A thread for drum tuning/drum heads/drum recording tips

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Seems worth a thread, as this topic should be of concern not only to drummers but to anyone involved in making a record (I'm working on one now so I've been putting a lot of time into this topic).

Get the head combination and tuning right and you have drum tracks that sing, elevate the song, not to mention you have many more options with processing them. Get it wrong and you're forced to bury the ugliness in the mix.

Toms always seem like the hardest thing to me - getting a deep resonant sound and getting rid of those nasty overtones. I've been finding that toms tend to sound better on the lower end of their pitch ranges (unless you really want that tight, choked sound). I've been using Evans G2 coated heads b/c I prefer a bit warmer, jazzier sound with not as defined an attack.

I've also for the first time been tuning the toms to the key the song is in, which seems to make a big difference (though it's not always possible if you have a song that modulates). Root and fifth are usually good bets, but sometimes I like having the rack tom a wholestep below or above the root, depending on how the chord progression goes.

On the snare I've learned that heads with built in muffling don't sound as good on tape. I prefer a nice Remo Ambassador or Aquarian texture-coated medium weight head. Moongels are good for getting rid of ring, but I've also discovered that insulation tape (the kind you put over door and window cracks) works really well. Covering too much surface area of the head takes a lot of character out of the sound, so something a little thicker and denser (but not so heavy it puts pressure on the head) sounds best.

What

Abbadavid Berman (Hurting), Friday, 7 July 2006 16:06 (thirteen years ago) link

Stray "what" at the end there.

Abbadavid Berman (Hurting), Friday, 7 July 2006 16:20 (thirteen years ago) link

Speaking as someone who's tuned "live drums" a lot more than "studio drums", I think that the notion of tuning toms to a particular song is an exercise in futility. The timbre changes so vastly up and down the scale that to "tune" a drum is necessarily to change its character. In my opinion, a drum has a single "sweet spot". You ought tune to that, not the song.

I can't say that I really have much concept of dealing with studio drums. There's so much you can do after the fact, if you are so inclined, that the input can be considered a legitimate source or a mere trigger (hello, Combat Rock!) I guess I tend toward the GI/GO philosophy, but in reverse: A good live drum sound makes a good recorded drum sound, if you have good hardware to record it.

If you want a really funky, earthy, round drum sound and you have cash to blow, get calfskin heads. They sound truly amazing: No annoying overtones, and a full, soulful sound. They're to plastic heads as K Zildjians are to Paistes.

Shoes say, yeah, no hands clap your good bra. (goodbra), Saturday, 8 July 2006 02:01 (thirteen years ago) link

i interned during a session with a world class drum tech. he's tuned for nirvana (unplugged, he handed dave grohl the brush sticks), pearl jam, tool, pink floyd and many others. he also has perfect pitch and when they were choosing snares he pointed out that the engineer on the session always preffered the snare drum tuned to the key of the song, even though the engineer didnt know it was. he would retune the whole kit about every 45 minutes. i dont know if you need to go that far with it, but again, like anything in the studio world, if why not if you can afford it. do spend the time to initially tune the set properly because after that its really easy to get good sound on medium.

jodawo (jodawo), Saturday, 8 July 2006 23:18 (thirteen years ago) link

Good thread! I'm doing drums for a pop record at the end of the summer, and I'm not sure what my setup is going to be since my kits are kind of throw-together (Pearl bass drum, Premier snare drum, jazz-sized Premier toms).

I'm mostly worried about the toms. I always use single ply coated heads (Ambassadors), but that's for jazz stuff. I was thinking about getting some clear Pinstripes for recording, just to get that wet, dead-ass DW pop sound. Or maybe I should just mess around with the moongel?

Jordan (Jordan), Saturday, 8 July 2006 23:29 (thirteen years ago) link

The mere fact that you said "perfect pitch" reveals your gullibility. Everyone with any reasonable degree of singing training, for instance, has "perfect pitch", in virtue of the fact that they can intone (or imagine) A440 and accurately deduce any Western interval thereby. "Perfect pitch" ought be listed at Snopes.com (although it appears not to be): It indicates a certain level of musical training, no more and no less.

