Alright, so we're gonna dive into tuning a drum. Here you can see I took the heads off of the drum. We have a completely blank shell now. So when you're presented with this opportunity, before we get into putting heads on, we should actually be checking the drum itself to make sure that there's no cracks, that the bearing edge itself is actually nice and sound and it gives us an opportunity to actually clean the drums, because who cleans their drums these days, anyway? Hardly anybody, unless you have a dedicated drum tech that does it, most people don't clean their drums.
You think that not cleaning them, the grime can affect the quality of the tone or at least how the hardware works, how well it works.
Yeah definitely, definitely. We have to think about what most drummers are doing. They're chopping wood with metal. So you're going to get segments and actually like sawdust type particles in everything. So, in order to maintain not only the life of the drum but to actually make sur...
e that the drum is not making any extra, unnecessary noises, we need to make sure that we're using a clean surface, and the most important surface would be the bearing edge itself.
And this is just similar to guitar where you polish and maintain that hardware if you want to be able to set the guitar up and not have it corrode due to sweat.
So now that we have the heads off, we just take a towel. Preferably not sandpaper style towels. The softer the better. And just go around the drum, cleaning any debris that you might have or not have that you can't see off of the drum, off of each bearing edge and once you do that, it's always nice to give the drum a good once over while you're here, because you have a full blank slate to work with and you can clean up the thing. So once you do that, I always like to check the bearing edge with my finger just to make sure that there's nothing in the way of the drum and the head itself. Any tiny little thing in between the shell and the head will create buzzes or dead spots when you're actually trying to tune.
So you mean like a splintered piece or.
A splintered piece or even some sort of, if you use some sort sticky stuff or the drummer uses some sticky stuff for his drumsticks, sometimes, when he changes his head, he forgets and he's touching the stuff and there's residue all over it. All that stuff can be affected. If you do have a situation where you have a bearing edge that is not even or say you've splintered a piece or it's broken off, there's a quick remedy that you can use. It's like a paraffin wax or a beeswax, just give it a nice little rub around the edges and it will smooth around any minor, insignificant things for that session. Otherwise, I would probably have the drum looked at by somebody who can touch up the bearing edges and recut them for you to get 'em back in working order.
Do you find this is worse with drums that have been toured on? Because one thing that scares me is when I'm gonna record a band, the national, they wanna use a drumset that's been in the trailer. I refuse unless I'm being completely overpowered, which happens, I refuse to use drum sets that have been on tour because of these types of things.
I mean honestly, it depends on whose drums there are. There are, some of the higher acts have guys that, their drums techs, their jobs are to polish and clean the drums every show, and I have a few friends that are in huge bands that, that's what their drum tech does, and all of their kits look brand new every single day. However, most touring bands, the drummer is the drum tech, and most of the time, you gotta think that the drum lives in a trailer for 80% of its touring life, it's in a trailer. And a trailer is submitted to heat conditions and to humidity changes and all of these things that can actually affect the way the shell's put together, the glue that is used to glue the plies together, the wood itself. If your using, for instance, since we have two different types of wood in the shell, each one likes a different place to be with its humidity range, and if you get into a place that's a little bit wetter, one of those woods might react differently, therefore throwing the whole balance of the shell out. So in general yes, a touring kit is probably going to be in a less better condition than a studio kit, especially when it comes to bearing edges and shell condition itself. A lot of drums are not really taken care of on the road and they pushed around, they're knocked over on stage by accident, you have a roadie that picks it up and has a giant belt buckle and scrapes it up. It happens all the time. So if you can, use a kit that's dedicated for studio use. Or for local use and not really national touring. So now, both of these bearing edges are in really great condition and they're nice and clean. So now we're gonna go on to putting the heads on. I usually like to start, notice there's no heads on here, I usually like to start with the bottom heads. It's important that you take care and change the bottom heads almost as much as you do the top heads. Everybody plays on the top heads. The top head, the batter head, the drummer hits it. You can notice when it's time to change it because it's very scuffed up, it's very dirty, or it has dents in it. Easily noticeable when it's time to change. The bottom head, the resonant head, often times it's overlooked, and resonant heads go dead as well. They can go dead. Because you have to think about what each head is doing. They're sitting on sharp piece of wood vibrating back and forth. So the resonant head job is usually, at least in my tuning schemes that I use for most of my projects, is sitting at a higher tension. The higher tension, even though it's not being hit, is going to have that head actually decrease in its usage or ability to be used over time. So we have to replace that. So I generally change out most heads on the beginning of a brand new session unless I had used that kit within a month beforehand and I know that it was only on one record before then and it's been sitting in an air-conditioned environment. Then I'm fine with it, but in this case, we got all of these drums from a rental company, so we don't know what condition, we don't know when the last time they changed these heads, the bottom heads were, at least. So we're gonna start with the bottom head. Now, when choosing the heads, the general rule is to use a single thinner head on the resonant side or at least the same. We're choosing the Remo Ambassador clear, which is a 10 mil thickness head, which is a single ply. So it's nice and (drum head thudding) papery sounding. And that's good. We wanna look for something that actually (drum head thudding) has a nice papery tone to it. Because if you're using something that has too much tension built into the making of the drum and has an actual pitch on its own, getting out of that pitch is going to be difficult. It wants to live in that area, so putting tension on it is just going to increase any type of not tuned itself it is, as you put tension on it. So, I look for heads that are nice and papery to start with. (drum head thudding) There's a tone there, but it's not an actual note. It's multiple notes, it's nice and papery. It's thin. It's going to respond better as a resonant side. It'll stay active. You can use this head for your batter side as well, but for our instances, noticing Anup's stick size and how hard he hits, we needed a little more durable head for the top, for the batter size, so we're gonna go with this for only the resonant side.
