Tuning drum differently for live situation?

Zildjian232

Senior Member
Hey Fellas,

I feel that I have been playing drums for far to long to ask this question, but it has been bugging me, and I haven't seen anyone else bring this up ever. So, I thought I would ask.

*I'm not asking for tuning tips

A while back, my band got paired up to open for this Legit Van Halen Cover band(somehow, not even close to the same genre). The drummer had a big Tommy Lee type kit. 2 bass drums, probably 6 or 7 oversized toms, cymbals behind it, gong, etc. For Logistic purposes, I had to play his kit.

When I sat down and started to feel my way around the kit, the toms sounded like GARBAGE. The pitches were all wayward, and the toms weren't resonating right,etc. I of course didn't really have time to tune things up, plus it wasn't my kit to tweak with. We recorded that show, and I was thinking about how bad the toms would sound. To my amazement, when I got the mix from the board. The toms sounded AMAZING, just as good or better than recordings on my very own kit.

So I know that the room, mic placment, type of mics, etc are all variables in this. Although, the question beckons...Do you guys approach tuning drums a bit differently for a live situation? Might be a dumb question, but I thought I'd ask.
 

Pocket-full-of-gold

Platinum Member
Not usually. I will certainly tweak tuning from room to room or gig to gig if necessary, but I don't actively set out to tune one way for a live gig and and then employ a totally different approach for recording. I just tweak the tuning to where they sound best in any situation

In this case, it sounds like a good sound engineer may have saved the day. It's amazing what a bit of EQ-ing and dial control can do to a "cardboard box."
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
Hey, PFOG... not to derail this thread, but would you mind explaining what your signature means? I've been trying to figure it out for a long time and I've finally just decided to come out and ask you. :)
 

Ethan01

Senior Member
Big ups to whoever ran the sound that night. A great drum sound starts with great sounding drums. Sounds simple but it's true. In a live setting though, a lot of sound engineers want the drums setup with as little pain as possible, so they will eq, comp, and gate the suckers. This is probably why the drums sounded way better at the mix than at the throne.
 

Ethan01

Senior Member
Hey, PFOG... not to derail this thread, but would you mind explaining what your signature means? I've been trying to figure it out for a long time and I've finally just decided to come out and ask you. :)
My guess it's a joke =p
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
It really depends if you are being miced. Unmiced, I tune tighter. Your sound will carry much better. It takes some getting used to, but you get better head response too. Unmiced, slack tuned drums sound like cardboard 10 feet away. If they're muffled even a little bit it sounds like cardboard 5 feet away.

I had a similar experience to yours once. Drums sounded like crap onstage. Through the PA wow!
 

wsabol

Gold Member
Hey, PFOG... not to derail this thread, but would you mind explaining what your signature means? I've been trying to figure it out for a long time and I've finally just decided to come out and ask you. :)
I have also been wondering the same...


Anyway, back to topic... Good sounding drums starts with good tuning and ends with a good sound guy. If you have great sounding drums, you may not need much from the guy, and he will love you for it. But if those toms didnt sound good acoustically, then it was all the sound guy.
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
Too many drummers get caught in the trap of tuning the kit to what sounds good to the player, or tune to what sounds good in their bedroom/garage/basement. If you want your drums to project, TUNE THEM to project, which usually means tune them higher than normal. Also, if you're going to be miked up through a PA, then experiment with different tunings through microphones to see what sounds good. A drum sounds MUCH different when heard from distances of a few inches (mics), a couple feet (the drummer) and 10+ feet (the audience). "Tune to the room" is a good mantra...
 

Pocket-full-of-gold

Platinum Member
I have also been wondering the same...
I PM'd 8Mile so as to keep my lunacy on topic, but if it's that much of a mystery then I'd better cop here quickly.

Yeah, it's a joke and a bad one at that. A friendly dig at the multitude of threads that seem to start on a daily basis revolving around "What is the best [insert your poison] for metal?" Just some idiocy that was the result of another thread and I've never bothered to change it.

Apols for the interlude, OP. Normal programming to resume shortly. :)
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Too many drummers get caught in the trap of tuning the kit to what sounds good to the player, or tune to what sounds good in their bedroom/garage/basement. If you want your drums to project, TUNE THEM to project, which usually means tune them higher than normal. Also, if you're going to be miked up through a PA, then experiment with different tunings through microphones to see what sounds good. A drum sounds MUCH different when heard from distances of a few inches (mics), a couple feet (the drummer) and 10+ feet (the audience). "Tune to the room" is a good mantra...
Amen to this. It's all about what everyone else hears, not the drummer.
Unmiced, your drums will sound the best completely unmuffled and tuned medium tight. (assuming evenly tensioned heads) That ring is what helps your drums sound ALIVE from the audience. I had to retrain my ear to understand that ring is a good thing for your sound. Overtones are not a four letter word.
 

wsabol

Gold Member
Amen to this. It's all about what everyone else hears, not the drummer.
Unmiced, your drums will sound the best completely unmuffled and tuned medium tight. (assuming evenly tensioned heads) That ring is what helps your drums sound ALIVE from the audience. I had to retrain my ear to understand that ring is a good thing for your sound. Overtones are not a four letter word.
Dude. Amen to this. I have recordings of the first gig my band played at, and my drums sounded as dead as Abe Lincoln. It was a rock-ish thing so, I tuned them kinda medium low.. bad idea. On the recording my drumming sounds like I'm playing a punching bag. Absolutely no resonance whatsoever.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Dead as Abe Lincoln lol. It warms my heart when I hear people say they recorded themselves and listened back. It's as important as anything you can do regarding drumming. The recorder doesn't lie.
 

dairyairman

Platinum Member
i agree that playing live unmiced it's best to remove all muffling from your drums and tune a bit higher.

i had this lesson driven home when one night i had to play a friend's drum kit. he had coated ambassadors on his toms and had them tuned pretty high. he had no muffling and nothing was miced. when i played them i could hear an outrageous high pitched ring from all toms and i was thinking they sounded terrible. but later when his band took the stage i listened from the audience and they sounded great! so at your show if you think your drums are ringy and boingy that probably means they're just about right.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
i agree that playing live unmiced it's best to remove all muffling from your drums and tune a bit higher.

i had this lesson driven home when one night i had to play a friend's drum kit. he had coated ambassadors on his toms and had them tuned pretty high. he had no muffling and nothing was miced. when i played them i could hear an outrageous high pitched ring from all toms and i was thinking they sounded terrible. but later when his band took the stage i listened from the audience and they sounded great! so at your show if you think your drums are ringy and boingy that probably means they're just about right.
This is one of those things in drumming that is backwards. Your perception is it sounds terrible. When it actually sounds awesome in the audience. Perceptions...you can't always trust them. Great. Less is more is another backwards thing. Another backwards thing I've learned is that most of my fills sound better played softer than harder. I'd play my fills hard, and while listening to the recording, I was cringing. So I adjust. Next time, same fill, I played without hitting hard, and it worked like a charm. Backwards.
 

Zildjian232

Senior Member
Hey guys, Thanks for the responses!

I'm definitely a fan of resonance. I don't care for muffling the drums. Letting the drums breathe is the way to go. Although putting some moon gel or something on the snare(in some cases) in the studio isnt a bad idea either.

Assuming you will know what the audience will hear never really works, but I was so sure when I heard how the kit was tuned. Ill definitely have to experiment with it. So far tuning my drums in my studio to how I think they will sound good, usually will always work in another situation. As long as they are tuned up.

So many variables to the live sound!
 
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