What to Do When Your Taiko Drum Gets Loose

snowman with coal eyes and a hat
--Photo by Matt Hamm

What I mean by the title is- what to do when the usually tight taiko skin starts to get loose.

This is a common phenomenon with mediocre-to-low quality chu-daiko drums, and results in a low pitch sound (this isn't really an issue with oke and shime drums because they're tightened by rope). The sort of low-pitch sound you get from a loose taiko drum is something you don't want. That sound just doesn't carry.

In fact, even the best drums get loose depending on things like weather and humidity. It's natural and inevitable being that taiko surfaces are made out of cow hide. Fortunately, with higher-quality drums the tightness of the skin comes right back when the humidity conditions improve.

With lower-quality drums, however, the skins can get looser and looser over time. This seems to be because of two factors.

A. Some skins simply have a tendency to soak up more moisture. This is probably a result of poor preparation during the drum-building stage. Also, some cows just have oilier skins than others, which also reduces the tightness of the drum. This oiliness, however, is something that can and should be fixed during the preparation stage.

B. Some skins aren't attached to the drum base properly. If they weren't stretched out to the max when building, they never will stretch out to the max later. Also, if the type of wood used for the base is soft, then the screws/nails/byo that fasten the skin to the drum can get loose over time. The same problem might occur if the nails simply aren't the best quality.

So, finally getting to the point, what do you do when this happens?

The quickest solution is to dry out the skins. Hitting them with sunlight or even with the heat from lamps seems to have an effect, albeit a minor one. A more effective option is to dry them out using hot coals (the kind you'd use for your BBQ grill; or your snowman). This absolutely works, but there's also the potential of permanent damage to your skins (I can't recommend doing this with higher quality drums).

But if you're willing to try, here's how it works.

Get a metal bucket of hot, burning coals, and place them in the vicinity of the surface of the skins. Be careful though! If it's too close the skins will burn. I've made this mistake before and it's no fun! Since you're playing with fire here, take necessary precautions (always keep an eye on it; do it in an open, well ventilated space; make sure the drums are secure so that they don't fall over; etc.).

Depending on the condition of your skins, you can keep the coals going for anywhere between 30mins and several hours. This method completely sucks the moisture out of the skins and you will clearly hear a difference in sound.

If you try this method, and the skins still don't get better, or get back to being loose after a short while, there's really only one other way of saving your precious drums: re-skinning.

The good thing about this is that you can use the same skin so you won't have a whole lot of extra costs. On the other hand, this is a much lengthier process than just using coals. It is, however, a great learning experience. Unfortunately, the process takes a little explaining so I'll save it for another post!

And more importantly. Happy Holidays everyone. And have a wonderful New Year.

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