Kenny Sharretts
Drum Technician - Drummer - Educator
by Kenny Sharretts on June 18th, 2012

All right all right. It's about time! First things first. I love teaching people how to set up and tune drums. The smile on a drummers face when he or she hears their kit sound better than it ever has, AND it was by their own hand. . . ? Now that is a beautiful thing to behold. With this in mind, I will be posting tuning tips, and tricks on this page regularly in hopes that all drummers, and tuners of drums find them useful.

"Resetting an old head"
A common practice when you put on a new drumhead is to stretch the head with your hand after it's first few rounds of tightening. Once at a fair degree of tightness (to avoid overstretching of a loose head) just place your palm at the drums center and push gently. In addition, you could use the butt of one's palm to stretch the edge of the head as well. Anchoring your finger's to the outer edge of the hoop, press the butt of your palm (or your thumbs) along the bearing edge and then stretch lightly. Do this all the way around the drum. Makes sense right? Stretch all areas of a new head to ensure even tuning. When your heads are old, however,  this method is a great way to "re-awaken" the mylar from it's stretched state. Mylar hardens over time. By stretching at the center and edges, it massages the mylar fiber and opens it up a bit. Once you have stretched the old head a little bit, pick up the drum and give it a kiss in the vent hole. (ie: press your lips to the hole and blow.LOL!) If there are multiple vents, cover them with your fingers while blowing into the vent of your choice. The drum heads should expand upward/downward essentially "re-seating" the head. This will not only liven up the drums sound, but you will immediately be able to hear which lugs are truly out of tune with the others.

"The Lug Below"
Have you ever been tuning a drum where one lug doesn't seem to change in pitch no matter how much you tighten or loosen it? Often times this is a sign that the lug directly across from the one you are tuning is out of balance as well. However, this doesn't always fix the issue. If it does not, the problem lies in the lug (tension rod) directly below the one you are tuning. After resetting the head via tip # 1 (if you R not mid-show mind you), tighten (or loosen) the lug below about 1/8th of a turn. You will be surprised at how little of a turn can make a massive difference. Then check your top tension rod for balance and voila. Tuned drum.

"Soft Fuzzy Balls"
Often times when recording toms (especially floor toms and large suspended toms) you will encounter unwanted ringing or crosstalk coming from the drum. The ringing is caused by other drums and their stands vibrating in sympathy with rest of the kit. SOLUTION: Drop one, or two two stretched out cotton balls into the drum. They will act as a natural gate/ mute for the bottom head, and the effect the drum's attack is minimal. MAKE SURE TO STRETCH THE COTTON BALL OUT A BIT. Make it lok like a cloud. Not too big, but enough to disperse the weight of the ball. You want the cotton to sit quietly, versus bouncing around like popcorn. Alone they are usually sufficient to mute the crosstalk. For the worst cases, use in conjunction with a little tape tent on the bottom head.
"Getting Balanced Before You Lose Your Head"
When changing a head, I find it very useful to first retune, and rebalance the drum BEFORE YOU TAKE OFF THE HEAD TO BE REPLACED! A drum is a tensioned instrument, therefore bottom head tension affects top head tension and vice versa. They both affect the shell. If the drum is balanced when you remove the one head, minor imperfections in pitch from lug to lug become much more obvious and easy to fix. Furthermore, the shell is balanced to the "regular" tension of the bottom head therefore making tuning back up to "how you like it" a much easier and quicker task.

"Tuning Your Snare In The Studio" aka "Did The Drummer Really Ask What Key The Song Was In?"
Want to have your snare sit perfectly into the fabric of a song? Try tuning the top head of your snare to the key of the song. This is a common practice in the "big boy" recording studios. I tend to tune snare drums pretty low in the studio to maximize the "balls" of the snare sound. Surprisingly there is a lot of crack down low if your playing can handle a lower tension. Also, it's easier to accentuate crack via EQ than it is to EQ some whump where there is no whump. Low tension snares tuned to the key of the song are a perfect opportunity to tune the snare's bottom head up to a perfect fourth. Adds a little crack to the whump of a low tensioned drum. If your floor tom is tuned to the key of the song, however, I recommend tuning your next highest tom to the 5th above the tonic. Then you can fit the snare between the 1 and the 5 by tuning it to the 3rd of the key. This helps minimize snare buzz due to interaction with the toms.

" You Got A Hole In Your Head"
Holes in bass drum heads are like colonoscopy. A necessary evil in a live setting. Most soundmen at a club level do not have the luxury of being able to isolate the kick drum sound, and maximize click AND thump without a hole. Since the big dogs usually use 2 microphones for the kick (usually a SM91 inside the drum, and an SM 51/ D112/etc. in the hole), the hole becomes mandatory unless you mount the microphones inside the kick. So where to put the hole? How big should it be? As far as size goes, 5-7 inches across is all you need. Any more, and the tone of the head significantly suffers. More head, more tone. Any smaller, and you can't position the BD mic very easily. As far as where to put the hole, a lot of cats put the hole in the lower left or right hand corners of the drum. This is a useful technique if you want a lot of  richovertones in your kick sound This is the method we used on Rihanna, and that we currently use with Train. Sometimes, however, I need a tighter, punchier kick with controlled, but voluminous bottom-end. I achieve this by cutting the hole DEAD CENTER of the bass drum head. Think about it like dropping a pebble in a pond. The circles of sound go outward from the center of the head. By cutting the hole dead center, you maintain the continuity of the circular soundwaves. Plus alot of the air from the beater strike shoots straight out of the center. This tends to tighten the sound of the kick without sacraficing bottom end. I began using the "center hole" technique with Kenny Aronoff on a Melissa Etheridge tour. The FOH mixer said the difference was night and day in terms of punch, bottom end, and control.     

