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Alchemix Recording Studio Brisbane

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Drum Kit Maintenance - Article

Maintenance of the drums is fairly straightforward, but there are several things that you will usually not learn from your teacher or music school.



It's little known that this is by far, the most delicate and fragile part of your kit, the snare wires in particular, are a crucial, and an extremely frail part of this drum. Moreover, snare wires ain't snare wires either; you can spend as little as $8, and as much as $80 on wires, and the difference is profound. Give it a try, I know I was amazed the first time I tried anything other than the cheapest wires at the music store. By a process of trial and error I eventually discovered my preferred strand count, loop size and overall snare tension.

By just brushing your hand across the snare wires you can very easily stretch a few strands out so they are longer than the others, resulting in constant buzzing when you play the snare, and unacceptable sympathetic buzzing when playing other drums. To get around this, most players will tighten their wires up, and sure, it reduces the buzzing, but because the other wires are now much tighter than ideal, they choke the drum and you have then lost most of the body and tone. For this reason I profess that snare wires should be set as loose as possible to obtain the desired length of snare sound after the initial impact.

Tuning Toms

There are a few modes of thought regarding tuning, the first and probably most accepted is open tuning, where all lugs on each head are the same tension, and both heads are tuned to the same pitch.

You can then experiment with the ratio of pitch between the top and bottom heads, somewhere between a major 3rd and a perfect 5th will give you some tone flare, (ie. The tone starts high and slides down as it decays). The further apart the two heads are in terms of pitch, (within reason), the more tone flare you get.

This tuning is achieved by deadening one of the two heads, and tuning the other by tapping it with your finger about an inch from the hoop, directly in front each lug. If any lugs are significantly flat from the average pitch of the all the others bring them up slightly, and if any are sharp bring them down. When lowering the pitch of any lug, it's wise to undo the lug about a ½ turn more than necessary and bring it back up, otherwise it will take some time for the new tuning to stabilise – and probably go out of tune as you play.

Opposite lugs tend to have the greatest effect on each other, if you find it difficult to get a drum in tune with itself, check the tension of opposing lugs by pressing your thumbs into the head near the edge of the head at opposing lugs at the same time, if one side is significantly different, match them to each other.

The other 'method' for tuning toms is to basically leave one or two lugs on the batter head completely, or almost completely undone. This can introduce more character into the sound and can be useful when playing Jazz, Hip-Hop, or Funk.

The ultimate key is to experiment, just make sure you do it with reasonably new heads, because old heads can play tricks on you.

If you really can't get a drum to sound right, and the heads are in reasonable condition, take it off the kit and see how it sounds when you hold it by the rim and hit it – even go to another part of the room, or a different room altogether, and try it there. You may find that it's either the room acoustics, or the mounting hardware making the drum sound thin and wussy.

When setting up a kit, I'll often walk around the room beating the floor tom as I go, searching for the spot in the room with the longest sustain, and the fattest sound, and set up there. (Credit due to Michael Stavrou for that cool tip).

Replacing heads

If a drum is impossible to tune or to get a good sound from, chances are the head(s) need replacing, I generally replace the bottom head every other time I replace the top head, for snares, you can do the same, and replace the snare wires say, every 3rd time you replace the top head.

I don't recommend replacing every head on your drums at the same time – this can be terifying, especially right before a gig or recording session as it can take several weeks before they properly bed and start sounding right.

When you do replace a head, whip off the old one (that should be simple) and check the bearing edge (the rim of the drum shell) for dents, splinters, and anything else that that ruin perfect 360° contact between the shell and the head, if you spot something it's best to get it repaired – (the condition of the bearing edge is a critical factor in the sound you'll end up with).

Notice how the head you took off has a depression in the centre? That's a big part of what makes old heads so hard to tune, as tension is no longer distributed evenly throughout the head. Bottom heads don't exhibit this, but do loose their tone nonetheless. Removing snare bottom heads will require the removal of the snare wires.

Give the bearing edge a wipe with a dry cloth, remove any debris from inside the shell, and put the new head over the shell. Give the inside of the hoop a wipe – there will probably be lots of caked on dirt in here, and place the hoop over the head and start threading the lugs. (don't forget the washers) – a tiny amount of grease is also a good idea if the bolts are dry, and especially if they are beginning to rust.

To seat the head properly, get all the lugs finger tight and check that everything is going on straight, and the head, hoop and shell are all meeting uniformly right the way round. You can begin to tighten each lug by a ¼ turn either criss-crossing across the drum doing each opposite lug in turn, or by doing a ¼ turn on each lug going round in a circle – either direction is fine. Don't do one lug up a lot before there is any real tension on all of the others. This can warp your hoop, damage your new head, and causes improper seating.

Bass Drums

Now this is very personal, bass drums come in all shapes and sizes and the 'ideal' sound varies greatly between genres, and from player to player. This is basically up to you – but I'll tell you what I've discovered.

The resonant side is probably more important to the sound that the beater head (the opposite from other drums, but both do play a big part of the overall sound). If you use heaps of stuffing, you can almost afford to tune your kick so low the head has wrinkles, this generally gives a nice subby 'thump' without much tonal character. It's hard to go wrong here really, but it's also hard to go right (yes, I know there's not really a 'wrong or right'), so I tend to use this as an 'if all else fails' approach.

On the other hand, you can tune you drum up, and run it without much in the way of padding, and go for tone and sustain. A trap for young players to beware, is tuning down when going for a bigger sound, after all, lower means bigger right? Not necessarily, often the lower you tune a largely empty bass drum, the thinner it will sound, as the drum itself can't support such a low frequency.

When using this approach for recording, it can be worth looking at your bass drum technique, do you hit the kick and leave the beater stuck to the head until the next beat? Or do you let the beater rebound naturally after it's impact with the head? The latter will give much more tone and arguably a better sound, but is much harder to play fast or accurately, so try it first with very simple beats, and listen to the sound.

I've never had any success putting rocks, bricks, or weights in the bass drum when recording, and think it's an urban myth. I came to this conclusion then I discovered that bass drums sounded far better when no toms were mounted from them, and even better with the absence of the mounting hardware, in short – unadulterated shells sound better. Various companies gave us floating shells, isolation mounts, and fancy decoupling floor tom feet to this end.


Just pointers for care here;

After you have set up make sure that your cymbals have reached room temperature, if they've been in a hot car they'll be a bit more bendy, or if it's very cold they tend to go a bit brittle, either way you have more change of irreversible damage if you don't let them adjust.

If you play Metal or Punk etc., you'll likely keep your cymbals pretty tightly clamped on their stands, which is great for riding on crashes or playing fast passages on the cymbals without them swinging wildly. Doing this will also *drastically* increase your chances of breakage, and choke your cymbals. I set mine up so from resting, the cymbal can travel through to near vertical, and I don't play hard enough to need this much travel. The result? Great sounding cymbals that love to open up and deliver their fullest richest tone, and not one breakage in 17 years of playing.

If you want to polish cymbals, don't use steel wool or harsh polishes. Try instead a dedicated cymbal polishing fluid and a cloth, or even vinegar will likely melt some of that green stuff. Personally I'm fond of green cymbals, some drummers even bury their cymbals in the ground to acellerate the ageing/greening process. Ultimately it's up to you, just be sure to store your cymbals in a case with a layer of something (paper, bubble wrap, plastic, old drumhead, whatever) in between each one so they can't damage each other.


Happy Drumming! (written by Josh Bell)

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