Drum Dial.. why bother?

drum machine

Junior Member
Bought a drum dial a while ago just to confirm that my tuning was on point enough because I was struggling with a snare of mine, and I've ended up feeling like the thing just makes it more difficult than just using your ear, which is ultimately what you have to do anyway even after using the Dial to get it within range.

I feel like it might be more useful if you have an absolutely perfectly constructed drum, but in reality I've found it more or less impossible to get all tensions on each lug dead equal, and even if I get close, the pitches don't end up being even enough to really go with it. Not sure what the point in using this thing is anymore. Chasing even tensions according to the dial just takes forever and is ultimately pointless because I can get close enough just turning the drum key equal amounts all around and then fine tuning by ear.

This thing's bugging me so I decided to start a thread about it, heh.
 

Morrisman

Platinum Member
I've not used a drum dial, but it seems to be a quick way of getting the tension fairly equal around the drum, and getting a repeatable tension when you replace heads,etc. It can also be used in noisy situations when you can't tap the drums and hear them - such as sidestage while another band is playing, or while your guitarist is soundchecking.

I can see that on a less than perfectly round drum it would be less precise.
 

AzHeat

Platinum Member
I've not used a drum dial, but it seems to be a quick way of getting the tension fairly equal around the drum, and getting a repeatable tension when you replace heads,etc. It can also be used in noisy situations when you can't tap the drums and hear them - such as sidestage while another band is playing, or while your guitarist is soundchecking.

I can see that on a less than perfectly round drum it would be less precise.
That's it exactly. It used to be completely useless to me, before I got the bearing edges recut on my kit. Since then, I haven't had an ounce of trouble tuning my drums by ear or by drum dial. Definitely handy when you can't tune by ear. If I get the tensions close enough, I won't hesitate to perform with them, even if I don't get a chance to fine tune by ear.
 

mikel

Platinum Member
I'v been playing drums for decades but I still find it difficult to tune. I have difficulty identifying the single frequency when tuning, so for me the dial is a great help. I know the readings for the tunings I like on all the drums so it is easy to get new heads up to tension very quickly. Also, for a quick change mid gig, when its noisy and time is tight, its the easy option for a cloth ear like me.

If it helps the individual then go for it, its your money and your choice.

If you find tuning by ear easy then great, lucky you, but anything that makes it easier for the average drummer is good. Guitarists are not expected to tune by ear, even the very best use a tuner. Lots of them probably could tune by ear but why give yourself the pain during a gig.
 

WalterKohn

Senior Member
The Drum Dial is a good tool to use in conjunction with tuning by ear.

Also I would note that if you cant get a NEAR perfect reading on each of the lugs then I would also note that there is uneven tension.

Say what you will but all that thing does is measure drum head tension and that is it. I use it on my snare to make sure I have even tension on the heads from the beginning after being finger tight.

I wouldn't discard it but its best to use when you are changing heads completely not on a head that is already on.
 

cbphoto

Gold Member
I recently bought a Tama Tension Watch because I tune my drums to very different pitch/tensions based on the music I'm playing, and I wanted to be able to return to certain tunings as needed. I didn't want to guess.

The first thing I learned is that it gets me in the ballpark for a certain pitch, but I must use my ear to finish tuning.

The second thing I learned is that if used correctly, the ballpark is much smaller than it used to be.

I'm hoping that as my heads stretch it will help me retain tunings for a few weeks, before I have to replace heads.

Edit: I also check the tuning of my drums every time I play them, and make adjustments as needed.
 

double_G

Silver Member
i am more of a tune bot / ear guy....but i did use a drum dial in the studio recently when a 15" tom wasnt working thru the mics. once i got the psi real even, i had a damn good sound. my beef was the circle marks it puts by each lug on my clear heads. petty / ocd on my part but sheeesh those marks !
 

mikel

Platinum Member
Simple enough. Set the dial to zero by placing on a flat mirror or marble surface. Then adjust slowly up to the required setting about 2 cm in from each lug. Dont try to go from zero to the setting in one go, If its 80 you want take each lug up to 60 and then go round again taking it up to 80.

You have to calibrate the dial to zero before you start. Its an engineers surface guage being adapted for another use.
 

Pylot

Senior Member
If you are not able to get perfectly even readings then you have either an edge, or roundness or hoop problem. I had a snare with some out of round hoops and I would end up chasing the settings all over, never could get them even. Replaced the hoops and it dialed right in.

And if your ear is better then good for you. My ear is not good for getting to a precise anything so I need a crutch.

I like it for getting the snare side right. For my toms I prefer a tun bot to get the pitch where I want it between batter and reso but the dial is sure handy for getting things even pretty easily.
 

