Drum Setup & Tuning


Studio Pass: Sylvia Massy


Lesson Info

Drum Setup & Tuning

Okay. So, what do we got here? We got a big ole drum set. Got 22 inch bass drum. And then we got these bad boys, which are Whitney's, which I've never played before but they're pretty monstrous. Yes. The 18 is fantastic. Got some blood. Ew. Trademark. Okay. This is a Spawn kit. That's right? Yes, the glitter ones are. The metal ones are an old Ludwig. Great. And that's the stainless steel kit. Yeah. And I'm very familiar with that. I have one of my own actually. That's right. I've heard. Yeah. But this Vaughan I'm really intrigued with. So, why don't you set up the kit, this configuration, the way that you like it, including the cymbals. And we'll take a listen because I'm curious about the kick drum. We might want to change it out. Okay. So, go ahead and do that. In the meantime, there's a few things I'm going to check on, so. Tell me about your cymbals. Well, these are also Leah's cymbals. We got 18 inch crash Zildjian. All right. And this is a ride ...

cymbal which I also use as a crash. It might as well be a crash ride at this point. Okay. Great. And these are some old hats. They're Savien's. Old Savien's, okay. Pretty beat up. They're all pretty washy. Pretty washy stuff, huh? Yeah. Oh yeah. Okay, yeah. When you're ready, start playing. And let me listen to this kick drum. If you could play, basically, the main beat in the halftime part of the song. That'd be great. (drumming) Okay. Let's swap out that kick with the Ludwig kick here and take a listen to that. You are listening to that. Like, you just heard that, what are you listening for? Well, I just made a mental note of the tone of that drum. And now I'm going to do a direct comparison with this larger and metal drum. That's a wood drum. This is a metal drum. It's probably going to be louder and more bombastic. I like the tight Percussiveness? percussive of that Spawn kick drum. Okay. It's a small, tighter sound. So, we're going to compare that directly, with this metal drum, to see which one might be better for us. Okay. There's also another alternate. And it's this older, I think it's a Yamaha. This big, black one? Yeah, which is a 24. It's a larger diameter. It's going to have a different character Okay than either the other kicks. So, we're going to listen to all three and make decisions on which kick drum is going to be the better kick drum for this song. It needs to serve the song. Exactly. Right? Yep. Searching for a cinder block right now. It only has one leg. I can hold it if you want. Wait until he gets back. Yeah. Would you mind? Sure. Okay. I could get used to this, Leah. The whole closeness? (drumming) Okay. So, this sound is a lot more open. It's not as punchy. It doesn't have as tight of a sound, so. But it's got a different character which is kind of good. I think I prefer the Spawn over this one. So, let's move this one out. Let's try this Yamaha real quick. So, Sylvia, how often do you go into the studio with multiple kits? Do you always go in like, "I need three kits, minimum. I need three kick drums, minimum." Do you ever go in and you're like, "That's the kick drum I'm going to use. I already know it." How does? I like to work with the instrument that the drummer is comfortable with. Brings in usually? But, at my place, I've got three kits that I lean on quite a bit. And two of them are Gretsch. One's a vintage and one's a newer Gretsch. And then I use a custom Thumper kit, Which is a custom maker, Thumper Drums. And that kit just seems to win every time. So, that might be the first thing we go towards. But usually I like to see what the artist brings in, because I want to make sure that the artist is really comfortable and it's getting the sound that they want. Let's hear this. (drumming) Okay. This one is booming. It's definitely the best. It's got low end. It's not tight but I think we could actually make it a little tighter just by moving some of the damping materials inside. And let me do that right now. Now, what I did is take it. There's some damping material inside the kick drum. And it was just kind of floating around there loose. Now, I've pushed it up against the batter head. And let's hear it again. (drumming) I think that's a little better. And we might add a little more in there. More padding in there? More padding. Okay. But I think this is our choice. Yeah. I mean, it's cool. Okay. So, go ahead and set it up. Lock the kick pedal in and get everything arranged the way that you like it. We should also look at snares. Yeah. Before we talk about snares, we had a question about triggers. Do you ever use the kick drum to trigger other samples that you have? Do you always try to go for an actual physical? Well, what I like to do, actually, is add samples in the mix. Oh, okay. And what I'll do is, we'll record the drums live, and at the point when we're in the mix, I'll take the kick drum track, for instance, and I'll duplicate it. I'll strip silence on it. And then I'll use that to trigger a sample of a kick that I'll use to augment the live kick in the mix. I don't replace it but I use the sample to augment. And, yes, I use samples quite a bit. But usually not during the actual tracking. Okay. That might be a little bit too ... How much dampening do you need in the kick? Kind of like a Tshirts worth. Okay. I'll find just a cloth then. Okay. All right. Ready to go? Let's look at some snare drums. There's a couple over here. What is this? Oh, these are the Keplingers. Let's take a look at these. Oh, they're heavy. Oh, my goodness. There's a maker in the Northwest, called Keplinger, and he makes custom shells. That's super cool. I don't even know what the material is. It looks like steel. But this is a mongoloid drum. Let's see what it sounds like. Try this one. Do you usually use this size? This depth? Yeah. Okay. Not this heavy. It's very heavy compared to a wood drum. It's very heavy. Knock someone out. (drumming) Okay. All right. It's tuned real deep. Would you mind if I got in there and did some tuning on it? Let me see what we got here. (drumming) So, I'd like to have a higher pitch drum. And the way