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Drumline Cleaning & Maintenance Series: Marching Tenors

Cleaning & Maintaining Your Marching Tenor Drums

August 21st, 2019 by Miguel Guaderrama

In the world of marching band and drumline, the shining examples we look to are the many performing groups of DCI. Look to any top 12 drum corps and you’ll see nothing but the best in terms of performance and attention to detail. This includes keeping instruments in pristine condition as they go through a very rigorous season.

Yes, cleaning your drums is important for aesthetic reasons, but it’s also very important from a functional standpoint. Whether you realize it or not, our instruments get put through a lot of wear and tear as we go through the band seasons and performing routine maintenance checks will ensure a much longer life out of your equipment.

In this Drumline Maintenance Series, we’re going to look at each section within the drumline and share the checklist of items that you (a director, percussion instructor, or student) should be going through at least twice a season.

Cleaning or “wiping down” your drums before each performance is good for aesthetic purposes, but the type of cleaning and maintenance we’re referring to is best suited when you are changing heads at the beginning or near the end of a season. This is the ideal time to take stock of the condition of your equipment and to perform any maintenance required.

Over the course of the season, there are many environmental factors that will contribute to the wear and tear of your drums. This includes:

  • Oxidation or rusting of metal parts from heat and moisture.
  • Fading of the wood from the sun.
  • Drying of the wood shells from the heat.

Transportation of the equipment will also be a major contributor to parts becoming loose, bent or even breaking over the course of the season.

Unlike most top DCI groups, you’ll still have your equipment for many seasons, so following a checklist like the one below will be a sensible choice in protecting your investment.

After taking the drum head off, the following areas of the drum are key places you want to inspect for structural integrity and clean for cosmetic purposes.

  1. The Hoops
  2. The Bearing Edge
  3. Tension Rods
  4. Lug Casings
  5. Lug Receivers
  6. Outside of the Shell
  7. Bottom of the Shell

The Hoops: Maintenance & Cleaning Best Practices

Structural Inspection:

Once all the lugs are removed, you’ll want to check the hoop for any bending or warping. This can be done by placing it on a flat surface and verifying that it does sit flat. If there is any significant warping in the hoop and it can’t sit flat, we recommend replacing the hoop. Ignoring this will only create more problems with tuning and could even contribute to broken heads in the future.

Cosmetic Cleaning:

If you notice any amounts of dirt, or cloudiness to the chrome, we recommend Pledge Multi-Surface Cleaner to clear away the dirt and to restore the chrome’s shine.

If you notice any pitting or rust along the chrome hoop, this is a more serious indication that needs addressing. We recommend using a chrome polish to remove either of these blemishes. Addressing this sooner rather than later will prevent the deterioration of your hoops.

The Bearing Edge: Cleaning & Maintenance Best Practices

Structural Inspection:

Seeing as though the bearing edge is one of the most critical components to your drum, you want to make sure the structural integrity is preserved for as long as possible. This means no dents or splitting of plies due to dehydrated shells.

Cosmetic Cleaning:

Since this part of the drum is usually bare wood, you don’t want to use any harsh chemicals/cleaners that could dry out the wood. It’s best to clear any dirt or debris with a clean rag and if you notice the shell looks dry, applying a modest amount of lemon oil around the edge will rehydrate the wood. We recommend Old English Lemon Oil.

Tension Rods, Lug Casings & Receivers: Cleaning & Maintenance Best Practices

Structural Inspection: Tension Rods

Since these are always under such high tension, it’s important to check for bent tension rods. If you find any bent rods, it’s best to replace them. The same goes for any rusted tension rods.

Cosmetic Cleaning: Tension Rods

Since these are more openly exposed, the greased rods will easily attract dirt over time. Best practice is to clear the lugs of old grease and dirt with a degreaser and toothbrush, then reapply new grease. We recommend WD40 brand, Degreaser and White Lithium Grease.

Structural Inspection: Lug Casings

After multiple trips to shows in a truck, it’s likely the screws holding the lug casings to the shell will loosen over time. A good way to check how secure they are is to give them a wiggle. If they feel loose, just take a Phillips head screwdriver and tighten them from the inside of the drum. (Don’t over tighten!)

Cosmetic Cleaning: Lug Casings

Just like the chrome hoops, if these appear cloudy, cleaning them with Pledge Multi-Surface will bring back their shine. If they appear pitted, polishing them with a Chrome Polish will remove this and restore its shine. We recommend Chrome Polish & Rust Remover by Turtle Wax.

Structural Inspection: Lug Receivers

Located within the lug casings, you’ll want to check for any rust, pitting or buildup of dirt and grease. If you notice any significant rust or oxidation, it’s best to replace these receivers. These can be removed by first unscrewing the lug casing from the shell and pulling out the receiver from the back of the casing.

Cosmetic Cleaning: Lug Receivers

If there is a significant amount of dirt and grease built up in the receivers, you’ll want to clear this debris with WD40 Degreaser and a toothbrush. You can then spray a new application of WD40 White Lithium Grease into the receiver if you haven’t already applied it to the tension rods.

Outside of the Shell: Cleaning & Maintenance Best Practices

Structural Inspection:

Preserving the outer shell of the drum is a critical point for structural and cosmetic purposes. Fading from the sun is a cosmetic problem, however, too much sun exposure over the years can also deteriorate the protective barriers of the finish regardless of finish type. Moisture trapped between a 3rd party drum wrap can also be corrosive to the shell over time. Always having a cover around your drums in a non-performance setting is a good preventative measure.

Cosmetic Cleaning:

For any of the 3 finish types, we’ve found Pledge Multi-Surface to be a safe and “best bet” to use. Its chemical makeup won’t leave waxy buildup or dehydrate the wood shell from harsh alcohols. Another product we found useful for cleaning, protecting and even providing UV protection to the finish of the shell is Super Hard Shell Finish Liquid Wax from Turtle Wax. This is ONLY to be used on wrap finishes or lacquer finish drums. NOT to be used on satin finish drums as it will have an adverse effect on the look of the finish.

Bottom of the Shell: Cleaning & Maintenance Best Practices

Structural Inspection:

Since the tenor drums are one of the only pieces of equipment with exposed bottom edges, it’s very likely for these to get dinged up. Similar to the bearing edge though, you want to practice an extra degree of caution with this part of the drum since any damage to it doesn’t fare well to DIY remedies. The best you can do is prevent or preserve what you already have.

Cosmetic Inspection:

The best and only source of protection for this part of the drum would be Trim Guards (also referred to as Shell Protectors, Rim Guards, etc.) If you notice any part of the guard is torn and exposing the raw edge of the drum, it’s best to replace the guard. If the adhesive has worn away or the guards are too loose around the edge of the shell, it’s best to replace them.

Now that you’ve made it through this list, you can continue on with re-assembling the drums and putting your new head on.

**A Special Note About the Hoops**

When re-applying the hoops, you’ll want to rotate it 1 lug position over from its original seated location. This is done to ensure the hoop won’t have the same high tension pulling at it over the course of the season, further bending the hoop out of alignment.

NOW, you can continue on to your tuning process!


We hope this detailed checklist will make your cleaning and maintenance process a lot more streamlined as you go from season to season. Leave us any questions or comments you have in the comments below and stay tuned for follow-up sections!

Miguel is one of our marching specialists. His experience as a performer and educator in the marching percussion community is second to none. When he's not at the store, you can catch him drumming at Disneyland or teaching one of the top indoor drumlins in WGI.

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