We’re going to touch on a couple topics that plague a lot of drummers, old and new: “I’ve got a drum set, and a killer groove, I beat ‘em to death, now how do I tune the darn things??”
Choosing drum heads
Right now off the top of my head there are 3 major brands of drum heads out there to choose from: Remo heads, Evans heads, and Aquarian heads. They all have a lot in common and also some minor differences.
Breaking it down into what they actually are simplifies choosing. The majority of heads available today are thin plies of plastic/polyester. Some heads are multiply plies, some are single. Some are thick and (you guessed it) some are thin.
If you can imagine hitting a cymbal with a stick then laying your hand on it is about what drums heads do to a drums tone. The heads thickness will determine how fast the tone is choked. Also, there is a point where durability must play into choosing drum heads. If you’re a hard hitter you may want to look into some double ply heads, or just the opposite for light playing.
Drum head brands
Remo drum heads: These guys have been around since the inception. They claim to be in the inventor of the Mylar drum head which is a kind of plastic and weather proof hence their tag line “the weather king”. For over 60 years this company has been making drum heads in all types of varieties and sizes. They’ve got just about every variation to suit every kind of players want or needs.
Evans drum heads: This company claims that they are the inventor of the drum head period. They’ve been making heads since 1957 and claim to have invented the plastic /polyester head. Just about the same kind of availability as Remo. They’ve got a few heads that separate them from the other guys. They have a superior line of bass drum heads and dampening materials to make your bass drum thump!
Aquarian drum heads: This company hasn’t been around as long but have some interesting takes on heads that have been around for a while. They make all their heads with an anti-pull design they call it the “safe-t-loc”.
That means the head can’t pull away from the rim if it’s accidentally cranked down to tight. They also claim head straightness that won’t warp from playing.
How to tune drums
First and foremost you need to seat your new head to the shell. This does a couple of good things, first it stretches your head out to stop future de-tunings and secondly it makes the head conform to your drums edge bearing (the angle of the shell which the head will be resting on).
To seat your new drum head put the head on the drum and crank it down. TIGHT! Using the diagram below, crank the head down so tight that you think it’s going to pop. Now, in saying that, don’t over tighten so far as to pull the head from the rim but crank it down pretty tight. Start off with one rotation then move to another lug, then go back to your first one. You should be able to go 3 or 4 full rotations. Then take the heal of your palm and push down hard on the head close to the rim in front of each of the lugs to further stretch and seat the new head. Hearing popping and cracking noises will be normal. After that take the head back down to as loose as it will go still using the diagram below to loosen.
Some drums that are real wood like maple and birch (some poplar shells as well) have a natural shell tone that can be found by stripping all the heads and lugs from the shell, holding the drum suspended, touching it as little as possible, then lightly striking the shell with a soft mallet or maybe a thumb. The drum should sing a tone to you. Match that tone or note rather on a keyboard (unless you have perfect pitch) then tune the bottom head to that note.
After getting the bottom head to the desired sound, match the top head to it and the drum will be at its neutral tone. You should be tightening the head on by alternating lugs, kind of like tightening lug nuts on a automobile’s wheel.
How ever your tuning method this is THE ONLY way you should be putting on your heads for even tightening and not damaging your heads or lug casings.
A lot of drummers have different methods of tuning their drums. They find one way that works for them then stay with that method. The method described above is to find the fundamental tone of the drum itself and tune to that pitch.
Some drummers say just mess with them until they sound good which is kind of a broad attempt. This method is doable and I’ve done a few times my self but ALWAYS a good basis to start from is the bottom head.
The bass drum and snare are a little different. My bass drum; I crank the front head pretty tight then leave the batter head as as loose as possible without it wrinkling. The snare about the same way; snare head pretty taunt with tight snares and the batter head tight enough for a good attack middle of head and a bright rim shot crack.
If you’re toms batter head is to tight compared to the bottom it will let you know very quickly. You can hear reverberations like tuning a guitar string. That is without muffling. When the reverb matches the other – there ya go…. Sometimes if there’s too much tension you’ll get a boing sound. Like a “high descending to low” sound. But when they’re matched and singing beautifully to you it is a marvelous thing.
Don’t kill the TONE, man!
Thanks a lot guys and gals. Hope I could help. If you got any questions or comments you can add them below or shoot me a question.