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Author Topic: Drum Tuning Bible (Thanks j_kay)  (Read 14052 times)


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Drum Tuning Bible (Thanks j_kay)
« on: February 13, 2007, 10:34:18 AM »
The drum tuning bible is a nice piece of reference material worth a read. But it by no means should be treated as the name implies. Much of it as others have said is useless and i have found much of it to be overkill. The stuff worthwhile is the common sense stuff. Not something the author thought up on his own. And much of the "special" things he mentions like using a hair dryer will not hurt, but really don't do much either. He seems to basically overcomplicate an otherwise easy task. Even for a beginner.

In my close to 20 years working with drum kits, i have changed ALOT of heads. Whether my own (6 kits total) or friends and then working as a tech (11 bands total) and working at GC for two years (Reheading floor kits and and assembling kits) it started to add up. Then i spent two years and 146 shows working for an artist who got full head changes DAILY. That's not including practice sessons. All told, that tour alone when you consider i had 4 toms and two snares comes out to be 876 head changes and tunings. If i had to guesstimate, i think it's safe to say i must be in 2,000 head range. The point? NOTHING in the drum tuning bible helped me. It was all the common sense tips anyone who has been playing should know. In fact, if you followed the bible it would slow you down greatly. Using nothing but my cordless screwdriver and a two drum keys I can rehead all 4 toms and two snares, tune them, plus tweak the kicks in about 12 minutes. Sometimes less if i am not distracted by nonsense. I can do it so easily because i tune the same kit with the same heads, day in and day out. I could do it that fast while talking on the phone. If it was a kit i was not used to or heads i was not used to it may take a bit longer, but for the most part, they all get tuned the same way.

Want to know the way i found to the easiest, most consistent way to tune toms?

Lets assume your just changing the batter heads and your reso heads are already in tune. I keep the locked in place with lug locks to make this task much easier. When i was changing batters daily, i would only tweak a reso side head maybe once in 15 batter head changes. As long as you have Lug Locks, you really won't be touching reso heads much except to take up slack from stretching over time or if you are going from hot to cold while gigging. When you tune a kit enough times, you can tell if the reso's are in need of tweaking.

First and foremost, check the new head first. I have seen people mess around for an hour trying to tune a drum that simply will not cooperate only to find the head itself is defective. Either it's warped or the ring is uneven. Lay the head on a hard, flat surface and check for wobble. Then look across the top and make sure the mylar is flat. A quick visual of the edge where the head site in the glue ring will make any obvious defects visible.

Run your finger around the bearing edge really quick to make sure there are no dents. Drop the head on the shell and make sure it sits level and that it's centered. Drop the hoop on with all the tension rods hanging. I run all the tension rods down to about finger tight with the electric screwdriver in the proper criss-cross pattern. Then, using a drum key in each hand, working across from each other i tighten the head down 2-3 full turns (If it's above 70 degrees, maybe 2 turns) past finger tight on toms 8-14" and as much as 4 on 16-18" toms. The head should be very tight at this point and sound ridiculously high pitched when you tap on it. DO NOT HIT IT WITH A STICK. At this point put the drum down on a solid flat surface. On carpet is fine so long as the carpet is not so thick the reso head is pressing against it. Then using the PALM of your hand (NO KNUCKLES) press down sharply 2-3 times till you hear a few good cracks of the glue ring. Sometimes you may hear only one small crack, that is ok.

Once that is done, using a key in both hands and again, working on oppisite sides on the drum, i back off one full turn. Then, using the side of the drum key or a stick, tap out the head at each tension rod to make sure they are all in pitch. If you did i everything i said so far, they should be. If not, check the head at that location and make sure the head is not ripped. Then pick the drum up by the mount and hit it with a stick. See how it sounds. If it's still way too high, bring it down (still using a key in each hand and working across from each other) about 1/4 turn each and then try again. You should be close (But it depends on the heads and the kit). As you get closer to the range you want, remember that some drum/head combos have such a small sweet spot of "perfect" tuning that you need to make very minor adjustments. Even a 1/4 turn may be too much and you will go right past that spot and just get frustrated. If your really close but it's still a bit high, make a very slight turn on each tension rod and more often then not, you will get it where you want. Always keep in mind that 9 times out of ten, even though your holding the drum by the suspension mount when tuning, once it's mounted on a tom arm it's going to be even a bit lower in tune. So if the drum sounds just about right but has a tiny bit too much ring, leave it and put the drum on the tom and usually it will be fine. Besides, the next part will detune the drum a bit anyway.

Once you do all your toms, give one last check before mounting to be sure all are still in equal pitch at each tension rod (This should take only 40-60 seconds for all) Then, mount them back on the kit and go around the kit with sticks in your normal playing style. How do they sound? They should all sound very close to the way you want. If any have detuned alot, look for a pulled out glue ring or a rip. Otherwise play the kit for a minute a bit hard then normal. Work each tom over really good. In all, take about 3 minutes. That should give the heads a good final stretch and alert you to any issues. Some minor tweaking is normal. But it should be very minor. That's it, your done.