BTW, two products I recommend for cutting the hole, are the Aquarian Port Holes or the Remo Dynamos hole templates, and "The Hole Cutter". The template is a must. Not only does it give you an easy, almost fool-proof guide for cutting a clean hole (please use an exacto knife or "The Hole Cutter"), but it protects the hole from tearing, AND acts as a gentle mute for the front head. This greatly reduces the amount of muffling needed (so you get a bigger sound), and you can avoid the tone robbing felt strip many people use. "The Hole Cutter" is an outstanding tool for the hole cutting procedure. (Hence the name, LOL!) Strangely enough, it doesn't fit perfectly within the Aquarian/Remo templates, but you can make it work.

Finally, use a protective disc where your beater hits the BD head. I know some people complain about how it affects the tone, but they really do protect the head from breaking due to friction. They can also add a little attack to your kick sound. Remo falam slams are great for rock and funk drumming, but are a little heavy for some cats. Evans makes a thinner less intrusive kick patch that I absolutely love. Drum on brothers and sisters.

More to come. Also please check out the video for the song "Day Is Done" from my band So Called Underground from our new CD "How To Paint A silver Lining". This is a fine example of what can be done with 4 drum mics, and some good drum samples. Hope you enjoy.
Kenny "Dexter" Sharretts

by Kenny Sharretts on June 12th, 2012

Hello to everyone who has asked me how I tuned drums for Stanley Randolph in the recording of Stevie Wonder’s Live At Last DVD.  I was blessed to have Pearl’s engineer’s test this method in their sound lab. I was quite humbled to have received glowing revues. Thank you to Pearl Drums. Do note that while Stanley likes his drum tuned a bit lower these days, the template works in any key. So here are the details . . .
.. ..
As we begin this discussion let me say that when I first speak of “tuning” a drum to a specific note, I am speaking about the top head. Top head = pitch. Bottom head = tone. Because venues vary, and sometimes we use a kit other than Stanley’s, the deciding factor for the tom tuning range begins w/ the 8". I tune it to where A) it feels right for Stanley, and B) It doesn't sound like a bongo. :-). From there I usually tune the top three toms to a first position inverted major triad. IE 8" – 6th tone of a major scale, 10"- 4th tone of a major scale, 12" –1st tone of a major scale. That's a triad with the 5th in the base. In the key of C Major, for example, that would be an F Major chord (F A C), laid out like this: 8" – A, 10" - F, and 12"- C. I try to tune the snare to sit between the 10" and 12" so as to minimize sympathetic resonance between the snare and the toms. In C, that would be about an E flat. Or, I might go above the 8” in terms of note value. It all depends on where Stanley feels it, and where minimal snare buzz occurs. Most important is that the inverted triad allows him to be able to play the NBC theme on his top 3 toms (yessss)! Lately, however, Stanley has been raising the snare tension of his main snare (a 14" x 6.5" Reference snare). Luckily, Stanley's 8" Pearl Reference tom has been sounding sweet tuned a little lower to a G. Subsequently, I have been tuning his top 3 toms to a minor triad (12" - C, 10" - E flat, 8" - G), and tuning his snare to an F-ish note. Again, I keep the snare settled in between the 8"and 10" to minimize sympathetic snare buzz. From there, Stanley goes to the 16" floor tom next. I tune the 16” to a perfect 5th, with tonic being the 16" and the 12"  being the 5th. So if we have 8"- G, 10" - E flat, and 12" - C, then the 16" would be an F. You can play the intro to "My Girl" between the 12” and 16”. Then I tune the 14" to a A or an A flat. With the 14" on his left at A (or A flat) you get a major (or minor) triad between your 16, 14 and 12. This is the other reason I now tune the snare to F-ish. Avoid sympathetic snare buzz between the 16" and the snare

So to recap in the key of C , for example, 8" - G, 10" - E flat, 12" - C, 16" - F, 14" - A (A flat), Snare 1 around F Then I tune the bottom tom heads to a perfect fourth above the top head. ie if 12" top is C, then the bottom head is an F. Same with his second snare and the bass drum. I tune his main snare to a half step these days because that seems to be where Stanley likes it. So in C if your top snare is an F, then the bottom head is an F#. Also, in order to personify the "old school" vibe of the left side of the kit, I tuned the 14" floor tom to a minor third for that "drop" in pitch sound. So If the floor tom is tuned on the top head to an A, then the bottom head is tuned to a C. 

Tune on my fellow drummers, and please check out the video for the song "Empty" by my band So Called Underground from our CD "How To Paint A Silver Lining" available on iTunes, Reverb Nation, and CD Baby. This song includes some incredible guitar work by Errol Cooney (Stevie Wonder, Christina Aguilera), and some unbelievable keyboards by Lamar Mitchel. Hope you enjoy.
Peace Out, Kenny....