What does a properly tuned drum sound like to you?

AModestRat

Member
Let me start out by saying that tuning is extremely subjective, and what sounds "proper" to one may be completely wrong to another.

Over the year or so since I've started seriously playing drums, I've had my struggles with tuning them (as have most people). However, two things I've noticed about tuning are:

1. I have never had a particular tone in mind
2. I don't think I've ever heard a "properly" tuned set (to my ears)

As time went on, I've started tuning my set higher and using less muffling. While muffled, JAW-tuned drums have their place, I've come to realize that my preferred tuning is in the medium to medium high range. Not quite jazz, but not quite rock either. I started tuning higher after watching a couple of Sweetwater, Memphis Drum Shop, and Chicago Music Exchange vids; most seemed to be tuned in that "sweet" range between thud and boing. A great example is Nick D'Virgilio's tuning of the Stone Custom Drum Company Niles set, just great resonance and punch.

Above all else, I've tried to put myself more in the audience's perspective than behind the kit. Besides a 2-1/4" felt strip on the bass drum resonance head, I have no externally-added muffling. It took a lot of trial-and-error to get here, but man do my drums sound great (not just my personal opinion, gotten compliments from others as well)!
 

Stroman

Platinum Member
Yeah, I think new drummers, especially, have an unrealistic idea of what real drums sound like and tend to tune too low and over-muffle. And of course, different tunings sound good in different applications. I agree with you, though, tuned a little higher works best, especially live and unmiced.

I like drums to have a full, rich tone, and I rarely hear it from other's kits in a small venue live environment.
 

opentune

Platinum Member
I definitely 'evolved' from low tunings and dampened bass drums to high tunings and empty bass drums with a felt strip. Even from the beginning, I never ever liked 'JAW' on anything though.

I think the real revelation during your journey as a drummer comes when you start playing with people, and playing out. You then realize that low tunings seemed OK playing on your own, but do not cut with a band or in a venue, and do a disservice to the real rich timbre of a given drum.
 

T_Weaves

Silver Member
This might sound corny but I just tune mine by ear until I like the sound of them. They have to "sing" with no pitch bend up or down. I do tune the 10" toms around the snare to avoid too much snare buzz. I tune both kits' toms wide open, no muffling. ALL my snares get a Remo PS3 batter head. Remo PS3's on the BD's with a 5" mic port and nothing in the BD. The port is there for both pedal feel and mic placement. I've been playing 50 years come this June so I like to think I've got the hang of it. :)

Cheers,
JR
 

Odd-Arne Oseberg

Platinum Member
I certainly thought my drums were ringy and a bit high when I started playing, but I also understood the frequency thing as a long time musician before.

I first started playing drums as a teacher and quickly got proof when my students played the drums I tuned that a bit high was good out front and in context.

I too generally go in the medium-medium high range. Nice balanced tone there.

Things do depend on context though and a bit lower is fine.

Basically it's 10,12,14,16 in 4ths. 10 starting between D and E.
 

Otto

Platinum Member
To me, I like to find the tuning where the drum has the maximum resonation without excessive sympathetic vibration from other parts of the set.

This can change not only based on the individual instruments tuning but the room and how I play.

If I use muffling I like to keep it minimal with a preference to using none.

I find it is often a trade-off between the different parts of the set....where one drum has to be a bit outside its optimal tune in order to prevent excessive cross-talk.

I like the technique I learned from Dave Weckl's older videos for tuning toms...resonant just a bit above finger tight and batter an octave above...but I do vary at times depending on mood and what I'm after.

I will shoot for specific pitches(used to do that with a passion) but not so much anymore.
 

alparrott

Platinum Member
all great advice so far ... I'll add this

remember what your drums sound like to you behind the kit is very different from what they sound like to someone listening at any sort of distance.

in my experience lower tuned drums that sound nice and punchy from behind the kit sound dead and cardboard boxy to an audience
... and drums tuned a bit higher that sound almost tuned too high from behind the kit tend to project better and sound deeper from an audience perspective.

I always use the bugle fanfare that you may hear at the start of a horse race to get my drums into intervals that I enjoy and that I find contribute to music best

tuning is a science that develops over time ... don't over think it ... just have fun and play music
As usual, Tony took the words from my mouth.
 

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
A properly tuned drum has tone, resonance and a melodic feel. Not that it has to match a key on the piano, but it doesn't sound dead, boing, rattle, flat, thud, dud, etc. For my money if you have more than on tom they should all sound good together.
 

Wave Deckel

Gold Member
A properly tuned drum has tone, resonance and a melodic feel. Not that it has to match a key on the piano, but it doesn't sound dead, boing, rattle, flat, thud, dud, etc. ...
Agreed.

When I started with drums, I played with whatever head was on them - actually I don't remember which ones were on the drums. I didn't even care as a youngster. I didn't even know that you could tune heads.

Fast forward: Right now, I keep everything pretty much at a medium tuning-range, I guess. I work on the tone, the right amount of sustain, the melodic feel. The drums have to sound musical, harmonic, they have to project some warmth and sound good in a variety of genres without re-tuning them all the time. And they need to have some personality. I love it when they have a good but gentle sustain, a sound that embraces the audience. It takes some time to find those sweet spots for every drum because every drumset reacts a bit different with every different head you use and the tuning you apply to it. But it's worth investing the time IMO.

