If you’re doing a session in Los Angeles and you want your drums to instantly sound great, then your first call is to the Drum Doctors to either rent a fantastic sounding kit, or have your kit tuned. Ross Garfield is the Drum Doctor and you’ve heard his drum sounds on platinum recordings from Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Mettalica, Dwight Yokum, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitiz, Michael Jackson and many, many more (that’s him on the left with Mick Fleetwood).
Ross was kind enough to do an interview for The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, but I’ve featured some of his tips in other books like The Drum Recording Handbook, The Touring Musician’s Handbook, and The Music Producer’s Handbook as well. Here’s a few of his quick drum tuning tips. For more info on Ross and his company, go to drumdoctors.com.
1. If the snares buzz when the toms are hit:
- Check that the snares are straight.
- Check to see whether the snares are flat and centered on the drum.
- Loosen the bottom head.
- Retune the offending toms.
- Use an alternate snare drum.
2. If the snare has too much ring:
- Tune the heads lower.
- Use a heavier head, such as a coated Remo Emperor.
- Use a full or partial muffling ring, or add some tape or Moongel.
3. If the kick drum isn’t punchy and lacks power in the context of the music:
- Try increasing and decreasing the amount of muffling in the drum, a sandbag, or try a different blanket or pillow.
- Change to a heavier, uncoated head, such as a clear Emperor or Powerstroke 3.
- Change to a thinner front head or one with a larger cutout.
4. If one or more of the toms are difficult to tune or have an unwanted “growl”:
- Check the top heads for dents and replace as necessary.
- Check the evenness of tension all around on the top and bottom heads.
- Tighten the bottom head.
These are just some quick tips, and you can find more extensive tuning techniques from the Drum Doctor in my Recording Engineer’s Handbook 4th edition. You can read more from that and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.