I'm going to do it is I'm going to bring up all the tension rods on the top of the drum. Equally, first of all, and I do that by disengaging the snares, the wires. And then I'm going to press my finger in the middle of the drum here, and I'm going to just tap around the edge to listen to each of the positions where the tension rods are. (drumming) And what I'm hearing is that there's different pitches. And I'm going to even those out. Like that. That's completely loose over here. So, I'm just going to go around and tighten everything up because this is just not tuned at all. Some of them are very tight and some of them are very loose. So, I'm just going to go around and get them basically equal. Let's see if we can make this drum sound a lot better. Did you have a question, Drew? Yeah. How often would you let the drummer do this? And how often do you actually get in and start tuning stuff? I usually tune every time. Do you? There's some drummers that really are like when they start playing it's like, "Oh, that's a great sounding drum." We don't mess with that. But usually I'll get in there because I'm looking for a certain type of sound. I like the snare to kind of be in the same key of the song. So, we'll start with a brighter pitch. And then we'll detail it when we get into actually recording the song. We might bring it up a little bit or bring it down a little bit depending on the key of the song. Let me take a listen now that I've tightened it up and see what we've got. I'm still tapping to listen to each tension rod. (drumming) That one's really low. So, I'll bring that one up. (drumming) This one can come up a little bit, too. That one's too high. So, I'm going to get them all basically the same pitch. (drumming) Okay. Let's see what we've got now. I'll just whack it a few times. So, these snares are rattly. So, I'm going to tighten up the snares, too, by adjusting the wires here. (drumming) Okay. You know what else would really help is if we have an old snare drum head. Scott, trusty assistant, do yo have an old snare drum head that I can cut up? It's possible. Possible. Let me go take a peak in the back. I'm going to drag this out of here since this has got the boot. That got the boot. And I will be back with a piece of head. Great. So, we're going to get a piece of head. We're going to actually cut a piece of head and put over the top. And it'll tighten it up and make it ... Instead of putting a bunch of tape over the top it's a great instant way to get a great sound on the snare. Let me listen to these toms now, too, while we're at it. Do you have to use a snare head to cover the snare? Or do you ever cut up a big Tom head that would fit? Tom head would work, too. That seems to be the right size. Yeah, that's 14, so. Do you have any spare old heads lying around? I mean, the ones on it are pretty old, especially on my snare if we're not going to use that. We're welcome to take the head off if you need to. Okay. Well, let's see what Scott comes up with. And if he doesn't have anything then we're going to need some scissors, too. So, hopefully we can get that. But let's take a listen to this tom. (drumming) Actually, they sound pretty good. So, we're going to leave them. But I could use some tape if you wouldn't mind handing me that gaffer tape. I'm going to put some on the top of this head just to keep the papery sound down. Oh, good. Your sacrificial drum head. Yes, and you have a razor knife. Beautiful. Would you mind if I cut this on this rug? No. Great. Okay, I'll put that aside for a moment. Let me finish this. It works already. Okay, one little piece of tape on the head there. That should help it. I'm worried about this drum tipping over though. Maybe we can adjust the legs so that they're ... Oh, yeah. Will you do that now? Okay. And in the meantime I'm going to prepare this drum head. So, we have a better sounding snare. It ain't going to be pretty. So, do you want it to take up as much of the snare surface as you can? Or can it be smaller? Or does that really change the way that it effects the sound? I find that if it's just a ring and you can actually purchase these rings pre-made. But you can easily make this out of a old snare head. Just about that much is good but if you want less of a damping affect then you go for a thinner ring. This should be just about enough. Let's see what this does. If you wouldn't mind, just go ahead and hit that snare. All right, try it now. Wow. Yeah. It does a lot doesn't it? Let' try it like this. It may be too much and if it is then we'll try something else. But would you mind going ahead and playing the kit now? Yep. (drumming) Okay. One more time. (drumming) One more time. Let's lay it here this way. (drumming) Okay. Maybe this is too much. We'll keep it but maybe we'll just put some tape on the head. We want a little bit of that character to shine through. Sure. We'll just use some pieces of tape and see if that does it instead. So, just stay right there. Try that. (drumming) Okay, hold on. Let's do one more piece. I do a little fold in it just so I can take it off of the Oh, that's smart. the snare head easier. That's the only reason for that. It's not for ventilation or anything. Is that going to be in your way if it's like that? No. Okay good. Sylvia, would you use something like moongels if you had moongels? Or do you prefer- Yes. You would? Sure. Moongels are great. Okay. Gaff tape, moongels. And you can tear little pieces off and put them on. Okay. They work great. They get really kind of Gross? dirty and gross after a while, so. Yeah, I'll use tape, usually. Cool. Okay. (drumming) All right. We'll go with this because I think it let's a little bit of the character of the drum come through. I do like the sound of that drum. There's a couple other drums we could try. There's another Keplinger. There's another Ludwig, like a super-phonic. But why don't we start with this. We'll mic up the kit. We'll take a listen and then we might move things around and change them. But go ahead and adjust the legs on that tom so it's not going to tip over. All right. Make yourself comfortable there and we'll start setting up mics.