I actually love the way Ambassadors sound. Ambassador Clears. For a batter sides. But, with the types of drummers that I tend to record and how hard I try to get them to hit, they'll last half a song.
Yes. It's not uncommon for that to happen. I used to play Ambassadors as well, and I lasted one take on one song in a session and I had to change out the head, and the producer was like, come on, man, you're wasting time, and that was the point where I went, realized, okay, I should be using a little bit thicker head all the time.
And it gets expensive, and let me just tell you, we choose Remos because we think that they're the best, but Remo doesn't really give deals, so this can really add up in price. There's some other companies that are cheaper who will give deals, and you can even get some for free if you finagle it, but the quality's not there, so you really do need to be budget conscious about this, but this is as important as changing guitar strings. You gotta do it.
If not more. It's, yeah. We use Remo, I've used Remo my whole life and I've tried other companies, and they just don't have the clarity that a studio session needs. The other companies might have more durability which is great for the road, but when I comes to studio work, Remo stuff is really easy. We know what we're getting into. We know exactly what it's gonna sound like on the back end. Okay, so continuing on. We're gonna place the head on here, the head should rotate freely around the drum. You can place the logo wherever you want. I'm very particular about placing it where the badge is, it's just a thing that I have. So then we'll take the rim, and before we place the rim on it, with this being a resonant side rim, it's usually upside down most of the time, which means it's going to catch a lot of the sawdust from the drum itself, so I'll just clean the rim off, wipe it off with a towel, make sure there's nothing in between the rim and the head itself that could possible damage the head as we're tensioning it. Once that's clear and all the lugs are clear, I'll place that on. And at this point you're just doing a little bit of normal stuff, screwing the tension rods into the lugs, making sure that they're going in nice and evenly and smoothly. If you notice that, when putting in one of these tension rods into the lug itself, that it's not screwing in. You might cross-threading it. It could be stripping out. Or there could be damage to the tension rod itself, just like with any machine parts, really. You gotta be careful with that, and the last thing you wanna do is, if it's not going in with your fingers like this and you take a key to it, you're going to end up damaging more than just the tension rod itself. You'll actually end up damaging the lug or the insert inside of the lug, which can be hard to track down and can start to get pricey. So first step would be to get everything kind of a finger tight. I'll make this go a little bit faster with my key, so what I'm doing is basically just spinning this down till it stops spinning, which means that the tension of the head has started to engage, and I don't want to engage it to the point where it's actually in tune with anything yet. I'm making sure that each one of these tension rods is only on there just a little bit tighter than my finger, where they're gonna stop themselves. Once we get to that point where everything is right, touching the rim. (drum head thudding) See there's no sound coming from this. Still very, very loose. At that point, I will go through, and I will start to get a little bit of tone from this. And this is a point where most people, demonstrating how they tune drums, will actually do the seating process, which is pressing into the head. A lot of people like to do that without any tension on the head itself. I prefer, and I found that the tuning actually lasts a little bit longer when you get an actual tone on the head first. Nothing too high. We're just going in to get a basic, in tune with itself type of thing going on around the drum before I'm gonna seat the head. The reason being is that there are, every drum has its own little idiosyncracies to it, and every head has its own little flaws in its manufacturing. Not everything is done perfectly. They're all very close, but not everything's perfect. So, I like to get it to where there's actually some amount of tension on the head first before I do what's called seating. So as you can hear (drum head thudding) I have a basic tone up on the head. At this point, I will do this seating process, which is basically just pressing your hand into the center of the head, and pushing down. Now, you'll hear glue cracking, and you'll hear the head moving back and forth on the bearing edge. That's all good and dandy. And you want to put a good amount of pressure on this. Because what we're trying to do by seating the head like this is we're doing two things. We're getting the head itself accustomed to the bearing edge, so it's sitting on the bearing edge and we don't want it to have a collar that stays up here above the bearing edge and doesn't really interact with the drum. We want the collar to be seated firmly on the bearing edge having contact with the head, so that way, all of our tuning is actually engaging the full drum. So no, seated the head, at that point, I'll go in and start tuning to itself. So I'm at a pitch. I have a little bit different pitches all the way around. I'll try to get these all to the similar area before I start really finding the pitch that we want to live at.
Now, have you seen people seating heads by standing on the drums?
How do you feel about that?
It's fine when you get to larger sized drums. When I get to the bass drum over here, you'll see something similar that I like to do. When it comes to smaller drums like this 12 or or even up to a 16, you have to realize that, how much pressure is going to be on the head itself, and when it comes to a resonant head, they're often thinner, and if you put your entire weight on a small drum like this, you might actually damage the drum in the process. And especially with it sitting with the bearing edge open like that without anything protecting it. There's a good chance you put however much you weigh, you start standing on this thing, you're actually creating problems on the bearing edge, and we don't want to do that.
So don't do it.
