The Drum Doctor - Hand drum repair, maintenance and restoration

Frame Drum Repair

Bodhran frame drum with a fresh drum head.

At first sight, frame drums appear to be the simplest, most basic hand drums of all. But looks can be deceiving. Frame drums are probably the most diverse and widespread hand drums in all the world. They come in all shapes and sizes, and the vast variety of sounds and rhythms they produce dispute their humble appearance.

Tambourines, tars, hoop drums, bodhrans and countless other incarnations of the frame drum have established a long and profound history within every culture of the world. They tend to be light and portable, demand little or no maintenance and require a minimal investment of materials.

This means frame drums tend to be quite affordable and very economical to repair. If your riq, pandeiro, daf or bendir has blown its top . . .

Do not throw your money away!

Repair your frame drum!

The Drum Doctor specializes in frame drum head replacement, tuning and restoration. We use a variety of materials suitable for your special drum. Goat, fish, buffalo or whatever type of skin will best suit you and your frame drum's needs will be used to rehead your drum to your specifications.

So don't go out and buy a new drum. Contact The Drum Doctor Now! . . . and save your money.

We routinely rebuild frame drums from scratch. We'll recondition the drum shell, repairing any cracks and flaws and replace any materials with only the highest quality available.

Frame drum repair is what we do!

In a matter of days and at minimal cost, you can again enjoy the emotional and creative self-expression that only drumming provides, not to mention the fellowship. (Look below for examples of what you can expect from our frame drum repair experts.)

We're located in Santa Cruz, CA, easily accessible to anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose/Silicon Valley, the Salinas Valley and the Monterey Bay, but don't worry if you're not in our neck of the woods; we have years of shipping experience. Many of our clients ship their ailing frame drums to us, and we return their restored tars, tambourines, bodhrans and hoop drums by whatever means they choose.

For a no obligation, free consultation call us at +1 (831) 428-6626, send us an email or fill out a contact form.

Con mucho gusto hablamos Español!
On Duty: Dr. Tom (The Drum Doctor)

Medicine Drum Restored

Alicia is beside herself. Her beloved Native American medicine drum has begun to fall apart. The rawhide lacing has broken, and the skin is tearing. The drum no longer sings. She wonders if the drum can be restored somehow without replacing all the skin.

We took a very close look and decided that at least one of the two drumheads was too far gone to reuse - it would have to be replaced. The other drumhead had become brittle with age but was quite intact. After much deliberation, we decided to allow the second drumhead to live out its life to the fullest. It would sing until the very end.

We used elk skin for the fresh drumhead to match the old skin. The difference is that the fresh skin is not bleached so it retains its glorious color. The lacing was replaced with strong, durable and low-stretch rope.

Alicia's medicine drum is whole again. We hope the old skin has many years of singing still ahead. When it does have to be replaced, it should be a quick and easy task now that the lacing is so easy to work with.

Dr. Tom,

I received my drum in a timely fashion, thank you! The skin you used is very interesting-looking and I wonder from what sort of animal did it come? I like the way the drum both sounds and looks and appreciate all your expertise.

Alicia Thomson (New York)

Bodhran Becomes A Tar

Tom sent The Drum Doctor his frame drum because the skin had torn away from the frame. It was no longer playable. This was nothing new to us at The Drum Doctor. We've replaced countless drum skins in similar states.

What was new was that Tom kept referring to his drum as a tar, but when we received it we could clearly see that it was a bodhran. The skin was thicker than we would expect on a tar and the frame a little deeper as well. On top of this was the detail that the frame had the cross bars typical of a bodhran while lacking the thumb hole typical of a tar.

Something was amiss.

Before we proceeded with the repair, we had to make sure our client was aware of all the implications. We contacted Tom and made it clear to him that what he had was a bodhran and asked him to tell us whether he wanted us to skin a bodhran or a tar - the distinction is crucial.

Tom informed us that he intended to use the drum as a tar (struck with the hand and not a tipper). This made everything clear to us. We could now proceed with the repair.

We mounted a skin thicker than most people would on a tar, but not as thick as on a bodhran, and (here's the really crucial difference) we mounted it about as tight as it would go. Bodhrans are not pulled tight at all.

