Kenny Sharretts
Drum Technician - Drummer - Educator
Unraveling The False Myths of Drum Muffling, & Moon Gels
by Kenny Sharretts on July 7th, 2020

Hello to my blog readers. Today I’m writing on a subject that I receive a lot of DM questions about, and I also read a lot of smack talk about amongst drummers in online forums who stand by their opinions on either side of the matter. That matter is drum muffling. Since I just did a video for RTOM for Sweetwater’s Gear Fest 2020 discussing when, how, and why to use moon gels I figured this was a perfect time for a blog on the topic. In fact I will use “moon gels” as my catch all phrase for any products one might use for drum muffling. Because the reality is drum muffling is a means to an end, and nothing more. An incredible tool that when used properly can save time in terms of getting the sounds you are looking for quickly.
Now if you ask me as a pro drum tech I will say muffling has it’s place in the pantheon of drum sound creation, and it is something I use often to either achieve the tones my artist wants/needs or as a way of fixing a drum hum issue for my sound people. What I DO NOT USE IT FOR is to cover up a poorly tuned drum. Alas this seems to be the dominant folklore surrounding the use of “moon gels”. That you use moon gels because you can’t tune a drum, or that your drums sound terrible so you gel them up. I can understand how this has grown to be a believable myth, as many drummers DO use moon gels to get a solid drum sound rather than taking the time to learn how to tune. Drummers often DO use them to fix drum sound issues that could easily be fixed by tuning the drum. The key point to me, however, is this: if gels can make a poorly tuned drum sound good, what can they do for well tuned drums? As a pro tech I have to say they can do ALOT. Mostly it depends on the situation as to why you would use them in the first place. So let’s look at some of the reasons why you would use a “moon gel” or any muffling at all.

If you look at old snare drums, and toms from the late 70’s and back these drums almost always had built in mufflers. Why? Because the drum builder knew that . . .

 #1 In some situations muffling is needed.
    Small clubs, large halls with stone floors/tin roofs, lounge room casino gigs where you HAVE TO keep the volume down. In these instances, a Moon Gel/Muffling can make or break the situation for your group sounding good in the room, and hopefully be asked back. Drums are loud, and their sound projects far, and wide. For those who practice at home just ask your neighbors. A moon gel can curb the volume of erroneous ring without killing the feel thereby turning a ringy raucous drum sound into a tight, focused easy to mic/mix drum sound in seconds. Furthermore, moon gels can turn a wide open, sustained tom sound into a tight attack oriented sound that is often EXACTlY what a drummer is looking for. Not everyone wants sustain in their toms. Uncontrollable ring from drums is often the bane of most audio engineers. When you perform live with unmuted floor toms it may sound/feel great to you, but very often there are too many extra frequencies ringing out for the sound man to get a clean sound without using heavy gates or heavy EQ which can distort the original tone of the drum. In addition, floor toms tend to hum in sympathy with the music when not being played. That is a problem for engineers. While I’m a big fan of the cotton ball trick for floor toms with long sustains, sometimes more is needed. A cotton ball inside, and a half gel on the batter head can often lead quickly to the perfect live floor tom sound. No engineer needed. Just FYI if you don’t want to use gels, but want a little control of your floor tom ring toss 1 stretched out cotton ball into the drum. It will act like a soft gate without intruding on your feel. I LOVE the sustain of my new Rogers Covington Drums Toms. The floor tom rings for days, hence as much as I love it, I have to use the cotton ball/half gel method to get the sound I want. When I do? Floor tom perfection.
     The reality of live mixing is that the less Gates/EQ the sound person has to use on your drums the more natural the drums will sound, and the more EQ that can be applied to other areas of a mix without buildup. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the sound, and feel of wide open drums. One of my favorite drummers Danny Carey use no muffling, and it sounds killer. Thankfully he has a sound engineer who knows how to mix wide open drums. Johnny No Gels at the local club with a giant double bass, 80’s power tom kit, and a house sound engineer? Odds are that drummer is just mucking up the mix. So again, you don’t always have to use muffling, but when you need it it is a good thing to know how to use properly.

