the early 1900's there have been tension rods with different
head sizes and lengths. Early banjo makers used similar tension
rods and keys for tuning banjos.
Exactly which came first, a banjo key or a drum key would
require more research and not part of this article. I did
look through many of the online patents in Google patents
for drums and banjos to see if there was a drum key pictured
and I found nothing. I did however notice that a key was mentioned
as the way to turn the tension rods on a variety of patents.
below patent from 1899 shows a tuning system that requires
a wrench to tighten the center nut that changes the tension
on both the top and bottom head equally.
Drum Tuning Wrench
were other tuning systems that were attempted that were not
accepted by drummers. The Leedy Knob Tension Drums is one
of those systems which was a big marketing deal for Leedy
as a new way to tune drums without a drum key. It just did
not work and poor sales forced the new system out of the catalogs
and any future production.
Knob Tension Drums
tuning method for drums which really dates back to the 1800's
and more recently popularized by Remo in the 70's is the spinning
of a drum to tune it. This method was used on early timpani.
There is no patent for the Roto Tom, but here is some history
on one of our other Drum Experts sites.
product of the 70's was the Arbiter Autotune. This drum had
a special wrench to tune the heads. There were no tension
rods or lugs needed. The principle mentioned in the advertisement
is the heads would be screwed for tension like a jar with
Autotune Tuning System
another system that looks very much like the Arbiter drums.
the 1980's Remo came up with the PTS - "Pre Tuned System"
of drum heads. The PTS system was a metal drum hoop with a
pre-tensioned drum head. To replace a drum head, the drummer
had to just unclip the hoop and put a new PTS head on. There
was no tuning required!
are some current tuning methods that do not require a drum
key to tune a drum. The Di Berardino Drums use a single cable
that tightens the entore head at one time.
DTS one touch system works with any drum with standard lugs.
The system puts pressure between the lugs and the hoop, so
all you do is tighten one screw and the entire head tension
that we have information about some of the unique tuning systems
available, yes there are more not mentioned, I want to move
on to the most common way of tuning a drum. And that is the
good old drum key!
I was doing research on the topic, I began to realize that
there are no patents that I can find for a drum key as we
know it today. Besides the Gladstone Key, Ludwig Sta-Set and
new keys, I could not find any photo evidence, just a mention
of a drum key or tuning key in patents. This will remain a
mystery to me and something that will eventually be discovered
or emailed to me from a reader of this article. So, who invented
the first drum key? I'm still under the belief that it was
either taken from another instrument and used on a drum where
it gradually worked its way into the drum community and drum
will start with two standard drum keys which we sell in our
store. This is the shape we recognize as a drum key. This
design has changed since the early 1900's but the general
principle has stayed the same. A wing nut style top section
with a built in socket on the other end.
have been some improvements to the functionality of the standard
drum key. Here are two keys that take the standard drum key
to a new level. The Spin Drum Key and the Drill Bit Drum Key.
of these keys make the removal of a drum head quicker. Most
of the advancement in early "Technology" were all
under the premise of a quicker and easier way to take off
a drum head and tune a drum without using a drum key.
would say in the last 10 years, more unique advancements in
the design and functionality of the drum key have come to
the market. There are keys with lights, magnetic drum keys,
flip drum keys, clip drum keys, high tension drum keys and
torque drum keys.
are some of the ones we have sold in our TDE
store and are popular with drummers today.
is the Evans Drum Key with LED Light. There are times when
you have to change a head in the dark or poor lighting conditions
on stage, in a pit or club setting. So the LED would come
in handy. The other key is a key that folds up straight and
is more compact. Each of these keys has a detachable chain
and hook so they are easy to take off a key ring or a belt
loop, I can't tell you how many times I used a standard key
on a set of house keys and they just spin and hit the drum
or jingle when tuning a drum in a hurry.
two keys handle special functions. The Evans Magnetic Drum
Key is a strong magnet, so when you are taking a lug off the
drum, you do not need to hold it or grab it to take it off
the hoop. Just lift the key and the tension rod and washer
go with it. The other key is the Evans Wing Nut Key. These
are meant to replace the wing nuts on your cymbal stands so
you always have a drum key handy as long as you have your
are two keys that make the drum key a handy device not to
be left in a pocket or clipped to a stick bag. The Tweek key
clips on to any 1" tube from a cymbal stand, hi hat or
snare stand and the Ahead Klip-It key clips to a drum lug
and is designed not touch the shell or allow any metal to
rub or hit together.
two keys have special gearing inside the key. The Firefly
Key lets you tighten the key without winding your wrist or
having to turn the key, then lift your hand and turn the key.
It has a built in ratchet, very similar to a ratchet for a
socket set that lets you tighten, then pull the ratchet back
without any tension or sound. The Robo Key has an advanced
system that multiplies the turning of the key with special
two keys both work like a mechanics torque wrench. When a
bolt on a motor needs to be tightened to a specific torque
you set the wrench and then when it reaches the desired tension
it clicks. These two keys work on that exact principle and
once you set the key to the tension you like, you just turn
it until it clicks on each lug.
for marching and pipe drums require an excessive amount of
high tension. These two keys provide the extra power to tighten
them. We have 3 or 4 other high tension style keys in our
though there have been some very unique tuning systems since
the time of early drumming the main tuning system has been
the drum key. The main reason is the ability to use different
hoops, the cost of making them and the history of the drum.
The other unique systems are dependent on the drum and also
more expensive to manufacture.
the end, learning how to tune a drum using a drum key takes
practice and patience, but once you get your system down,
it becomes second nature to many drummers.