Shoes say, yeah, no hands clap your good bra. (goodbra), Saturday, 8 July 2006 23:31 (thirteen years ago) link

perfect pitch debates, why do i always seem to end up in these (lol). when i say perfect pitch, i mean that he, a drummer, was the only one in a room full of musicians who could tune the drums precisely to a desired frequency without referencing another instrument or using a tuner. so saying perfect pitch is a just little less wordy and everyone knows what im mean even if it is an urban legend. not that your point is invalid with reference to live drum tuning and in fact i see that as the preffered route to go as well. he obviously could not tune to the key when he did the nirvana unplugged set.

[here]is a good thread about perfect pitch.

jodawo (jodawo), Sunday, 9 July 2006 00:35 (thirteen years ago) link

haha, how fitting. i didnt even realize that was your post Abbadavid.

jodawo (jodawo), Sunday, 9 July 2006 01:12 (thirteen years ago) link

Speaking as someone who's tuned "live drums" a lot more than "studio drums", I think that the notion of tuning toms to a particular song is an exercise in futility. The timbre changes so vastly up and down the scale that to "tune" a drum is necessarily to change its character. In my opinion, a drum has a single "sweet spot". You ought tune to that, not the song.


If you want a really funky, earthy, round drum sound and you have cash to blow, get calfskin heads. They sound truly amazing: No annoying overtones, and a full, soulful sound. They're to plastic heads as K Zildjians are to Paistes.

-----------------------------

Remo makes fiberskin heads that sound pretty great, but I find they lose their character with louder volume music. Never tried the real calfskin heads (where do you get them?) but I'd be hesitant because they'd probably shift a lot based on temperature and humidity.

As for your first point, I no longer subscribe to the "sweet spot" idea. I do think there's a "sweet range" or perhaps multiple sweet spots, but it really depends on what sound you want. There's usually one or two pitches at which the shell of the drum resonates most, but that's not automatically the best thing for every song. Plus I find that better drums tend to sound good at a wider range of pitches. Also I feel like it reduces listener fatigue if the drum sound changes a little over the course of an album, but like you said a lot of that can be done with production.

Abbadavid Berman (Hurting), Sunday, 9 July 2006 14:34 (thirteen years ago) link

The mere fact that you said "perfect pitch" reveals your gullibility. Everyone with any reasonable degree of singing training, for instance, has "perfect pitch", in virtue of the fact that they can intone (or imagine) A440 and accurately deduce any Western interval thereby. "Perfect pitch" ought be listed at Snopes.com (although it appears not to be): It indicates a certain level of musical training, no more and no less.

I think some would disagree:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_pitch

Abbadavid Berman (Hurting), Sunday, 9 July 2006 14:38 (thirteen years ago) link

Never tried the real calfskin heads (where do you get them?) but I'd be hesitant because they'd probably shift a lot based on temperature and humidity.

They do. They're also not very useful in hi-volume "clubland" scenarios: The character of the drum is lost among the amplified instruments, and they're too expensive to withstand the beating a rock drummer will give 'em. (Jazz is a different animal, if you aren't Elvin Jones.) I think the only real use a rock musician would have for calfskin heads is just for studio recording. As far as where to get 'em, follow that link I posted. I'm sure those folks would be happy to give you a quote. You can also look up some classical percussionist supplies: My first exposure to calfskin heads was when I was training to be one.

When I was behind the kit, Remo coated were my heads of choice. They're cheap, and they sound decent in performance or in the studio. Their sound is "live" without a tremendous amount of those ugly single-ply clear-head overtones. I always used 2 heads, too, 'cause it gives the sound a lot more round tone. I really, really hate what 98% of dampening devices do to the character of the drum. I'll take a few overtones any day over an Evans hydraulic.

I do think there's a "sweet range" or perhaps multiple sweet spots, but it really depends on what sound you want. There's usually one or two pitches at which the shell of the drum resonates most, but that's not automatically the best thing for every song.

I agree, in principle. Just like the chamber for a vibe key must be one of a discrete collection of lengths to properly amplify the source, so also the depth of a drum shell resonates well with only a discrete collection of head pitches. (Thus, tuning a drum resonantly for a particular song is a very dicey proposition.)

Personally, I don't find pleasing the non-resonating pitches, and of the others, the lowest I've always found to be the best. The next tuning up makes the drum sound like a wholly different instrument. Instead of listener fatigue, you get the "why is the drummer changing sets?" syndrome. Better to actually switch kits, I think.