The bodhran turned out to be a fine tar, and Tom was thrilled:

I just want to tell you that you do great work. Thank you. If I know anyone who might need their drum repaired, I won't hesitate to send them to you.

Thomas P. Robertson ()

Buffalo Drum Frame Repair

Tar with a torn goat skin drum head. Tar with a torn goat skin drum head.

Marshall loves his Native American frame drum. His buffalo drum is beautiful thing to behold, but when one goes to draw out its voice, it simply shudders.

The problem is that the frame has come apart at the joint.

Tar with a torn goat skin drum head.
Tar with a torn goat skin drum head. Tar with a torn goat skin drum head.

The damage is much more obvious once the drum is disassembled.

The buffalo skin is in good shape so we let it soak while we repair the frame.

Tar with a torn goat skin drum head.
Tar with a torn goat skin drum head. Tar with a torn goat skin drum head.

The skin takes to the frame like a glove, and the rawhide lacing has been replaced with low-stretch, strong and durable rope.

Tar with a torn goat skin drum head.

The drum is truly better than new. We have converted a pretuned drum into a tunable drum.

Riqq Gets Fresh Goatskin

Sue asked us to replace the fish skin on her riqq. This lovely Arabic tambourine was beautifully crafted by Abdulhamid Alwan, and it certainly deserves all our love and attention.

The problem was that in recent years it had become harder and harder to find fish skin. You see, the fish skin used on Middle-Eastern drums comes from Nile river sturgeon, and there aren't many Nile river sturgeons in the Americas. Most of them are in northeastern Africa, where the Nile river tends to run. If anyone out there should know where to access fish skin suitable for drums, please do let us know.

Sue is a reasonable person and agreed to let us mount some nice goat skin on her precious drum.

We were able to mount the skin nice and tight, so that it has a crisp, clear voice. As you can see, we also added some nice trim, just to give it that final touch.

Dear Dr. Tom,

My riqq now sounds terrific, feels great in the hand and looks beautiful. Thank you! You've given new life to this old friend!

Would you let me know if you could help me with another fix-up?.

Sue Frank (Philadelphia, PA)

Bodhran Head Replacement

The skin on Emilies bodhran is tearing off the frame. It'll have to be replaced.

We are going to replace the skin with a fairly thick round of goat skin. And we're going to glue the skin onto the frame as well as tack it on. If the previous skin had been glued and tacked, it might still be playing strong.

The trick with skinning bodhrans is to apply the proper tension to the head. It's easy to overtighten these drums.

Just right. Since the skin is glued and tacked onto the frame, Emilie shouldn't have to worry about it coming loose.

Painted Medicine Drum Restored

Eric has a medicine drum with petroglyphs painted on the drum head he doesn't want to lose. The problem is that the skin has ripped and the only fix is to replace it.

We suggest to Eric that we can replace the skin and reproduce the petroglyphs. After all, we are pretty crafty at The Drum Doctor.

Eric agrees to this on the condition that we produce an "authentic" reproduction. He tell us this even as he gives us free reign to paint anything we want on the drum head. He must really trust us.

Damaged lacing on a Native American medicine drum.

We get to work. One thing we won't be replicating on this drum is the lacing. As you can see, the lacing is on the feeble side and has torn. Beside that, whatever system is being used does not provide well distributed tension.

Lacing on a Native American hoop drum.

That seems a little better. Because Eric wants "authentic", we used rawhide lacing rather than the rope we sometimes substitute on similar drums.

Once the skin thoroughly dries, we can apply the paint.

It's like we read Eric's mind.

Dr Tom,

Received drum today. Great job. Exactly what I wanted. So glad I hooked up with you. . .


Eric Herrington (Brighton, MI)

Another Medicine Drum Restored

Native American medicine drum with broken lacing and damaged frame.

Our client was anxious to know if her Native American medicine drum could be repaired.

The lacing had broken.

Medicine drum that's coming apart.
Close up of damaged Native American medicine drum.

And the frame had begun to come apart.

We guessed from a couple of pictures she sent us that the wood had expanded with age and changes in climate. This expansion, we suggested, caused the frame to split and the rawhide lacing to break. We reassured our client the drum could be fixed.

