August 27, 2013

Tuning drums with Tune-bot

By Darin Soll

Earlier this year, Alleninallen posted a comment on my November 4, 2012, post, "My favorite head combinations," that led to a detailed exchange on using Tune-bot to tune your drums.   I've been asked to re-post the key points from this exchange, since they are buried in comments under that old post. Here they are again, edited for clarity...


Why use Tune-bot?

Tune-bot transforms drum
tuning from art to science
Before Tune-bot, I tuned my drums by ear, of course, trying to match my toms to drum voices on my electronic kit, or to sound clips of various drums on the web.  I got pretty good at getting consistent tone across lugs, except with my floor toms, where overtones throw my ear a bit.  But, I wasn't dialing my drums into musical notes, and I wasn't tuning my toms to intervals that made sense musically.

My band covers "Melt With You" by Modern English, which has a distinct floor tom ride, and my bass player grimaced every time we played it.  Then I discovered Tune-bot.  After tuning my 14" floor tom to 2g, I got the "thumbs up" from my bass player.  Now, all of my drums are precisely tuned, and my drum kits have never sounded better.

When using Tune-bot, you dial in lug frequencies (i.e., frequencies observed when tapping a couple inches away from each tension rod/lug) to specific values, while achieving consistent frequencies across the lugs, in order to achieve an overall note for the drum (i.e., the frequency observed when hitting the center of the batter head on a freely resonating drum).  The lug frequencies required to achieve the desired overall note will vary from kit to kit due to differences in drum shell depth, thickness, and composition, so expect some trial-and-error as you figure out the relationship between lug frequency and overall frequency on each of your drums.


Studio tested Tune-bot tuning schemes

See the tables below for Tune-bot tuning schemes for several different drum kits and music types.  The frequencies listed are the result of dozens of hours of fine-tuning drums in the rehearsal studio.  Tunings are listed by drum, starting with the desired overall note and frequency, followed by the frequencies at the lugs for both resonant and batter heads.  All toms and bass drums are fitted with 2-ply batter and 1-ply reso heads.  After the drum kit schemes, you will find tunings for a variety of snare drums.  All snare drums wear 1-ply coated batters with 3mil snare sides.


Darin's Tune-bot tunings for pop, urban, dance
PDP X7 thin-shelled maple kit with higher tom pitches for pop/dance/fusion music.
Drum: Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Comments:
8" tom 3e, 165Hz 280-290Hz 280-290Hz Estimated--I don't use this drum
10" tom 3d, 147Hz 252Hz 252Hz Call to Post interval
12" tom 2b, 124Hz 210Hz 210Hz Call to Post interval
14" tom 2g, 98Hz 166Hz 166Hz Call to Post interval
16" tom 2d, 74Hz 130Hz 130Hz Call to Post interval
22" bass 1e, 42Hz 68Hz 80Hz


Darin's Tune-bot tunings for modern rock
PDP FS thin-shelled birch kit with lower tom pitches for modern rock music.
Drum: Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Comments:
10" tom 3c, 131Hz 224Hz 224Hz Perfect Fourths interval
12" tom 2a, 110Hz 188Hz 188Hz Perfect Fourths interval
14" tom 2f, 87.3Hz 152Hz 152Hz Perfect Fourths interval
16" tom 2c, 65.4Hz 114Hz 114Hz Perfect Fourths interval
22" bass 1d, 36.7Hz 52Hz 78Hz


Alleninallen's Tune-bot tunings for classic rock
Getting classic rock sounds out of a PDP X7 thin-shelled maple kit in fusion sizes.
Drum: Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Comments:
10" tom 3c#, 139Hz 224Hz 238Hz Downward pitch-bend
12" tom 2g#, 103.8Hz 170Hz 184Hz Downward pitch-bend
14" tom 2f, 87.3Hz 149Hz 152Hz Downward pitch-bend
16" tom 2d, 74Hz 120Hz 132Hz Downward pitch-bend
22" bass 1d, 36.7Hz 55Hz 74Hz


