Concert Toms versus Double Headed Toms
By Dendy Jarrett |
Concert Toms Vs. Double-Headed Toms —
the Mystery and History
by Dendy Jarrett
Wide ties, skinny ties. White appliances, stainless appliances. Concert toms (single-headed tom toms), double-headed toms.
The last time single-headed toms (dubbed Concert Toms or Melodic Toms) were in favor was before Billy Joel embarked on his first world tour. Since then, skinny ties have been in and out of favor three times! So what’s the story on concert toms versus double-headed toms?
In the Beginning
The first mounted toms were Chinese tom toms; these had a bowed side with tacked heads on them (top and bottom). Then the tuned tom tom started being produced, which initially had a tuned top head and a tacked bottom head (i.e., a calfskin tacked directly to the drum's shell -- see image below). Eventually both top and bottom heads were tuned heads. During the late 1940s through the mid 1960s, while there were advances made in hardware and production methods, both top and bottom heads existed on mounted toms.
Advent of the Concert Toms
I still remember that first 1975 Ludwig catalog my dad brought home to me. We were looking at a used kit, so he picked up the catalog for a comparison and price guide. I would sneak that catalog into the classroom and look at it behind my three-ring binder all day long … just day-dreaming about drums. Yet, I digress. Why do I mention this? That 1975 drum catalog featured “melodic tom tom” kits.
( Below: Actual Page from the 1975 Ludwig Catalog)
If you are mid 40’s or older, you’ll no doubt remember AM radio and the advent of FM (stereo radio). Many of those late 1960s through mid 1970s hits on the radio were drummed by Hal Blaine, who was part of the famed group of studio musicians called The Wrecking Crew. Hal pioneered the single-headed tom and the unique sound of those drums. He did this for two reasons:
- Better sonic isolation —with the bottom head off the drums, you could get the mic right up into the drum and catch the stick's attack, while better isolating the tom from the other drums.
- A more "melodic" appoach to playing—many times in the studio the drums were tuned so that they were in the song's key, and accentuated specific runs or fills to pair up with other instruments – hence the term “melodic toms.”
(Below: Hal Blain in the 1970s in the studio with Melodic Toms)
By the early to mid 1970’s this single-headed approach was the favored way of tuning your drums. In fact this became so popular that finding double-headed kits that were missing the bottom hoops became more common than finding complete kits. Drummers even started removing the front bass drum heads! The sound of these drums was commonly referred to as Tupperware or “Tubby” toms. Another trend with these toms (again started by Hal Blaine) was taking a white sheet and cutting it into a 3- or 4-inch wide strip and pulling it tight under the top head. It left the drums very dry and boxy-sounding.
The first “real” drum set I ever played was a Ludwig Blue Vistalite Quadra plus kit owned by my school. I can still hear the distinctive sound of those drums.
So popular were these drums that some manufacturers with unique ideas appeared including North Drums, which were made from a fiberglass mold and featured a tom with a curved forward-facing bell at the bottom of the drum. Another boutique drum company, Staccato produced a similar design; but, instead of a round bell, it featured a cloud-shaped bell. (see image)
Slingerland offered a “cut-a-way” version of their concert toms that featured a tear-shaped back that hung lower than the front. (see image)
(Below: Slingerland Cut-A-Ways from the 1980 Slingerland Catalog)
As Concert Toms became more in vogue, they also grew in depth. So, in the late 1970s and early 1980s when double-headed toms came back in style, deeper toms were what became the most popular tom. In the industry we called these “square” toms. Classic toms were a rectangular dimension, like 9X13, whereas a “square” tom would be a 13X13.
Most drummers will remember the instantly recognizable left-handed set up of concert toms used by Phil Collins. (see image: Phil Collin's kit featured at 2014 NAMM Gretsch booth)
The Shift Back to Double Headed Toms
By the era of “big rock” ballads, larger double-headed toms came back in style. As mentioned above, the deeper toms were in favor then. Great drummers like Journey's Steve Smith and REO Speedwagon's Alan Gratzer were playing large kits with many tom toms, and most were playing double-headed deeper (square) toms. The sound was large and bombastic.
By this time the only remaining concert tom was an orchestral version of the same single headed tom called … well, a concert tom … and were being used primarily by percussion ensembles and the like.
Most touring drummers by this time were using these larger setups.
During the early 1980s through the 1990s it became common to see a pretty widely diverse use of drum sizes. Early in the 1980s Stewart Copeland was drumming for The Police and used double- headed, standard-sized drums. He even tuned them in a fairly “jazz” oriented tuning so that the toms were ringing. This started a trend toward that sound; yet, at the same time, larger groups still preferred the larger drums with the large sound.
During this time, you never knew what a drummer would be using. Keep in mind that electronic kits were coming into favor, so it would not have been uncommon to see a drummer using nothing but electronics on stage or a mix of acoustic and electric drums.
(Below: Stewart Copeland with The Police )
In recent times, late 1990s and through the 2000s, double-sided drums have been the norm and kits diminished in size to more simplistic setups. One mounted tom was not unusual.
Return of the Concert Tom
At Winter NAMM 2013, we saw a few companies reintroduce Concert Toms, but it was a sparse offering at best. Then in 2014 DW, Tama, Gretsch, Taye and others started showcasing Concert Toms again.
Then last week DW posted the kit pictured below as the new kit for the upcoming Depeche Mode tour (see image).
We don’t have a crystal ball, but if we did, I'm sure that it would show a resurgence of Concert Toms. Some of this is market-driven as manufacturers look for new ways to reach new drummers. If the marketplace is flooded with double-sided head drums and a push for single-headed toms becomes all the rage, then a new untapped market emerges for drum manufacturers. Some of this is sound-driven and in some cases (I suspect) style-driven. Taylor Hawkins used a concert tom kit a few years ago on a Foo Fighters tour, and I believe this is what started pushing this new interest. Whatever the reason, the use of Concert Toms seems once again on the rise.
It's true what they say: “What’s old is new again” and “what goes around, comes around.” Better dust off those old narrow ties in my closet!
Steve Smith Solo 1980 Journey:
Steward Copeland: The Police (1983)
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Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.