John Bonham tuning

warrier1

Member
I was just listening to the John Bonham site here, the guy talked about the way he tuned his drums, the batter heads were tuned high, but the reso heads were higher, same thing with the bass drum, does anyone know how they were tuned, and if you were using a drum dial, what would the settings be, i really like his sound, any help would be appreciated thks.
 

rhythmjunkie

Senior Member
I was just listening to the John Bonham site here, the guy talked about the way he tuned his drums, the batter heads were tuned high, but the reso heads were higher, same thing with the bass drum, does anyone know how they were tuned, and if you were using a drum dial, what would the settings be, i really like his sound, any help would be appreciated thks.
You might need to buy an acrylic drumset, slap some clear, Remo, CS (sound control) black dot heads and tune your drums in the above fashion, to get that sound. Just the other day my buddy explained to me; Mr Bonham used a 6 1/2 x 14 steal Ludwig snare drum witch he tuned high and kept the snares loose. Now all you'll have to do is grow a mustache and long hair.
 

harryconway

Platinum Member
You might need to buy an acrylic drumset ......
Cheaper, would be buy the DVD, "Trust Your Ears", by Jeff Ocheltree. It'll save you the cost of buying a drum dial AND a Ludwig Vistalite drum kit. Plus, the Vistalite would "only" give you the JB stage sound. He used his Ludwig 3 ply maple kits in the studio. The "big" drum sound is simply that. Big drums. You have to get into the "sweet spot", and that's gonna be different in a 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 (I've had all those sizes). Right now I've a 22x14 Rogers and a 26x14 Ludwig. The "not so secret secret" JB used was tuning his reso. head higher than the batter. Very "old school". You have to remember, or realize, the Remo pinstripe head was invented sometime around 1973. That's the year Led Zepps. 5th album came out. There were no SuperkickEMADyaddayadda heads back then. Emperor/Ambassador or Controlled Sound/Ambassador and a felt strip...and a good ear. As Mr. Ocheltree says, "drum tuning is an art, not a science".
 
T

trkdrmr

Guest
Cheaper, would be buy the DVD, "Trust Your Ears", by Jeff Ocheltree. It'll save you the cost of buying a drum dial AND a Ludwig Vistalite drum kit. Plus, the Vistalite would "only" give you the JB stage sound. He used his Ludwig 3 ply maple kits in the studio. The "big" drum sound is simply that. Big drums. You have to get into the "sweet spot", and that's gonna be different in a 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 (I've had all those sizes). Right now I've a 22x14 Rogers and a 26x14 Ludwig. The "not so secret secret" JB used was tuning his reso. head higher than the batter. Very "old school". You have to remember, or realize, the Remo pinstripe head was invented sometime around 1973. That's the year Led Zepps. 5th album came out. There were no SuperkickEMADyaddayadda heads back then. Emperor/Ambassador or Controlled Sound/Ambassador and a felt strip...and a good ear. As Mr. Ocheltree says, "drum tuning is an art, not a science".
I love that DVD! The demo of his green sparkle kit and the methods of tuning the 26" kick. Tight coated ambs on bottom, kind of tight coated emperors on top. It was nice to see Mark Craney before he passed away, and Danny on that Paiste bronze kit. Pure drum porn.

IMO, that vistalite kit sounded very dry and hollow compared to the maple.
 

harryconway

Platinum Member
I love that DVD!
Without a doubt, anyone who plays drums should watch it and/or own it.
The demo of his green sparkle kit and the methods of tuning the 26" kick. Tight coated ambs on bottom, kind of tight coated emperors on top.
Jeff's approach, I love it. You need to put the head on the drum and tune it. His "just do it attitude". Tighten the rods clockwise, counterclockwise, star pattern, randomly, burn incense, sprinkle with holy water, it's all good...whatever works.
IMO, that vistalite kit sounded very dry and hollow compared to the maple.
Acrylic drums are a different beast, for sure. I played Luddie Vista's for 25+ years.Very "live" drums. Really bright. Mostly, I ran clear Pins. batter and clear Ambs. reso., that "tamed" them quite a bit. Great stage drums. Now I'm in a rut with Rogers XP-8 shells and Luddie 6 ply. Not a bad place to be, if you have to be somewhere.
 

jjmason777

Senior Member
Ok, here's the deal. I have Ocheltree's DVD. He never REALLY reveals Bonhams "secret". Instead, he says thinks like; "he tuned the bottom head WAY up", and "the bottom head would be tuned the way you would hear a snare drum being tuned". Not very technical. However with those clues, and some experimentation, I have come very close.

