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History of the Remo Roto Tom

Colgrass Drum > Tim-Tom > Timp-Tom > Roto Tom

Excerpts from a personal interview with Al Payson, retired percussionist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Michael Colgrass is credited with the introduction of melodic drums in music and because of his desire to expand the possibilities of tunable drums the need for the Roto Tom was developed. Initially the tunable drum was known as the "Colgrass Drum" The initial drum was based off of a toy drum by Waulberg & Auge that they were experimenting with. The original drums were given to a Paul Price in 1951 by Clarence Waulberg Nephew of the company founder Bernard Waulberg. (1)

Preparing for the 1965 premiere of Rhapsodic Fantasy, Michael Colgrass, faced with the task of making fifteen drums for his piece, turned to his former University of Illinois
classmate, Albert Payson, for help in producing the drums. (1) Payson and Colgrass were former college classmates so it was a natural collaboration for the two to work on a project together. His idea was based on the principles of the Ludwig tunable bongos and the Remo practice pad, Payson made a prototype and sent it to Michael.

Here is the 1961-62 catalog photo of the Ludwig "Expando" tunable bongo. Notice the internal wing nut. Just twist it and the bongo changes pitch.

The Remo Practice Pad and the internal wheel from the Expando Bongo used for the first Payson Proto-Type

Payson named these original drums Timp-Toms. It was later that Remo Inc. decided to improve upon the design and introduced the Roto Tom to the market as we know it today.

Second Generation Chrome Roto Tom - First Generation Quick Release

A little more discussion on the original Timp-Tom is in order. Talking with Al, you get a sense of his humbleness about his life and his invention. The Timp-Toms changed the course of drumming by adding a new set of easily tunable drums which later crossed over from the symphonic world to rock and other aspects of drumming. That is a major accomplishment when talking about drums!
Payson mentioned the bongo was not the first spider type tuning system. This 1923 patent shows a rotating kettle drum. The drum is fixed on a big screw and the entire drum is turned to tune it.

The original drum based off the Ludwig Bongos (photo above) has what Al referred to as the "Spider" and the integral component. The concept of rotating a drum was not new and there was an early timpani that could be tuned by turning the head with the same principle. Later in life Al was talking to William F Ludwig II and jokingly they were talking about the spider. As it turns out Ludwig had a hard time keeping them in stock because as soon as other percussionists heard of the Timp-Tom the only way to get them was to make them!

- David Anfuso for

The earliest recordings using the Timp-Toms

Pieces - Michael Colgrass Variations for Four Drums and Viola

Pulitzer prize winning composition Deja Vu for four percussion soloists and orchestra

Books for Roto Tom Drum Solos

RotoTom Solos for the Melodic Drummer
- William J. Schinstine - 1980
RotoTom Solos - Harry Marvin, Jr. - 1982

First use in a motion picture

"In Cold Blood," the composer
scoring glisses to produce an eerie effect.

1. Source for some of the information and Payson drawing: James Donald Broadhurst

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