, with a slightly weighted end for balance.
The rosewood has the right density and springiness -
not too light and not too heavy. The fiddle bow makers
have agreed after 300 years of testing that 8.5 mm is
the best grip diameter. It has no balls on the ends,
no ridges in the middle and no rubber grip aids to change
the optimum diameter size. This stick is light and fast
to use and good players agree that the balance is very
good. It is just about the right weight for use on medium
to light skins and 240mm (9.5 inches) long. Many good
teachers recommend this stick.
This is a new design to many but I have been
making and improving this type for these past 30 years.
The design evolved from efforts to soften the sound
of the stick on the skin. Later on, it was an attempt
to revive the rim playing from the old Kerry styles
where players alternated from playing on the skin, to
playing on the rim. Ordinary solid ended sticks give
an unacceptably hard rattle, grating to the ear. These
sticks give a nice light clicky sound and bounce back
extremely quickly. Crucially the grip size is 8.5mm
and again the length is 240mm (9.5 inches) and from
rosewood. It is much livelier than the skewer type sticks,
yet gives the same soft sound.
Skewer type sticks WARNING
Many makers of the skewer type are selling sticks that will cut the skin. I feel it is my duty to warn both makers and players since the original idea was mine from many many years ago.
Whereas these sticks give a very nice sound, many on sale will cause damage to the surface of the skin. Players should be aware that once this damage is done the skin is beyond repair and so must be replaced.
Once the skin is struck heavily each skewer bends and springs back at the skin. If the skewer has sharp edges, then it will damage the skin. The user will see the natural shine leaving the surface. This dullness is actually thousands and thousands of damages where the hard surface skin has been attacked so often that it collapses.
Some makers glue between 12 and 20 skewers in the middle. When the glue is dry they sand off the bundle ends until they are rounded..
Close examination will show that the inside sticks are as sharp as needles and the ones on the outside are not much better. Eventually this design of stick will ruin the skin. Death by a thousand cuts.
To make this type of stick properly:-
• each skewer must be cut to length.
• each individual skewer end is then rounded/polished using a very very fine abrasive.
• the bundle can then be glued loosely together in the centre.
IT IS ALL IMPORTANT THAT THE BUNDLE OF SKEWERS GET NO FURTHER SANDING
Good sticks of this type look awkwardly square but sound good and are safe.
Goat skinned bodhrans cannot withstand the abuse that synthetic drum heads or thick conga type heads can take..
SO BUYER BEWARE.
In the natural progression of stick design improvement, the skewer type has been superceded 20 years ago by the split end type. In my opinion, it does all that the skewer type does and much, much more. That is why I have ceased to make them.
Bodhrán stick design
In many parts of Ireland the normal way to play a bodhrán was by hand. Most styles were backhand, some with knuckle or knuckles, some with finger or fingers and some had a forehand style using some elements from Italian and Basque techniques. Frequently old drums had cymbals. See Tony McMahon’s Clarebannerman YouTube videos. Sticks, when used, were generally heavy with ball ends.
When Tommy Hayes won the All Ireland Bodhrán Competition in the early 80’s, all that changed. His use of a thin, short, light stick was captivating to watch and his playing proved that the use of light thin sticks could be very effective, less exhausting and much more sensitive.
Since many players were then locked into what is now known as the Kerry style, as played so, so well by Johnny McDonagh, Tommy’s lightness and thin grip size and Johnny’s stick length of 9.5” led to my adoption of the fiddle bow type of stick.
So, by accepting as correct the grip thickness that fiddle bow makers had developed over these past 400 years, and the whippy type of wood that they most commonly used (brazilwood-pernambucco) and forsaking the ball end in favour of a straight stick , a new design emerged... ( Any whippy dense wood particularly yew is good for these sticks. Ebony, although dense, has little spring). Also at that time, I tried all the grip aids that were to be found on fiddle bows. Wound thread, wound wire, wound whale bone, shiny thin leather. And I also examined pencil and pen ergonomics. I would have used (and still would) the flats that are on the pencil, but couldn’t find a good way to make them.
• The diameter was between 8 and 9 mm.
• The wood was from a springy type timber.
• The wood had a suitable density/weight.
