Drums: The Right Tones

Do drummers usually muffle (i.e.: dampen or deaden) the sound of the bass drum to cut down on its “boom, boom, boom” from overpowering everything else? And if so, then this problem is inherent to bass drums, so why aren’t drum sets equipped with hardware (or at least an instruction book to mention this) to accomodate a better sound? Do you (a) remove the back drum head, (b) put a pillow inside against the front drum head, or © attach a rolled-up cloth across the front head? What works best for most classic rock sound?

Likewise, is the bongo drum(s) played with or without a drum head on the bottom side?

Hmm…is it a bongo or is it called a tam-tam drum? In a basic drum set, this drum would complement the snare and bass drums.

Stupid me…I’m asleep at the wheel! It’s a tom-tom, stupid!
:slap: Or, as they’d say on SCTV: “Multiple face slaps to you!”

  • Jinx

Woooo…bass drum tuning…Books have been written on drum tuning, and the bass drum took up a good part of them. I would say that in my experience there are about 3 basic bass drum tunings…

funk/studio: pretty easy to do this one…Just stuff the bass drum with a pillow and tension both heads rather loosely, almost to where they wrinkle. This is a situation where resonance is USUALLY a no-no…rules are always broken. This is usually better for a small room, etc.

rock: It’s good to depend on head selection for a good rock sound…I use a Powerstroke 3 on the batter with a Falam Slam pad and a clear Ambassador on front with no muffling inside…good all purpose combination for a few styles, also gets a good open, rock sound…good tuning eliminates bad overtones.
For classic rock, well, it depends really… whenever you see a headless bass drum (or other drums), it was often in the early 70s when they were just starting to experiment with close miking techiniques and were initially horrified at the overtones suddenly exposed by a mic’ placed a few inches from the head to make the most of the relatively new multi-tracking technology (read: isolation). A headless bass drum is often used in recording; it’s easier to tune, sounds clean, but it actually sounds higher and not so bassy when theres only one head. Sometimes this is desireable… and they also have EQ to help with a duller bass drum.

jazz: Usually a smaller bass drum (18" as opposed to 20" or 22") is used, and little muffling in the way of a felt strip stretched underneath the front head is employed. In jazz, the bass drum is usually played very lightly to complement an upright bass, and a lot of muffling takes away the overtones that are desireable in this case to add weight to the sound rather than punctuation.

As for toms, my opinion is that double headed toms sound best: They’re more versatile in that the sound is more mellow and blends into the music rather than full of attack from the sticks and overpowering the music. In the studio, where small rooms are often the norm, a little muffling is employed in the way of duct tape or O-rings to further define the tom sound, though here gain, rules are often broken, and muffling is often eschewed by some top drummers. I like to keep my toms unmuffled and detune one of the lugs to add a bit of “character” to the tone.
However, I should mention that the famous studio drummer Hal Blaine used single headed toms, and he made them sound like double headed toms by hitting lightly with pencil-thin sticks, thus keeping the attack down.

Crap, I could go on for hours…but, the point is that I personally use the powerstroke and the plain front head with no muffling for live playing…sounds a little boomy up close, but from a distance, all the boom goes away and a nice round sound is heard. Pillows are often more appropriate for studio use, as well as a single headed bass drum.

Here’s a couple links on tuning…



Another thing: Having the right technique for the bass drum pedal can make or break a good bass drum sound.

Joe K has stated it all very well. Check out his link to professor sound’s drum tuning bible. This is probably the most well-writen document on the subject, and it’s free.

Incidently, I have a couple of bass drum configurations.

My 24" has an Aquarian Superkick II batter and resonant head with 7" offset hole. I have two 22’s with a Powerstroke 3 and Fiberskin, one with no front head (and a pillow), the other with a solid head and a felt strip. I also have an 18" with an Evans EMAD. Lots of solutions to the same problem. In general, I don’t use any internal muffling, but the heads I buy all have some amount of muffling built in. It’s a bit of a joke that, on the one hand, drum manufacturer’s are pushing hi-tech susension systems, thin shells and sharp bearing edges, while one the other hand coming out with thicker, double-ply, felt-coated heads. I think the problem comes when you listen and obsess over the sound of one drum at a time, by itself. I’m especially guilty of this. I know a man who talked with Joey Baron about his bass, which was an 18" floor tom with coated ambassadors on both sides, nothing inside. By itself, it sounded marginal. But put it with the rest of the kit, and great technique, and a live band, and it was chest-pounding.

We used to also dampen the inside of the bass drums with foam pillows. It actually helped keep the drums from overpowering the rest of the ensemble…not that it mattered much with the hardcore crap we were playing.

Yeah, I used all of the above methods myself…I just decided to play quieter and am keeping my drums “open” now…I DO like to tape a bit of felt to the front edge of the resonant bass head to take most of the “breath” out of the drum while still keeping it rather boomy.

Whatever sounds (and maybe looks) good I say…