Yeah, don't do that. And you'll notice I have this sitting on a stool right here. You can do this on the floor or on a counter. Just make sure you have a nice, soft surface. This is a nice, soft surface. It's not gonna create any damage. There's nothing wrong with placing a towel down. Make sure you have a nice, soft surface to work on. This comes into play a little bit more later, but right now it's hear to protect the bearing edge from getting messed up. So now we have a basic tone. I've sat the head, it's nice and firm in there, and what I'll do is I'll go around and get a relative pitch that we're aiming for for this drum. And what I do with resonant heads is I search a place where the head seems to come alive. And that's where the head wants to sit, that's kinda where the drum wants to sit. It's kinda what the size and the bearing edge are dictating, and you'll be able to hear it as soon as I get to it. (drum head thudding) It'll be one of those things that just jumps out like okay, everything is in sync. (drum head thudding) Now I'm tapping pretty close to these edges. I'm tapping maybe a half inch away from the edge so I can get the actual tone of what's happening at that tension rod. (drum head thudding)
While you're doing this.
Can you explain how you feel about drum dials and all those little knick knacks that people lick to use. 'Cause I don't like 'em.
I don't use them, and it's important to realize that a lot of those tuning helpers, especially a drum dial or the tension dial or stuff like that, they're relying on the physics of certain things being accurate. The drum dial measures tension on the head. Now, there's one thing you have to realize, there's inconsistencies in manufacturing of drums and heads themselves. Nothing is perfect, and so measuring the tension is great. That doesn't mean that the actual pitch that that tension is creating is going to be the same. If the tension is measuring here and here and here and here is the same, that's fine, but those could be several different pitches involved with that, and since this is a thing that has everything to do with pitch relationship, with a tom, we wanna make sure that the pitches are in tune with themselves, not necessarily the tension. I've had drums that I've worked on that were older where the bearing edge was still in round but it was slightly off, and it was a little bit cockeyed on the drum, so I had to put a lot more tension on one side than I would on the other to get the head in tune. And once it was in tune, you couldn't tell, but if I would've used a drum dial or something that measures tension on the lug itself, it wouldn't have gotten anywhere close. The other one is, there's one that uses the tension of the screw, it measures the tension of how much is going into the screw on the tension rod. You have a mechanical thing. That's assuming that everything is working and greased up and it has the same amount of tension fingerwise without any tension applied to the head, but that how much tension is in between the threads itself. If you have inconsistencies in your mechanical side of things, that's not gonna do you any good. Just like with using a drill that has one of those tension locks, when it gets to a certain amount of torque, it stops and it clicks. That's the same process. So you could be tightening the head or you could be not even touching the head depending on what the mechanics are involved with here. The Tune-bot is one that using neither one of those things. It uses the actually frequency that's at that lug. It's great if you know what you're shooting for and you know how to read it and you're looking for certain frequencies. I don't use any of those. I use my ear because every drum is different, and every head is different. So I try to find a place where the drum and the head want to sit, and I use my ear, and I guess this is where the years of playing timpani come into effect, because I can actually hear pitches pretty well, and I can tell if something's in tune or not. So right now, I'm getting pretty close (drum head thudding) to where the drum wants to sit. It's a little bit higher than probably most people would expect to go, the reason being is that's part of the tuning scheme that I do, where the resonance side is higher than the batter side to create the pitch that we're looking for. At this point, we're close. (drum head thudding) Minor discrepancies, so what I'll do is I'll lightly place my finger in the middle of the head, just barely touching, similar to a guitar player playing harmonics, just barely touching the center of the head. (drum head thudding) Just to get rid of the extra resonance. As you can see, without it, (drum head thudding) With it. (drum head thudding) I'm more focused on what's actually happening by each lug. (drum head thudding) At that point, I'll start going lug to lug, matching, pulling the higher ones down. If they're significantly higher, pulling the lower ones up. (drum head thudding) So there's a couple things. As we're tightening, going across from lug to lug. You always go across the drum to make sure that you're even. That's for the initial tuning. Once we get to the initial tuning and everything's there, I usually go around, and you have to realize there's a couple things that happen. When you tighten this tension rod over here, it's also affecting this tension rod, but it's also affecting this tension rod and this tension rod. I found that this one movement over here affects three different areas on the other side of the drum, and sometimes, if you have one of these tension rods that you feel is already tight, and you can tell by pressing here, and it's still sounding lower, that it's maybe not necessarily this tension rod. Check the one across, and then if that is in tune, those are in tune together, then you start checking either the star pattern or the triangle pattern, so the other ones that are dividing the drum into even parts, basically.
That's a great tip. It'll save people from stripping out the lugs.
Exactly, exactly. (drum head thudding) Alright, so his bottom head is in tune with itself and we're ready to move on to the top head. Alright, so let's turn the head over, turn the drum over. Once again, we've already checked the bearing edges, we know that the bearing edges are fine and they're clean. So now we're gonna go to our batter head. Our batter head that we're using is the Remo Emperor Clear two ply clear head. Once again, we're using this type of head for two purposes. One, to amplify the attack, the slap sound, and to get some more low end out of the drum, and two, to provide the durability necessary to withstand the way Anup plays the drums. He hits hard, he has big sticks, so we gotta have something a little bit more durable or else I'll be out here changing heads all day, and that's not fun. So we'll put that on, same thing. Make sure it spins around the drum. That means there's nothing getting in the way between the drum and the head. Once again, I just align the badges up to, or the logos up to the badges just for my own sake, you can put 'em wherever you want. There are some certain drummers that are very particular about where they see the logos on the head. It's a psychological thing. I was the same way, when I play, I like to have the logos face a certain way, so sometimes you wanna check with the drummer and make sure, is this gonna bother you if the logo's over here. If they don't care, then you're fine to go. It's one of those little things.
Well, drummers tend to be OCD so, they do care.
They do care.
