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Tuning Toms

Discussion in 'Drums' started by Squelch, Sep 15, 2005.

  1. Squelch

    Squelch Guest

    Wassup everyone? I've been tuning my drumset by ear and was wondering if there is a certain note to set each tom to for a nice death metal sound. I'm thinking of starting to use a digital tuner so the notes are right on. I have four toms, should I tune them going down by like 2 steps each or what? Also, does it make any difference how my guitar is tuned to go with it? I tune down to BEADF#B like Carcass. \m/ I know this is all a matter of opinion but I'd like to know how others go about tuning with a digital tuner.
  2. RandomGuest

    RandomGuest Guest

    Feb 10, 2001
    You should tune the drum to its natural pitch. I normally start by finger tightening the lugs then giving every lug 2 turns that gets me pretty close. then I will fine tune them from there. Its been workin for me forever. There used to be a good little book on drum tuning I will look for it and post the name.
  3. Lonewalker

    Lonewalker Active Member

    Aug 1, 2005
    Here's a link for a lot of good discussion on this issue


    There's also a Bob Gatzen video that is useful, google it.

    All the below IMO.

    A given diameter drum will have a pitch range that it likes, for instance a 12 inch tom usually likes to be around B or C. Depth of the tom doesn't affect this much.

    I use a pitch pipe or hum into a tuner while I am tapping around the head. Its a little hard to hear the pitch with all the overtones but you will get the hang of it.

    As mentioned above, damp one head (set the drum on the carpet) and get one head in tune, then flip it over and tune the other one so it is in tune with itself also.

    Now the big question, should the heads be the same pitch or different?

    I like to tune them the same. When resonating in free air the pitch of the heads is somewhat interactive, so you will have to work back and forth between the top and bottom to get them pitched the same (always damping the one on the carpet while adjusting the pitch of the other). When they converge to the same pitch you will get a very pure tone that has great attack but is not overly ringy.

    A lot of drummers like the top head pitched lower, this gives a bit of a pitch bend effect as the tom sustains. If you are tuning like this, you will have to find a pitch interval between the two heads that still allows the drum to resonate nicely, have to experiment.

    You can also tune the top head higher in pitch. I like this on snare, for a 5 x 14 snare I start with F# for the snare side head and G# - A on the batter.

    The most important thing is regardless of the regardless of the pitch interval between top and bottom heads the head has to be in tune with itself. If not there are generally funny overtones that really stand out in recording.

    Even if the drummer is using pinstripes, etc and going for a damped type of sound, all the above is still valid.

    the good thing about using pitch references is it allows for quick recall (like a mixer snapshot). If a drummer brings in a kit that needs some tuning help, knowing that "I'll try tuning the 12 tom to C both heads" or whatever system you work out for yourself is useful.

    Another thing, damping (duct tape, etc) should be a last resort. Yes it will cure the ring or whatever is the issue, but it tends to remove all the upper harmonics that make the drum cut through the mix. Kind of like a 1 kHz shelving cut.

    Here are the pitches I like for each tom size

    10 - D-D#
    12 - B-C
    13 - A-A#
    14 - F#-G
    16 - D-E

    For the 16 (floor tom) you can go lower maybe down to C and also tune the lower head as low as possible for a very deep short floor tom sound.
  4. Lonewalker

    Lonewalker Active Member

    Aug 1, 2005
    BTW, I F'in LOVE Carcass and pretty much all that old Earache stuff!! Great to see another lover of classic metal!! (Sad how it's "classic" now, isn't it!?) What has happened to metal?!? Slipknot had a big part in ruining it IMHO! Oh well, we need crap to make the good stuff stand out!

  5. Angstaroo

    Angstaroo Active Member

    Jul 1, 2005
    DeKalb, IL
    Home Page:
    My personal theory is that it doesn't matter as much what specific note you tune to, it's more about the intervals you use. So, it doesn't matter if you're in D, C, or B.. it matters if you're tuned in thirds, fourths, fifths, etc.

    And plus, in metal the drums usually are more about attack with a quick decay than warm sustain, so you're not really going to hear things as notes anyway. They're not really going to resonate long enough, especially behind a wall of distorted guitars to really hear the pitches.. so once again, it's really about the intervals.

    Plus, unless everything you do is in the same key, or retune your drums to the key of every single song, you're going to be out of key a fair amount of time.

    DW drums come with a suggesting tuning note stamped on the shell, based upon where the shell resonates best. You could remove the heads from your drums, put a sensitive mic in the shell, compress the hell out of it, and patch that through a tuner. Knock on the sides of the shells and see if you can discern a pitch that your toms resonate at. Then try tuning your heads to those pitches.. they may get you something you like.

    Your mileage may vary.

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