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  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 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

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.


August 25, 2013

What to look for when buying used cymbals

By Darin Soll

Five months ago, I discussed considerations for selecting the right cymbals for your sound, and I also shared my cymbal set ups at the time.  Since then, I have found myself playing my Paiste 2002 set up a lot more often than my Zildjian K/A Custom set up.  Recently, I tried out a few cymbals in the Paiste Signature line and I like them even more.  Of course, Rythym Dog recommended Paiste Signatures to me a few years back and as always, it was a great recommendation!

I'll admit I've become a bit of a Paiste fanboy.  There is a lot to love about their cymbals, mainly, (1) they have a smooth sound that is never harsh, and (2) their production processes result in a consistent sound from cymbal to cymbal for a given model.  For my typical pop/rock set lists, the Paiste 2002s always seems to be the right sound.

The challenge with high-end Paistes, such as the Signature line, is that they are very expensive.  Signature high-hats and rides run into the low-to-mid $400s new.  So, those of us without Paiste endorsements and/or mega recording deals are left to pick up "Sigs" on the used market.  Fortunately, there is no shortage of used Sigs for sale on eBay, where they often sell at 50 percent below new prices, bringing them within reach of us mere mortals.

Over the past month, I picked up a set of 13-inch Signature Dark Crisp Hi-Hats, a 20-inch Signature Full Ride, an 18-inch Signature Fast Crash, and a 10-inch Signature Splash, all purchased used on eBay.  While these are not the first used cymbals I've purchased, they are the first I've purchased used on eBay, and I learned a couple lessons the hard way.  In this post, I will share those lessons with the hope that it helps other navigate the process of evaluating and purchasing used cymbals.

The first big lesson I learned is that is that fast or thin crashes and splashes have a tendency to warp, and sellers are unloading them without mentioning that they are warped.  I bought and returned a 16-inch Signature Fast Crash after hanging it on a stand and noticing that when viewing the cymbal edgewise, the outside edge was not flat/true--the distance between the highest and lowest points was nearly an inch.  You can also catch warpage by spinning the cymbal in a level position and watching to see if the outside edge rises and falls as it travels around.  The 10-inch Signature Splash I purchased is warped as well.  While the seller of the 16-inch Signature Fast Crash allowed returns, the seller of the 10-inch Signature Splash did not--it's all mine.  It's unclear whether minor to moderate warpage has a significant effect on a cymbal's sound, but no one wants to pay good money for warped cymbals!  I believe that warpage is far less common on heavier weight crash cymbals, rides, and hi-hats, but it is something to ask about before you buy.

Another big lesson I learned is that some eBay sellers will describe flaws their cymbals do not have, but fail to describe the flaws they DO have.  For example, my 18-inch Signature Fast Crash was described as being in " excellent condition," with "no cracks or keyholing."  That's great--the cymbal is not cracked, and the center hole has not been deformed.  However, upon receiving the cymbal, I was a bit disappointed to find that it had multiple "flea bites," tiny dings in the edge of the cymbal.  A flea bite can range from very light scoring that leaves only a rough texture on the cymbal's edge to a very small but visible indentation or chip that looks like a flea took a "bite" out of the edge, sometimes leaving a small ripple as your eye runs across the bow of the cymbal toward its edge.  Severe flea bites can lead to cracks, but in most cases, they are primarily a cosmetic concern.  In the case of my cymbal, the flea bites don't hurt the sound or playability of the cymbal, but I would have dropped out of the bidding sooner had I known that the cymbal was not actually in "excellent condition," or at least what I consider to be excellent.  

Lesson learned--when evaluating used cymbals, ask questions about any potential flaws not mentioned--cracks, keyholing, dents, dings, chips, flea bites, warpage, deep scratches, or finish issues.  Ask the seller if the cymbal has ever fallen or been dropped.  Ask whether it was used on the road/gigged, or kept in the studio.  Zoom into all photos on the listing, especially around the edges and center hole of the cymbal.  At first glance, the cymbal below appears to be in excellent condition--however, zooming into the area highlighted with the red box reveals a pretty severe flea bite:

While this flea bite may not affect the sound of the cymbal, the cymbal should not be represented as "like new" or "excellent condition," and you should reduce your maximum bid accordingly.

If the photos of the cymbal aren't clear, or if they don't cover the entire surface of the cymbal, ask the seller to post more photos.  You should be cautious if photos for a cymbal listing omit a portion, or portions, of the cymbal.

Used Paiste Signature Full Ride 20"
Fortunately, the used 13-inch Signature Dark Crisp Hi-Hats and 20-inch Signature Full Ride that I purchased on eBay arrived in excellent condition as described.  The Sig ride is a real beauty as you can see in this photo.  New, this cymbal is priced around $420.  I purchased this used 2006 model for $250 with free shipping, an outstanding deal for a top-of-the-line ride cymbal.  It arrived pretty dirty, since many drummers do not clean their cymbals.  I decided to clean this one up--some light scrubbing with Paiste Cymbal Cleaner followed by an application of Paiste Cymbal Protector produced the results you see here.

While some eBay sellers offer a return policy, most do not.  Without a return policy, if the description of the item is accurate, you have little recourse if you receive a used cymbal that does not meet your expectations.  Don't be shy about asking questions upfront, or asking for additional photos, to get as much information about the true condition of the cymbal before you decide to bid.  Once the seller has answered all of your questions, and posted clear and complete photos for the listing, you can then bid on the used cymbal with confidence!

For tips on using cymbal makers' websites to evaluate cymbals, and tailoring searches for specific types of cymbals on eBay, see Paiste Signature setup.