It's a big deal.
It's funny, I was working with one drummer and I did my normal thing, and I like to have the badges, the logos face outwards away from me, like I'm sitting at a car and I'm looking at the, everything is looking towards me, and he sat down behind the kit, and he turned every single drum all the way around from where I was. Just a preference. He wanted to look at it differently than I did, and I was like, okay, there you go.
Always find out.
Yeah, exactly. So, same thing with this. We'll go through and put the head on and get these down to finger tension. If you don't have a large key like this, then it's probably easier just to do it with your fingers. This key is a high tension key that's used for marching percussion settings. I like to use it because it gives me a lot of control with hardly, you know, I have a lot of leverage here. It's a lot of weight. I can use my fingers like this and I can really fine tune, with very little motion, I can tune very finely, so this is my key of choice, but this works with any key. So, we have all of 'em finger tight basically, and we're gona go through the same process we did with the resonant head with this one. To where (drum head thudding) it's on here. There's no pitch, so we're gonna get everything kinda up and to a basic pitch at this point. There was one step that some people do depending on what they're doing, and I do it occasionally. More with snare heads, and we'll talk about that in a little bit, but there is a process of cracking where you invert the collar a little bit all the way around. And I like to do that with the snare drums just because I know that they're getting a little bit more attention than the toms are, which helps them settle back in a little bit easier. (drum head thudding) So I have a basic tension on the top head. (drum head thudding) You can hear a tone happening. Same thing here, I'll seat the head. (soft crackling) And you can hear the glue settling in and the drum getting used to the head and the head getting used to the drum and vice versa. (drum head thudding) You can hear it dropped significantly at that point, which is good. This process also helps prepare the head so it's not losing its tone as the player is playing. Alright, so we just got to a point just now (drum head thudding) where the head is starting to come alive, now with a batter head, I usually like to go to the first point that I hear the drum start to open up. Like get a nice big tone out of it. Because that to me is like, okay, this is a good starting spot, and this is the point where I'll do a fine tuning all the way around the drum. (drum head thudding) Make sure everybody's in tune before I start seeing where the drum's at. (drum head thudding) So we're at a place where, at this point, I'll usually pick the drum up and give it a good hit and see where we're at. (drum thudding) So we're relatively in tune, but I hear the bottom head sounds like it's a little bit high, and this is the point where A.L. and I will discuss where's the tuning range of the drums, where do we wanna sit? Do we want the rack tom to be higher, do we want the rack tome to be lower, same thing with the floor tom, are we going for a high or lower. Snare drums, we'll discuss, where do we want the drums to sit in the tuning. So that's when I defer to you. What are we going for with this drum sound?
We're going for a punchy drum sound, but that's lower, somewhat low, but with a lot of punch and a lot of crack.
And as far as sustain is concerned, how much sustain?
I don't want, not very long.
Not very long.
Not very long.
More of a shorter, kind of throatier sound.
Because I want to be able to push these drums to the front of the mix, and I want to be dealing with a tail that goes off and clouds everything. There's a wall of sound that's gonna be on this. So I just want them, almost like kick drums. Almost.
Almost like kick drums, okay.
A little longer than a kick, but almost like kick drums. Like tuned higher kick drums.
So, where we're at with this drum (drum thudding) we have a nice sustain. It sounds to me like the bottom head could come down just a little bit. We had (drum head thudding) Now we have a different ratio here. (drum head thudding) So that's pretty significant interval between the two heads. This is also where it brings up the question of tuning the head or the drums to the song. Do we wanna do that, and if so, why not. My personal preference is, and we've talked an extent about this before is, I don't view the drums in a rock and roll setting as a melodic instrument. I understand that there's a lot of people who do tune drums to the key of the song, thinking that it helps with making sure there's no, not anything clashing. But I found that when I have done that, I've had to, as an engineer, push the toms further and louder in the mix than I was comfortable with in order to get them to speak and have the same amount of contribution to the overall tone of the tune. So I don't choose to per se tune to a specific note to match the tune. I choose to tune where the producer wants it, that the drum wants to sit within those contexts. Every drum has a range it likes to sit in, and some of those ranges are within five notes, and some of 'em are small, within two or three notes. So it's important to know that this 12 inch tom, if it was supposed to be, let's say, in the key of D, what if this tom wants to sit at a note that doesn't fall within that key? What are we supposed to do? Do we switch? Does everybody have three sets of toms to work with. No. You have to figure out what's best. So, to get a good sound for the drum to sit where it's supposed to sit or wants to sit, for me is always been a better choice. Now there are specific notes I like to stay away from, and that has to do with the key, if you are in a key, like usually typically the 7th note of the scale would not work really well, as it's something that's being hit all the time, or the second note of the scale would not really work all that well, but anything else, the first the third, the fourth, fifth, sixth, they all seem to work really well within any key. So as long as I'm not in those two notes, I'm fine. And getting out of one of those two notes to the note that's in either direction is very easy for most drums to achieve.
I feel like there's another factor as well when it comes to tuning to the key of the song in metal, which is that metal doesn't always live within in a key.
There's a lot of weird harmony stuff going on that's not exactly correct a lot of the time. Granted, there are a lot of bands that use proper key changes and proper chord movements and stuff, but a lot of bands just play riffs with tons of chromatics with no real key center.
And the closest thing you can say is the key, the key that the open string would be in, but the thing is, so what are you gonna do? Are you gonna retune the drums to different pitches every time that the riff changes or goes up a half step.
It doesn't make sense.
