Drum Set Tuning

Although this is covered in almost every drum magazine, I am going to cover it from an engineers point of view. (Granted, I just happen to be a drummer also.)

Believe it or not having a drum in tune is very important. In order for the drum to resonate properly, the head needs to be tightened to the shell equally all the way around the hoop. Now, there are some devices that will measure the tightness of the drum head and while this is accurate it does not give you enough information. Due to the irregularities of the edge of the shell during manufacturing you cannot rely on the reading of the measuring device. You need to listen to the pitch of the head at each lug. Then fine tune the tension so that when hitting the drum approximately 1 to 2 inches from the edge of the head the pitch is the same all the way around the head at the lug points. Now the drum head is correctly tuned to give you best resonance and reduce weird ringing.

Lets step back a moment and talk about drum heads. After all the years I have been recording drums the best all around head is still the REMO coated Ambassador. You don’t want the weight of the head to be heavy nor too light and the Ambassdor is a medium weight head. A thin head will sound great very fast after tuning but 3 or 4 times through a song and it’s shot. Conversely a heavy head will take forever to break in and the session will be over with, before it starts to sound good. Now, if the drummer is a very heavy hitter you will either need to change the medium head sometime during the project or use heavy weight heads and really break them in before the recording project. Medium weight heads will last the majority of your typical 8 song project. Unless the drummer just can’t get the take. Good luck!

The above head type works for snare and tom drums. Lets talk about the kick drum. Why do I use the term “kick” drum instead of bass drum? Because in the studio you will be working with the bass guitar as well and if you say thru the talk back, gimmie some more bass, the bass guitarist will start playing. Get in the habit of using “kick” and life will be much easier. Ok, back to kick drum heads. Lots of changes have happened in kick drum head technology during the last 15 years,. Some bad, but mostly good. Evans has several models that work vey well to give you that nice dry punchy sound. My preference is the EQ series, like the EQ2 or 3. Also try the EMAD series, it’s a bit darker. Tune it a bit loose and all will be heaven. Also a 22” kick is easier to work with than a 20” or 26”.

One idea is to tune the drum set to the Key of the song. While this may sound cool it does not let the drums stand out. They blend in too much. If you like that sound great! Otherwise tune the drums so they sound good to themselves. Start with the floor tom and get a good tone then work your way up the sizes. 3rds work well. A note on the resonate head. (the one opposite the batter head) Here is a little known fact. Tuning the reso head the same as the batter will produce a more lively sound. Tune the reso head above the batter in pitch will give you a slight pitch up after the initial tone. Tuning the reso head down will give you a slight pitch down after the initial tone. This is the type of tuning I prefer. The difference in tuning can be a half step, up to a whole step.

Kick is tuned a bit on the loose side, not flappy. Just a tone that you like. Snare is all over the place. Tight, loose, in-between. What ever sounds good to you. Get a couple of different shells and experiment.

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