In all honesty, I was stuck for a stick many years ago, had about 5 minutes to make a bodhrán stick and I had many old broken fiddle bows in to be repaired. I cut off the frog end and measured 9.5”… cut it to length and rounded off each end. So that was how I discovered how good it was. No great thinking there!!! I have used this type ever since, as have so many other makers and players. I had many of the remaining bits of bow left lying around which many years later, were wanted by top end players.
Many old crafts people were well aware of advantage of balance and nice feel when they use a tool to do something again and again. For old high quality tool makers it was of supreme importance. And often what separated a good tool from a less-good one. Knowing that this would also be very important in stick making, I used it to advantage. Gino Lupari always matched the weight of a stick to the thickness of a skin and with these 2 points in mind I weighted the stick end as follows.
I first decided where I wanted to hold the stick, marked the position and then drilled the stick end to accept a gauge 8 screwnail to make it balance at the position marked, using trial and error to get the amount of weight correct. I have never changed this design in 34 years. Balance and weight being of key importance.
An idea adopted and developed by other people was to simply put the finger of a glove onto the end of the stick, hold it in place by a rubber band to give a softer sound. So using the same stick and temporarily adding something gives a new sound.
I used to apply electrical tape or masking tape (duct tape), sometimes even medical tape, allowing it to overhang the end by about 1mm. This also gives a nice soft sound. Since, unlike the glove, it was a permanent change, I needed 2 sticks identical in every way to the first stick except for the sound produced.
I considered it all important that the following:-
• grip diameter size (8-9mm.)
• stick length
do not change, so that the distance from where the stick is held to the striking ends remain constant.
My reason... For developing a very repetitive skill, it is faster and easier to learn when the variants are limited as much as possible.
Most people have their own favourite stick and would not like to lose it. They usually have a very exact position where they hold it not matter how they choose to grip it... witness all the grooves, ridges elastic bands etc. to keep this unchanging. This is a combination of grip size, length, balance and weight.
The information above tells why I chose this stick design. It is no better or no worse than other peoples’ ideas… just my personal preference. There are loads of different weights, lengths, styles and grip thicknesses to choose from. And its what suits you that is important... but all you need is a couple.
Split end sticks.
The path to the development of this type is as follows.
Get a long grained wood. I chose Hazel.
Boil the end to soften it.
Bash the end using a hammer on the anvil to split and soften the end,
Problem... end not springy... but soft sound achieved.
Using the same long grained wood
To limit the splits wrap insulation 3” from end.
Split into about 20 segments using a sharp knife and a hammer.
Microwave for 20 second bursts to spread out the segments.
Problem... segments too thin... but springy.
Using basketmaking coil.
Wet the coil... stretch it to straighten it. Dry for 2 days.
Cut to 9.5” lengths… 13 off
Make a round bundle and put a blob of glue in middle.
Hold in place using electrical tape
When dry round off the ends on the sander
Remove the tape.
In use each individual stick in the bundle bends, flexes and springs, producing a less defined, softer lighter sound than the solid stick. The bending of each individual rod was the aim of the design for a softer sound.
So the dynamic is that the bundle hits the skin and then some of the individual rods, not all, strike back at the skin before the bundle can be removed from the skin.
In my first version of this design most of the individual rods in the bundle had sharp points and edges. Unnoticed by me the skin suffered thousands of tiny pinprick damages over a few months, the tough outer layer of the skin was fatally and irreparably damaged.
The damage first showed as a dull ring on the skin in contrast to the rest of the skin, which was burnished to a shine, eventually a couple of small holes became visible. Soon after that the patch became flabby and the drum lost its sound.
-Most of the individual pieces were pointed and eventually ruined the skin.
-No real bounce but a nice brushy forgiving sound.
-The grip was too thick.
At this stage of development barbeque skewers became available and a friend showed me one that he had made and where to buy them.
Using barbeque skewers, cut 13 of them to 9.5”
Round off the ends of each skewer. Burnish each end to a shine.
Lay each skewer onto a piece of linen that had been loaded with glue.
Roll up the linen so that each skewer remains loose, yet bound together by the linen.
Shape the stick to form a 9mm diameter grip section, keeping in mind the constant grip distance of the fiddle bow type and balance.