That's right, it doesn't make sense. It becomes a lot more work, really. Plus, you might be fighting what the drum wants to hear and feel, and that's a whole 'nother thing altogether. So with this particular tuning, I was a little bit high on the bottom head. I lowered it a little bit, I'm gonna check. (drum head thudding) So I'm doing very fine adjustments mostly. So there I have the same pitch all the way around the head. So now I'll just go back to the top head and check it again, see if it's sitting a bit friendlier. (drum thudding) So now we have a little bit more decay than we had, but it's smoother, and it's more refined in the note. This is the point that I would leave the drum where it is and go to put it on a stand and move on to the next drum, because this is a good starting point. From here, I will be able to dial in the fine tuning on here as well as whatever muffling scheme we want to accommodate the length of the note. To me, it's always better to start with the longest possible in tune note that you can, and from there, work backwards to find the sustain or the length of the note that you wanna have. I know that everybody has different preferences. With my own projects, it depends on what I'm engineering or producing as well that determines what I do to the drums once I get it to this point to live in the area. Andrew Way, when I worked with him, he defined his toms that he wanted on The Ghosts Inside record as, I want them to sound like smaller kick drums, which meant very short. He wanted to hear a tone, an attack, and that's it. So what I did is I created the same tuning scheme as you would have here. I did all of this the same, but my muffling scheme changed a little bit to accommodate that short of a sound. And I know with other producers, other stuff that Audiohammer, that we have done in the past, the length is more important, so we'll to where it's a wide open. So at that point, when the length of the drum is important, you already have it with no muffling, it's all here. (drum thudding) Nice long decay and it speaks well. So it's always best to tune to the point where the drum is in tune and then make your muffling decisions from there on out. Most good muffling choices will not change the tuning of the drum.
I gotta say also, this is where we go back to what I said earlier about my job being, in the control room, in front of the speakers, listening to what this sounds like through a microphone. Now that this is tuned fine, this is when we can actually hear what it would sound like. This is when we start to decide if we even like this drum. Do we like this tuning, and all of that. So yeah, you get this done and another, like the floor tom done, and then we would literally just throw up a few microphones, not go crazy with the placement, and just hear where we're at. Before we start going crazy with Moongel or anything like that and just see are we in the ballpark or does this really suck or close, how close are we. Do we need to just scrap this drum completely. These are things that you should never assume going into a session, and even though it sounded pretty cool in here, we have no idea what it's gonna sound like in there. So at this point, I wouldn't want to move forward without hearing that.
Exactly, so that's at the point where I'll set this aside, move on to the other toms, or the other drums in the kit. In this case, we're gonna move on to the snare drum. So, I've gone ahead and removed the prior heads on this drum, because once again I didn't know how old they were and they didn't fit with the type of heads we were going to use for this project anyway. So, you can hear. (drum head thudding) There's no tension on anything. They're barely, they're just on here finger tight. So with a snare drum, I'll start with the bottom side and make sure that everything's ready to go. Now.
What kind of head is that, a Hazy?
This is a Remo Ambassador snare side, a Hazy, yeah. Which is very thin. I think it's a three mil. It's a very thin head. It's very papery, and the bottom snare head is always very thin because it has has to be activated very quickly. The thicker the head, the slower the reaction it's gonna have, so this is a very thin head, so it'll act quickly so that it engages the snare wires on the bottom to give us a snare sound, basically. And with this head, because it's so thin, I won't do the seating process, because I've actually seen, and when I was younger, ruined entire heads by seating them the same way you would seat any other head. I thought, oh, when I was younger, I was like, oh, you gotta seat the heads. So I pressed on the snare head and ended up breaking the head. Brand new head. And of course I didn't have any money to buy another one so I had to play without a snare head for a while. So I learned that lesson a long time ago. With the bottom head, just gradually start taking it up, get it to where there's nice tension on every single lug, all the way around. And most of the times, as a matter of fact, I'll do this right now, I'm going to take snares out, off the head, so I can easily hear what the pitches are doing here. So I'll go around putting tension all the way around the head, just a little bit till we get the wrinkles out. And then we'll start looking at the tension of what's going on around the drum. Most drums, especially wood drums, not so much metal drums, but wood drums have, on the edges where the snare systems are, they'll have what's called snare beds, which is where the drum actually dips down a little bit off, the bearing edge becomes a little bi flatter. The reason that they have those is to give the snare's wires themselves a more level plane to sit on, which means you'll have to put a little bit more tension over the bed jus to make sure the head is in tune with everything else, which is fine. We're going for getting the wrinkles out of the head itself first. So now we have the wrinkles out of the head. Once again, I'm not going to seat this drum. I'm not going to press into this particular head 'cause I don't want to damage the head. At this time, I'll start going around and getting an even pitch all the way around the drum, and once again, this is a resonant side head, so we're gonna go, same thing as the toms, we're gonna go a little bit higher than we would with the batter side. The general rule with snare drums is on snare heads is the higher the tension, the more sensitive the snares will be, the lower the tension, the less sensitive but more body the drum will have. So, we're in a place where we're looking for something that cuts, that has a lot of body but also has a lot sensitivity because of the amount of ghost notes that are being played. = Yes. We need to be able to hear those articulations very well.