#2 To get the specific sounds you want for a musical situation you may have to use muffling.
I tech for a lot of great drummers, and moon gels are essential for a lot of those drummers or their gigs. On Stevie Wonder,  Stanley Randolph insists upon gels/dots to help get that old school Motown drum sound he wants. On the Puff Daddy Bad Boy Family Reunion tour, Boots Greene wanted moon gels IN ADDITION to Evans Hydraulic heads so his drums emulate hip hop/rap tom sounds that fit the music, and also blended well with the digital instruments. For Lil John Roberts on Janet Jackson his Tama Bubinga Floor toms had so much sustain WE HAD TO drop a few cotton balls in the drum, and use a half moon gel on the batter. LOL!
     Another are in todays modern music world where muffling can be effective is for  performers that use in-ear monitors. For IEM mixes Moon Gels can make ALL the difference. For example on Elvis Costello when we play small theaters, or sheds with tin roofs I have to use moon gels on Pete Thomas’ toms or the singers will get way too much drum noise in their in ear monitor mix. We have 5 wide open vocal mics on stage. By tightening up the tom sound with just half a moon gel (cotton ball in the floor tom) the drum sound becomes more focused/clean in the IEM’s leaving more room for a full tonal range from all the other instruments in the mix. Mainly the voices.  It also cleans up the general stage sound around the kit as well as giving more focus to drum sounds as they are heard by the over head mics. The key for my use of moon gels is using as little as possible to achieve the desired sound so as to maintain the tone/feel/sensitivity of the drum. In some places, however, less is not more.
In the recording studio, moon gels/muffling can be even more important to achieving the drum sound needed for the song you are recording. An unmuffled kit that sounds great at the club may not sound great in the studio, or for the song you are recording. A wide open bass drum may sound/feel great live, but it may take up way to much sonic space in a recording, or simply might not be punchy enough to cut through. Hal Blaine used tape n tea towels on most of his legendary recordings. The Beatles legendary tom sound? Tea towels. Steve Gadd’s snare sound? Muffling. Old country recordings? Those dry toms come from a pile of lambswool thrown in a tom to create what’s known as “The Nashville Cloud”. Bottom line is sometimes muffling is required. I can tune a drum, but in the studio that’s not always enough. Moreover if it’s not YOUR BAND in the studio, having the skills/knowledge of how to dial your drums sounds to a producers needs greatly increases your chances at getting calls for more studio work from that producer.

     A lot of people record drums for their recordings, and YouTube/FB Live/IG Live vids at home. Very often the rooms people record in are less than ideal for drum sounds. Using moon gels/muffling can do wonders for a drum sound in awkward sounding rooms, or when the drums are recorded by a cell phone or video camera only.
     It's the same thing for radio, and podcast performances. One example of this situation arose for me when I was with the band with Train doing Howard Stern's Radio Show with the whole band in his very nice, but not really spacious broadcast studio. We had room, but the reality was the drums were right up in all the mics. Full Moon gels on the toms, two full on the snare, one on the ride, and tiny single tent tape tents on the under side of the crashes, and bottom hats. It streamlined the drum sound perfectly for the broadcast, and tamed the drums in the lead singers mic.
Another odd situation was at a recent video shoot where I was talking about mounting a tom on a snare stand, and using Little Booty Shakers to bring back the sustain lost due to the stand clamping onto the drum. Sure the sustain was back in force LOL, and I loved it, but it was a bit omni-present in the snare mic. With a half moon gel I was able to shape, and focus that sustain into the perfect tom sound for recording, and get the sustain out of the snare mic. No sustain? No tone so Little Booty’s yes, AND Moon Gel to control that tone yes. LOL!
In the end the key to successful use of moon gels/muffling is knowing when, and how to use them. So here’s some quick tips

Place a moon gel in the center of the nodal point between two tension rods just off the bearing edge.

- Place a second moon gel in the same position as listed in the first tip, but move one slot over to the left, or right. OR
- Place one moon gel about 1.75-2 inches in from the bearing edge at the center nodal point between two tension rods. This will also help define the note of the batter head.

- Place one moon gel at a tension rod just off the bearing edge. If you want more control, and definition of the note of the batter head place the gel about 1.75-2 inches in from the bearing edge at a tension rod. This will also help define the note of the batter head.

- As I mentioned a spread out cotton ball can work wonders for controlling bottom head sustain, but otherwise if you need to control sustain PLEASE just use a tape tent as I discuss in the video below. Moon gels work on the bottom head, but fall off. Taping em on is good, but using a tape tent is better.

Either place a half moon gel in the center of the nodal point between two tension rods just off the bearing edge.
Use a single tent tape tent in the center of the nodal point between two tension rods just off the bearing edge.
I hope this blog has helped reframe any myths you had about what drum muffling, and moon gels are all about. You don't have to use it, but when you need to it's good to know how. 

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Kenny "Dexter" Sharretts

Posted in Drum Tuning Tips Blog by Kenny Sharretts 2020, Drum Tuning Tips Blog by Kenny Sharretts 2015    Tagged with how to tune drums, drums, moon gel, drum muffing, how to mute a drum, how to muffle a drum, sounds like a drum, Drum Tuning, Drum Tuning, drum tech, Drum Tech Tips