Rototoms are a drum developed by Al Payson and Michael Colgrass, that have no shell and are tuned by rotating. They consist of a single head in a die-cast zinc or aluminum frame. Unlike most other drums, they have a variable definite pitch. Composers are known to write for them as tuned instruments, demanding specific pitches. Rototoms are often used to extend the tom range of a standard drum kit. They were commercialized by the drumhead company Remo.
Rototoms can be tuned quickly by rotating the head, which sits in a threaded metal ring. Rotation raises or lowers the tension hoop relative to the rim, which increases or decreases the pitch of the drum by increasing or decreasing the tension of the drum head.
Master James Holland, former percussionist of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, highly recommends them in his book "Percussion", which is part of the Yehudi Menuhin Music Guides series. Rototoms are often used as a training substitute for timpani students, as they have a very similar sound, are not as loud and expensive as timpani, and do not require as much room space.
Drummers who used rototoms include Bill Bruford (of Yes, King Crimson and U.K.) and Terry Bozzio (of Frank Zappa's band and U.K.). Roger Taylor of Duran Duran used rototoms extensively on their self-titled debut album Duran Duran of 1981. Roger Taylor of Queen has used rototoms since the early 1970s, most recently in the cover of "Let There Be Drums" on the live album Return of the Champions. Bev Bevan of Electric Light Orchestra used rototom, most notably on the albums Discovery (1979) and Secret Messages (1983). Nick Mason of Pink Floyd used rototoms to record the distinctive introduction to "Time", from the 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon. The intro to Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman", heard on the Superfly soundtrack, makes prominent use of the drum's pitch-sliding feature. Phil Collins used rototoms early in his career. Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters includes several rototoms in his drum kit. Alex Van Halen of Van Halen used rototoms extensively on the album 1984. Sir Michael Tippett used a total of 39 rototoms extensively in his last large-scale orchestral work, The Rose Lake, based on a lake he spotted suddenly transforming from light green to translucent pink while on holiday in Senegal.