So, we're gonna choose a tuning scheme for the bottom head that is a little bit different than what most people would go for, standard tunings. What I'll do in this case, because we want kind of the best of both worlds is I will pursue these three lugs and these three lugs here a little bit more with the tension and with the pitch. I'll try to get these up a little bit higher where they're sitting to where I think would be a nice sensitive area. (drum head thudding) So they're basically in the same area. And then I'll go to the other four lugs, the two on the other side of the snare bed. Now with these, I will check the tension by pressing in. I want these to be a little bit lower, so that way there's a little bit less tension right here, right across the center of the drum. We'll have just a hair less of tension across it. So we have the sensitivity coming from the side of the drum, but the depth coming from right over the snare bed, which'll give us a nice combination of snare sensitivity but also depth to the drum itself. (drum head thudding) <v A.L.>It's crafty.
Yeah, it is, isn't it. (drum head thudding) So now I have these four basically in the same pitch but you can hear there's a difference. (drum head thudding) About a step a part. And you can feel a difference when you press over the two different lugs here, the two different sides. So at that point, this would be a good starting spot before we get to the actual hitting, to put the snares back on. So, on this we have the standard looks like 14 strand or 20 strand snare. This is a standard that comes with most snare drums. And we do have an option to switch this out to a larger, wider, more strand count snare drum if we need to, which we won't know until we really put the microphones up. If we get to the point where we like the tone of this drum but we need more snare contribution, at that point, I'll simply switch this out to the wider snares and we'll have a little bit, we'll have the same exact sounding drum but a little bit more snare drum to it.
You should always have that option available to you. Always buy multiple snares, in my opinion.
Yeah, and here's the thing--
Let's say, as a studio runner, like if you own a studio or you're operating a studio out of your house or whatever, and you can't afford a drum kit to have in the house, you know what you should have, bass drum beaters and snares. That's it. Snare drum wires and bass drum beaters. You can get those from any, they're not very expensive. They're gonna run maybe 25 bucks apiece. And what it'll do is it'll give you the option to change the sound of the two things that are the most important on almost every single rock record without having to buy a new drum. So, that way if somebody comes in with a drum kit and you like the sound or you have no choice but you have to use that snare, but there's not enough snare response, you can switch out to your wider snare strand if you want, or if the guy comes in with one of the super wider ones and it's way too snare-y for the type of music you're doing, switch it out to one that's a little bit thinner that you have in your collection there. 20 bucks apiece, for 40 bucks, you go three different snare drum options as opposed to no snare drums at all. Same thing with the kick drum beaters. Somebody comes in and you have the plastic beaters, you have a set of wood beaters or felt beaters to switch out. You'll have the ability to change the sound of that drum dramatically without really spending a whole lot of money applying to that drum. So, we're at the place now where I'm almost ready to put this up on a stand. When we're placing the snares on the drum itself and adjusting how much tension, I like to keep the snares as centered as possible over the drum. So when you engage the snare system itself, it pulls evenly and it'll mostly be sitting in the center of the drum, which is a good starting point. So now, these are loosened all the way and they're still pretty tight, so I can always tighten them when I go to dial in how much snare we have, and it's pulling evenly, which is great. So then, from there on out, we'll flip over to the batter side. I'll turn the snares back off so I can hear what I'm doing. With this particular drum, and with all these drums here, we've decided to use the Remo X14 coated head. What this is a single ply head, but its thickness is 14 mil. If you recall when I was describing the Emperor, the two ply head Emperor before, they were two seven mil plies, which gives us 14 mil total. This is one single ply head with the same thickness. So what we're gonna get out of a thicker singly ply head is we're gonna get the contributions of a single ply head, which would be brighter and more open sounding, but we have a little bit more durability because it's a thicker single ply. We have the durability of the two ply head and with Anup being a hard hitter, we definitely need durability there. And the reason we're going with these attributes is because one, in this room, we're trying to get away from the buildup that this room has at 300 hertz, which is a lot of low end for a snare drum. That's where a lot of the punch on the low end of a snare drum comes, so we don't really need to accentuate that as much as we need to accentuate the brightness and the crack, and this particular head is, in my experience, the last five records I've done have been just this head because it is the most articulate and clean and bright and, which means less EQ on the backend, which means the less work you have to boost the topend here, the less high hat and cymbal bleed you'll have coming through the snare mic. It's already giving it to you at the front end, which brings up that question of why are we spending this much time on drums. Ultimately, the end goal is to get as good a sound up front as you can so you don't have to work as hard on the backend. <v A.L.>Yeah, and less replacement.
Like I said before, you're always gonna do some work with samples on one of these records. It's just what modern ears want in metal. But as little as possible is the way to go in my opinion. So yeah, you gotta do all this in order to be able to get away with using a smaller ratio of samples to real.
Exactly. So, we're at the point, no tension on the head. We're gonna do the same thing that we did with the tom, which is pull this up to a place where we have some tension on there. (drum head thudding) And everything's kind of in tune with itself at a lower tension first. (drum head thudding) And I'm checking across as I go, trying to aim for the same pitch all the way around. Just to start with. (drum head thudding) Alright, so now I have a basic pitch going on. This is the point where I'll do the same thing I did with the toms and seat the head. This, I'll spend often times on snare drums a little bit more time doing this process right here because once I get the drum in tune, I don't want the drum to really drop a lot, and once you start playing on any drum, the head's gonna settle, it's gonna drop in pitch just a little bit, so what I'm trying to do is alleviate as much as that pitch drop as possible before we even start playing, so that way, once we get to a place that we like the drum, we don't have to go back and retune to get it back up there after he starts playing for a while. It's pretty much gonna stay there. So I'll spend a lot more time with the snare drum kind of settling and basically stretching the head out, he same way you would guitar strings. You're working with manufactured materials that have not been put under stress yet, and that's what we wanna do is introduce the stress that is gonna come later, that way it doesn't move out of tune as quickly. From there, just go back in and go across the drum, kinda getting it more into the region that we're looking for. And with this, I believe we're looking for kind of a middle to high range to get a lot of crack but a lot of body, is that right?