Use electrical tape to help bind everything together.
(These stick bundle types allow each individual stick to bend, flex and spring. That is why they were used... bend and flex.)
No real problems found, but I stopped making them as I felt that the split end type made this type redundant.
I know that many players still like them. This again is personal taste. I have no plans to remake or sell this type, but, for those who would like to make this type, I will add a better explanation and photographs of how I used to make them and why I did certain things.
Shape a 12 mm x 9.5” long whippy stick forming a 9mm grip.
Using a bandsaw, cut slits to form 6 segments. Calculate the length of the heavy end so that the centre of gravity is exactly the same as I use on the fiddle bow type stick.
In summary, the important features of these 2 stick types are:-
-The grip position is exactly the same for both stick types so I can freely interchange.
-The grip diameter is exactly the same for both sticks.
-The weight and balance of both sticks are exactly the same.
For MY playing I feel it is easier to improve my technique when all variables are minimised. The only things that vary are the bounce and the sound produced. I hope that this helps improving players and also stick makers.
Like so many other players I seldom use the fiddle bow type because of the delicate sounds achievable and use most of the time the split end type, the bounce of which makes it so user friendly. When used to play on the shell the sound is not harsh. The Fiddle bow type gives a sharper more precise sound sometimes needed when playing for dancers.
Why I have written this explanation of my designs.
Many sticks that are paraded as copies of these types completely miss the point of the designs mostly because I have not previously explained my thinking/design process clearly and explained the reasoning behind these designs.
Some copies have dowels up the ends of the split end types that wipe out the bounce. Some makers thought they were designed to click and so called them click sticks.
I have repeatedly posted warnings about the danger of using these skewer type stick that contain within the bundle needle sharp skewer ends and sharp edges both at workshops and on my website over many, many years.
A couple of months ago I posted on a Facebook bodhrán page a warning of the danger presented by use of such sticks. Since I was the originator of the design I felt duty bound to do this.
I posted it on that Facebook bodhrán page to relay the warning to as wide an audience as possible, not just for the benefit of readers on my own website, but for all players, as many new learners were using that site for information.
This warning was immediately challenged by another maker/seller. He blamed bad technique for the damage, either unheeding or unknowing of the many individual style used in Ireland and elsewhere in the world.
To blame the player rather than the stick was a bit much. I am still disgusted that, as a copier of my concepts, that he had the disrespect to challenge what is patently obvious. If a stick endangers the skin, it should not be made, sold or used.
A DRUM SHOULD NOT BE BEATEN BY ANY SHARP OBJECT!!!
Another maker proudly displayed his skewer type with a bit of brass up the middle of it. He really does not understand that the purpose of the skewers was to allow flex and produce a softer sound. He described my warning as Bullshitsu on the same bodhrán forum. Hmmm.
In the space of a few months this year four drums were sent back to me for reskinning. All the owners used the incorrectly made skewer type sticks. The skins had to be replaced.
As I said earlier in this, should you wish to make this type of stick I will add an article on how I used to do this. I gave up on this idea about 25 years ago as I felt that the split end type surpassed it in both sound, bounce and ease of use. I have no interest in leading the design backwards... but since so many players still like them, I will explain fully, my method of making. I have briefly outlined this in Step 4.
Many stick makers have their own ideas on sticks. The above article simply outlines my thoughts on the subject to guide the thinking of players who are frequently perplexed by the plethora of grip thicknesses, stick lengths, weights, and functions.
I write this in the hope that it helps improving players to limit the number of technological variables so that they can concentrate in a more focused way on variations in their playing to make it more interesting, more musical, and more sensitive.
In summary my advice is experiment until you find a stick that suits your individual style and settle on at least the same weight, length, grip size and balance ...don’t have too many. There are many makers to choose from.
(14th November 2012)
I have bodhrán bags for sale to fit my drums.
They are 16” diameter and have an extra heavy
zip that opens three quarter way round, rather than
the half way round opening, as in other bodhrán
bags. This makes them less prone to damage when putting
in the drum. Black in colour, they are without any advertising
written or drawn on them. They have the minimum of padding,
so that when travelling, the bag folds flat. The bag
can be put into a suitcase and the drum sat on top of
it and thus, the drum can be carrried without taking
up space. When you arrive at your destination, the drum
can be put into the bag. Thus, you don't have the hassle
of taking it on a plane as hand luggage or carting it
around airports when you need 2 free hands. They are
ideal for snare drums as well.
