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Drumline Cleaning & Maintenance Series: Marching Basses

Cleaning & Maintaining Your Marching Bass Drums

September 19th, 2019 by Miguel Guaderrama

In part three of our Drumline Maintenance Series, we’re looking at marching bass drums and the checklist of items that you (a director, percussion instructor, or student) should probably be going through at least twice a season.

Yes, cleaning your drums is important for aesthetics, but it’s also important from a functional standpoint. Our instruments get put through a lot of wear and tear as marching seasons come and go, so performing routine maintenance checks will ensure a longer life for your equipment.

The type of cleaning and maintenance we’ll be referring to is best performed when you’re changing heads at the beginning, or near the end, of a season. It's easiest to take stock of the condition of your equipment while the heads are off, and it's tough to carve out time for maintenance when you're performing shows every week.

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

  • 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 - suffice to say, it's important to really dive deep and make sure your drums are in great condition, whether your drums are practically brand new or a decade old!

Once you remove the drum's head, here is your checklist of key places you want to inspect for structural integrity and clean for cosmetic purposes.

The Hoops: Maintenance & Cleaning Best Practices

Structural Inspection:

Although the hoops on a marching bass drum can be pretty thick, they can still sustain a lot of damage over time. This damage could be due to the player bumping into objects or repeatedly setting down the drum too aggressively. You'll want to first check the hoop for any major cracks or splitting of the plies. If you find any of this occuring, we recommend replacing the hoop.

Cosmetic Cleaning:

Typically, these hoops are finished with a lacquer finish so cleaning it with Pledge Multi-Surface would be a safe choice. You could also use an auto wax to polish out any cloudiness around the hoop and this will also provide some UV protection to the finish.

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, Claws, Lug Casings & Receivers: Cleaning & Maintenance Best Practices

Structural Inspection: Tension Rods & Claws

Most marching bass drums have claws that hook around the hoop of the drum and the tension rods that thread through these claws. This is to ensure the drum maintains it’s tuning across the drum head. Depending on the size of the drum, the tension rods could be under varying degrees of tension. A lower pitched drum yields lesser tension as compared to the high pitched tuning of Bass 1. In order to achieve this higher tuning, you need higher tension on the tension rods. It’s very likely that the tension rods on your top 2 bass drums can bend or even snap, depending on the amount of tension placed on these rods. If you notice any bending starting to occur, we recommend replacing that tension rod before it gets worse. This kind of stress is also placed on the claws. If you notice any bending or warping of the claw around the hoop, it’s best to replace the claw.

Cosmetic Cleaning: Tension Rods & Claws

By nature of the drum orientation, the tension rods and claws are not only more openly exposed to the elements, but can easily accumulate dirt because they run horizontal to the bass drum shell. Constant exposure to outside elements can also lead to oxidation or even rust forming across the chrome surfaces. If there is an excessive amount of dirt and grease buildup on the tension rods, we recommend cleaning them with WD40 Degreaser and re-applying a new coating of White Lithium Grease. To eliminate any oxidation forming on the tension rods or claws, we recommend using the Turtle Wax Chrome Polish to restore the chrome’s shine.

Structural Inspection: Lug Casings

Unlike the snare and tenor drums, the lug casings on a bass drum cover a lot more surface area and are oriented horizontally. But, just like the tenor drums, the lug casings are screwed into the shell of the drum. By nature of this design, it’s very likely that these screws can rattle loose over time. This could be due to the natural vibration of the drum when it is played or when it is being transported. It’s also likely that the lug casings located on the bottom of the drum can become loose over time due to how the player rests the drum down on the ground. A good way to check how secure these lug casings 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!) If you notice any significant damage to one of the lug casings, we recommend replacing it so you can avoid any future problems.

NOTE: To remove the lug casing, you will need to have both drumheads removed from the drum so there is no tension being placed on the lug casing. Then proceed to loosen the corresponding screws with a Phillips head screwdriver from inside the shell of the drum.

Cosmetic Cleaning: Lug Casings

By nature of their orientation, the lug casings can incur a lot of scratches over time depending on their location around the drum. For instance, the bottom lugs can become very scratched because they are most commonly placed on the ground. The lug casings located on the front of the drum can also become very scratched because things have run into it, or more likely, the player has run into objects while wearing the drum. If some of these lug casings are too unsightly, or severely dented, we recommend replacing them.

NOTE: To remove the lug casing, you will need to have both drumheads removed from the drum so there is no tension being placed on the lug casing. Then proceed to loosen the corresponding screws with a Phillips head screwdriver from inside the shell of the drum.

If you notice any cloudiness or rusting on the lug casings, 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.

NOTE: To remove the lug casing, you will need to have both drumheads removed from the drum so there is no tension being placed on the lug casing. Then proceed to loosen the corresponding screws with a Phillips head screwdriver from inside the shell of the drum.

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.

The Eye Bolt/Harness Attachment: Maintenance Tips

Structural Inspection:

All marching bass drums have some type of harness attachment. Depending on the manufacturer, your harness attachment could be an Eye Bolt such as the Yamaha and Pearl brands, or a more specialized setup like Tama’s design. Regardless of design specs, you’ll want to periodically check that the screws holding this apparatus to the shell are still secure. This can be done by using a crescent wrench to secure the bolt inside the shell and either a screwdriver or your hand to tighten the outer bolt.

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. Due to the bass drum’s orientation and design, there is more surface area to consider protecting in this instance. 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 good preventative measure.

Cosmetic Cleaning:

For any of the 3 finish types, we’ve found Pledge Multi-Surface to be a safe “best bet” to use. Its chemical makeup won’t leave waxy buildup or dehydrate the wood shell the way harsh alcohols might. 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. Do not use on satin finish drums as it will have an adverse effect on the look of the finish.

Final Steps:

Congratulations! You’ve made it through the list and can continue on with re-assembling the drums and putting your new head on.

And That's It!

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 and works out of our California store. His experience as a performer and educator in the marching percussion community is second to none. When 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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