It may sound a little involved but it's not. Again, i did everything i just described more then 876 times in the last two years. And it was 12-15 minutes out of my day.

Keep in mind, i was working on a Masterworks kit and then a Reference kit. Two of the best kits on the market. They certainly make it easy to tune, but it's really not that much different when your doing an Export or any other kit. The principles all remain the same. Once you have them down, you simply adapt them to your head and kit choices. What you will find is you will simply have to do a but more tweaking the first few times. But once your used to the same heads on the same kits, it's a breeze. Don't expect to do it as fast as me or any other tech considering most amateurs playing at home and bar gigs are doing only a few tom head changes a year. I am doing 5 or more a week. But if it takes you more then 45 minutes to do 4 toms, your either trying too hard or your doing something wrong.

And i always tune down (from a higher tension) to the right pitch. Never Up. It's alot easier since when you start with the head tight, there is no chance of weird buzzing and head flapping to slow you down and frustrate you. It also stretches the head out so you wont have to keep re-tuning. That is the key. Get all the head stretching out of the way before you even get the drums tuned. I see way too many people throw heads on a kit and only tighten the rods a little bit,then crack the head with it all rippled (often denting it) and then they screw around trying to get the head to just the right tension. Your just making work for yourself. Remember, crank it, crack it then back down to tune. I tune bass drums and snares the same way. Although it's a little different with snares since

Some tips....

Use drum keys that have some weight to them. It makes them have a much better feel in your hand and make sure you use two of the same model keys so the feeling is the same.

Tension rod "health" is important. If all your tension rods do not feel identical on each drum your tuning, your going to have lots of issues. If they have any visible rust, toss them and replace them. If the rods are fine but there is rust in the Lugs, replace the inserts. And when you put new ones in, LIGHTLY lubricate them with machine oil. LIGHTLY. If oil is dripping off them, you used too much. Aside from making a mess, your going to have lots of detuning issues. The oil is there first and foremost to prevent rust, not so much to lubricate the rods. That is why Pearl is the ONLY drum company smart enough to use stainless steel rods with brass inserts. Brilliant. You have two completley rustproof components and the brass being a softer metal will never let the rods get hung up. That to me is one of the best features of Pearl drums. And all tension rods should have metal washers under the head, then plastic washers touching the hoop. It's very important that all the rods and washers are identical. If you lose one and have to buy a replacement but cannot get the same type, buy enough to do the whole drum. Mismatched wahsers will screw up your tuning feel.

Wipe your edges with a cloth to remove any residue of who knows what. And make sure there is no dust and dirt in the shell. You would be amazed at what the smallest amount of lint will do bouncing on a reso head. All sorts of weird buzzing.

Whenever possible, have the heads your going to be putting on your kit out of the bags and in the same vicinity as the kit for a few hours to acclimate to the room temp. And when you do the head changes and tuning, do it in the same location as the kit. If you come back from the store in the middle of summer with your drumheads in your ice cold A/C car and then go into you hot garage to a head change your going to have issues.

Have a pair of dedicated "drum tuning gloves". Something made of cotton (so they wont scratch). I love regular brown jersey gloves. The reason you want them to be dedicated is there is no chance of them getting any grease, oil or chemicals on them or picking up any dirt that may scratch the shells. You just want to cut the thumb and index finger tips off so you can feel the tension rods with your fingers when tightening. It also means the grease and oil from the tension rods will only be on your skin and not soaking into the gloves. Thaks to the gloves, no fingerprints to wipe off the shells, hardware or head. Why make work for yourself? As long as i have been a tech, my simply way of approcahing my job was Work smarter, not harder. I made everything a science. And i was ALWAYS thinking of new ways to do things better and easier. Halfway through the first year with Skynyrd i found ways to make things so efficient that i could have the kit out of cases, complete head change, tuned, cleaned, ready to play in 35 minutes. And i often tried to beat my record each day. As for tear down after the show? Ask Demfer, he saw. I can have th entire kit off the riser and entireley in cases in 10 minutes flat. All told, i was working 45 minutes a day on normal setup/teardown. That left me LOTS of time to relax and to do routine maintenence or whatever i wanted. It's alot more difficult to tune for someone rather then yourself. Since what may sound great to you is not to them.

Don't fear Lug Locks. They are a great tool if you have de-tuning issues. Especially on snares. In fact, they are the only practical option on the rimshot side where the tension rods keep backing off.

If personally avoid changing batter heads at the same time i am changing reso heads since now your starting from scratch as far as being able to hear when your close in pictch to what the last head was. But it may be unavoidable when your starting out with a new kit. With that in mind, you simply do the same procedure as mentioned above to seat a batter head except have the tom (minus the batter side head and hoop) resting on a clean, soft piece of carpet to protect the edge. When you start the tuning obviously your not going to have a real baseline to work with since there is no head on the oppisite side. So you have to do it mostly by feel. Also, instead of using a drum stick to check the tuning, i use felt cymbal mallets so they don't mark up the head. One you get the reso head close enough, proceed to the batter head installation. Although it's going to be a bit more tricky since your more then likey going to have to make adjustments on both sides to get it right. That is why as i said, i avoid changing both at the same time unless absolutley nessecary. Even if you bought all new heads, top and bottom, with the old batters in place, do the new reso's. Then do the batters, Hopefully you will be close.