Darin's Tune-bot tunings for classic rock
Tuning a vintage Slingerland 3-ply kit in standard sizes for classic rock.
Drum: Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Comments:
12" tom 2b, 124Hz 206Hz 206Hz Major thirds interval
13" tom 2g#, 103.8Hz 172Hz 172Hz Major thirds interval
14" tom 2e, 82.4Hz 134Hz 134Hz Major thirds interval
16" tom 2c, 65.4Hz 112Hz 112Hz Major thirds interval
24" bass 1d, 36.7Hz 60Hz 70Hz


Snare drum Tune-bot tunings
Tunings for a variety of snare drums and notes.
Snare Drum: Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Comments:
Ludwig Acrolite 6.5x14 3f#, 185Hz 384Hz 289Hz Aluminum shell
Ludwig Acrolite 6.5x14 3g, 196Hz 396Hz 314Hz Aluminum shell
Ludwig Acrolite 6.5x14 3g#, 208Hz 400Hz 328Hz Aluminum shell
Ludwig Black Beauty 6.5x14 3f, 174.6Hz 334Hz 301Hz Alleninallen's black nickel-over-brass
PDP Limited Edition 6.5x14 3g, 196Hz 400Hz 300Hz 20-ply maple-bubinga shell
PDP Platinum Solid Maple 5x14 3f#, 185Hz 376Hz 278Hz 1-ply solid maple shell
PDP Platinum Solid Maple 5x14 3g, 196Hz 400Hz 302Hz 1-ply solid maple shell
PDP Platinum Solid Maple 5x14 3a, 220Hz 400Hz 332Hz 1-ply solid maple shell
Rocket Shells C-900 8x13 3f#, 185Hz 400Hz 292Hz Carbon fiber over core shell
Slingerland Deluxe Student 5.5x14 3g, 196Hz 400Hz 292Hz 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings
Slingerland Deluxe Student 5.5x14 3g#, 208Hz 400Hz 312Hz 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings
Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 3f, 174.6Hz 366Hz 274Hz Chrome-over-brass shell
Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 3g, 196Hz 400Hz 300Hz Chrome-over-brass shell
Slingerland Sound King 6.5x14 3g#, 208Hz 400Hz 326Hz Chrome-over-brass shell


