BY PHIL HOOD
Though it is only made in the core of dying stars, titanium is found in every living thing and naturally occurs in rocks, soils, and water on earth. In addition to its strength, beauty and resilience, titanium also produces a beautiful resonance and has many desirable sound qualities that make it suitable for drums.
From the heart of supernovas, which pump out lots of titanium-44 isotope, comes an element that, on Earth, bonds easily with other metals. Perhaps because it isn’t found in its pure form, it wasn’t extracted on a commercial scale until the 1930s. The process of extraction is costly compared to iron, so despite being the ninth most common element on the Earth’s surface, titanium remains expensive and, therefore, exotic and rare.
It looks great and has characteristics that make it valuable in everything from power plants to jewelry. It’s resistant to corrosion by almost any acid, alkali, or chemicals. At regular temperatures it creates a passive oxide on the surface that keeps it from degrading. It’s stronger than most types of steel, but 45 percent lighter. It’s not poisonous and won’t get rejected by the human body, making it very useful in surgery. It barely conducts any electricity and is stable at very high and very low temperatures.
Titanium Snare Drums
As mentioned, titanium is rare in musical instruments. A German company makes a titanium ligature, the part of the mouthpiece that holds the reed on clarinets and saxophones. Gittler makes a guitar of aircraft-grade titanium which is designed with individual outputs for each string, great for MIDI. And Giddings make horn mouthpieces from surgical steel and titanium.
But the metal reaches its most exalted position in snare drums. The original titanium snare was made by Ronn Dunnett in 1989 and was an immediate hit. It won numerous awards and in 2016 Dunnett received a special Development Award from the Titanium Association for his innovations. Since then titanium snares have been made by Trick, Black Swamp, Tama, and others. In general players use terms like sensitive, loud, dry, and crispy when describing them. Though the sound is often compared to aluminum, titanium tubs can vary widely in sound, depending on construction.
Titanium Slugs It Out
Titanium’s high-strength, low-weight profile, and flexibility under duress, makes it ideal for bass drum beaters. The pioneer here was Eric Behrenfeld of Slug Percussion. In the mid ’90s he started working on the PowerHead line of beaters. The original model featured a tapered titanium shaft, which was in 1998. “I started with the Powerhead in titanium because I wanted something strong and light,” Eric says. “The titanium made that possible. Then later I added steel when some players wanted a heavier beater.”
That tapered titanium shaft put more weight toward the top of the shaft, delivering power with limited flex. In another innovation the double-headed beaters rotate without taking the head off the shaft, to offer two different playing styles and feels. One side is a hammer shape that produces great thud; the other is shaped more like a piano key, for definition.
What about titanium cymbals you ask? Sorry. There is at most an infinitesimal amount of titanium in titanium cymbals.
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