On all of my drumsets, I play coated G1 or G2 on toms (or Ambassador/Emperor coated, whatever is available at stores when needed). No muffling at all. My bassdrums (PS3/EQ4 on batterside) are not ported on the front (default Starclassic Evans head). I keep it all closed, without any muffling. If you tune them right, they will give you that nice warm, buttery "punch" that will fit with virtually any style. And sound engineers don't have to "fight" with the mixing, if you tune them right. If you tune them well, they will really appreciate it and usually not ask for any muffling.

On my snares, I always use a G1 coated or Ambassador coated on batter side and keep the snares usually in the medium to medium-low tuning I never tune really low because of that "cardbox-sound", the lacking projection). I don't want them to be harsh-sounding. I love a smooth buttery sound. Gives you a good backbeat and usually it won't collide then sonically with any other instrument or the singer. A nice accent in the background, not some "in-your-face" punching.

Admittedly, getting that buttery sound out of each snaredrum is not that easy, but once you get that sound, it's great. Usually you won't really need any moongel then. But you can add one for getting a drier sound of course (for studio-work e.g.) - and it will still sound great.
 
F

funkutron

Guest
Yeah, I think new drummers, especially, have an unrealistic idea of what real drums sound like and tend to tune too low and over-muffle. And of course, different tunings sound good in different applications. I agree with you, though, tuned a little higher works best, especially live and unmiced.

I like drums to have a full, rich tone, and I rarely hear it from other's kits in a small venue live environment.
Every drum seems to have a "sweet spot" with tuning, where it resonates. As long as the sweet spots fall in the right intervals for a kit, you're in the money. BUT, I've never been a fan of tuning the heads (batter and reso) differently to achieve this, I always try to tune the top and bottom head the same tension/pitch, etc, because the drum "pops" better there. So I'd rather "tweak" the whole equal tension than have the heads out of sync with each other.
 

WallyY

Platinum Member
For many years I tuned high clear ambassador reso and medium clear emperor batter.

Lately I go for clear ambassadors overall and fairly high both top and bottom, but it really only matters to what you want.
If a sound guy doesn't like it, ef-'em. Whenever a really good sound guy has at 'em, they sound good. I won't cater to someone laboring on a false premise, but I also won't try to make it difficult. I like a muffled bass drum most of the time, and I also like a really boingy sound too sometimes.
It's what I like.

What I can't tolerate is a room that makes the drums sustain way too much that I have to throw off the tension.
 

2underpar

Silver Member
My thought has always been "Three Blind Mice" with a five piece or "ding dong" with a four piece. But what do I know,... that's why I got 3 kits set up in the basement for recording.
 

mike d

Silver Member
Every drum seems to have a "sweet spot" with tuning, where it resonates. As long as the sweet spots fall in the right intervals for a kit, you're in the money. BUT, I've never been a fan of tuning the heads (batter and reso) differently to achieve this, I always try to tune the top and bottom head the same tension/pitch, etc, because the drum "pops" better there. So I'd rather "tweak" the whole equal tension than have the heads out of sync with each other.
I agree that drums seem to have a sweet spot that is probably dictated by a lot of factors: head, shell thickness, materials, depth, width, construction etc. I find that I can tune a drum within a certain range and it will sound good, but if I try to go above, below it, it just doesn't work.
 

mikyok

Platinum Member
Every drum seems to have a "sweet spot" with tuning, where it resonates. As long as the sweet spots fall in the right intervals for a kit, you're in the money. BUT, I've never been a fan of tuning the heads (batter and reso) differently to achieve this, I always try to tune the top and bottom head the same tension/pitch, etc, because the drum "pops" better there. So I'd rather "tweak" the whole equal tension than have the heads out of sync with each other.
Who started this thread....do you realize what you've done! :)

I find that the depth of the toms depends on the relationship of tuning between top and bottom heads. Excluding bass drum and snare here, that's a whole different hornets nest I'm not waving my balls anywhere near.

I have a kit with fast toms and I can tune the reso head closer to the batter head, I still tune the reso head up to excite it and get the air through the drum quicker but a 14x7 floor is a different beast to an 18x16 floor. I really have to tune the resonant head a lot higher on a big floor tom.

I find tuning the reso head higher gives you more attack in your sound but each to their own. Tuning is very subjective with drums.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Pure sex.

Round, with a balance of attack and depth.

Imperfect perfection.

I like toms that have at least a 1 second audible sustain and have a discernible note.

On recordings, I like a drum that you can tell it's headed and tuned really well, no muffling, with bare minimal processing. With the mics backed off at least a meter. Close miced dead splat toms? No thanks. I had my fill of that 20 years ago.

I'm referring to toms only here. Snares and bass drums have very different requirements.
 
F

funkutron

Guest
My thought has always been "Three Blind Mice" with a five piece or "ding dong" with a four piece. But what do I know,... that's why I got 3 kits set up in the basement for recording.
George of the Jungle! I tune the interval between each tom to that.
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
The tom fill in With A Little Help From My Friends.
The drums on Art Blakey's Thunder Suite.
The bass drum in When The Levee Breaks

...these all sound inspiring. I guess full, resonant, big, and round describe it to me.
 
I tune my drums to medium resonance for at home and high/max for live. They should sound full toned and have a solid impact. Over the years, I just know how my drums should sound and what they sound like when they are out of tune.

I recently picked up a Tunebot to help me with tuning double bass drums. I thought I was a pretty good tuner and had an idea in my head of what my drums should sound like, but the Tunebot quickly showed me the light. lol I am currently experimenting with the Tunebot with having the reso head tune higher than the batter. I grew up for years of tuning the batter higher than the reso, but its a different feeling while playing have the drums reversed. I feel the Tunebot helped me become and better tuner and allow my drums to sound great.
 
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