Strive for a focused attack with quick decay. For our example, we’re showcasing Don Mervis’ Slingerland Jupiter Outfit No. 90N. This kit has six concert tom toms, ranging from 10" to 16" in diameter, an 18" floor tom, and a 22" x 14" bass drum. The snare is a 14" x 6.5" chrome model.
If the bass drum’s front head covers more than 50 percent of the surface, remove it. Next, stuff a pillow, packing blanket, or foam inside, making sure the material’s edge rests against the batter head. If you suspect you have too much material in the bass drum, you’re probably okay. Using an Electro Voice RE-20 (or vintage AKG D12), insert the mike 3/4 of the way into the kick, about 3" off center from where the beater hits (FIG. 3). You may want to angle the mike to point it slightly away from the snare. Some snare bleed is inevitable given how far the mike is into the drum, but any mike positioning changes that still capture the kick are welcome. Use this as the starting point and adjust to taste. Placing the mike this close to the batter will emphasize the attack, but the proximity will also pick up any pedal noise. Be sure to lubricate the pedal to avoid that “squeaky floor” sound (unless you’re trying to faithfully re-create John Bonham’s part on Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You”).
The snare can be tuned open or choked, because the muffling tends to negate the choice anyway. Before mikes can be placed, the snare needs to be ’70s-a-fied. A common trick was to place a wallet on the head. Other engineers used a towel. Older snare drums often had an internal damper that pressed a felt disc against the batter head (I’m not a fan of these as they tend to rattle, distort the head surface, and don’t do a very good job damping). Once the snare head is deadened, mike the top with a Shure SM57. Put the mike about 1" inside the rim, and aim it toward the center of the drum. Adjust to find the sweet spot, but remember one rule that holds regardless of era: Small changes in snare drum mike position yield massive differences in the final sound.
The snare’s bottom head was almost always miked to give extra crispness. I’ve had success with both small-diaphragm condensers and dynamic mikes. For this demo session, we’re using an era-appropriate AKG D1000E, a dynamic with a bass roll-off filter (FIG. 4). We’ll roll off the bass (as we don’t need more kick drum bleed) and aim this mike at the snares but away from the kick drum. Once we have the sound we want from this mike, we’ll wrap the bottom of the snare in a thick packing blanket, to help attenuate outside sounds (FIG. 5).
For the mounted toms, we want separation, so we’ll use a ’70s honored tradition of placing Sennheiser 421s inside the drum from the bottom (FIG. 6). This lets us capture the thud of the drum, keeps the mike from getting hit by sticks, and provides a degree of isolation. As for tuning the toms, go ahead and get a nice even sound, then we’re going to muffle the heads. It was not unusual to use feminine napkins on tom heads. After all, they’re cotton, can be cut to size, and come with an adhesive strip to hold them in place. But duct tape and tissues also work well.
Overhead mikes can be spaced or XY, and should be lower than we hang them today. We’re using the venerable Shure SM81 small-diaphragm condensers to balance the highs of the cymbals without getting harsh. The mikes are in an XY position to help ensure mono compatibility. Shure makes an amazing mike holder called the A27M, which provides rock-solid stability (no drooping mikes during the session) and repeatability (FIG. 7). A hi-hat mike is optional, but our XY setup aims one mike directly at the hats, so we’re confident we will get a crisp hat sound. If you have an extra SM81 or small condenser mike, you can add it to the hi-hats. Point the mike down at the top cymbal (never perpendicular to the stand – the air plosives will give your mike problems). Aiming at the middle of the hats will pick up thud from the stand, and the edge of the hats can get too washy, so start at the center and position from there.
Fig. 8 The EQ section of the Trident A range was used on many of the most popular hits of the ’70s.
Fig. 9 The bottom snare head is later than the top head.
Fig. 10 The two tracks are aligned to improve their phase coherence.
Fig. 11 Vintage dbx 160 units go for top dollar on the used market, if you can find one. For the rest of us, the VCA VU plug in is a perfect option.