NEVER, EVER TRY AND CRACK SNARE SIDE HAZY HEADS WITH YOUR HAND!! You will not be able to do it properly without trashing the head so don't try it!. The only way to do it slightly is with tuning it up high during the initial tuning. I cant tell you how many people tried to return from attempting this. 

Gaff Tape, Moon Gel and Reso Rings are not the enemy. They are excellent tools when you need a certain sound but don't feel like swapping out heads with plenty of life left or when your working in the studio and want to have different sounds for different tracks. In fact, it's almost a guarantee in studios. It is not practical to change heads between songs in studios. Gaffer Tape works beautifully. I do agree that it should not be something you use all the time with every head change. If you do, that means you are not choosing the right heads or just do not know how to tune save for a few rare exceptions. Those being the sound you want is even more dead then any head in the brand you endorse offers and to achieve it via tuning would make the head response lousy or some super picky guys who want a sound "just right" where heads and tuning alone just dont do it. Muffling aids outside the studio is where moderation is the key. If you have multiple pieces of Gaff tape or MoonGel on a drum, you need to get some help from someone to teach you how to choose heads and/or tune.

Reso heads DO need to be changed. Some people assume a head change is only nessecary when a head brakes. WRONG. Even though Reso heads are not hit with sticks, they still get stretched every time you play and from thermal expansion and contraction. They also simply age. I personally like to change them once a year if your playing your kit a few hours a day 5 times a week. You could go a bit longer, but i would say 2-3 years tops. Another sure fire way to tell they are in need of replacement is if your re-tweaking heads alot more often even with new batter heads. Also if everytime you re-head your kit and re-tune it it gets more difficult. On a ported bass drum head, you could go alot longer. On snare reso heads on pretty heavily played kits, i normally due them every 6-8 months along with wires. On tour where failure is not an option and we are doing 5 or 6 two hour shows a week, Ill do reso heads every 6 months, snare reso's every 4 months and snare wires every 5 months. That is my normal pattern now. The exception of course is if the stuff fails earlier which happens when you do lots of outdoor gigs in the summer.

Any time you have a head off of a drum, go around each lug screw with a stubby screwdriver to make sure they are snug. Just be GENTLE. You don't want to actually further tighten them down each time or you will end up crushing the wood and any rubber washers involved. The whole purpose is to make sure nothing is loose. Unexplained buzing on toms and weird, sustained overtones are almost always either a bad head or a loose lug screw. I also shake each drum off the kit once the heads are on it to listen for anything rattling inside the lug casings. Lug screws do not need to be and should not be TIGHT. Just snug. Any good quality drum will have some sort of washer assembly designed to hold the screws tight without much force. Wood expands and contracts with tempature and humidity. If your lugs screws are too tight, you can crack the lacquer as well.

Avoid "The better mouse trap". Drum Dial's, Tension Watch, Torque Keys, etc will only end being a crutch for you. They are tools designed to help you repeat an already established tuning. The hard part IS the initial tuning. Think about it, once you have finall got your kit sounding good all on your own, now your going to give up on trying to master that very act on your own by using some gadget that looks like a great idea. There are far too many things that come into play that make such devices worthless. Head consistency, tempauture of the heads, tempature of the shells, what the tempature was when you first took your readings, etc. Hey, again, i am all about the work smarter not harder way of life, but i too thought those devices might help. I bought them all, they are all paperweights now. Nothing will replace feel and your ears. For the price of a drum dial you could re-head your kit twice. Two head changes will teach you more about drum tuning then one of those things.

Remember what works for some, will not for others. When at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

                             Source: PearlDrummersForum (Pearldrum.com)

Offline D-Nice

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Re: Drum Tuning Bible (Thanks buzz95)
« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2007, 12:19:33 PM »
thanks 4 the help. i guess i was waaayyy off!


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Re: Drum Tuning Bible (Thanks buzz95)
« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2007, 08:06:22 PM »
...this thread is a golden treasure.  I just re read it and it's helped me out tremendously.  Thanks j_kay.  Good find indeed. 8)


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Re: Drum Tuning Bible (Thanks j_kay)
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2007, 06:10:56 AM »
Awesome! Absolutely Awesome. Thanks Funk man and j_kay!

Offline dzionix

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Re: Drum Tuning Bible (Thanks j_kay)
« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2007, 01:36:50 PM »
jfunky, what heads are you using now?

Offline JFunky

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Re: Drum Tuning Bible (Thanks j_kay)
« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2007, 01:57:15 PM »
jfunky, what heads are you using now?

...Remo Emperor (Clear) over Remo Ambassadors (Clear)  - Maple 6ply Pearl.
Psalms 144.1 - "Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle."
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