How To Make Duff-Style Suede Timpani Mutes

First of all, the story is true; I did make the last set of mutes for Cloyd Duff that he used at the end of his playing career. He had showed me how to make them and I had obtained a hide of suede from Tandy Leather in Cleveland. I showed the sheet to him at a lesson and he asked me to make up a set (5 mutes) for him while I was making my own set. They were bright green in color, and I still have one of them, but the ones I use now are brown.

Second of all, please DO NOT ask me to supply mutes to anyone who reads this page. Once you obtain the proper material these are easy to make. No special tools are needed.

You will need a full hide of suede from Tandy Leather or a similar leather shop:

The suede should be approximately 3/32" (2 mm) thick, and very supple with lots of nap on both sides. You need 2.5 sq. feet for a full set of 5 mutes. But you are better off buying a full hide, because the quality of the nap varies over the hide and some is not supple enough for a quality mute.

This is the appropriate material from their online store, but I HIGHLY recommend you personally visit a store (located in most larger cities) and pick out a hide yourself:

With a heavy duty pair of scissors cut 5 pieces of suede each 8" square:

With the back end of the scissors or some other appropriate tool score the leather in thirds (every 2.6" as indicated) and fold over twice:

Place the mute under some heavy books or other similar objects overnight.

After the mute has sat overnight, fold it in half to the closed position:

Again, let the mute sit overnight. I use my anvils (made from pieces of railroad track) for this purpose but any heavy weight will do.

These will last a long time (10-15 years) of normal use. Eventually they stiffen up and the nap falls off. Once they get too noisy they need to be replaced.

How to Use the Mutes

The standard muting position is this one:

Place the mute right in the middle of the head. This is also useful for practice purposes. If the mute is noisy try flipping it over. Sometimes the mute will wander around the head too much, if that happens, then tape it on. I use electrical tape for that purpose.

An even drier sound can be obtained by unfolding the mute:

and an even drier sound with this placement:

This is a good position for the Infernal Dance in The Firebird. Note how 2 layers of suede rest on the head, one covers the counterhoop.

Muting on the side is useful for just a little more clarity:

A slight variance in position makes a large difference in sound with this position.

Changing positions, combinations of mutes, and different weights and even shapes of the leather all have an effect on the sound. I use 3 sets of 3, 2, and a single layer routinely, for example.


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