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Steve's Tuning Tips and Weblog

Over the years I have received many requests to talk about how I tune drums. People seem to like what they hear on our video and audio files so I finally got around to getting the video done. With this video I will share my method with you and also in the video itself we have included some links so that you can hear the outcome of this method. As I mention in the video, there is no "right or wrong" for tuning. Everyone has their own method, and I am merely sharing what works for me. If it helps you, that's wonderful! As always, you can reach me at and I would be happy to answer other questions for you. I don't get back into the You Tube channel that often so I may not see your comments there, so email me directly if any questions. And, down below we will start a web log so that I can post questions that I have received, and post my answers as well.

Here is the link to the video: HERE.

Web Log:

9/15 from Scott:

Anyways, I have a Gretsch custom USA kit - I play some rock so have a 6 piece w 22 bass.  I love it but am always tinkering with the tuning and saw your recent video and wanted to ask whether you had any tuning recommendations for this kit in particular.  I usually play the 12 up and 14 and 16 down.   

Any thoughts most appreciated and thanks for all your knowledge and passion!   

Steve's response:

Hi Scott! 

Glad to help here.
For your USA custom kit I think that if you are playing rock then something like a 22 Powerstroke on the bass drum batter side probably makes sense. No difference in how I would do the tuning, just a difference in head choice. In your ensemble, if you are doing a lot of bass drum work in sync with what your bassist is doing, then finding the right sonic balance is important. If his sound is a bit brighter, then the low fundamental on your bass drum probably would work well. But, if his sound is darker then you may want to avoid the likes of a Powerstroke and try something like an Emperor that still gives you the punch but doesn't grab the low fundamental quite as much as a Powerstroke does. For toms, if you use the 12 up and the 14 and 16 down, for rock you might try resonant heads that are clear medium weight and then coated heavy weight for the batters. That will get you a full, fat sound in medium-to-lower tunings.



9/13 from Pete:

Hi Steve,

I recently came across your videos on Youtube and found them very helpful and enjoyable.  
I attached a few pictures of my 1971 Slingerland Anavte series drums.  Unfortunately over the years I lost the 13 &14" toms.  The kit was originally a chrome wrap and I traveled with it for many years and just threw it in that back of a van in cheap bags with very little protection.  I retired the kit around 1984.  Fast forward to 2009, I saw a band and the drummer was using an old Rogers kit that sounded great, I decided to try and bring my Slingerlands back from the dead.  I found a local guy here in the Boston area and he was able to re-cut the bearing edges (original cut) re-glue the bass drum and wrap the kit in a pink sparkle.  I did have him replace the beat up swivel-matic top holder with a Yamaha Yess Mount.  I know it may have hurt the nostalgic part of the kit but my other kits are Yamaha and love their hardware.
Anyway, how would you go about getting a nice tone from the kick?  It sounds OK now, it has a Super kick single ply batter and an Aquarian regulator on the reso with an emad pillow.  I was hoping to get that nostalgic boom.
Thanks so much and I love the videos and hopefully some day will be able to visit your shop.
Best regards,

Steve's response:

Hi Pete,

Glad to try to help.

You mention "that nostalgic boom", so let's focus on that for a minute: In the late 50s, into the 60s, and then up til the early 70s, head choices were fairly minimal. Plastic heads replaced calf in the late 50s and for a very long while you had very basic heads: I'll use Remo for the template here: Batter heads were generally coated and usually medium weight (Ambassador) and also thin (Diplomat) and then in the 60s we started seeing the Emperor heads (heavy) for rock. Resonant heads were generally either coated or clear and in the same weights. What this means is the bass drum sound came from the quality of the resonating shell, and the tuning used by the player. Player's were forced to learn to tune with their ears (no drum dials back then, which in my view is a good thing). You had to rely on your own skills for tuning, which is what you want anyhow because that is an integral part of how you develop your own drum sound. The vintage sound you describe was generally done with these limited head choices mounted onto great drums and tuned properly by the player..

If your Slingerland set is a 70s set it is either 3 ply maple/poplar/ maple with re-rings or the later 5 ply all maple. The 3 ply drums had rounded (baseball bat style) edges. The 5 ply had 45 degree edges. If you had the edges recut back to "original" as you mentioned, then I am going to guess that they are probably the 5 ply shells because you would not really be able to re-cut the rounded baseball bat edge. You could smooth it but any sort of cutting of that edge would be changing it from the rounded edge to a sharper edge. As for edges, the rounded edge makes more contact of wood with the head, so it acts as a bit of a muffler. The 45 edge is sharper so it allows more overtones. With the rounded edge that was on those 3 ply drums, those drums sing best in medium to low tuning with standard medium weight heads. The 45 edges, being sharper, have the benefit of more overtones and a wider tuning range so those are good for higher tunings and they also project very well.  

