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Lambeg Skins

(c) 2004 Paul Marshall

Much of his article is my own research and is also reflected in Gary Hasting's Book 'With fife and drum', That great book has also helped fill in many many gaps in my own information. Many thanks to Gary and to the lambeggers & drum makers who have spoken with me.

So, what's all this craic about Lambeg skins, a goat's a goat innit?

I thought this once, a few years back, but a Lambeg skin is a different beast entirely. Read about the Lambeg drum.

Most natural drum skins, usually goat, undergo a fairly standard process. The flesh is removed from the inside of the raw hide and the hair is removed.

The hair can be removed naturally by shaving or can be removed chemically by the use of lime or other product. Chemical treatment is not recommended for any drum as the chemicals can strip the skin of its natural elements and affect its performance.

The Lambeg skin is different because the makers use an undisclosed recipe that not only depiles the skin but also imparts it with particular qualities. When the skin has been removed, it is then stretched out on a board. In the nice image above left, you can see where the pins pulled at the skin. The straight white line is a meter ruler to give an idea of scale.

When it is on the board it is scraped with a blade that removes all but the extreme upper layers of skin. This is called fining down and makes the skins incredibly thin. The image to the left is a closeup of a lambeg skin side-on, the graduations on the ruler are milimetres. I'd estimate this one at 0.2mm. That's thin. In the image below the FDG CDs are underneath the skin.

In the making of many drums, the skin receives further treatment. It could be a form of curing or tanning. Usually it involves the application of some home made product called a recipe. The process is called doping the skins. There are many theories as to what is in the doping recipe, Gary Hastings mentions 'alum' (whatever that is) and I have heard of several other names. I'm loth to share them here because I can't vouch for their veracity and I'd hate to be responsible for ruined goatskins.

But basically a Lambeg skin is a skin fined down to the nth degree and has received particular forms of treatment which permit it, whilst being supremely thin, to be extremely strong; there's reckoned to be a ton of pressure at the centre of a tensioned Lambeg. It is this thinness which, in the case of low-tensioned drums, provides the supreme flex that is so sought after by bodhran players. Because of its thinness I also find it super-articulate on any high tensioned finger frame drums. Read here about re-skinning a bendir using a Lambeg skin

I'm sorry that I can't share my knowledge of the bodhran makers' skin flex recipes here or privately, it's a commercial edge for them although there are recipe variations between makers. I hope this is a useful explanation in any case.