Tuning Acoustic Bass (Kick) Drums

The instructions to get it right, the first time!!


There is no right or wrong way to tune a bass drum. This guide is designed for beginners and/or those who are frustrated with the current sound they are getting from their acoustic bass drums. We've used this tried and true method for tuning acoustic bass drums for many years. This tuning method allows for precise tuning of the drum by simply maintaining equal tension between the lugs. Feel free to experiment with what your learn here...

Tools Needed for Tuning:

Common tuning tools...

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Tuning Your Bass Drum:

Step 1:

It is best to start with a new set of heads We recommend new heads for the best result, but for purposes of learning you can simply take the existing ones off of your drum kit. Use your drum key (or the drum's wingbolts if equipped) to remove both heads. Once both heads are removed, place your shell on a smooth surface (a glass tabletop is best) to inspect your 'bearing edges'. Both edges should rest flat against the surface of the table. Any warping or nicks out of the bearing edge can make proper tuning difficult. Assuming they are good on both sides, we can proceed with tuning your new heads.

Bearing edge...Bearing edge close-up...

Step 2:

With the 'print' of your thumb (you may wish to use gloves), turn the rounded part of the head inside out in order to 'break in' the head. (While you may hear a crackling sound, this is perfectly normal.) This loosens up the head, breaks loose any over-applied adhesive and makes the head more pliable to tuning.

Thumb crunch...

Step 3:

After lightly waxing the very tip of your bearing edge, put your new (or original) heads and rims back on each drum and tighten the tension rods 'finger-tight' only. (If your kick drum has wing-nut style tension rods, finger tighted only until you feel resistance.)

Finger tighten...

Step 4:

Tighten each rod 1/2 turn, always moving to the opposite lug until the majority ofwrinkles have disappeared from the head. Continue this process until you can start to hear tone when you tap the drum.

Example lug tuning order diagram...

Step 5:

In order to 'seat' the head, you will need to apply pressure to the center of the head with your open hand. This will ensure that the drum head's hoop seats properly in the groove of the drum's rim. (You may hear a crackling sound, similar to the one heard when you did Step 2. This is perfectly normal.) Repeat steps 4 and 5 until the drum maintains tone after the seating process.

Seating the head...

Step 6:

Set the drum on a carpeted surface, with the head you wish to tune facing up. (This will help muffle the other head so you can focus on the head you are tuning.)

Drum on carpet...

Step 7:

Tap the head about 1" in from each tension rod with your #2 pencil's ERASER and listen to the pitch produced. (A pencil eraser is better to tune with. It eliminates a lot of the overtones that a good whack with a drumstick produces, allowing you to better focus on pitch.)

Pencil eraser

Step 8:

Keep track of which lugs sounded higher or lower than others. You will notice that the 'opposing'lug will usually have the same pitch.

Step 9:

Loosen each rod where the pitch was high (1/4 turn) and tighten each rod where the pitch was low (1/4 turn).

Step 10:

Re-seat the head again. (See step 5.) Repeat steps 7, 8 and 9 until you are comfortable that the drum is in tune with itself. Once you have done this, tighten the drum head using opposingtension until it produces the pitch you want.

Step 11:

Perform steps 4 through 10 on the front, or 'resonant' head of the drum.

Resonant head...

Step 12:

Since most kick drums are 20" or 22", they will be quite boomy if left to their own devices. Bass drums usually require some form of muffling and/or a hole in the front head to achieve an acceptable level of decay. Some of the need for muffling can be eliminated with the right tuning technique. Most drummers tune the front head (the one that usually has a logo) tighter than the back (the one struck by a beater), but feel free to experiment. Additional muffling can be accomplished by choice of beater, insertion of materials such as pillows and blankets or some combination of the many commercially available devices or specialized drum heads.

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