Once we had the drum in our hands we realized the situation was quite another. First of all, this turned out to be an octagonal drum - the frame consisted of eight pieces joined angled-end to angled-end. We could not tell this from the pictures and even our client had thought it was a single-piece hoop.

Second of all, the lacing had broken from age and natural tightening of the skin. This had caused the frame to come apart where the lacing no longer held it in place.

This was great news! It meant the frame was not damaged, only loose at the seams. The skin was intact, in fact, this was as beautiful a skin as we had ever seen. The only real damage was to the lacing.

We replaced the feeble lacing with strong 4mm low-stretch, durable rope and pulled the skin probably a little tighter than it had ever been. The new lacing could definitely handle the stress.

The drum is medicine to the eyes. But what about to the ears? It so happened that just as this lovely drum had fully recovered, Bill showed up to pick up two djembes we'd repaired for him. He took to the medicine drum without a thought.

Bill playing a Native American medicine drum.

<-- Click to see the video.

Did you notice how he used that big old mallet as a tipper? Bill played the drum quite gently and brought out some of the subtlety in the voice. The next clip shows that the drum can also roar.

Click to see the clip. -->

The voice of a medicine drum is brought out.

So the drum has a great voice and is beautiful to behold. Our client agreed.

Irish Bodhran African Skin

The drum head of Edwin's Irish frame drum had torn, rendering the bodhran unplayable.

It has become routine for us to use African goat skins on bodhrans. These skins are strong and durable and, when mounted with the proper tension, sound great. We think they're beautiful.

These skins have stubble, short remnants of hair, and we leave it on. Most people seem to like it, and it can be removed in a minute with sandpaper. Edwin liked it.


Drum just arrived. Looks great. Nice work.

Ed Tobin (NY)

Native American Frame Drum Repaired

Native American frame drum with a ripped skin.

Chris cherishes this hoop drum, which was made by her mother and passed on to her.

As you can see, part of the drum head has torn completely off.

Close look at the piece of skin that has torn from the drum head.
Torn skin on the frame of a hoop drum.

The skin has become quite brittle and is tearing in other places as well.

We advise Chris that the skin is old and brittle and should be replaced. It has reached the inevitable conclusion that all skins eventually come to. But Chris won't hear it. She pleads with us to find some way to restore it.

So we get to work. And guess what?

Patched up hoop drum.
Native American frame drum, repaired and ready to play.

The hoop drum is repaired and actually sounds great!

Erin's Bodhran Fixed

Erin has an Irish bodhran that's ready for a new skin.

The drum may not be the most expensive model around, but it's authentic and holds great sentimental value for Erin. We intend to do the drum justice.

Of late, we have been mounting African goat skins on bodhrans with great success. These skins are thick and durable and really quite suitable. Because they are not highly processed, their appearance is strikingly different from most skins found on bodhrans.

This is a pretuned drum, so mounting the skin with just the right tension will be critical.

A nice trim of bright, cheerful green adds the finishing touch.

Hi Dr Tom,

. . . I just received the drum - it's just amazing - what a great sound!!

Thanks again!

Erin (Camarillo, CA)

Tar Repair

The skin on Brian's tar has been punctured and needs to be replaced. Click on the thumbnails and you'll see the damage on the left side.

This is a fairly simple and straightforward repair - except for one thing. Brian has decided that he wants to have a fairly thick African goat skin mounted on this frame drum. The kind of skin that would typically be mounted on a djembe. Tars generally are skinned with thinner, more processed skins.

We are here to please, so go right ahead and replace the damaged skin with the African goat skin.

The tar came out just fine. The tone is deeper than most frame drums of this size, but it looks and sounds great!

Kanjira Repair

The kanjira is a little-known South Indian frame drum of the tambourine family. It's simple and even humble appearance belies it's boundless potential. More on the kanjira here.

The drum is played by manipulating the tension on the the skin with the fingers in order to raise and lower the tone. One day, Rick's finger pressed right through the skin.

Notice that the skin we'll be replacing is goat, not Monitor Lizard as was once the custom. These critters have become endangered in South Asia and are now protected. Goat works fine and there's plenty of those critters around, but before we mount a nice goat skin, we'll have to remove the old one.

Removing the old skin from a drum is often the most difficult part of the job. The old skin must be completely removed, as well as all traces of the adhesive, in order to provide a good, clean surface for the new skin to adhere to.