First, for all wood drums, you gotta go coated Emperors over coated Ambassadors. Tune the top head to just a little up from where the drum makes a nice clear resonant tone, but not enough to start choking it. Then tune the bottom head a perfect fourth higher than the top head. Do not use any muffling or dampening. The tuning takes care of the dampening. The snare tuning is high and tight, the bottom head higher but not a fourth, just until it sounds right. Snares somewhat loose, so you can hear the snares even with the lightest tap. But for the bass, I prefer Aquarian Superkick 1s. This tuning is neither original or secret, but has been used by jazz drummers for decades. Bonham was very jazz influenced, and he liked that sound. Combine that with large drums, his unique feel, and boom, classic rock god. Oh, I have a drum dial too. Sell it. They are worthless, and will drive you mad.

I must warn you that they will sound weird to you at first from behind the kit because you will hear a lot of the bottom head, and it will sound high and choked, but out in the room (where his room mikes were) they sound open and beautiful.
 

Nickkk

Member
Ok, here's the deal. I have Ocheltree's DVD. He never REALLY reveals Bonhams "secret". Instead, he says thinks like; "he tuned the bottom head WAY up", and "the bottom head would be tuned the way you would hear a snare drum being tuned". Not very technical. However with those clues, and some experimentation, I have come very close.

First, for all wood drums, you gotta go coated Emperors over coated Ambassadors. Tune the top head to just a little up from where the drum makes a nice clear resonant tone, but not enough to start choking it. Then tune the bottom head a perfect fourth higher than the top head. Do not use any muffling or dampening. The tuning takes care of the dampening. The snare tuning is high and tight, the bottom head higher but not a fourth, just until it sounds right. Snares somewhat loose, so you can hear the snares even with the lightest tap. But for the bass, I prefer Aquarian Superkick 1s. This tuning is neither original or secret, but has been used by jazz drummers for decades. Bonham was very jazz influenced, and he liked that sound. Combine that with large drums, his unique feel, and boom, classic rock god. Oh, I have a drum dial too. Sell it. They are worthless, and will drive you mad.

I must warn you that they will sound weird to you at first from behind the kit because you will hear a lot of the bottom head, and it will sound high and choked, but out in the room (where his room mikes were) they sound open and beautiful.
that pretty much says it all, ive had alot of fun tuning up my luddies along these principles.
but one thing bothered me in this months Modern Drummer magazine (december2008)...someone asked the same JB tuning question which was answerd by Mr Ochletree himself.
Jeff's advice was to make sure the batter was tuned higher than the reso. this conflicts with what i had previously heard. According to the article: "Remember, the batter head needs to be pitched higher than the resonant to avoid a flapping, clicking sound. bass drums must have the lowest but clearest sound possible in order to give your kit the "bottom you're looking for "please correct me if im missing something here but it seemed at odds with his own advice even on the DVD.

maybe i should experiment some more, but my 22 x 14 3ply Ludwig kick sounds great with the reso pitched higher and the felt strips on batter and reso sides.
 

harryconway

Platinum Member
...... in this months Modern Drummer magazine (december2008)...someone asked the same JB tuning question which was answerd by Mr Ochletree himself.
Jeff's advice was to make sure the batter was tuned higher than the reso. this conflicts with what i had previously heard.
Could be just a MD typo....I'd wait to see what the "fall out" is from that.
 

Vipercussionist

Silver Member
You have all forgotten the MOST important and CRUCIAL part of this "Tone" equation.

John Bonham the man.

His TOUCH was what made the tone happen, he had his own way of playing that some can emulate, but no one can really duplicate as they are not HIM!!!

It took his special magical way of playing to bring out what you heard, not JUST the drums, not JUST the tuning, not JUST the heads used, not JUST any one thing!! It was ALL of those things and one more . . . HIM!!

John Henry Bonham.

Unless he comes back re-incarnate, you will never hear exactly that again. Some things will be close, but not exactly John Bonham.
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__________________
Most respect the badge, but all fear the drum.
 

Nickkk

Member
Could be just a MD typo....I'd wait to see what the "fall out" is from that.

i wondered about that. for a typo with such a fundamental flaw its pretty hillarious given the context of this thread.
i had to re-read it a few times, and i know the article was specifically adressing the ''Big Bass Drum Tone'' issue but it still seemed contradictory.
 

Nickkk

Member
You have all forgotten the MOST important and CRUCIAL part of this "Tone" equation.

John Bonham the man.

His TOUCH was what made the tone happen, he had his own way of playing that some can emulate, but no one can really duplicate as they are not HIM!!!

It took his special magical way of playing to bring out what you heard, not JUST the drums, not JUST the tuning, not JUST the heads used, not JUST any one thing!! It was ALL of those things and one more . . . HIM!!

John Henry Bonham.

Unless he comes back re-incarnate, you will never hear exactly that again. Some things will be close, but not exactly John Bonham.
.
.
.

__________________
Most respect the badge, but all fear the drum.
great point well made imo
 
You have all forgotten the MOST important and CRUCIAL part of this "Tone" equation.

