I have finally recieved my custom made drum kit from C&C in the US and have been able to put into practice the tuning knowledge I have gained so far. I have managed to get her sounding great and wanted to share a few findings that I have learnt in the last month or so of my tuning experiment.
Firstly the main and most important fact I have learnt is that tuning is all about finding the sound you like. This is why it is sometimes called a ‘dark art.’ The best advice is to ‘trust your ears’, as drums are of an indefinite pitch therefore achieving a sound is different from person to person. Finding what sound you like at the start is hard enough, then you have to learn how to achieve that sound from the way you tune, and importantly what skins you use.
There are many different types of drum heads but I now know that my personal preferred sound is achieved with coated remo heads. I have always used clear demo heads, pinstripes, but they give a very bright open sound which isn’t the sound I was striving for. I had been struggling to tune my old drums with these heads. Coated heads give more attack and have a mellow deep sound that I really like.
In terms of the tuning process, seating all the heads on the drums properly is very important and something I had previously overlooked. From the prof sound drum tuning bible I learnt how to do this process properly. Please read the seating heads section for more accurate instructions. In a nut shell you need to finger tight screws until just touching the washers, back off a 1/4 turn, then 1/2 turns around drum (opposites) to 3 turns, then make sure the skin is in tune with itself. Finally, use a hairdryer around the bearing edge to seat the drums properly. You will hear a cracking of glue when it’s ready. This works!! Then I took the drums right back to no resonance, (from finger tight), 1/4 turn on each lug on the bottom and top, then another 1/4 turn on bottom skin lugs. This achieved a lovely drum sound for the toms and kick, and more importantly was the sound I have been trying to get. The top head is nice and lose so the feel of the drum is correct. This is also a really important factor as how a drum feels when you hit it makes a huge difference to the way you play and your overall sound. The only problem area is the snare drum as I am having real problem with snare buzz, when I hit the snare it produces a nice note, and sounds great together with the kit, but isolated the snares buzz for a long time after the strike. This week I shall be experiementing with the snare drum, beginning with tuning the drum with the snare’s removed first, then adding the snare wires and seeing if I can isolate the lengthy snare rattle.
Monday worked on 13″ tom, moving it up through pitches trying to find out best sound of the drum. Very difficult to get a clear note, gonna experiment with floor and drum dial gauges tomorrow.
Tuesday worked through floor and toms, sounding ok, starting to see a pattern, where by all the drums seems to be tightest across 2 opposite lugs, have been told by previous owner that drumtech’s had a really problem getting this kit (starclassic maple) in tune, and it staying there for any length of time. Also tweaked snare drum, gigged it and sounded great, maybe a little tight but nice and juicy.
Wednesday was bass drum day, spent a long time trying to tune the batter side, much much more difficult to hear pitches at the lugs, than on the toms/snare, bass drum still sounds too tight, front head sounds amazing, batter less so, weird tempted to switch it up!
Thursday I took the batter side on the bass drum right down, to get a deeper sound, which at home was sounding great.
Friday I gigged my kit, and it all sounded really great, espicially the bass drum, great news as last friday after a week of tuning it sounded awful and this week its starting to sound improved. Saturday gig her again didn’t sound as great, highlighting the fact you need to retune every time the drums are taken out of cases. Next week need to concentrate on floor tom, as sounded the worst then try tuning the whole kit accordingly. January is completely free of gigs, so is gonna be spent tuning, plus I will have my new kit and will experiment on her!
(This is my beautiful new custom drum kit being built by C&C in the US, hopefully I’ll have an idea of tuning before this badboy turns up)
Again morning session, not producing much progress, but definitely starting to hear the different pitches better. Began work on the bass drum, replaced head, (from a pinstripe to a power stroke 4, as the pinstripe is completely the wrong head for the job, far too open sounded, and doesn’t retain the low end from the 24″ kick).
Another problem is lugs feeling tight and the tension being loose and vice a versa, however the guys from GAK put me onto Prof. Sound’s Drum Tuning Bible, which is literally the BIBLE on tuning drums, so therefore I will be mostly studying from that from now on, check it out here as a downloadable PDF:
Its pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty…. pretty in depth, see you on the other side, lots to learn, and gotta dash off to a gig now!!
Not much progress, initially felt like I could hear the different pitches at each lug better, but my ears quickly were worn out. Still working on 1st & floor tom (had to re-skin floor as put the skins on the wrong ends, however gave me time to lube up the lugs, which I think helps with tensions).
Also have started to put pressure in the centre of the drum and eliminate the crinkles around each lug, as in the end striving for the head to be evening pulled across the drum, over the bearing edge is the main goal. Also I have found tuning the bottom head lower closer to the top head in pitch is starting to create a sound I like (…ish, still unsure tho). Still loads of work to do, this is not easy, and I haven’t even started on kick and snare yet!!
In all a rather depressing day in the world of tuning, don’t feel I have made much progress. Evening session was tough, found it difficult to hear pitches, spent half a lesson today fitting new heads on a students snare drum, sounded ok, but the snare always sounds a bit ringy, and the snares always seem to rattle, snare drum is gonna be hard!
Another problem is whether I find the highest pitch on the drum and tune the other lugs up to it, or find the lowest pitch and tune the others down. Not sure what’s the best option, at the moment doing a bit of both, which surely definitely doesn’t help (tuning up I think is best, but whatever just need to decide and go with it!)
However I think I may have a few more dull days of this before I become a master, maybe let’s say, 200 million of em.
Started with 1st tom, took off top and bottom skin, cleaned bearing edge and drum, then replaced skins, finger tight each lug first. Bottom skin 1 full turn with drum key, top skin, half turn with drum key, as already know in general bottom skin should be tuned higher than top skin.
I started to hear the notes at each lug, and work out which are higher or lower, however this didn’t last long as then my ears couldn’t differentiate between the notes because of over use. Thats why its important to do small sessions each day, hopefully then it will begin to make sense in my own mind as I carry on with my normal day.
I also recognised that I shouldn’t be scared of tuning, as at the end of the day, it is a piece of wood with 2 skins attached, and that with tuning, it is tuning to how I would like my drums to sound, and therefore cannot really be wrong.
Decided to do another 30 minute session, (maybe gonna do 2, 30 min sessions a day depending on how much time I have) moved onto the floor tom, same procedure. Noticed the note I’m getting is moving up in pitch then down, in a booww sound. This is because no definite note is reached yet, hopefully I can eliminate the pitch bend effect and arrive at 1 definite note per drum.
Anyways not a bad first day, lots and lots of work to do, training those ears!!
Also here is a picture of my nearly finished custom C&C kit in satin flame…