So, some place and at some projects, this tension right here (drum head thudding) would be enough. If you're working on something like an alternative record or maybe a country record or something that would require a super low tuning. You don't have to go up. But for what we're doing, we're gonna need to take this up quite a bit. Once I get to a place where the drum is starting to really come alive, that's when I'll switch from going across to going around. (drum head thudding) And the key here is, as we're tuning to gradually bring it up. If you're going for a high tuning, the worst thing you can do from the time you seat the head is go on one lug and just crank it up because what you're doing is you're basically introducing to this head the idea that this is where the most tension is gonna be. So when you go across and start doing the same thing, it's gonna start pulling, and you're not gonna keep your consistency and tuning. It's not gonna hold as long. It'll actually have to be retuned quite often if you go crazy with one lug. So I'm gradually going across, getting it to the point where it's going to be sitting eventually. And with this, I like to usually go up a little bit higher than the designated area, just so we can see what the drum's gonna do, and you never know until the microphone hears it. I've noticed in my engineering experience that a lot of times, the mic, depending on what mic you're using, the drum's either gonna sound higher or lower through the microphone than what it sounds like to your ears, which is an interesting thing, and so with this particular drum being steel and being bright, I'm definitely gonna take it up a little bit because it might have some more body to it that the microphone hears that we don't hear in the room. (drum head thudding) So now I'm at the point where I'm gradually taking it up, lug by lug. (drum head thudding) So it's relatively in tune with itself. And I've noticed that it's sitting at probably a place that we should start checking it, 'cause we're going for that medium to medium high tuning, so at this point. (drum thudding) I'll check where the drum's sitting at. To me that seems a little low (drum thudding) for a starting point, but it's not my call to make. This where I defer. <v A.L.>It might be okay, we'll see.
This is where I defer to the producer. So, if he said, okay this seems to be where we're going, this is where I'll leave it alone and move on to the next drum.
It sounds thick, it's got a nice attack, and it hurts my eyes, so, when you hit it, so. We might be in a good spot.
All good factors, right?
Yeah, we'll see.
So the last drum I wanna demonstrate tuning before we go to actual setup is the kick drum here. So, with the kick drum, I have replaced both the top, the resonant and the batter head. They're both on here finger tight. There's really not any tension. Not any tension on either one. So, we'll start this time with the batter head, since most of our focus lies on this. So I have, (drum thudding) relative tension on this all the way around. I haven't seated the head, okay. So we brought this up to where everything, there's no wrinkles, at least visibly, maybe one right here. But there's a nice pitch, defined pitch, on the drum itself. This is the point where I'll do the seating, and this is the point where standing on the head might be an option for some. For me, with standing you have gunk on your shoes. So I like to just sit on the head. Sit right in the middle. And bounce up and down a little, have a little fun time, rotate around. This is actually gonna get the head used to the amount of force that it's gonna be receiving from a kick drum, and you can hear that settling of the glue, the head doing its thing against the shell, all that stuff. So once we have that done, I'll stand up. The reason I do the sitting on it, or some people do standing on it, is 'cause you're working with a larger membrane, and if you use something, especially if you don't have giant hands. But you put a lot of pressure on a small point on a head this size, you can actually dent the head before you've even used it. So, just as with a smaller drum, you're using something that covers the whole head as much as you can, if you were to go and press on a smaller drum with the bead of a drumstick, you'd probably leave a dent. Same thing happens with kick drum sized heads and small hands. If you were to make a fist or just put a lot of pressure on say, the heel of your had, you definitely would just leave a dent in there and the head would be, you'd have to do some weird tuning things to get it to work. So I didn't want to do that, so that's why I sit on 'em. Once I get to that point, with a batter head, I'll go around and check my pitches. Make sure it's in tune with itself. (drum thudding) And I'll make sure that I'm not going for something super high, I'm going for basically the first point that the head and the drums start to act as one, and you should be able to hear it because it starts resonating for quite a long time. (drum thudding) So that's pretty in tune with itself. Already, that's the good thing about making sure it's in tune before you seat it, is if you seat sometimes it'll seat evenly, and you won't have to really touch anything, it'll just be in tune with itself. From this point, I'll leave this alone, we'll come back to it when we have to put the kick drum pedals on it, but we'll turn the drum over and go to the resonant side or the front head. Alright, so this is at a paper type thing. And we have a hole in this head, so it's gonna react a little bit differently to the tuning, but--
And you cut that whole in.
I did, I put this hole in here. We put it just off center. This does two things. It allows us to get the microphone into the drum to mic closer to the batter head. But still gives us some sort of tone available if we want a tone out of the front head, we have that option. Otherwise, we would probably just take the head off if we didn't want that contribution.
Do you wanna explain to them how you went about cutting that?
