Drum Tuning, a hideous task for most Drummers demystified

The Picture shows a massive drum set with 6 Toms, 2 Snares and a bass drum.
My Yamaha recording Custom Set

If you are a drummer, professional or just as a hobby, you know what I mean with hideous, especially when you love to play huge drum sets like I do, see the picture above: 6 Toms, 2 Snares and a bass drum is a lot to tune and keep it in shape sound wise.

Today I want to start to give a few tips how to make that process a bit easier to bear. Of course it’s all my humble opinion so don’t take it as the final truth but as hints and experiences I made.

I will divide the Article in several parts to make it easier to digest for you.

Basic thoughts

Sound is very subjective, what sounds great for me must not even sound good for you. So I will cover my own preferences and give some hints how you find out your perfect drum sound.

I love the sound of Phil Collins’ Drums. He was not only a very versatile Drummer but his gated reverb sound influenced a whole generation of drummers and you could recognize that sound immediately. Also Simon Phillips, Mike Portnoy, Gavin Harrison, Nick D’Virgilio, Chester Thomson and numerous other drummers have very distinct drum sounds and together with their style you recognise them.

That’s one important point: your style of music you play, your drumming style and your drum set make up the sound you get out of your kit. You can have the best set in the world, when you play it too rough or soft and your tuning and playing skills are not that advanced it will never sound really good. On the other hand you can give a mediocre drum set to a drummer who can tune and is not new to drumming and you will get a good sounding result in the most cases.

A big role play the drum heads. With good new heads your drums will sound much better than with 5 years old, damaged and overstreched heads. I know, the late Charlie Watts played with old snare heads only but I am not Charlie Watts, I strongly believe that changing drum heads from time to time will enhance your fun to play since it sounds so much better.

So which heads are the right ones for you? Well, that strongly depends on what sound you want. So now let’s get started with the selection of the right drum heads.

Part 1: The right drum heads for your set

There is a few well known manufacturers which produce best class drum heads but there are numerous head types and specialities that I cannot really have an opinion about each and every head on the market. But I have preferences for different sound flavours. I cover only drums with resonance heads since I only use them. I know some drummers prefer Concert Toms like my all time drum hero Phil Collins but I don’t so I cannot say anything about that setup.

The Snare drum

The snare is the heart of your set, its sound is very special through the snare wires and in most cases heard the most during a song. There is wood and metal snares and they have a distinct differences in sound. For me wood sounds more smooth than metal snares and I get more differentiated sounds from them than from the metal ones.

Heads wise there is not a real choice for me: REMO Ambassador Coated as the batter head and REMO Ambassador Snare Reso as the resonance head. I use them for ages and I am very satisfied with this combo. It produces a crisp, controlled and rich sound. One little moon gel damper on the batter head and it sounds great. When you want less ring and more bass there is the Powerstroke or Hydraulic, oil filled heads which have a more heavy and fat sound. I tried it out but its not mine anymore, I need a certain ring and I get that with the Ambassadors.

The Toms

For years I had REMO Pin Stripe heads on the Toms since I wanted a deep boom sound on them. I used them as batter and resonance head. It worked well and I loved it on the road and in the Studio.

But then I wanted more attack and ring and so I tried several heads and ended up with two favourites:

  • EVANS EC2 as primary / REMO Ambassador Clear as resonance head
  • REMO Emperor Coated as primary and REMO Ambassador Clear as resonance head.

The sound in both cases is awesome, bright, nice attack and good resonance. The Evans / Remo Combo has a little more bass than the second combo, but they both are very nice sounding especially with deeper drums. With this heads I got a setup which is quite easy to record since every drum is tuned in a way that th

The Bass Drum

Also on my Bass drums I had REMO Pinstripe batter heads.The resonance head had a huge hole in it and I always had a blanket in the drum to dampen it. Worked well for me for years. But also here, my taste changed and I wanted more sustain rather than the “plop” sound.

So I ended up using Remo 22″ Powerstroke 3 Clear as batter head and Evans 22″ EQ3 Resonance Bass as resonance head with a small hole. The sound is awesome and with a boundary layer microphone inside the drum I get a dry but powerful sound.

That’s it for today, I could go on and on but would never cover every aspect of drum head selection. So if you want more tips just leave a comment or drop me a mail and we can discuss your thoughts and questions.

Next Music blog article will start with the tuning basics, so “Stay tuned” 😉

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