The wooden frame of a kanjira ftame drum with crack. Once we've managed to get the shell thoroughtly clean and ready for the fresh skin we notice a flaw.

We'll have to reinforce this flaw before mounting the new skin. We wouldn't want this frame to fail as we stretch the new skin into place, or even worse, as Rick is playing his restored drum!

Now that the shell is drum worthy, we can apply the fresh goat skin.

These drums are tuned by wetting the skin to lower the tone and make the skin more pliable. We mounted the skin very relaxed. Hopefully, this kanjira won't require much tuning and the lower tension might prolong the drumhead's lifespan.

Rick is happy with his drum.

excellent work...thanks Tom

Rick L. (Tampa, FL)

Native American Hoop Drum Patched Up

Kathy uses her Native American hoop drum to sooth her soul as well as for therapy for some of her clients.

Native American hoop drum who's lacing has torn through the skin. Closer look at a hoop drum with a damage drum head skin.

When the rawhide lacing tore through one of the drumhead's eyelets, the skin became loose and the drum lost its voice, so she came to The Drum Doctor to see what could be done.

Native American hoop drum who's torn skin has been patched up. Closer look at a hoop drum that was torn and patched up.

The obvious solution is to replace the skin, but sometimes we can prolong the drum head's life with a patch.

This saves the client time and money.

Native American hoop drum that has been repaired and is ready to play.

And it works!

African Skin For Irish Drum

JJ has a pretuned bodhran with a traditiona goat skin drum head. The skin has torn, so JJ asked us to replace it.

This was a nice skin of a uniform thickness with no visible flaws. The skin simply aged and eventually failed, as all drum heads eventually will. JJ has agreed to let us mount an African goat skin, rather than a skin treated in a similar fashion as the old one.

We mounted an equally flawless goat skin of uniform thickness. The difference is that this skin has not been treated in any way and even has a bit of stubble still on the playing surface. As you can see, the skin retains its gorgeous color and markings. It is stunningly beautiful and has a voice to match. The green trim covers the staples and adds a dash of Irish color.

Hey Tom -

Sorry so long in getting back, but I wanted to take this extra moment to thank you for your fine work. The hide is beautiful and the sound has personality. Love the ribbon.

JJ Steele (Wetmore, CO)

Tar Re-skinning

Tar with a torn goat skin drum head.

Ken has a beautiful tunable frame drum that's suffered a terrible accident. The goat skin of this lovely tar has been torn. The treatment is fairly straight forward. We replace the skin.

The goatskin we choose to mount on this frame drum is a little thicker than the original drumhead. This gives the drum a deep tone and should result in a stronger more durable drum head. Since we pull the skin nice and tight, it still gives the sharp higher tones.

Tar with a fresh goat skin drum head. Tar sporting a new goatskin drumhead.

Ken's tar is better than ever!

Tunable Bodhran Reskinned

A calf skin bodhran head.

Norman has a top-shelf bodhran that has developed a problem.

This is an Albert Alfonso tunable bodhran with a calf skin drum head, and it's difficult to discern from that view what the problem is. Let's take a look from other angles.

As the angle increases an undualtion in the skin becomes more obvious. As mentioned, this is a tunable drum but merely tightening the skin won't level the drum head. The skin has warped and must be replaced.

Norman was never really satisfied with this drum's voice, so it's almost fortuitous that the skin took a turn for the worse. We're going to replace this calf skin with some Irish made vellum and mount it with just the right tension. The fact that this is a tunable drum provides a safe margin for error, but we're not going to count on that.

The new skin not only looks much different, it also sounds much the better.

Thank you for the excellent work you did replacing my bodhran head. The goatskin sounds fantastic - it even got praise from string and woodwind players who seldom comment on the percussion in our Irish session.

Thanks again -

Norman Moore (Rutherfordton, NC)

Native American Medicine Drum Repaired

Native American frame drum with many tears.

Dwayne sent this Native American frame drum to The Drum Doctor with the explanation that he'd tried mending numerous tears with a concoction of glue and sawdust.

Click on these thumbnails for a good look at some of the damage. You'll see that the patches did little to prevent the tearing from only getting worse.