John Bonham the man.

His TOUCH was what made the tone happen, he had his own way of playing that some can emulate, but no one can really duplicate as they are not HIM!!!

It took his special magical way of playing to bring out what you heard, not JUST the drums, not JUST the tuning, not JUST the heads used, not JUST any one thing!! It was ALL of those things and one more . . . HIM!!

John Henry Bonham.

Unless he comes back re-incarnate, you will never hear exactly that again. Some things will be close, but not exactly John Bonham.
.
.
.

__________________
Most respect the badge, but all fear the drum.
I dont think I can play like John Bonham but the drum sound.... any qualified recording engineer can achieve.
 

jjmason777

Senior Member
You have all forgotten the MOST important and CRUCIAL part of this "Tone" equation.


His TOUCH was what made the tone happen...not JUST the drums, not JUST the tuning, not JUST the heads used, not JUST any one thing!! It was ALL of those things and one more . . . HIM!!

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That is true to some extent, as far as his playing is concerned, but don't forget Jimmy Page's engineering skills, mic placement, etc.
Remember this, the drums don't know who's playing them. Bonhams only technique for hitting a drum (I'm not talking playing here) was to make sure that with this tuning, he hit the drum right in the center of the head. The sweet spot. That is very important. If you don't believe me, just look at his drum heads (he liked them well used). All the wear is dead center. That in itself takes practice.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I dont think I can play like John Bonham but the drum sound.... any qualified recording engineer can achieve.
The sound certainly had as much to do with engineering, as did tuning, head type, shell size and material, and the player... combined. And while the sound is not hard to achieve (we got it easily for a snippet of Black Dog on our latest album,) remember that it was fairly groundbreaking when Led Zep hit, and is so closely identified with Bonham and the band, you wouldn't want to use it for anything anyway (unless you're Kingdom Clone... er, Kingdom Come, and ready to be labeled copycats!)

Bermuda
 

Der Februar

Senior Member
His TOUCH was what made the tone happen, he had his own way of playing that some can emulate, but no one can really duplicate as they are not HIM!!!
Maybe more importantly though is that you've only heard his drums on a recording, not in real life. I know that the tuning wouldn't sound too much different, but their would be more overtones and ambiance than in real life.
 

Blue/Olive Badge

Junior Member
One thing to remember about John's sound was the type of drums and heads he was using. Obviously there is a crucial element in how they were tuned but, if you don't have the right drums you are not going to get that sound.

I found this to be true with my vintage Tama Superstars. No matter what heads I used or how I tuned these drums they just always sounded dead to me. I was very frustrated for many years until I purchased my amber vistalites a just like that I had that Bonham sound.
 

dwsabianguy

Senior Member
I dont think I can play like John Bonham but the drum sound.... any qualified recording engineer can achieve.
Not necessarily. It helps to have a good engineer, but if the initial sound's not there, you're not going to get the end result without doing something drastic, like sampling or triggers. You can get pretty close, but not without some similar drums.

And as has been said, big drums make a big sound.
 

Strangelove

Gold Member
One thing to remember about John's sound was the type of drums and heads he was using. Obviously there is a crucial element in how they were tuned but, if you don't have the right drums you are not going to get that sound.

I found this to be true with my vintage Tama Superstars. No matter what heads I used or how I tuned these drums they just always sounded dead to me. I was very frustrated for many years until I purchased my amber vistalites a just like that I had that Bonham sound.

Maybe, but his studio set was wooden throughout every Zeppelin recording. His Vistas were only for concerts and only during the early to mid 1970's.
 

Strangelove

Gold Member
This tuning is neither original or secret, but has been used by jazz drummers for decades. Bonham was very jazz influenced, and he liked that sound. Combine that with large drums, his unique feel, and boom, classic rock god. .
Yes. I have also read interviews with Page and Plant where they mentioned that Bonzo (long before Ochletree) was particular of his drum tuning, and had Ludwig come in and tune his set for him. This was probably late 60's and early 70's. For those of you that were not playing back then, we pretty much tuned our kits the way of the big band drummers back then, which was a jazz tuning. They liked their toms and bass tuned higher so you could get faster stick/beater response on those blinding fast fills. So my bet is that Ludwig tuned his kit early on in the fashion of the big band drummers, and he kept that method throughout the rest of his life. I have always been hoping that some old Ludwig employee would jump up and tell us exactly how Bonzo tuned, since Ochletree seems so elusive on the subject. But my bet is that if you can find out about Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, or Louie Belson's tunings, you will probably get close enough to Bonzo's.

I personally never liked the sound of Bonzo's drums (his toms always sounded somewhat dead to me), while I idolized him as a drummer. I along with alot of other rock drummers of the 1970's eventually tuned my toms much lower, for more of that resonant thump and thud sound that studio engineers love so much these days.
 
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