Replacing broken heads on a Shime

A project by:

Gabriel B. Soares, Ananya Mishra


Spring Break 2011

Build Time:

One Weekend

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New Heads on a Shime Daiko

Whereas most college students try to go to warm-weathered destinations during their Spring Breaks to relax, party, and get some color on their skins, Ananya and I had other plans on our 2011 spring break...

Since we were both from Houston, and were both in Yamatai, our spring break consisted of meeting up and trying to build things for the group. This page describes the process we took to make new heads for our Shime drums which had recently ripped.

The techniques described here are what we found by reading online forums, articles, and talking to professional taiko players who told us what we needed to do. The first head took us the entire day to do, whereas the second only took about half the amount of time.

Head Preparation:

The heads are made out of rawhide, which, living in Texas, was not very difficult to obtain. The first step in the preparation is to soak the hide at least overnight so that it becomes malleable and easy to work with. We purchased a fairly large piece of hide which meant we needed to use a large trash filled with water to soak the hide. I would highly recommend doing everything outside because the smell of the hide is not particularly pleasant.

After soaking the hide overnight, we stretched it on the ground and cut a circular section larger than the rings. We made sure to try and pick a section of the hide of fairly uniform thickness (the thickness of the hide varies depending on whether you cut near the neck area vs. the tail).

We then laid our circular piece over a template that we made in order to transfer the location of the evenly spaced holes (I believe we used 29 holes in this pattern). When soaked, the hide becomes semi-transparent which makes it easy to transfer the location of the holes.

With a leather punch, a mallet, and a plywood base we punched the holes near the edge through which we would thread the nylon string.

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Stretching the Hide on the Ring:

For this step you need a lot of patience and it helps to work with multiple people switching off once in a while to rest your hands (or wear gloves). Essentially you are going to start at your first hole (where you tied one of the ends of the string) and follow the string removing any slack. It will take probably 3 or 4 passes just to get the hide snug to the ring. At this point you will need to start applying a lot of force and remove all the tension possible from the string (the other person should be in charge of making sure the rope doesn't slip).

Each time you get to the last hole, make sure you clamp the string so that you don't lose any tension. Once your hands really start hurting, that means you are halfway there.

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Sewing the Head:

Sewing the hide is fairly tricky if you have never done it before and definitely takes some time to get into a rhythm. I would suggest looking at youtube videos showing how to sew using an awl and practicing on scrap pieces of hide. The technique is not difficult, but from time to time you will hit a thick part of hide, or your needle will clog up with wax, or you will stab your finger with the needle, all of which will slow you down. You also can't take too long because as the hide dries it will become more and more difficult to pierce the hide.

For this project we used waxed sinew thread, but I have also seen people use a synthetic material. Andy and I split the work between punching the needle through the hide and threading the sinew on the other side. We soon got into a rhythm which allowed us to go much faster. We sewed two lines on the head: one closer to the ring following the outline for the cuts we would need to make for the bolts, and one closer to the playing surface.

Once were were done sewing the head we could remove the nylon string which was tensioning the hide, and carefully cut the holes for the bolts of the Shime drum.

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Making the Second Head:

For the second head we repeated the exact same steps as we did for the first one. We stretched the hide over the ring, stitched the outer edge, stitched the inner edge, removed the nylon strings, trimmed the excess rawhide on the bottom side, and punched the holes for the bolts to go through. This time, however, we were able to work much faster and more efficiently. We were able to complete this head in about half the time it took us to do the first one.

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This shime drum is a special type of shime. We called these 'bolt shime' because unlike the more traditional types which use ropes to tighten the head onto the body of the drum, these use bolts that tighten onto a center steel ring. Tension to the head is provided by tightening the nuts on the center ring. With these drums it is also a lot easier to obtain some high pitches and really control the tuning of the head.

In the images below we did not add any tension to the heads because they still needed to dry and because we were going to have to disassemble the whole thing again to take on the plane with us back to Ithaca.

Overall these new heads were fairly straightforward to make (although some steps took some time to complete) and we were able to use the drum in performances and practices again. These new heads have lasted approximately 4 years and last time I saw them they were starting to develop cracks and tears just like the original heads. Might be time to make new ones...

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