Normally, we advise clients that such damage can only be repaired by a major operation - head replacement. But the thought of loosing the skin and the artwork on the drum head was too painful for Dwayne. He pleaded with us to find a way to save his beloved drum.

Patched up Native American hoop drum.

Here you see that we applied a patch of skin to a major tear and attached it to the lacing. This helps to hold the skin together and prevent the tear from spreading. At the same time, the patch takes on some of the stress applied by the pull of the lacing.

Native American medicine drum with several patches.

Each major tear received such treatment. Much to Dwayne's relief, the drum has a new lease on life.

Great! you may say, but how does the drum sound? Click on the thumbnail to hear it.

Bodhran Repair

Bodhran drum with a split skin. Bodhran drum with a split drum head.

Today we're going to re-head a bodhran, a popular Irish frame drum.

Now, you might argue that the bodhran isn't technically a hand drum, since it's played largely with a tipper and not strictly with the hand. There may be some truth in this, but remember that The Drum Doctor also repairs other ethnic instrument, such as koras and balafons, so we can certainly handle a bodhran.

Besides, there's a special place in Dr. Tom's heart for the Irish; so, even more than usual, this is a labor of love.

Bird's eye view of a bodhran drum frame. Profile of a bodhran drum frame.

We remove the split goat skin and notice that it had not been glued to the frame, only tacked. Had the drum head been glued AND tacked, it might still be attached to the drum and playable. The new drum head will certainly be attached with glue, as well as tacks.

Tuning mechanism of a bodhran. Tuning ring of a bodhran.

This is a tunable drum, and we get a good look here at the tuning mechanism. It consists of a wooden inner ring that's raised and lowered by bolts attached to the inside of the frame. The ring presses against the drum head, and as it's raised and lowered it alters the tension of the head.

Splintering on inner frame of bodhran. Puncture on the inside of bodhran frame.

If you look closely at the closeup of the tuning bolt, you'll notice some damage to the frame above the bolt. This damage was caused by the tacks that held the goatskin drum head in place. They were just too long. Here's a better look. The tacks didn't only damage the frame. Notice that they pierce the frame precisely where the tuning ring is located. This means they interfered with the tuning mechanism.

Profile of bodhran drum with the drum head glued on. Bodhran drum with the goatskin glued on.

We attach the fresh goatskin with glue only for now. This is the most critical part of the process. Even though this is a tunable drum, the skin must go on with just the right tension. Too tight and it will never have that warm, low tone that Irish bodhrans are known for. Too loose, and tuning it might be too much of a challenge in damp environments.

Profile of bodhran, glued, tacked and trimmed. Profile of bodhran, glued, tacked and trimmed.

Once the skin is thoroughly dry, we tack down the skin all the way around, making sure the length of the tacks is less than the thickness of the drum frame. As a finishing touch, we add an attractive trim to the drum - et voila!

True to The Drum Doctor's motto - this drum is better than new.

Native American Hoop Drum Restoration

Today we're going to re-skin a Native American hoop drum and put together a beater for it.

Notice how this drum is made. The skin is attached to the frame with rawhide lacing, which also serves to stretch the skin taut. The playing surface, lacing and frame of the drum are all intact, but the skin has torn in several places where the lacing pulls on the head.

Tears on the hoop drum skin. Tears on the hoop drum skin.

In the middle of the first picture to the right, you can see that the original hole for the lacing gave out when the head was being mounted and another hole had to be punched to replace it. The skin around the next hole has also begun to give. This system for mounting heads applies too much isolated tension to the skin and results in tears such as these.

A close look at the thickness of a hoop drum skin. A close-up of the lacing on a hoop drum.

One way to resolve this is to punch twice as many holes on the perimeter of the skin and weave a track of lacing through them. We then mount the head to the frame by lacing to this outer track, rather than directly to the skin. In this way, the stress onthe skin is evenly distributed around the entire perimeter, rather than focused on isolated points.

Of course, in this particular instance, it helps that the skin we've mounted is a real beauty: thick and strong, as you can see from the close-up above (Though not as thick as it appears: the skin is still swollen with water here. It took a full week before the skin thoroughly dried and I knew I had applied the correct amount of tension. Pheeew! What a relief it was to feel this drum to the marrow when I finally played it!).

Folds on the skin of a hoop drum. The face of a hoop drum.

