Drum Tuner: The Pursuit Of The Perfect Pitch

Overtone Labs Tune-bot

Now that we’ve discussed all three tension-based tuning aids, it’s time to move on to the first of our pitch-based products. Rather than addressing drum tuning on a purely physical level, the Tune-bot actually measures sound just like a guitar tuner.

At the most basic level, the Tune-bot uses an onboard microphone to measure the pitch produced by a struck drumhead. It easily mounts to most hoops with a padded clip and, once in place, accurately measures pitch in hertz from anywhere on the head. This means that the user can tap-tune every lug without moving the machine.

The Tune-bot includes a number of very helpful and innovative features that I’ll touch on in a moment, but the main focus here is basic tuning efficacy. In that arena, the Overtone Labs unit was incredibly effective, and required very little instruction to get started.

I followed the recommendation to remove each drum from its stand, and place it on a carpet or pillow to muffle the head not being tuned. This added a little extra time to the process, but it turned out to be worth it in the end.

On almost every drum, the results were really impressive. It only took a couple minutes to complete the actual tuning process, and I found very few inconsistencies from lug to lug. As with all of the devices I checked out, I had to do some follow-up tuning to really dial things in, but it was less than any of the previous alternatives.

There were three problems with the Tune-bot. The pitch readings could occasionally be affected by louder strokes, it required a mostly quiet area to perform effectively, and I never really got a consistent reading from the lugs of my 22" bass drum.

Simply paying closer attention to how hard I tapped solved the issue of stroke volume. Easy enough. The quiet setting problem was the result of interrupting frequencies affecting the readings, which made the machine difficult to use at gigs and rehearsals.

Finally, I never really got a handle on the fluctuating bass drum readings. I did, however, use the device to measure the pitch at the center of the drum, which helped me identify an ideal interval between batter and resonant heads.

Beyond providing direction, the Tune-bot has the ability to hold a reference pitch and filter out any errant over or undertones outside the anticipated range in relation to the original measurement, which helps create a much more even tuning. The device can also save a number of different tunings, giving drummers the opportunity to recall preferred settings on multiple kits.

The Tune-bot actually had even more to offer, but I’m running out of room here. I’ll wrap up by saying that this is a very well engineered unit with only a few drawbacks. When used in the right setting, it was quite useful.

Pros: Very accurate results on most drums; multiple “Save” slots; does not need to be moved from lug to lug; “Filter” mode increases accuracy; includes recommended tuning guide; lots of additional functionality.
Cons: Sometimes affected by volume of test strokes; requires a quiet environment for most accurate results; requires muffling of opposite head while tuning for best results; difficult to mount on wood hoops.
Price: $99.99
More info: tune-bot.com

Resotune II by Circular Science

Last, but not least, the Resotune II uses easily the most intriguing method among all the tuning products I encountered. The device identifies pitches, but unlike the Tune-bot, does so without requiring the strike of a drum stick or fingertip.

Instead, the Resotune II utilizes a pair of speakers and an on-board microphone to broadcast a series of notes in scale, and then locates the lowest fundamental pitch of the drum at its current tuning. Those readings represent the target note for the user to dial in at each lug. That’s actually a fairly reductive summary of the machine’s function, but this is an incredibly complex device, and I’m essentially focusing on the gist for the sake of space.

For a little more insight into the basic process, let’s go through the steps of a very rudimentary tuning. First, the Resotune, which is a large and heavy machine, is placed partially on the rim and partially above the head of a drum. It rests fully on the rim, but is suspended over the head with an included pair of exchangeable wood dowels that rest on the opposite side.

Resting on the rim, the device is centered in front of a tension rod. When the user presses the “Find Both” button (the first step in total drum tuning), the machine whirs to life, and starts emitting a low, buzzing tone, eventually moving through a few scales in an attempt to find the lowest fundamental resonating note of both the drum and the targeted lug.

Before we move on, I want to say that the tone produced by this device was awesome. It sounded a little bit like a synth soundtrack for an early ’80s sci-fi movie. I understand that it was simply the most effective choice for the job, but it cracked me up every time, and terrified my wife. Moving on.

Once the pitches have been identified, the process can be repeated at each lug. Additionally, the Resotune II offers a “Clear Lug” feature, which references a selected pitch, and indicates which direction the tension rod will need to be turned to find that pitch with a series of lighted arrows. So, let’s talk results. Simply put: the Resotune II gave me the best, most consistent sound every single time. It helped me find a clean, even note on every drum with uniform response from in front of each lug. It was also the most labor intensive process required by any of the five tuning aids, but I was very impressed with the final sound. Additionally, the “Drum Note” displayed during the “Find Both” process was very helpful in creating musical relationships between multiple drums.

The Resotune II is capable of much more – including a great “Save Note” feature – but it, like the rest of the devices I checked out, was not without its flaws. As I mentioned above, the full tuning process took the longest of any option. Plus, at only slightly smaller than my size 12 shoe, it’s not very portable. I think the Resotune II’s best application would be in a studio where crystal clear tones with little to no muffling are needed. Beyond that, I will say that I feel like I learned a lot about how my drums sound the most natural after using this device. That was well worth the effort.

Pros: Extremely accurate results; great for finding relationships between multiple drums; “Save Note” feature makes recalling previous tunings easy; lots of additional functionality.
Cons: Large size; time consuming; not extremely intuitive (although, the Resotune’s creator is happy to answer any questions); requires a very quiet environment.
Price: $269.99
More info: resotune.com

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