Tuning Tips

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Tuning Tips

Postby ChrisW » Mon May 30, 2011 2:11 pm

I don't agree with everything he says, but I have a lot of time for Bob Gatzen.
He was consulting for Noble & Cooley when I first hooked up with them, and I learnt a ton of useful lessons from Bob.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qxm3QunDjUs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ga8Q12mK ... re=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtFjADvz ... re=related

Bob has spent hours in his home studio, tuning drums, trying different heads, recording and analyzing the results. He really has looked into all aspects of drum design, head design and the end result drum sound more than most.
I don't tune my drums to sound the same as Bob's. I don't always agree with his methods either, but if you listen to what he has to say, and maybe try to work his way at least once so you can understand where he is coming from, I think you can only improve your level of drum tuning.
And as we know, sometimes the recording engineer has to snatch the drum key from the drummer.....
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby rick » Mon May 30, 2011 2:55 pm

looks good chris - really interesting
the only thing is my mum told me never trust a man wearing a rug :)
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby The Tasmanian » Mon May 30, 2011 3:01 pm

Chris - Its suprising how many drummers cannot tune a kit well.
I remember years ago doing a session with Paul Larson, and if I asked to give a particular drum a quick retune it was amazing to watch him usually twist one lug or maybe 2 and whammo - great sound.
Then there are the guys that tap every lug spot for equal tuning.
Its like watching a black art sometimes.
Whenever I have recorded a great sounding kit, I usually tap the front and rear (or top and bottom) skin to observe the relationship.
95% of the time the front or top head is higher in pitch.
Chris is this your experience with the pitches?
I'm really glad there is a drum forum here.
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby ChrisW » Mon May 30, 2011 3:40 pm

rick wrote:
the only thing is my mum told me never trust a man wearing a rug :)


Could be, although he was always a slightly strange guy in looks and mannerisms..... and not in a bad way.
I haven't seen him in the flesh since about '92, but as far as i recall he looked the same back then (hair too).
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby ChrisW » Mon May 30, 2011 3:50 pm

The Tasmanian wrote:95% of the time the front or top head is higher in pitch.
Chris is this your experience with the pitches?


I can't claim to be a great drum tuner.
I think you can have your off days.
When I first started recording i thought I was pretty good. Then I would get the records when they were released and be disappointed with the drum sound. My drums never sounded punchy or exciting.
Then I had a couple of nightmare sessions when the producer said my sound was fine, but could I get a different sound because that's what they wanted/needed for the project. I realised I couldn't and floundered. Rabbit in the headlights type stuff.
I had an epiphany when I was able to observe jerry Marotta on a session.
His tuning regime was different to mine, his head choice.... importantly his way of playing. Not only that, but as I moved to the control room his drums sounded killer, exactly how I thought my drums should sound.
So I immediately changed by copying his moves and choices exactly.
At first it would take me an hour to painstakingly tune my kit before a session. As time went on and I received compliments and gained confidence I was able to stress about it less and actually sounded better as a result.
There are several approaches on drums.
I tend to pitch the bottom head above the top. That works for me. Other very successful drummers pitch the bottom head lower, and some drummers like to pitch each head exactly the same. The latter has the longest, purest sustain.
Which is not something I'm necessarily looking for.
I think the key for beginners is to make sure each lug point is equally tensioned and the drum sounds in tune with itself, with no discordant harmonics. Once you've achieved that you can modify to go anywhere - like say detuning one or two lugs in isolation.
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby rick » Mon May 30, 2011 3:59 pm

You see mr whitten that post just earned your forum pay
( except there isnt any)
i better put you on the next tshirt run before we close them out
size colour..?
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby Drumstruck » Mon May 30, 2011 4:26 pm

ChrisW wrote:
I think the key for beginners is to make sure each lug point is equally tensioned and the drum sounds in tune with itself, with no discordant harmonics. Once you've achieved that you can modify to go anywhere - like say detuning one or two lugs in isolation.


That's great advice Chris - Allan Turnbull showed me a similar technique in about 1980 (when I was fortunate enough to get some lessons from that great player) - slight pressure from your thumb in the middle of the skin and tune each lug (opposite - opposite like doing up wheel nuts) tapping until they were in tune with one another, then tension it up to the note you wanted / repeat on the bottom skin to bend the note up or down. Detuning 2 opposite lugs was a quick way to lower the pitch of the whole drum. \m/
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby ChrisW » Mon May 30, 2011 4:47 pm

One tough thing I noticed....
When you are a beginning drummer, you are very often working with beginning engineers.
Aaaargh.
When you are working with someone who doesn't have a clue how to mic and balance a kit, it's very hard for you as the drummer to help, as you can't be in two places at once.
I don't think any of us have these skills from birth. We learn as we go along, pick up stuff from watching others, and gain from experiences, some of them bad experiences.
As my drum tuning improved, so I happened to be working with more experienced engineers. And the unfair result was an equal collaboration between someone who could tune a few drums, and someone who absolutely knew how to capture them on tape.
In the end, if you paired Andy Newmark with a novice engineer you'd end up with a novice drum sound. If you paired a novice drummer with Geoff Emerick, you'd likely end up with an acceptable drum sound (at least).
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby mylesgm » Mon May 30, 2011 6:30 pm

Or when the drummer has 4 floor toms racked up and a small bass drum set up as his floor tom... thats when I begin to worry. But I do have to say that in the end the stupid over the top kit (a setup that allowed a 30inch marching bass drum to be the kick) did sound pretty unbelievably awesome in the warehouse setting. I thought that the russian army and the mongols were going at it hammer and tongs in there and I refused to let the drummer play at all when I was anywhere near the 'kit'.

