Muffling / Drum treatment
Ok so we’ve all stuck tape, beermats and whatever over our drums because we didn’t know how to tune them. Now that you can tune your drums, let’s see how we can maximise the quality of the sound and break old and very very nasty habits!
Don’t!! is the general rule for toms, but as ever, the advice is not totally rigid across the board. Most amateur drummers apply their muffling when they are listening to their drums without other instruments playing. How often do we hear drums on their own? Drum solos, an intro or maybe or a break for a few bars, maybe. But even then do we hear each drum on its own, not really. The majority of the time those sustained tones and resonances that you’re trying to remove with bits of beermats are the real sound of your kit, the sound defined by the type of material and construction method, defined by your tuning, head selection and resonant=specific adjustments sich as reso heads on all drums.
Those ‘overtones’ are part of the sound of a drumset, any drumset, your drumset!! It is a large part of that which gives a drum kit the bite, warmth and ‘colour’ that you should be seeking and it is more than likely a significant part of your favourite drummers’ sounds.
The muffling that professional drummers use is usually the sound from the surrounding drums and other instruments rendering the less desirable tones inaudible. It is pointless going to the trouble of tuning your kit and then undoing all your work by sticking ‘stuff’ all over it when in fact you are going to muffle the kit again with other players’ instruments when you start playing. Think about it!.
The significant exception for this rule is in a close-mic’ed environment, particularly in the recording studio. The resonance from unmuffled toms may be viewed as a difficulty with some styles of music and you may be obliged to use one of the treatments outlined below [in order of my preference]
- use ‘moongel™’ (or Blu-tack) to reduce the sustain without taking all the song out of the drum,
- use an ‘O’ ring,
- change to a double-ply or Powerstroke 3™ batter head; or
- as a last resort, use ‘gaffer’ tape, cut into a 3” strip and folded so you have two 1” ‘wings’ to stick to the head and a ½” high ridge to grip it to remove it afterwards
I have heard of drummers placing cotton wool balls or packing styrofoam inside the drum that lie against the resonant head and absorb vibrations and the movement of the head, I don’t recommend this as it’s way too troublesome to undo and there is little control over them once they are inside.
The kick drum is the drum that about 95% of drummers muffle. With the advent of Powerstroke 3™ (PS3) or equivalent heads onto the market, you need no longer stick an assortment of pillows/clothing/blankets into the drum. The PS3 has an integral ‘O’ ring that removes a lot of the sustain yet leaves the note, which is exactly what you want in a kick drum sound. The muffling on my own kick drum consists of a PS3 on the kick drum batter side, a PS3 on the front and a small Protection Racket pillow that lightly touches both heads, again this is not a recipe written in stone, a producer or anyone else who is in a position to demand, may insist that you give him a particular sound, if this is the case, do what you are told but don’t kill the drum totally!
You need to consider also what happens when you strike the head with the beater, most commonly a ‘heel-up’ player will leave the beater in contact with the head (generally termed ‘burying the beater’), this is a very effective muffler and is controlled automatically by the player.
With an un-muffled kick drum you can also play it like a tom letting the beater rebound and with the PS3 you have a warm sound with a short sustain. Leaving the kick drum unmuffled gives you many new timbres of sound to experiment with but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Again no muffling is the recommendation.
If you have a ‘ringy’ snare (snares are particularly susceptible to torsion because of their shallow depth), you might want to find out which of the lugs are causing the ring by lightly placing your finger at each tuning point on the head until you find out which stops the ring. Placing a blob of moongel or blu-tack there should remove the ring.
To treat your drum to bring out a more dry sound, a famous tool is to use your wallet. A less subtle way is to apply an ‘O’ ring, however this will practically kill all resonance in the drum.