Darin's Top Ten Tips for Tune-bot Tuning
  1. Make sure your heads are seated properly--improperly seated heads cause a lot of tuning and choke problems.  You have experienced this issue if you have ever heard a head "pop" or "crackle" while tuning, and afterward the sound of the drum really opened up.  If your snare drum tone is dominated by dull thuds from the batter head and harsh slaps from the snare wires, re-seat the heads and listen for the shell to begin adding body to the mix!  For more information on seating, see "A Note About Seating" below.
  2. Bring the head up to a reasonably even tuning by ear first, using a cross-lug tuning sequence.  Starting from a reasonably even tuning helps reduce overtones that cause "phantom" frequency readings on the Tune-bot.
  3. Muffle the head you are not currently tuning--I usually rest the drum on a cushion to muffle whichever head is on the bottom.
  4. Tune the reso head first--I find it more convenient to dial in the final note on the batter side.
  5. When tuning the reso head of a snare drum, (a) remove the snare wires or insert a stick between the wires and the hoop, and (b) if the snare bed is deep, back off the tension on the four lugs adjacent to the bed.  I usually leave these lugs about 20Hz-30Hz lower than the rest of the lugs.  This prevents the reso hoop from bending down into the bed and also allows for more contact between the snare wires and the head.  Ideally, you want to tune snare drum resonant lug frequencies to a perfect fifth (1.5 times), perfect fourth (1.33 times), or major third (1.26 times) higher than batter lug frequencies, keeping in mind that Tune-bot recommends against exceeding 400Hz at the lugs with thinner (2-3 mil) snare side heads.
  6. Once you get a lug near the desired frequency, press the "Filter" button on your Tune-bot so it ignores overtones.  Otherwise, Tune-bot may pick up overtones, which will cause varying frequency readings for the same lug at the same tuning.  The Filter function is a huge help in screening out those "phantom" readings.  This takes a bit of practice--if you are tuning a lug to 220, and you believe you are close but Tune-bot is reading 205 on one hit and 130 on another, press "Filter" the next time you get a reading near 205.  I use the "Filter" function on the way up to the desired frequency as well to check for consistent tuning across the lugs.
  7. When tuning larger drums, you will have to move the Tune-bot closer to the lug you are tuning--I've found that I can't leave the Tune-bot in one position on the hoop when working my way around larger drums.  With drums up to 14" in diameter that are close to the desired tuning, I usually tune half the lugs from one Tune-bot position, and then I move the Tune-bot to the opposite side of the drum and tune the remaining lugs.  With 16" and larger drums, I usually hold the Tune-bot directly above the head at each lug.
  8. When checking the overall note of a drum, be sure you are not touching either head or putting tension on a hoop and accidentally altering the note--if practical, place the drum on a stand.  Then, hold Tune-bot over the center of the batter head and hit the drum.  Tune-bot will return the overall frequency or note (you can toggle between the two readings using the "Note" button).  If you are checking the drum close to other drums, sympathetic vibrations could throw off your readings.  When possible, check each drum's note away from other drums, or muffle the nearby drums.
  9. Remember that each drum shell resonates within a limited frequency range.  If you tune the drum outside that range--too high or too low--the drum will sound "choked."  The fundamental note of the shell is the frequency that generates maximum shell resonance.  DW actually stamps the fundamental note on the inside of each of its shells, but you can hear it by tapping the shell in a quiet room with the hoops and heads removed.
  10. As always, be careful with your bearing edges!  It's all too easy to ding an edge when changing out heads.  Uneven bearing edges are a common culprit behind tuning difficulties and poor tone.

A Note About Seating

"Seating" drumheads is a procedure that involves placing weight on a new drumhead in order to (1) pre-stretch the head to reduce the need for re-tuning over time, and (2) form the head to the bearing edge of the drum to improve the transfer of energy from the head to the shell.   It is a controversial process--many drummers swear by it, while others insist it is an antiquated process carried over from the days of calfskin heads.

The actual seating process is something like performing drum "CPR"--pressing your palms down on the center of a drumhead and performing two or three "compressions."  In my experience, moderate seating of new drumheads does help them remain in tune after playing and will help bring the tone of the drum shell into the mix.  Whether seating is necessary or not depends on the specific combination of drumhead and drum.  I have found that Remo heads typically require seating, while Evans heads often tune up initially and stay in tune without the seating step.  The improved collar design on the new Evans 360 heads seems to reduce the need for seating even further.  However, some drums, such as my Ludwig Acrolite snare drum, require attention to seating regardless of the make of the drumhead in order to achieve the bearing edge contact necessary for the shell to sing!

Snare heads are too thin to seat--they could be damaged by the seating process.  To seat any other batter or resonant head, first, bring it up to an even, medium tuning, and place the drum on something flat and sturdy--I usually use the floor.  Then, spread the palm of your hand across the center of the head, rest your other hand on top of the first, and perform two or three downward compressions, using the weight of your upper body.  Always use your palm--not fingertips, knuckles, etc.--so you do not direct too much weight to any one point on the head.  Also, take care to prevent watches, bracelets, and rings from coming into contact with the head.  Some of the glue in the drumhead collar, especially with Remo heads, may "pop" and "crackle" as you place weight on the head--this is expected.  I do not recommend standing on the heads of larger drums as some suggest.  Seating compressions can de-tune both drumheads--the top head, of course, but the bottom hoop can press upward as well, stretching the bottom head slightly--in that case, you will need to tune both heads back up to the desired note.  Don't be afraid to repeat the process to obtain the bearing edge contact necessary to bring out the drum shell's tone.


