So your drums are just a little too loud. Or maybe they ring just a little too long. I’m happy to give you some quick and easy muffling tricks to deal with these problems. Welcome to Dr. Carl’s drum tech lab.
Drum sounds are such a subjective and creative thing that it’s not really a matter of right or wrong as much as what seems to work in any given musical setting. For instance the sound of a snare drum can have a thousand variations. Do you want it to ring as much as possible with lots of tone and snare buzz, or do you want it choked and tight sounding?
It’s pretty simple to get a snare drum to ring and buzz a lot. Just tune it up evenly to a medium to tight tension with the snares adjusted rather loosely and it will really speak. Start with no muffling at all, and then adjust as desired.
The snare drum can be tuned to be very responsive or we can adjust it and play it differently for hundreds of variations. You can tighten the snares to choke the drum buzz according to what you like. I personally like a lot of snare buzz, but it depends on the song. What we’re usually trying to control are those strange or overpowering overtones a drum can produce. Well… sometimes!
For controlling overtones you can try one of those plastic O-rings to set on the head along the rim. When I use this method I often only use half of the ring because the complete ring muffles too much for my taste. Start by placing the whole ring on the head, lift it slightly on one side, and with a drumstick tap in the middle of the drum. When you’ve reached the sound you like, cut out as much of the ring as you have lifted off of the head.
My particular preference is to lightly press my thumb around the edge of the drum while tapping it. When I find the spot that gives me the right amount of dampening that’s where I place a moon-gel muffler or a piece of duct tape rolled up backwards, sticky side out, placed on that spot and just touching the drum hoop. This actually dampens the drum quite a bit. I rarely just put strips of duct tape across a drumhead, or even along the edges in a box shape. Although I have been doing this lately on some songs to follow the trend. Just putting tape on a head like that just makes the head less responsive. But that dryer, fat sound is very popular.
For toms in particular, sometimes they can resonate uncontrollably. If a little tape or tuning adjustment doesn’t fix the problem here’s a little trick I learned from studio legend Paul Leim. You can take a cymbal-felt washer and tape a metal washer or cymbal mount plate to it for weight. Then just set it on the head about one inch from the rim, and with another piece of tape just stick it on the washer and place it over the rim so that the muffler is just floating on the head. When you strike the drum the muffler bounces a little, but then it settles on to the head and keeps it from vibrating. It works great for stopping the constant ringing a tom may generate. Sort of like a natural noise gate. I’ve often done this with floor toms that won’t shut up. Although I love a big sound out of my toms they can be hard to control. And usually I like to stay with a certain pitch range, but I don’t want all the ringing.
When the rack toms sound great, but your floor tom is dead here’s a great trick. Put felt cymbal washers under every leg of your floor tom and it will instantly resonate longer just like the rack toms. The washers allow the drum to float on the floor rather than making hard contact with it and thus, choking the drum. If floating only two of the legs is enough tone, then stop with that.
Most of the time I tune the bass drum very low. Just tight enough so it doesn’t sound like a paper bag. No floppy or fluttering sounds.
Kick drums are usually easier to tune and muffle. Most of the time I tune the bass drum very low. Just tight enough so it doesn’t sound like a paper bag. No floppy or fluttering sounds. If possible I like to mount the toms on stands so they don’t resonate into the kick. Which means the kick is standing alone. It’s my preferred kick drum set-up method. This also keeps the kick from causing any mounted toms or cymbals to vibrate.
For muffling I use a bath towel folded evenly in the bottom of the drum, touching both the front and back drumhead. If I want the drum choked more, I’ll add another towel. When I want that huge open sound I just take everything out of the drum and let it ring. In this case I might tune it a little tighter, but it just depends on the music and what an artist wants to hear.
And actually I’m not doing any special tricks with my kick at this time. Although I often use 2 or sometimes 3 microphones on it to have many mixing options. One mike is always inside the drum (usually a Shure Beta 91), another mike outside of the hole (a Beta 52), and then a Yamaha Subkick close to the front head.
Remember these are some general guidelines. These ideas are just a start in dealing with some the situations I most often find myself.
Keep learning! Keep growing! Be creative! Never be afraid to experiment!