Yeah, I got this thing called a Remo holes, it's a little sticker that you put on, and a razorblade and you just cut it out. It's super easy. There's a lot manufacturers that make 'em, and it's not really challenging at all. It's super easy. Placement becomes more important, though. With the other kick drum, the 24, we went and put the hole in the center because of the size of the drum, wanted a little bit more straight focus, the air coming straight out, little bit less of the front head. Also because of the way this room is resonating. With this one, it's a little bit smaller drum. Didn't go quite in the center, a little bit off center so we could get a little bit more front head sound if need be. This also gives us two sonic options to work with. If we were to have just a smaller drum with the same tuning, it wouldn't be, it'd be different, but it wouldn't that much different. With this type of different setting with the hole here than that one, we have two different kind of sonic kick drum options to pursue. So if that one isn't working because it doesn't have enough body or enough front head contribution to it, we can switch out to this one, which has a little bit more front head, or vice versa. If we want a dryer, more batter related kick drum sound, we can go with that one, 'cause the hole's in the center so there's not as much front head. So we'll start tuning. We'll do the same thing with this resonant head as we did with the other heads, which is bring it up to a basic pitch and then settle it in. Now once again, these lugs are not even finger tight now, so I'm not really worrying about going in a star pattern yet because I'm basically just bringing them to a very light tension. They weren't even finished all the way. So now that I'm here, I'll go across and try to get that pitch out. (drum thudding) Yeah, just removing the wrinkles here, getting to a point where the drum starts to find a pitch. (drum thudding) Same thing, we'll go in the center of the head. (crackling) This time because of the hole, I'll just use my hands, pres in there, try to get the drum seated. And I'll go all they way around the drum this time because of that hole that's gonna act. I don't wanna put too much tension on the head itself with the hole there. So once we get that, we'll just tune this up a little bit, and the same thing goes with this kick drum. I pursue this same pattern of the resonant side being a little bit higher on the kick drum as well, just to give the drum some life. We can always dial this back if it's too much with the microphones. But it's nice to have a tone on the drum first and then work backwards. The same thing with toms. Pursue your muffling scheme after you have the drum to its most open. (drum thudding) So we basically have the same tone around, and you tap it in the center. You hear a little bit of a tone. And it's probably a little bit higher than most people would tune, but when we turn this over and we actually hit the drum, you'll notice that we have a nice tone to come out of the drum. So now we're ready to check what we've got here. (drum thudding) Sounds like a good starting point to me. As far as heads concerned for this kick drum project, for this project in particular, we have a Remo Ambassador clear for the resonant side, which is that same, a single ply that we used on the resonant for the toms, nice open sound. For the batter head, we went with a Remo Pinstripe. The reason we did this instead of a head that most people use or similar product which a Remo Powerstroke or the Evans Emad or the Auquarian Superkick which have muffling built into the head, the reason we went for Pinstripe instead is because we wanted a drum that had a lot more attack and a lot more body to the attack, and this is one of those heads that will give us a nice, authentic metal slap. Most people pursue metal records, the Metallica record seems to be the record everyone wants to copy, well they didn't have premuffled heads back then when they recorded the black record, which everybody wants to sound like, so they used Pinstripes. The reason why they used Pinstripes is because these particular heads give you a nice attack while still having a lot of low end to the sound as well, and this--
And we can control the muffling.
Yes, exactly. And the other thing is, this is one of those heads that, to the drummer's perspective, on kick drum, might not sound that great. It sounds a lot thinner from a drummer's perspective, but once you put a microphone on this head, it sounds amazing right from the beginning. There's very little EQ needed to be added to it because it's giving you all of those characteristics that you're looking for in the drum to begin with. At this point, we have our basic sounds up for all of our drums, and we'll get them, at this point, we'll start setting them up and comparing them, seeing what they sound like with basic microphones on them.
Yeah, before, at this point, my MO is to, like we said, is get it set up, throw some microphones on, and see where you're at. Before you do anything else. Before you really start setting up rooms or anything really complicated because if this isn't gonna work, you should find out immediately and move on to the next option, so yeah. I like to get to this point, set it up, throw some mics on, and just listen. There's one thing I wanna jump back to is that the relationship between the top and the bottom heads on toms in particular. I said before that we're using a higher tension on the bottom head than the top head, and that's where we're going for (drum thudding) versus (drum thudding) Okay, now as far rules go with how much difference you have between the two heads, that is all purely preference. I've found that the intervals musically that fit well on a 12 inch tom are somewhere between a minor and major third, and sometimes higher, sometimes lower depending on how deep the drum is and all of those factors, but I'm shooting for somewhere around there, with the bigger the drum, I've also noticed in order to get the same type of sustain and length to the note, the interval between the top head and the bottom head increases, so it gets wider, so with a 16 inch tom, I would go for either a perfect fourth or a perfect fifth between the two heads and vice versa all the way down the kit. The smaller the drum, the closer together the interval will be. So for a 10 inch tom, it would be somewhere around a major second, minor second. But those are not all hard rules. The thing that all of you need to know is that when it comes to tuning drums, there is no right or wrong way to do things, it's all preference-related, but there are certain ways that you can achieve certain sounds, and I'm using a tuning scheme here that I know works for what A.L. wants. When I'm home doing other projects, when I'm working on a classic rock record or I'm working on a jazz record, or I'm working on a blues record, or any of the other projects that come through my studio where I'm not only engineering or producing but I'm also drum teching, I'll choose completely different tuning schemes along with the drums to match the styles of music. This tuning scheme right here is just something that happens to work for what A.L. is going for and what for other producers in this genre like to hear. There's several ways to tune, and if you're really interested, you can find more everywhere else. This particular tuning scheme works for what we're doing here.
Yeah, and also, I think that once we get into the actual micing and the fine details, the differences between the two heads will really start to become apparent, as we need to change the pitch of the tom or the length or whatever, we'll really get into detail with that.