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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Keys To A Great Sounding Drum Kit

drum bearing edges image
Drum Bearing Edges
As the heartbeat of almost every song in music today, the drums have to sound great in order to really give the song the punch it needs. Unfortunately most engineers and musicians, and even a surprising number of drummers, aren't sure what makes drums sound the way they do. Of course tuning is most important in getting a great drum sound, but just like a guitar or bass intonation, there are certain aspects to the drums themselves that really make a difference in the ultimate sound.

In this excerpt from Chapter 7 (Preparing The Drum Kit For Recording) of the latest 3rd edition of The Recording Engineer's Handbook, you'll read that there's a great number of factors that make the drums sound the way they do.

"It’s true that different people have different ideas of what constitutes a great sound kit, but in the studio it usually means a kit that’s well-tuned and free of buzzes and sympathetic vibrations. Free of sympathetic vibrations means that when you hit the snare drum, for instance, the toms don’t ring along with it. Or if you hit the rack toms, the snare and the other toms don’t ring along as well. The way to achieve this is all in the tuning and the kit maintenance, which we’ll check out in depth later in the chapter, but first, lets learn a little bit about drums themselves, since it helps to have a basic idea of why they sound the way they do.

Drum Construction
Here are the things that affect the sound of a drum.

Shell Size has the most impact on the natural pitch of a drum. The larger the diameter, the lower the natural pitch, although you can obviously change this a bit by tuning the heads.

Shell Depth is mostly responsible for how loud the drum will be and to some degree, the articulation of the sound. This means that a shallow shell (say a 9” tom) doesn’t have as much surface area as a larger one, so the sound doesn’t ring as long and has a sharper attack.  

Shell Thickness is usually overlooked as a contributing factor to the sound of a drum.  Thinner shells actually are more resonant since they’re easier to excite because they have a lower mass than a heavier, thicker shell.  

Shell Material used to make the drum shell is the most responsible for the tone of the drums. Here are the most commonly sued drum shell materials.
  • Maple is the most prized construction material by drummers, primarily because the sound is so even across the drum frequency spectrum.  
  • Mahogany sound warmer than maple since the low end is increased.
  • Birch is very hard and dense, which results in a brighter drum with a lot less low end than maple.
  • Poplar has a sound very similar to birch, with a bright top end and less bottom.
  • Basswood exhibits an increased low end that’s similar to mahogany.
  • Luaan has a warmer sound with less top end, similar to mahogany.
Shell Interior has a lot to do with the pitch of the drum. A rough interior produces a less resonant drum, since the roughness breaks up the interior reflections. A smooth interior results in a more resonant drum, which means it’s easier to tune and control.

Bearing Edges means the cut at the edge of a drum shell where the hoops are attached. The way the bearing edge is cut can not only affect the pitch of the drum, but how well it tunes as well. The sharper the cut, the brighter the drum.

Hoops type and the number of lugs used to seat the drum heads determines how the drum will sound as well. In general, the thicker the hoop, the easier the drum will be to tune. Fewer lugs provide more complex overtones. Stamped hoops get a warmer tone than from die cast hoops. Aluminum gives a high pitch while brass provides more overtones. Die cast hoops are generally both thicker and stronger than stamped hoops, so the drum becomes easier to tune. There are fewer overtones as a by-product. Wood hoops come in different thicknesses, so they can be made to sound like either a stamped or a cast hoop, only brighter.

Drum Heads

If there’s one simple action that you can take to improve the tone of the drums it’s to replace the old heads with fresh new ones. Even normally good sounding drums will sound wimpy and dead when played with old heads that have dings and dents in them. 

TIP: The single biggest improvement to the tone of a drum is a set of fresh heads."


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One thing that I rarely see mentioned is the hardware. If you want a vintage 60's tone, use older, lighter weight hardware. Modern heavy-duty hardware, though technically "better", doesn't give the same tones. All the isolation mounting and things like that, let the drum ring in a different way. It's very noticeable with hihat stands too.


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