Class Description

Over the last 30+ years, Sylvia Massy has built a career as one of the gutsiest and most innovative recording engineers and producers. She has worked with legends like Prince and Johnny Cash, and won awards for her work with bands like Tool, System of a Down and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. In this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you will get a peek inside the recording process of one of rock’s legendary engineers. 

While she is a proficient master of vintage gear, Sylvia stresses that great records come not from having the right gear, but from capturing great performances. Join Sylvia as she records a song in the studio with Seattle alt-rock band Thunderpussy, and learn how to work with an artist to capture that magical take in your own work.

Pulling from her years of experience and sharing stories from her newly published book Recording UnHinged, Sylvia will show you:

  • How to get interesting and vibrant drum sounds, using the room and the drummer to your advantage
  • Capturing great sounding guitars at the source, without editing and reamping
  • Pushing vocalists to deliver their best vocal takes 
  • Mixing both in the box and through a console using outboard gear

Sylvia is also known as a prolific educator, speaking and teaching at some of the best recording schools around the world. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s most celebrated A-list producers. 


Jimmy Foot

This Studio Pass episode with Sylvia Massey covers a lot of ground. From fundamentals like correct mic placement and phase to experimentation with amps, cell phone delay and a few extra parts, Sylvia makes it fun! I have been lucky enough in my career to work with a number of great engineers and producers. I haven't had the opportunity to work with her, but Sylvia is certainly in that category, and anyone who gets a chance to work with her would be a lucky person. This broadcast is the next best thing. Great job there at Avast Studio and fantastic camera work! And as for Thunderpussy; you guys rock!

Marc Felish

Wow, that was such a blast. Thanks so much Sylvia and everyone else for making this such a fun experience. I picked up so many new ideas that I can't wait to try out! Sylvia is such a creative producer, it was so much fun to be a fly on the wall watching everything. Loved it!!

Marcus Soares

Awesome! A great opportunity to pick into the creative mind of one of the greatest and get that kind of knowledge that you can't acquire otherwise. Highly recommended!