DR650s

Junior Member
I bought one as I was new to tuning and most instructions I found on tuning drums stated to tune to the pitch you want for each drum, well as a beginner I had no idea what pitch that should be. The drum dial put my drums in the right ball park.
I have received many complements from band members about how my drums sound and I still tune using the drum dial then adjust the pitch up or down as I now see fit. I wouldn't really be without it, and for a beginner tuning drums its a great tool.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
The drum dial has a steep learning curve. I learned a lot about the forces on a drumhead from the drum dial. I learned that it was my own user error when I couldn't get the readings to cooperate. The reason for my troubles early on is I was putting the head on lopsided enough (using only 1 key) to make tuning a wild goose chase for me. Lots of trial and error with the DD, but I eventually learned what is going on and what I was doing wrong.

The DD taught me how to tune really well...by forcing me to understand what I was doing wrong, and forcing me to figure out a way to correct it.

For me the solution was using 2 keys opposite one another when seating a new head, so the head wouldn't end up slightly lopsided on the shell. It was much easier to get the head even on the shell with 2 keys because I could utilize my feel for even-ness. Also, small turns, maybe 1/16th of a turn, helped too. Getting a drumhead collar parallel to the bearing edge....across all 360 degrees of the circle...with the same tension at every lug....not an easy thing to do, but I get the very best tone from the drum that way. I'd say that drums are far and away the hardest instruments to tune properly. DD is a great tool, but it's not easy at first.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Circle marks on the head? Really? There's easy solutions to that problem.

When you hit a drum head...that makes a mark too. If circles are unacceptable, why doesn't stick marks bother you guys?
 

alparrott

Platinum Member
I have never used one of these contraptions, and I don't personally feel the need to. I have a lot of faith in my ability to tune a drum well, no matter the roundness or edges, and get at worst a decent tone from it, and usually much better than decent.

Having said that, I think that in some situations, such as touring, backstage, etc. it could be a useful tool to some. I don't think there's any point in demonizing it just because I don't have a personal need for it, or belittling anyone for using one.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
I use the DD to get all the lugs at the same tension and then go around one more time by ear and fix up the lugs that don't match the pitch I'm going for.

Works very well for me. Much faster than without in my case.
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
I was thinking about buying one a few years back, but after borrowing someone else's just to see how worked, I was left seriously underwhelmed by its capabilities.

What I noticed was that smallish tuning adjustments that were clearly audible didn't register any change on the dial. I wanted to be able to reproduce any tuning without having to use my ears at all (that was the ideal, anyway), but it just doesn't have the resolution. Too crude to be useful.

I haven't messed around with a tunebot but seems to me that measuring actual frequencies is far superior to approximations of tension. Though I still think tuning drums by ear *while playing with the band* is the way to go since what sounds and plays best in that context is almost always at a higher tension than what drummers typically land on when laboring for hours without a musical context.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
I bought one purely because Peter Erskine endorsed it, and I've found I can get the drum a little more in tune with itself with the device than without it. Not that it always matters-- it's easy to get a good live funk or jazz sound without it. If I were making videos and recording a lot I would be using it more. Or if I were very picky about wanting a very pure tone in a medium tuning.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
I haven't messed around with a tunebot but seems to me that measuring actual frequencies is far superior to approximations of tension. Though I still think tuning drums by ear *while playing with the band* is the way to go since what sounds and plays best in that context is almost always at a higher tension than what drummers typically land on when laboring for hours without a musical context.
I think the value of the DD comes down to making it easier to start from a "flat" perspective in relation to the actual tension at each lug. A lot of the worst sounding drums I've heard, I think they sounded that way in many cases because drummers doing everything by ear can tend to have some pretty different tensions across the head, and it makes for a weird movement of the membrane. Most of us will fix that... But it takes more time than I'd personally like, and for me it's faster to just use the dial, get the same-ish number at all lugs and then fine tune to the best sounding lug as normal.

I think it also matters way more when you're going for some ring-out of the note. Guys who tune for a super short "dead" tom sound won't benefit as much in my opinion... In that case, it's more of the impact and attack and less of the note which can get out of whack.

MikeM said:
What I noticed was that smallish tuning adjustments that were clearly audible didn't register any change on the dial. I wanted to be able to reproduce any tuning without having to use my ears at all (that was the ideal, anyway), but it just doesn't have the resolution. Too crude to be useful.
I notice that too. Each time I make a small change, I pick up the dial and set it back down. Something to do with how the spring/system works, small changes really only register if you let the needle "reset". That is a bit of an annoyance when you're first working with it.
 
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