Tuning Tips: The Perfect Bottom

bass drum

While it’s perhaps the most neglected part of the kit, the bass drum anchors practically every groove in the fakebook. But it does more than drop bombs on downbeats; your bass drum must perform a number of disparate tasks that require any number of degrees of subtlety, all that come with their own unique set of challenges.

Admittedly, about 90 percent of the time you want your kick to deliver a solid punch within the content of beats, to contrast with the sharp attack of your snare. But do you want it to rumble with puffs of air or pop like an exclamation point?

Big Boom. Let’s start with the big rumble sound. Try using a clear single-ply batter head with some kind of built-in muffling system, in order to reduce the amount of material you will need to stuff inside the shell. Put any kind of resonant head on the front. Tighten all the tension rods evenly to the point where both heads don’t sound “flappy,” then give each tension rod a half twist on the batter side.

If you really want to maximize the Bonham quality of your bass drum sound, leave the front head intact, and don’t put any muffling inside the bass drum. Just be prepared to argue with soundmen, who never seem to know how to mike bass drums that don’t have a sound hole cut in the front head. The truth is, you aren’t giving up that much sonic independence with a sound hole, so I would recommend cutting one that is large enough to accommodate a microphone. There are several products on the market that can give the sound hole a nice, clean look.

Use restraint while trying to identify the right amount of muffling to apply. Start by placing a strip of felt vertically against the inside of the batter head when you install the head, so that the strip is held in place by the counterhoop. If this isn’t enough control, place a towel inside the drum so that it slightly touches the batter, or line the bottom of your bass drum with strips of newspaper.

Pop Goes The Bass Drum. A two-ply coated batter head will give you a tighter sound, and to really control the tone, find one that has an impact dot in the center. Tension the front and batter heads exactly as explained above, only tighten the batter an extra quarter turn or so. Install any kind of front head you choose, and once again, use your judgment about whether or not to cut a sound hole.

While you’ll want to use considerably more muffling than we described for the boomy sound, it’s still a good idea to add it in increments. Start by laying some fabric against the inside of the batter head, only this time use a bit more material, so that the remainder of the towel or blanket fills a greater amount of space inside of the shell. If that isn’t enough, it’s time to go disco. Grab a pillow, and nest it on the bottom of the shell so that it rests against both the front and batter heads. The bigger the pillow, the more muffled your sound will become.

Other Considerations. Always use your ears. They are your best tuning tools. Tension your rods as evenly as possible. And don’t forget the amount of influence your beater will have over your bass drum sound. A fluffy felt beater will sound a lot softer than a wood beater.