To get that "vintage" sound you need to start over and forget about things like Powerstrokes, SuperKicks, Kickports, and pillows. Keep in mind that while those types of heads and devices have their place, what they do is make the drum more one-dimensional by adding extreme focus to the very low fundamental note. They tend to kill the natural resonance of the shell and they make the bass drum less a part of the "musical chord" that would exist between the likes of a 13/16/22 with the bass drum being the root pitch, the floor tom the 5th, and the mounted tom the 3rd. Start clean with a 22 coated medium weight resonant head and then either a medium or heavy coated batter head. (medium for all-around work, heavy if you play mostly rock and pop). Follow our instructions on the video regarding the resonant head being looser than the batter head. With bass drums you have a larger diameter head, so overtones will be more present, but don't get too hung up on that. Remember that overtones will not be audible when you play the kit in total and with an ensemble. So, focus on the fundamental tone/pitch you want. For dialing in some muffling there are many ways to do this. By using the type of heads we describe here, it allows the drum to resonate the way it was intended to. The beauty here is that if there is too much resonance, there are many ways to dial that down without changing the head.

One method is the one I described in the video, which is tucking a handkerchief between the pedal and the head. Amazingly simple and it works wonders. Also, there were bass drum external mufflers made back in the 20s, 30s, and some are reproduced today. These can be superb. They clamp onto the bass drum hoop and then the round pad is dialed down onto the head and you can apply very little pressure, or quite a lot.
Other options include putting a felt strip on the inside of either the batter head or the resonant head. I tend to favor putting that on the resonant head since it takes out some of the "boom-iness" but doesn't interfere with clean attack on the batter side. You can also use a small muffler patch on the area where the beater strike the batter head.

As for bass drum beaters, the vintage sound is probably best reproduced with the old style felt beater, not the newer "flat" designs. The flat beaters tend to drive the beater into the head rather than drawing the sound out of the drum.

Always remember this: You want to draw the sound out of the drum. You don't want to beat the drum so hard that you kill the resonance. There is a whole separate topic here which we can address later, which talks about how you can get more sound and more projection from your drums with less effort if you learn to draw the sound out of the drum. Pounding is not the answer. I can generate as much or more volume (if needed) as a heavy hitter with a lot less effort. It has to do with tuning and the ability to draw the sound out of the drum or cymbal.

Let me know if this helps.


9/12 from Chris:

Thanks for the prompt response, steve!

the eames shells [1/4"] don't have re-rings and the bearing edges are approximately 45 inside/rounded outer edge.  i prefer remo coated ambassadors or vintage ambassadors top/clear bottoms.  i guess my preference is medium tension.
the band ranges anywhere from 5-10 pieces.  we play classic rock, r&b,pop and standards.  depending on the gig, i could be unmiked or miked with an overhead and bass miking.
i've spent 1000's of hours tuning, reading and watching videos about this subject.  as i stated, i like the sound of the top head tighter but usually end up with the "cycling sound"-- wa-wa-wa thing.  i like the controlled sound from the top head tighter gives vs. the bottom head tighter which rings more.
one thing i've always wondered is the floor tom always seem to have a different "feel" than my rack tom--so does the fact that there are 8 lugs vs. 6 lugs on the rack tom mean the floor tom doesn't require the same tension?
i guess i would term the feel i like as "rubbery" feel to the head with a straight pitch bend.  i live in vermont and don't have the luxury of another drummer striking my kit so i can hear what they sound like out front.  also would like snare drum tuning tips too.
steve, i know this is a tall order, so any help/advise you can provide will be greatly appreciated.   thanks, again chris
Steve's response:
Hi Chris,
There's no need to tension the toms differently based on the number of lugs. The number of lugs is designed to increase as the head diameter gets larger so that you don't get uncontrollable overtones. 6 lugs on a 12 or 13 is plenty for that diameter head. 14, 16, 18 use 8 lugs, although some 18s use 10, which is preferable. If you tension the drums the same way, with top slightly tiher than the bottom, then the feel should be similar between the rack and floor, unless you have a very large interval between those two drums. If you pitch the 12 high, but pitch the 14 really ,low, then the feel as you attack the drums will be different between the two. If the pitches are extremely varied, then the 12 will speak quickly and have lots of rebound and will have faster decay. The 14 will have a softer feel, less rebound and a longer decay. Also, if the pitches are very far apart the kit will sound less musical. You probably want to keep the interval between the rack and floor tom to either a 4th or a 5th apart. As I mentioned in the video, I like to think of the bass drum as the root note of a triad chord, with the floor tom as the 5th and the rack tom as the 3rd.
In a rock, R&B, pop scenario with 5-10 pieces, one of the issues may be that you need bigger drums. 8x12 and 14x14 will have certain sonic limitations in a traditional ply shell kit like yours. The 16x20 is probably making you work too hard. Depths that are more than 14" make you work harder because you are pushing a longer column of air. And, a plywood shell 20 may not be able to give you what you really need sonically for this group. Generally, I think 9x13, 16x16, 14x22 would work best. One possibility if you are having such difficulty tuning is that it could be the drums themselves. Maybe you should try this: See if you can borrow or rent a vintage 13/16/22 kit like a Ludwig or Slingerland, or Rogers. Try the tuning as I suggested it, and do a few gigs with that kit. It is possible that your current kit might need to be replaced. Eames used to do a good job with shells, but sometimes kits just have a mind of their own. Each one is slightly different. This one might not be the right one for you.
On snare drum, I don't do anything different from the rest oif the kit tuning-wise. I do, however, make sure that the snare wires are not too tight because otherwise the drum is choked.
9/12 from Jeff:
Greetings, Steve -
I really enjoy your videos.  You remind me of my teacher when I started playing in the 60s.  And I still have my first set from then - 60s Ludwigs.  So, I relate!  Wish I was still buying drums, because I'd sure patronize your shop.
I've always tried to tune top & bottom of toms the same, to be in phase, thinking this was how to maximize resonance.  I'm anxious to give your approach a whirl, tops relatively tighter than bottoms.  I thought that resulted in what I've heard called "pitch bend", an 80s sound I never liked.  Maybe that's the result of intentionally over-doing it?
Please delve more into snare tuning.  Do you have a rule of thumb regarding batter head choice on snares (wood vs metal, shallow vs deep)?  I want snare response when I tap my little finger!  I've always battled snare buzz and inevitably over-tighten the snares & choke out the drum.  I've got an original "Premier Deep Rock 9" (wood interior, brass exterior, with felt rings, parallel action snare) that's the biggest challenge.  Alas, it's only pretty to look at...
Rambled enough.  Thanks so much for the generosity of your time & sharing your expertise.
Steve's response:
Hi Jeff,

