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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More Drum Talk From The Drum Doctor

Last week's tuning tips got a great response so I thought I'd post another excerpt from Ross Garfield (The Drum Doctor) that appeared in The Drum Recording Handbook. This one covers a number of topics that drummers, engineers and producers alike will find invaluable.

Big drums versus small drums
What’s important is to have the right size drums for the song.  If you’re going for that big double-headed Bonham sound, you really should have a 26” kick drum.  If you’re going for a Jeff Porcaro punchy track like "Rosanna" then you should probably have a 22”, but ultimately the music will determine the drum sound you need.  Maybe not so much the drums themselves, but definitely the tuning.

For instance, the drums that I bring for a Hip-Hop session are actually very close to what I bring for a Jazz session.  Usually the Hip-Hop guys want a little bass drum like an 18”, and an 18 or a 20 is what’s common for a Jazz session.  A Hip-Hop session will use maybe a 12 or a 14” rack tom, which is also similar to the Jazz setup. 

The big difference is in the snare and hi-hats and the tuning of the kick drum and the snare.  On a Jazz session I would keep the kick drum tuned high and probably not muffled.  On a Hip-Hop session I would tune the kick probably as low as it would go and definitely not have any muffling so it has as big a “Boom” as I can get. 

How long does it take to tune a drum kit?
If I have to change all the heads and tune them up it’ll take about an hour before we can start listening through the microphones and that’s even on a cheap starter set.  I try to tune them to where I think they should be, a little on the high side for starters, then after we open up the mics and hear everything magnified, I’ll modify the tuning more to the song. 

Prepping The Drums For New Heads
In order for drums to sound their best, the edges of the drum shell have to be cut properly, and this is something that no one ever checks, or even thinks of checking, until it’s time to change the heads.  When you take the heads off, all the edges of the shell should be lie exactly flat against a flat surface.  I’ll put the shell on a piece of glass or granite and shine a light over the top of the shell, then I’ll get down to where the edge of the drum hits the granite.  If I see a light at any point then there’s a low spot on the edge of the shell, and the drum will be hard to tune and probably have some funny overtones.  So the the first thing is to make sure that your drum shells are “true”.  The next thing is for your shell edge to have a bevel to it, and not be flat on the bottom, because again, this affects the tuning and overtones. 

If you have either of these problems with a drum, send it back to the manufacturer.  Don’t try to cut the edges of your drum shells yourself since it doesn’t cost that much money for the manufacture to do it and it’s really something that should be done by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.  Once your drum shells are in good shape, then tuning is a lot easier.

New Heads
The first thing I’ll do is put a fresh set of top and bottom heads on.  Nine times out of ten, I’ll put white Remo Ambassadors on the tops, clear Remo Ambassadors on the bottoms, and a Remo clear Powerstroke 3 on the kick drum.  I’ll use a white Ambassador or a coated black dot Ambassador on the snare top and either a clear Diplomat or coated Ambassador on the bottom. 

A lot of the decision on the type of head depends on how deep the drum is.  If it’s 5 inches or less I’ll usually go with an Ambassador, and if it’s 6 1/2 or bigger I’ll usually go with a Diplomat.  Just this little bit of information really makes a difference in how the kit sounds.

To read more excerpts from The Drum Recording Handbook, go to
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