Drummers: love em or hate em they are a breed apart and make no sense.
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby danander11 » Mon May 30, 2011 7:11 pm

mylesgm wrote:Drummers: love em or hate em they are a breed apart and make no sense.

:D

That's how I feel about guitar players.. especially the ones that think they can play bass too....
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby Kurt » Mon May 30, 2011 7:26 pm

C'mon, an untrained monkey can play bass...
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby Gian » Mon May 30, 2011 7:58 pm

Ooooo, themselves fightin' words ;)
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby The Tasmanian » Mon May 30, 2011 8:43 pm

Chris - what sort of results are you getting from the higher pitched bottom head?
Is this the same for kick too?
I've been recording drums for decades and still feel there is so much to learn about the tuning/resonance aspects
Thanks for your wonderful tips!
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby danander11 » Mon May 30, 2011 9:47 pm

The Tasmanian wrote:Chris - what sort of results are you getting from the higher pitched bottom head?
Is this the same for kick too?
I've been recording drums for decades and still feel there is so much to learn about the tuning/resonance aspects
Thanks for your wonderful tips!


I won't speak for Chris, but what I've noticed is that it's a good way to tune to shorten the resonance of the drum. I usually try to go about a semi-tone down on the top head as long as it sounds good for the drum. A lot of guys like to be able to lay into a head and a looser tuning just has a nice feel to it for some.

On my own, and my general preference is for even tuning and long resonance. As long as it's not killing things it just sounds better to me personally.. (live playing).
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby ChrisW » Mon May 30, 2011 9:55 pm

When I'm tuning I place the drum head side down on the floor, thus isolating the opposite head I'm looking to work on.
What I tend to do is find a point where the bottom (resonant) head seems to sing with a clear tone. Incidentally Bob Gatzen says there are usually at least 3 tensions where the head will do this (low, medium and high). I usually go medium .
So I've found a mid point tension where the bottom head resonates nicely. Next I turn the drum over and start tensioning the batter head until I eliminate wrinkles. As soon as the head has a decent tension and stops buzzing I lift the drum, strike it and see how it sounds. The batter head will be lower than the resonant head. The accepted wisdom is this produces a slight pitch bend effect. Anyway, I sometimes need to go up on the bottom head a little, or on the batter head until the drum seems more harmonious with itself. An interval say a second between the top and bottom heads doesn't sound as nice as a third or fourth.
If I chose the lowest resonance on the bottom head and went higher on the batter I believe this results in a slightly less resonant tom. I can't say I've tried it too often as I find the reverse (low on batter, higher on resonant) works better for me.
On kick I tend to go as low as sounds good on the batter side, and again, a little tighter on the front head. It just seems to work.
Next question.... do you tune the drums to the key of the song?
Personally i don't, but I can see how it might work well in certain situations. Certainly you don't want the toms clashing with the tonality of the bass and lower keyboards etc.....
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby The Tasmanian » Mon May 30, 2011 10:14 pm

Thanks guys - I've learned so much good info already from this forum!
I still have so many questions milling in my head.....
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby Drumstruck » Tue May 31, 2011 9:51 am

I'm a pitch bend downwards kinda guy, but I think that's because I like the more jungly sound (like George of the Jungle) - perhaps subliminally because it gives a longer note too...

I see some of the great drummers like Mr Bozzio who tune to concert pitch with fifths between drums etc which is an amazing piece of work on a monster kit - I tend to tune to an indefinite note that's not "out of tune" but not particularly "in tune" with the song.

An older method was to tune your tom voicings to "In the Mood".
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby Chris H » Tue May 31, 2011 11:28 am

My first introduction to drum tuning was watching Derek Pellicci tune his kit before a live gig using a Peterson Strobe Tuner. A few years later i bought one for my guitar repair business.
Anyone still use a tuner?
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby GlennS » Tue May 31, 2011 12:59 pm

Chris H wrote:My first introduction to drum tuning was watching Derek Pellicci tune his kit before a live gig using a Peterson Strobe Tuner. A few years later i bought one for my guitar repair business.
Anyone still use a tuner?


Occasionally I use the Peterson iStrobosoft tuner in my iPhone.

I seem to remember some shells having a recommended note stamped inside. Was it DW that did this?
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby ChrisW » Tue May 31, 2011 2:42 pm

Yes DW stamp a pitch on their shells.
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby Kurt » Tue May 31, 2011 3:13 pm

Tama have recommended pitches implied. They sell the Tension Watch thingy which apparently has suggested setting for different sized drums. I have thought about buying one for doing quick and dirty tunes at live shows for those drummers who can't get it right (there are many). Does anyone have any experience with them?
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Re: Tuning Tips

Postby Linear » Tue May 31, 2011 10:29 pm

It took me years to work out how to tune a drum kit. i'm no expert, but again I ask all the drummers that come in (that can tune their kit) how they do it.

ChrisW was spot on the money - ensuring all lugs are an even tension is the most important step.

Another thing I've learnt though is making sure the snare is as close to the key of the song, and the toms are thirds or fifths around it (above or below). You can also tune the bass drum to the key of the song but sometimes there isn't the range. Good start is the first bass note of the chorus. looser is better IMHO, unless it's jazz.

If the drums don't have the range, just get someone a chord in the key of the song, and tune the drums till they sound like they belong.

The tension of the snare wires also has alot to do with the tuning of the snare - on one hand it determines the length of the snare 'note' but as it gets tighter it influences the pitch. I find the best thing to do is to loosen it off until it's flappy, then hit the snare in the approximate tempo of the song and tighten the snares until the length is good. looser is better in the studio IMHO.

the best session drummers I see tweak the tuning of their drums after every take (some even during takes...)

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