Other Tuning Resources

After using Tune-bot for a while, I thought it would be cool to see other drummers' Tune-bot settings, and when I searched for them on the web, I ended up at Tune-bot's site.   Check out http://tune-bot.com/drum-tuning.html.  This page provides great information on overall notes for various drums, and offers tuning approaches for toms, snares, and bass drums.  Tune-bot's lug frequency calcs were off a bit, at least for my kits, so I've shared the "street" lug frequencies I've worked out over the past several months to achieve the desired overall notes.

Be sure to check out http://tune-bot.com/artisttuning.html for several pro tuning schemes.  Also, you can find Tune-bot threads on many of the major online drumming forums, although you may have to sift through posts from drummers who are new to Tune-bot and haven't gotten the hang of it yet.

Last but not least, if you want a deeper understanding of the physics behind drum tuning, check out The Physics of Overtones at circularscience.com.

Take the time to get used to tuning your drums with Tune-bot.  Once you hear the amazing tone your kit can produce with properly tuned drums, you will enjoy playing them more--and you will stop drooling over that DW kit you've had your eye on.

--Darin

3 comments:

  1. Great article Darin! That is very helpful information in regards to both tuning, and tune-bot use.

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  2. they recommend against tuning higher than 400hz because the tunebot is not rated to go above 400 hz. I have got a cell phone app tuner to supplement when tuning higher than 400hz.

    It's a great tool though, demystifies a century or drum tuning in which people just had crude "folk' methods of tuning. It hasn't caught on yet, but now the drum kit is able to be a tonal or melodic instrument. I use it mainly as a drone, like the tabla, tonally speaking.

    Also, I have just discovered that not only can you tune the fundamental and lugs, if you know what you are doing, you can actually tune the prominent upper partial, mainly of the snare drum. I have gotten this wonderful sonorous snare sound out of my 10' snare, but it would be elusive and when I lost it, it would ge gone until I just used trial and error for a long time to get it back But then I discovered I could get this upper harmonic a fourth up from the lug frequency sometimes, and that was what was causing the harmonic sound. So I got a spare snare drum, tuned it t the fourth above, then locked in that frequency n the tunebot, and used it to tune the snare harmonic.

    But its still not easy, it's still trial and error to get the lug and fundamental frequencies I want while maintaining the harmonic. What I found is that the method you use to pull the head to tension, whether star pattern, or circular pattern, two keys instead of one, etc has a huge effect on the upper partial. It doesn't make sense why this would be, but maybe I will figure it out one day.

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    Replies
    1. Very interesting...so if I understand what you are saying, there is a desirable upper harmonic that comes and goes at a given lug frequency?

      Obviously no drum shell is perfectly consistent, round, and true, no bearing edges are perfectly cut, no hoop is perfectly round, no head is perfectly uniform, etc.

      However on a quality drum with excellent bearing edges, the big variable is the drumhead. We can't control the consistency of the drumhead, but we CAN adjust the bearing edge-to-drumhead contact through the seating process. I can't tell you how many times I've tuned up a drumhead to a specific lug frequency with subpar tone, then detuned, reseated and tuned the same head back up to the same lug frequency and achieved that tone nirvana you are referring to.

      Your last paragraph has me wondering if your drum is especially sensitive to seating. My 6.5x14 Acrolite is like that. I just keep reseating the batter head until I achieve "the tone." Unscientific, I know, but there is no other way I know of to fix suboptimal bearing edge-to-drumhead contact.

      I suppose it's possible through trial and error to determine whether tuning one or more lugs to slightly different frequencies would result in a more scientific/repeatable process to achieve tone nirvana, but then you play the drumhead, it stretches, and then what?

      Let me know if you do figure it out!

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