Glad you enjoy the videos! I don't vary the heads with the type of drum. The sound I want is one that has response anywhere on the head at any volume level. A lot of people talk to me about snare buzz, but the reality is that there has to be enough vibration of the wires to give you sensitivity at the edges. As you say, if you over-tighten the wires, then all you get is the dry crack and snap in the center, but the edges have nothing. What I tell people is this: When you tune the drum, get it to where the sound and response are what you want, and for the moment, ignore the snare buzz. Here's why: Snare buzz, and also overtones, are not going to be audible when you play with the ensemble. The sound of your kit, (cymbals and all), plus the sound of the other instruments, will create a blend. The overtones and snare buzz are not going to be audible.

What you can do is this: Check the number of wires on your snares. You don't need more than 16. If you have more than that try 16. You could also try 12 strands if you wanted to. I generally use 16 strand pure sound wires and I am not overly anal about the brand of my snare wires. Good quality, normal wires and I'm fine.

That Premier 9" with wood interior and brass exterior is not a drum I have ever worked with, but it sounds like it could be problematic. Not sure about that shell. Wood won't resonate at its peak with brass on the outside. And, the brass won't resonate at its peak with wood on the inside. My guess is that this would be a drum that would be fairly dry, and might not project very well, but I am not sure since I haven't worked with one. I would guess that this would need a totally unmuffled head like a regular Ambassador in order to get the drum to resonate at all. Parallel strainers can be good, but they can also be problematic. Ex: Ludwig's Super Sensitive strainer. The 20s version was fine but anything from the 60s-70s was terrible. Since I'm not familiar with this Premier model I can't comment on the strainer there.

Hope this helps some.
9/13 from Tom:
I need some help.  I purchased a great Craviotto kit from you recently, thanks!!!  Two things; 1. I have two DW snares and I can't stop the snare buzz I get from the Craviotto kit, any suggestions?  2. Any used, in great shape 5.5 x 14 snare with an inlay or without in either Maple or Mahogany?  If so please let me know I enjoyed doing business with you.....Tom
Steve's response:
Hi Tom,
Sound like the issue is the two DW snares are buzzing a lot when sitting with your Craviotto kit correct? If so, a few thoughts: 1) Johnny's solid shell drums are far more resonant than anything else being built today due to the solid shell construction. As a result, that resonance will trigger some vibrations in snare wires. But, the important thing to note here is that snare wire vibration will not be audible when you use your kit as a whole and play it within an ensemble. Things like slight overtones and snare vibration don't jump out within the music. Snare buzz is normal and needed in order for the snare to be responsive everywhere on the head and at all volume levels. If you over tighten the wires to take out all vibration, then the snare is only good for dead center attack because there won't be any true snare sound elsewhere. It will be choked. The natural snare buzz can be controlled somewhat by the number of wires. There is no need for anymore than 16 strands. If you have 20 or more strands on those snare drums swap it out for 16. Can also try 12 strands. When you think of snare wire vibration, think of it as a normal part of the drum sound. When pros are gigging and they play ballads, that is the reason why they typically throw the snares off when playing brushes on ballads. It's because the wires vibrate and on really quiet tunes, it becomes distracting, but on anything else it just blend into the background.

Here is a link to all of the Craviotto snares I have in stock right now. Take a look and if you see one you like let me know and I can work out a deal for you:

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