Front of bag - Pocket for sticks etc to front and handle
Back of bag - Back strap for carrying bag on back.
Emails and Photos from Brent Cuyler:
Hope you don't mind. I really liked the idea of a quick tuning knob on the drum. This is my adaptation. I stayed away from a circular knob, as I wanted to still be able to make precise half turns as instructed on the website. Let me know your thoughts.
I purchased the knob at a local hardware store. They are readily available online. I'll attach one of the websites I found. Just a quick note on how I did this. I didn't want to completely remove the tuning bolt on your recommendation. So I purchased a 1/4-20 thumb knob, 5mm allen key, and "JB Weld". I used a die to turn a 1/4-20 thread about one half inch deep on the end of the allen key. This allowed me to thread the allen key into the thumb knob. I cut off the allen key, leaving approximately on half inch extending from the knob. I simply then "glued" the allen key into the 5mm tuning bolt on the drum with the JB Weld. It's a heavy duty metal glue. I don't know if you have it there? This was my method. Ideally, you can purchase the thumb knobs with a bolt already installed in the same size as the bolt in the block on the drum. I was leary of removing that bolt for fear of damaging the mechanism. Do you know what size the bolt is that you currently use?
I'd be honored if you would use any of my images on your web site. I'd also be honored to receive a credit for the modification!
I'm attaching some additional images. Feel free to use any that you like. I'm also including a hardware site that offers many types of knobs. I paid $2.50 US dollars for one knob, but I'm sure they're much less when purchased in a larger quantity. Let me know if I can be of any help procuring knobs, if you can't aquire them there.
This would be my ideal knob: http://www.jwwinco.com/products/section8/gn431/index.html
Bodhrán design development since the
In 1969, I heard a strange percussion on an old record
and loved the unique sounds and rhythm patterns. A friend,
who had lived as a student in Dublin, told me it was
a bodhrán and that he had seen them being played
in Slattery’s in Dublin.
In this part of Ireland there was no tradition of bodhrán
playing. So I didn't know what one looked like, I had
absolutely nobody to teach me, and nowhere to buy or
see one. An hour later I was making my first from his
description. My old schoolteacher always used to say
"the man that never made a mistake never made anything".
Mine was a disaster, but I was started on a lifelong
Soon I learned of James Davey in Sligo, David Gunn
in Fermanagh, Sonny Canavan in Kerry and Ted Furey in
Dublin. I met Ted Furey at a fleadh in Malin Head and
saw his bodhrán and his tensioning system and
was greatly impressed. It was the first of this type
that I had seen. Recently I learned that Sonny Canavan
had also made a skin tightening system.
4 pictures of Ted Furey's system (Above bodhrán
made by Ted Furey)
Each year I spend my Summer holidays in Gaoth Dobhair
in Donegal and joined the sessions in Hiudái
Beag's in Bunbeg. Because of the humidity level
in that part of Donegal the skin became very damp and
most nights was too slack to play. When I got home I
decided to design some system to solve this.
Ted Furey's system got in the way of playing on the
rim so I decided to try and keep the working parts to
the inside of the drum, using the tone ring system of
the banjo as my guide. Instead of pulling the skin from
the outside over the tone ring, I decided to try pushing
the tone ring from the inside.
My friend Joe Diamond had built his own banjo when
we were students at teacher training college and it
was whilst examining his banjo, that the design idea
came to me. Our design lecturer Mr Nolan always told
us to think backwards, meaning that if you see an idea;
"think out what is the opposite". The banjo
system pulls the skin from the outside, the bodhrán
pushes the tone ring from the inside.
First Bodhrán to use the Screw Driven,
Pushed Tone Ring
The first bodhrán to use this system is shown
below. I designed and made this drum and later sold
it to Paddy McGrory (the famous barrister) from Belfast.
It now belongs to his son Barra McGrory QC. It is the first
bodhrán of it's type to use the inner-tone ring.