We've also managed to center the skin nicely on the frame, and eliminated the ugly folds. Compare the before and after pictures to the right.

Folds on the skin of a hoop drum.

We found a sturdy stick that forked at the end. The forked end is inserted in the sack along with a mixture of sand and small pebbles. The sound of the drum will depend on the ratio of sand to pebbles: more pebbles will result in a sharper sound.

Folds on the skin of a hoop drum. The face of a hoop drum.

The Drum Doctor strikes again!

Tambourine Rehead

Judy brought this tambourine frame to The Drum Doctor and asked a sensible question - Is it worth the time, effort and expense to mount a skin on it?

There are tambourines that can be bought brand new for under $20, so why go through the time, effort and expense to repair a broken one?

Besides the wasteful practice of simply discarding perfectly reusable drum parts, this particular frame happens to consist of good, solid wood and the zills are also of fine material - a solid metal that produces clear and resonant sounds. Yes, this humble looking frame is worthy of some of the Drum Doctor's TLC.

We offered Judy her choice of skins and she chose a dyed goat skin for her drum. Here's what became of that humble frame.

This little drum has a great sound!

Hoop Drum Tuned & Made Tunable

Neka bought a couple of Native American hoop drums because she loved the look and sound of them. The problem is that once she got them home the skins completely sagged, and they became unplayable. You see, she bought them in a hot, arid climate but lives in a more humid climate.

Native American hoop drum with a loose skin.

Can you see the skin sag?

Native American frame drum with flabby drum head. Hoop drum with loose drum head.

Here's a look at the flabby skin from different angles. The sagging should be more obvious here.

Rawhide lacing of a Native American hoop drum.

The next thing we notice is the lacing on these drums. It's really quite sparse and flimsy. We couldn't rely on the strength of this lacing to pull the skin tighter. It would almost certainly break.

Even if the lacing was more substantial, it couldn't be used to pull the drum head tighter because rawhide lacing becomes stiff and unworkable once it dries.

What to do? Perform an emergency lacing transplant!

We carefully remove the old rawhide lacing, making sure to not damage the drum head, and replace it with strong, durable and low stretch rope. We mount the rope in such a way that the tension on the drum head can be adjusted at will.

Native American hoop drum with tightened skin.

Now we can gradually increase the tension until the sag in the drum head is gone and the drum sings again. Compare this "after" picture to the "before" picture above. Remember to click on the thumbnails for a good look.

Native American frame drum that's had it drum head tightened.

Neka's Native American hoop drum is better than new.

And the results were equally successful with her other drum as well.

Hoop drum that's just been tuned.

Drum Head Replacement For A Tar

Bob's dear friend lives in a hot, dry climate at a high elevation. He asked The Drum Doctor to re-skin this tar so as to ensure the drum endures the environment yet sings as sweet as ever.

Notice that this tar is not tunable, so the trick will be to mount the skin tight enough to make it sing and not become flaccid at the first sign of humidity, yet not so tight that it snaps from the hot, arid conditions.

How does one know the tension to apply in such circumstances? In a word - experience.

Aside from tensioning the skin just so, a little common sense comes into play. We reheaded the tar with a fresh goat skin thicker than the previous one. This should translate to greater strength and durability.

Hoop Drum Repair

Native American hoop drum with a flabby drum head.

Alain brought us this hoop drum with a very flabby skin. Click on the image and you'll get a better look at how the skin is so loose it undulates.

Native American hoop drum with a broken frame.

The reason the skin is so loose is that the frame has come apart at the joint. Click again to get a better look. The damage is on the left.

Drum frame that's come apart. .

And an even better look.

Alain had tried for years to get this Native American frame drum repaired but had been told repeatedly that it couldn't be done.

We disagreed. This drum has a flawless elk skin drum head that was meant to sing.

Hoop drum frame that's been reattached.

We disassembled the drum, making sure to leave the drum head intact, and reattached the frame.

The back of a repaired hoop drum.

We were not able to reuse the straps, but Alain just wanted the drum to sing again, so we used some strong, durable, low-stretch rope to pull the original elk skin into place.

As an added bonus, this drum is now tunable!

The back of a repaired hoop drum.

This frame drum can make your heart come to a stop - or soar to the heavens!