Tuning Acoustic Toms

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


There is no right or wrong way to tune a tom. This guide is designed for beginners and/or those who are frustrated with the current sound they are getting from their acoustic toms. We've used this tried and true method for tuning acoustic toms for many years. This tuning method allows for precise tuning of 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 Toms:

Step 1:

It is best to start with a new set of heads, but for purposes of learning you can simply take the existing ones off of your drum kit. Use your drum key to remove both of the heads from your tom. Once your 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.

Finger tighten...

Step 4:

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

Example lug tuning order...

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 'resonant side' 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 strike...

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. (This is not the case on some drums smaller than 10 inches, as they don't always have an even number of lugs.)

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).

Tuning with key...

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 opposing tension until it produces the pitch you want.

Step 11:

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

Resonant head...

Step 12:

Perform steps 1 through 11 on your remaining toms.

Step 13:

Since toms are multiple drums with similar purposes, you will now need to get them to 'play well with others'. Once each drum is in tune with itself, you must try to get the drums to sound like they belong in the same kit. For best results on a standard 12", 13" and 16" tom set, pitch intervals between drums should be a 3rd or 4th apart (as a general rule). It is usually best to start with your lowest tom and work up from there. Also, try to get tone quality (resonance, decay) as similar as possible. For proper tonal matching, it is CRUCIAL that you use the same type of heads on BOTH SIDES of each tom in your kit. Dooon, Dooon, Blattt is not the sound of proper tonal matching.

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