Models, sizes and colours

Colours:

According to the catalogues I have there were only three colours available: Black Rock, Capricorn Gold and Pure White Rock. I have since heard of other colours. I've had an email from an Autotune owner who tells me he once tried a Lime Green kit at a drum show. I don't know if this ever entered production. I've also seen both 'Blue' and 'Dark Maroon' given as colours by shops selling kits on the net. It is possible they have been re-sprayed these colours. I emailed for more details but one shop didn't answer and the other was not very forthcoming with information at all, but claimed the maroon kit wasn't painted. I'll keep an open mind and I hope to discover more about this in the future.

Sizes And Types:

The drums came in two types, single headed and double headed, which included the bass drums. Sizes were 8", 10", 12", 13", 14", 15", 16"FT, 18"FT single headed Toms, 22" Single headed bass drum. 12", 13", 16"FT, 18"FT double headed Toms 22" Double headed bass drum. 14 X 5.5" and 14 X 6.5" Snare drums.

These are the sizes I know existed for sure, if anyone knows of any others, please let me know.

The first kits to be sold were five piece double headed 12", 13", 16"FT and 22" bass drum, 14 X 5.5" snare with all Rogers hardware. The earliest brochure calls this a '100' kit. In a later brochure they were given the name 'Autotune Originators'. The range was soon expanded and all single headed kits were available. A later brochure I have lists alongside the Originator the 5 piece 'Concert Big-Sound', the 9 piece 'Concert Showman' and the 11 piece 'Jon Hiseman Concert' Kit.

Early Kits Versus Later Kits:

The very first kits had metal rollers for the rims. Later ones had nylon blocks instead. The Rogers hardware was replaced with custom built 'Autotune' brackets, including Tom legs and Bass drum spurs. The quality of the fibreglass seems different as well. The earliest drums were made with a very heavy mesh of fibreglass and the interior is unpainted and a mucky beige colour (at least on my white kit). A later drum I have seems to have used finer mesh and is painted, or coated, white internally. The shape of the moulding of the bearing edges is different as well. I can't see why this should be, but it suggests maybe someone else was manufacturing them or they had changed the process in some way? Another change was that the ends of the fine tuning screws were 'punched' or folded over at one edge to stop them falling out. This was a good idea, but for some bizarre reason the size of the square head was increased so that a standard drum key wouldn't fit anymore! I believe this was a cost cutting measure, the larger size is a 'standard' off the shelve metal bolt size and so cheaper...

Here is a small curiosity I only just discovered whilst writing this page. The Arbiter badge on the very earliest models, as shown in the adverts, is mounted on the opposite side to the tuning mechanism. This means the audience sees the badge when the Toms are mounted with the tuning lugs facing the drummer. On my 12 and 13" Toms, which are early production but obviously not as early as the ones in the pictures, the badge and tuning mechanism are on the same side. This is perhaps because it was decided it was easier to lean over the Toms and tune them from the front, rather than have a cluster of four tuners all knocking into each other just above your snare drum.

The Wooden Kits:

I don't know too much about these. Towards the very end of the Autotune production some drums were made out of wood. I have two of these, concert Toms 8 and 10 inch. All I know is what I can infer from these drums, that is: the quality control is not very special. I assume, therefore, that the object of the exercise may have been to reduce production costs. The original fibreglass double headed kit was intended as professional equipment and had a price tag to match. I suspect the original fibreglass kit wasn't selling very well and so maybe Arbiter decided to try and reduce the costs to bring the design into the 'budget' bracket? (pure speculation on my part...)

I have never seen a complete wooden kit, but the Tom-Toms I have look pretty much the same as the fibreglass Toms, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart at a distance.

Any more information would be very welcome!

Hardware and Fittings:

From the catalogues I have seen the kits were sent out with double braced stands which were probably considered quite heavy duty at the time. The fittings on the drums themselves were the well respected Roger's swiv-o-matic Tom holder, matching Tom-Tom legs and bass drum spurs. These were 'English Rogers', manufactured to the American designs in Southend, England. The earliest production kits seemed to have Rogers brackets on the Hanging Toms, too, but these were quickly changed to a custom made 'Autotune' tom bracket, made of bent and welded steel plate. On the very latest kits the Tom legs, bass drum spurs and Tom holder were replaced with Autotune components instead.

In the table, below, the rather tasty cast Rogers fittings are on the top row, the much less desirable Autotune replacements are on the bottom row. The more Rogers hardware you have, and the less Autotune, the earlier and more desirable the kit.

The swiv-o-matic holder is a classic and collectable in its own right.
The Rogers bass drum spur extends and locks in place using the big wingnut. It is a nice solid casting and much more attractive than the Autotune equivalent, but it has a habit of tightening itself up so you can't unlock it after gigs!

The sharp pointed spur always sticks out an inch or so..You'd be amazed how many injuries and damage that has caused!

A little bit of a fiddle to have to use the drum key to set, but the chunky Rogers castings are collectable and have lasted really well.
The Autotune Tom Holder is a nasty piece of hardware. There are two bent hex rods held into a one inch tube by two bolts. Any adjustment is very minimal.
The Autotune bass drum spur has an angled hex rod held with a single bolt operated by the tuning ratchet. At least the legs can be removed for transit, or the legs fixed facing inside the drum.
The Autotune leg is functional and has the convenience of using a single bolt operated by the tuning ratchet.

The swiv-o-matic holder was one of the first of its kind. Although most manufacturers now make something similar (usually much bigger and with a non-slip plastic or nylon ball) the swiv-o-matic was one of the best around at the time and found itself fitted to a lot of other kits. Whilst it was a great holder in its day, it maybe met its match with the Autotune! The Toms are so very heavy that the swiv-o-matic tends to slip unless very tight. When this happens mid gig the screws are likely to be cranked up very tight (in temper!) until one day...the bolt shears off! I wonder how many 30 year old Autotune kits still have working swiv-o-matic holders? Still, it is a much better holder to have than the sorry pair of bent hex rods provided on the later kits.

I have seen a photograph of Jon Hiseman's kit with Colloseum II and the hardware seems to be very heavy duty stuff, with very thick chrome tubes supporting the Toms. I don't know if this was ever available as an option for the general public - I assume it was maybe a custom assembled kit?

The 'English' Rogers fittings are very good quality castings with good quality chrome plating. They have mostly lasted very well. The Autotune fittings were made from welded up steel sheet with not so good plating and tend to be a bit rust pitted these days. The same goes for the rims and tuning mechanism - although to be fair not many 1970s kits have gleaming chromework .

Back to top