How the first pipe band side drums were made
Of those three, the side drum has evolved the most radically. The first pipe band side drums were colorfully painted wood shells with calfskin heads held taut by ropes tying the top and bottom head-retaining rims together.
Catgut snares stretching across the bottom head provided the “scratchy” sharp sound so essential and effective for projecting to the farthest soldiers in the formation.
(Those ropes are still seen today, though vestigial and just for show, dangling from some band’s drums.) With the introduction of cast-metal lugs installed on the shell, tension screws from the rims to the lugs replaced the rope tensioning system, and allowed considerably tighter heads. Similarly, wire strand snares replaced the catgut, and this further enhanced the crispness already improved by the higher tensioned heads.
Recently, a second snare assembly (then-unique to pipe band drumming but now embraced by some high school and college bands, and drum and bugle corps) was added to the top head, to boost the crispness yet another notch. This was soon followed by an even stronger head tensioning system pioneered by Premier Percussion, wherein the top and bottom rims are not attached to shell lugs, but instead “float” across the shell on a unified rim structure. This made possible such incredibly high tension that Premier actually launched a new line of drums designated HTS, for High Tension Snare. Probably 90% of the first pipe bands in the world now use a Premier HTS.
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