August 4, 2013

My wife thinks I have too many snare drums

By Darin Soll

For some reason, drummers have a tendency to accumulate snare drums.  To be sure, differences in drum diameter, depth, shell materials, and even hoops will result in differences in tone.  But when my wife asked me the other day how many snare drums I owned, I quickly responded, "six--wait, seven--no, actually nine.  But one's for sale!!"

Eight snare drums, not counting the one for sale?  How did THAT happen?  Well, actually, there is a perfectly good least from the perspective of a drummer...

The first two snare drums were included with with my PDP kits--a 5x14 thin-shelled maple in the same red-to-black sparkle burst lacquer as my PDP X7 kit, and a 5.5x14 thin-shelled birch that matches my natural-to-charcoal fade PDP FS kit.  These snare drums when equipped with quality heads actually tune up fairly well and would work well in a pinch.  But neither is able to produce the kind of tone that makes you smile as you play.  I'm keeping these two drums mainly so that I have complete PDP kits if I ever decide to sell them--I mean, how can you sell an X7 kit with only six drums?!

Okay, two down, six to go...

The first snares I purchased to upgrade my PDP kit snares are my beloved Slingerland 6.5x14 chrome-over-brass units that I picked up on eBay.  One dates back to approximately 1975 and includes the less-desirable Zoomatic throwoff, and the other is a 1979 model with three vent holes and the smooth and reliable TDR throwoff.  As readers of this blog know, I learned to play drums on Slingerlands, and I think Slingerland's brass snare holds its own against the legendary Ludwig Supraphonic.  When you consider that you can pick up a Slingerland 6.5x14 chrome-over-brass snare on eBay for about half the price of a Supraphonic, the Slingerland is clearly an excellent value.  The one drawback of the Slingerland is that its shell is not as rigid as the beaded Ludwigs, so it is prone to what I call "lug denting"--setting the drum down edgewise can cause the lugs to press into and dent the shell.  Most of the used Slingerland brass snares I have seen have at least some lug denting, so examine the photos carefully before you buy.  While minor dents can be carefully hammered out with a rounded block of wood, that process can cause the gray coating inside the shell to flake off--better to find a relatively dent-free drum.

But this blog post is about snare drum acquisition rather than restoration, so let's move on...four snares to go...

I mentioned my next two snare drum acquisitions in previous blog posts--first, a new PDP 6.5x14 20-ply snare with a maple/bubinga shell.  Like most PDP offerings, this is a very reasonably priced drum and it provides all the projection and crack you would expect from a thick-shelled wood snare.  The included DW mag throw off is a great design, and, if you are in the market for a throwoff upgrade, very reasonably priced at about $30.  I love the tone of this drum for modern pop/rock songs, and the stained and lacquered bubinga outer ply makes it easy on the eyes as well.  The second snare I covered in a previous blog post is my used Rocket Shells 8x13 carbon fiber snare, a drum that surprised me with its awesome tone and looks.  This drum is proof that there are excellent deals to be had on eBay!

Ludwig Acrolite Classic 6.5x14 reissue
In addition to the Slingerlands, I learned to play drums on one other classic model--the aluminum-shelled Ludwig Acrolite.  For 2012-2013, Ludwig is manufacturing "reissued" Acrolite models, and I recently picked up a 6.5x14 "Classic" (chrome hardware instead of the "Limited Edition" brushed hardware) on eBay at a good price.  The Acrolite is essentially the same drum as the aluminum Ludwig Supraphonic without the chrome plating--and without the pitting and peeling that plague used Supras (chrome doesn't bond as well to aluminum as it does to brass).  Typically priced lower than the Supra, the Acrolite is great addition to any drummer's arsenal.

So, why does a drummer with two brass-shelled snares need an aluminum-shelled snare?  My wife asked me that same question...

Different metals have different tonal characteristics.  The differences are less subtle than you might think.  For example, in my experience, steel shells produce the most ring, brass shells produce moderate ring, and aluminum shells produce less ring, what some drummers describe as a "drier" sound.  By "ring," I'm not talking about undesired overtones, I'm talking about the way the metal shell resonates near the sweet spot of its tuning range.  Steel shells ring, and sometimes that's what you want!  But aluminum is on the other end of the spectrum, offering the power of a metal shell with a drier tone, somewhere between brass and the brighter wood shells.

So, once I decided I needed an aluminum shell in my arsenal, I had a number of solid choices to consider:  (1) Ludwig's Acrolite in 6.5x14, which many drummers consider to be the standard, (2) Pearl's Sensitone Elite Aluminum, which for some reason is no longer offered in 6.5x14, so the deeper shell is hard to find, (3) DrumCraft's Series 8 6.5x14 cast aluminum (5mm thick!) model that I saw at Sam Ash for $325 a number of months ago not realizing it normally sells for $500-$600, (4) Pearl's second generation Free Floating in 6.5x14, another expensive model that always has me wondering whether I would ever actually go to the trouble of swapping out the shell, and (5) Crush Drum's 6.5x14 aluminum snare.  I concluded that picking up any of these aluminum snares at a good price would be money well spent, so I jumped on a reasonably-priced Acrolite re-issue in excellent condition after missing out on the $325 DrumCraft deal.  I forgot how much I hate Ludwig's P85 throwoff, but there are a few upgrade options that don't require drilling extra holes...

That leaves one drum left to cover in my snare Mapex 3.5x13 steel piccolo.  This model usually runs about $70 new, but you can find deals on this drum as low as $49.  A steel piccolo tuned up high has a great crack and just the right amount of ring.  The throwoff on this drum is not very smooth, but it gets the job done.

So, that's the rundown of my snare drum arsenal.  Hopefully my wife will read this, although I'm not sure it will help.  Oh well...what snares are the favorites in your collection?