How to Change Timpani Drum Heads

A step-by-step guide to getting improved sound from your timpano.

Timpani heads need to be changed more often! Unfortunately, many band directors don’t know how to change them, or they think it’s too difficult a task. Yes, it’s more involved than changing tom or snare drum drumheads, but anyone can change timpani heads. Here’s how.

STEP 1: Determine the Head Sizes You Need

Unlike other concert drums (i.e., tom, snare or bass drum), timpani heads typically need to be two inches larger than the actual timpano. This is because they extend beyond the edge of the bowl. So, for example, when purchasing a replacement head for a 32″ timpano, you need a 34″ head; for a 29″ timpano, you need a 31″ head, etc.

You can, of course, determine the diameter of your timpano head with a measuring tape, but identifying it on Yamaha timpani is especially easy: All you have to do is to find the model number of the drum. This information is located on the badge located under the counterhoop directly above the pedal:

Closeup of the Yamaha tag or "badge" attached to the side of the kettle drum or "timpani".

You’ll see a set of numbers like TP-3323, TP-4323, TP-6323 or TP-7323. The last two numbers tell you the size of the timpano, while the first two indicate the Series. (“TP” stands for timpani.) So, for example, a TP-3323 is a 23″ timpano in the 3300 Series; a TP-4323 is a 23″ timpano in the 4300 Series; a TP-6323 is a 23″ timpano in the 6300 Series; a TP-7323 is a 23″ timpano in the 7300 Series. Depending upon when your timpani was purchased, the first two numbers may be different than those listed here, reflecting older Yamaha lines. Regardless, the only important numbers with respect to the size of the timpani are the last two.

Once you know the model number, you can find a list of appropriate timpani heads on or Alternatively, you can use an iPhone app called TimpHeads. See Step #2 below for more information about the type of heads you should consider purchasing.

STEP 2: Determine the Type of Heads You Need

There are more than a few types of timpani heads. Whichever you choose, it is important that all your timpani have the same type of head so that they match in both sound and appearance.

Timpani heads can have an aluminum insert ring, a steel insert ring, or no insert ring around the collar of each head. Those with an insert ring will raise the head above the counterhoop by a small amount. We recommend the usage of heads with an aluminum insert ring, for several reasons. For one thing, they provide a thinner bearing edge for the head to rest upon, thereby increasing tuning consistency and making the head seating process easier. In addition, aluminum insert rings will not rust when taken outdoors.

Yamaha timpani come with Remo RC-Series Renaissance® Hazy Aluminum Insert heads. Remo makes timpani heads in both clear and hazy versions, but the hazy version is stronger and has a darker fundamental with a more focused tone.

STEP 3: Collect the Necessary Tools and Materials

Here are the tools and materials you’ll need to change timpani heads:

A collection of materials needed to change timpani drum heads: timpani heads, mallet, cloths, squeegee, softball, steel wool pad, Sharpee marker, tube of lithium grease, and a gauge called a "DrumDial".

– Teflon tape
– Rags
– Steel wool
– Marker
– DrumDial*
– Timpani tuning key
– Timpani mallets
– Softball or block of wood
– Tape measure
– Lithium grease

* A tool that allows equal amounts of pressure to be measured at each tension rod to ensure even tuning.

STEP 4: Change the Heads

1) Put the pedal to the lowest position (heel down) and place a softball or block of wood under the pedal.

2) Using a timpani drum key, loosen all of the tension rods.

3) Note the position of the counterhoop — when you put it back on the drum, it must be in that same position. One you’re satisfied you know exactly how it is positioned, remove the counterhoop and set it aside.

4) Remove the old head.

5) Wipe out the bowl and clean the bearing edge with the rags.

6) Apply Teflon tape to the bearing edge.

7) Put on the new timpani head. Make sure that the logo is opposite the playing area, with the seam 90 degrees (3 or 9 o’clock) from the playing area.

8) Inspect the counterhoop and clean with rags if necessary. If there are any rough spots on the bearing edge, use the steel wool to smooth it out. Make sure the tension rods are free of dirt and are properly lubricated with lithium grease.

9) Put the counterhoop back and finger-tighten all of the tension rods.

10) Use the tape measure to center the head on the bowl.

11) Place your foot on the heal of the pedal and remove the softball or block of wood.

12) Slowly raise the pedal to the highest position.

13) Tighten the tension rods to tune the top note of the range of the drum.

Shows the correct placement for the DrumDial gauge with drum on side and the gauge on the edge of the gasket.

14) Use the DrumDial to make sure there is even tension on all of the tension rods. This is also known as “clearing” the head.

15) Let the drum sit for a couple of days and then check the range.

16) Clear the head again.

For more information, Remo offers a detailed video series showing how to change timpani heads.

STEP 5: Perform Regular Maintenance

Performing regular maintenance is important for both the timpani and their drum heads. Every other week, check to make sure the drums are in the correct range. The chart below shows the standard tonal ranges for Yamaha timpani:

Musical chart showing range for each size timpani drum with 32" ranging from D to B flat; 29" from F to D flat; 26" from A to F; 23" from C to A flat; 20" from E to C.

Plastic heads stretch and if the timpano is not in the correct range, the pedal will slip or not stay in place. While you are checking the range, use the DrumDial to make sure that the head is still cleared (i.e., that there is even tension at all of the tension rods).

In addition, you should lubricate all moving parts with a lithium grease spray every month. At the same time, clean the base and struts with a dry cloth to remove dust or excess dirt. For more information, refer to our Timpani Maintenance blog post.

We suggest changing timpani heads every 1-2 years, depending on how much the timpani are being used. It’s a longer process than changing standard drum heads, but it will definitely improve the sound of your ensemble!

For more information, see our blog posting “Anatomy of a Timpani.”


Click here to learn more about Yamaha timpani.

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