Other people have claimed to have invented this system...
More power to them!!!
The screws are spouting bolts and the tone ring is
very thin but it did its job beautifully. Thus a new
design was born and like most new ideas was heavily
criticised by the traditionalists. I suffered many embarrassing
moments in sessions because of their comments, but thankfully
progress prevailed and the instrument took its biggest
step to become a musical rather than a percussive instrument.
Photos of the first ever bodhrán to use
the screw-driven, pushed tone ring. It now belongs to
Barra McGrory QC. (Close up of adjusters) *Crude, but effective!
Many makers added lovely refinements of their own that
ensured the design took a strong hold. Notable amongst
these were Mark Moggy, David Gormlie and Brendan White.
Their adoption of the system was crucial to its taking
a very firm foothold on the design path. Not only did
they improve the tensioning system, they introduced
new materials and a new standard of quality in the making
and finished appearance of the drum, without being too
gaudy. Most serious players now use drums that have
some means of tensioning the skin. It got named the
tuneable drum but I prefer to call it tensionable, as
tuning it is quite a different problem.
There are a number of different screw tensioners to
be found on the drums now, so in the interest of design
progression, it may help others if I outline my thinking
in this respect. Let me say from the outset that the
plastic blocks I use are not the best that I can think
up. Obviously they will wear out much quicker than the
sturdier types but they have some hidden advantages.
These adjusters must:
- be strongly secured to the rim for maximum vibration
transfer from skin to rim
- use easily found parts and tools
- be as cheap as possible
- use 2 different materials on the bearing surfaces
- eliminate vibration rattle that happens when metal
bears on metal
I needed to either make something everlasting, or find
something so cheap and commonplace throughout the world,
that anyone can get a new one in their own town and
replace it, should it break. I chose the latter. For
the same reason, I also use star-head screws, just incase
the screwdriver gets lost, as a new one can be got in
any garage or DIY store. Should some young maker want
to improve what we older makers use, remember to use
2 different materials and add some rubber or plastic
to cut out vibration rattle. The old jazz drum makers
did this. Good banjos have 26 tensioners... I use 8
for practicality... a few more would be an improvement...
less is worse.
In the sixties, the usual method of making a drum was
to get a sand sieve (we called it a riddle), remove
the wire and stretch a cured goatskin over it. To make
a different size involved steaming the wood after scarving
the end and bending and clamping it around something
round. Oak, Ash or Beech were best for this and since
planks were around 3 to 4 inches thick, this limited
the rim depth. The new PVA and casein glues had just
been introduced and this opened up new possibilities.
The skins were fixed using cut tacks, stapled or the
more expensive upholstery tacks.
The Tensioning System
The tuning (tensioning) system employed by the current
range of Seamus O'Kane bodhráns consists of a rim or
'tone ring' system which is controlled by tensioning
pegs. Eight tensioning pegs are considered to be optimal
for a good tuning of the instrument.
According to Seamus, it was Ted Furey who constructed
the first tunable bodhrán, and his was a system for
tuning the bódhran from the outside. (as stated
Seamus O'Kane himself devised the internal tone ring
system for bodhráns, which has been widely immitated
and adapted. In the early days, Seamus concoted two
distinct systems, namely; the 'turnable tensioning pegs'
and a 'cam tensioning system'.
System - (older system)
The pictures below show the OLD "Cam Tensioning
System" (no longer available)
The pictures below show the Turnable
Tensioning Peg System
For the 'recommended system for tighening and loosening'
the "Turnable Tensioning Peg System", see
"Q2" in the "FAQ's" section of the
2003 Single Adjuster Tensioning System - *NO
By 2003, Seamus O'Kane had developed and tested a new
tensioning system using only one adjuster. Unlike other
systems, it cannot be knocked out of the original tuning
by unequal tightening or loosening. This should lead
to the tone getting better with age.
*Note that the following systems are
no longer in production:-
- the (OLDER [pre-October 2012]) 'cam turning system'
- the '2003 Single Adjuster Tensioning System' - this
is the 2003 'Rack and Pinion' system.
Pictures of the 2003 Rack & Pinion System
that drives folding wedges, to tension the skin *Note,
this system is no longer in production.