Shoes say, yeah, no hands clap your good bra. (goodbra), Sunday, 9 July 2006 19:47 (thirteen years ago) link

For the record, the range within which I'll tune any given drum is pretty small. I might use the root in one song, the fifth in one song, and a step above or below either in another to avoid having to drastically change the pitch. And I agree lower is generally better.

I like the Remo Coated Ambassador heads.

I agree about built-in muffling systems usually sucking. The only exception is on kick drums, were I find an Evans Emad ring immensely preferable to sticking fabric or a pillow in the drum. On this particular recording I used an Evans EMad for the batter but a regular coated ambassador on the front, and then I just loosely taped the other Emad ring to the front. No hole, mic back from the drum a few inches. Beautiful sound - not as much attack as some might like but I much prefer that.

Abbadavid Berman (Hurting), Sunday, 9 July 2006 20:10 (thirteen years ago) link

On my new brass band drum, I have nothing inside and two Aquarian Superkick heads (with the rings around the edge). It sounds huge and punchy, just perfect (but damn those heads were expensive).

I've had the same heads on my (non-jazz) Pearl kick drum for years)...I think it's a coated ambassador with a hole in it for the resonant head and a Fiberskyn for the batter head, plus a small pillow. It sounds really attack-y and short when I'm behind it but records with a lot of low end.

I'd like to be able to experiment more with different heads for recording but that shit gets expensive!

Jordan (Jordan), Sunday, 9 July 2006 20:31 (thirteen years ago) link

Yeah, I did the Superkick thing for a while. They are expensive but you don't have to change them too often.

Abbadavid Berman (Hurting), Sunday, 9 July 2006 20:32 (thirteen years ago) link

If you want to get really intense, there's also the Drum Tuning Bible:

http://home.earthlink.net/~prof.sound/

I used it for a while and stopped. Although I don't really go to the extremes this guy suggests anymore, I think spending all that time trying to follow his methods was what finally forced me to learn to pay a lot of attention to drum sound and tuning.

Abbadavid Berman (Hurting), Sunday, 9 July 2006 20:52 (thirteen years ago) link

So, both heads to the same pitch, all the time?

I try to for this with toms and sometimes kick (unless I'm going for a deader kick sound, in which case the resonant head is much looser). Snare, I don't know...I just try to get the top head to feel good rebound-wise and then tighten up the bottom until the snare response is crisp.

Really I'm a crap tuner though, it's a lot of trial and error -> letting things settle in -> not changing heads for years.

Jordan (Jordan), Sunday, 9 July 2006 21:53 (thirteen years ago) link

If you followed prof.sound's advice to the letter, you could get a drum tuned in about a month. A whole kit would take perhaps a year, given that he doesn't have any odd requirements for cymbal tuning, which I definitely wouldn't put past him. Seriously, 1/16th of a turn each time, with testing? Talk about "listener fatigue". And what's this hair dryer crap? He ought be feathering his mullet more and heating his heads less.

Shoes say, yeah, no hands clap your good bra. (goodbra), Sunday, 9 July 2006 22:13 (thirteen years ago) link

I can't believe how preposterously full of himself prof.sound is. On the subject of buying cymbals, he says,

You should pick cymbals in this order. Hi-Hat, Ride, Primary crash, Secondary Crash, special effects (china, splash, etc.) This too is important. If you intend to ultimately replace all your cymbals, first pick a new set of hats because you need to blend from there. Otherwise, move through the above list in the order given. If you blend from a current setup, then you'll never achieve your long-term goals.

"Long-term goals", eh? He sounds more like a Scientologist than a drummer.

Shoes say, yeah, no hands clap your good bra. (goodbra), Sunday, 9 July 2006 22:25 (thirteen years ago) link

So, both heads to the same pitch, all the time?

I don't necessarily agree with that. Snare definitely not (I usually like the bottom head lower than the top). Toms maybe, but I also find a major third apart can sound really good (again I prefer the bottom head lower).

Regarding Prof. Sound: like I said, I don't actually go to those extremes, but I did find it helpful to try his methods outa few times because I learned to be more sensitive to drum tuning in general in the process.

BTW, tuning in small increments when you're using a new head is a good idea, otherwise it's really really easy to get it way out of tune with itself and then it gets hard to find your way back.

Abbadavid Berman (Hurting), Monday, 10 July 2006 02:50 (thirteen years ago) link

twelve years pass...

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