Tuning drums can be frustrating. How can you get your kit sounding as good as all these albums and videos?
Many companies claim that their products make tuning easy and “take out all the guesswork”, but it’s worth practicing tuning and developing your ear to really get it right. It takes time and energy, but it’s worth it! You’ll figure out which tuning methods work best for you.
That being said, we wanted to test 8 of the most popular drum tuning gadgets – because if there’s a tool that can help us get to a consistent tension and tone more quickly, why not try it?
Using your ears and a drum key, this is how most drummers tune. Finger tighten the tension rods (meaning make them as tight as you can go with just your fingers), then take a drum key and give each rod one full turn. Turn off the snare wires and listen while tapping around the head. You might start doing this by feel (so each rod is just as easy or difficult to turn) and eventually by ear. It’s a simple process, so don’t overthink it.
Jared’s tuning time – 3:45
Jared’s rating – 8/10 (can take longer than other methods)
This tool measures the tension of the drumhead (rather than tone) to make sure the tympanic pressure is consistent all the way around. It gives you more of a quantifiable way to tune. Finger tighten all the tension rods, then start tuning up. Place the DrumDial on the head next to one of the rods. Note the number on the dial. Then place the dial by each rod and bring them up or down to your first ‘control’ number. If you like your settings, you can use that number as your target tension whenever you’re tuning. You still need to use your ears with this tool, but it gives you a nice reference point. Jared trusts the DrumDial so much, he used it to check the accuracy of other tuning methods in this video.
Jared’s tuning time – 4:40
Jared’s rating – 8/10 (still need a drum key)
This measures the torque on your tension rods, so every time you turn, it uses the same amount of pressure. The key clicks when you hit the target pressure. After finger tightening, bring up the tension on the rods evenly (medium tension is fine). Go slowly with the torque key and turn each rod until it clicks, resetting the key before moving on to the next rod. Make sure your lug inserts are well oiled so it takes the same effort to turn each tension rod.
Jared’s tuning time – 3:00
Jared’s rating – 9/10 (a little expensive for what it is)
Similar to Evans torque key – it measures the tension in the rods – this one is much bigger. If it can get you to a starting point where the tension is even and then you use your ears to get the tone you want, this is a useful tool.
Jared’s tuning time – 5:56
Jared’s rating – 6/10 (clunky)
Compared to DrumDial and the torque keys, Tune Bot doesn’t measure tension; it measures frequency in hertz and ‘listens’ to the actual sound of the drum. This is a fairly expensive products that clamps right on. Once you bring up the tension on your drum, strike the head and read the number on the screen (you can save the numbers in the device’s memory, too). Try to match that as you move around the drum. You might want to do some manual fine tuning, but it seems to get great results on a new drum.
Jared’s tuning time – 3:38
Jared’s rating – 6/10 (should have an app)
If you’re impatient, you can use a drill with the Evans drum key drill bit to tighten all of the rods. Be very careful! First, bring up the tension to where the rods are just touching the rim. Then go around and tighten just a bit at a time. Drills do actually have built-in torque settings, but test yours first. It’s best to only do this to your own drums (or drums you don’t care about) until you get more experienced.
Jared’s tuning time – 1:44
Jared’s rating – 10/10 (fast and easy once you get it)
Like the Tune Bot in app form, iDrumTune Pro is best for fine-tuning once you’ve brought up the tension on your drum. If you’re using a snare drum, throw off the snares, hold your phone next to each tension rod, and hit the head an equal distance from each rod as you make your way around and compare the readings (because it measures frequency like the Tune Bot, it will change depending on where you strike the head). Don’t worry if you can’t get the exact same number all the way around – this app is best for making sure you aren’t way off. iDrumTune Pro seems to do a good job and even has presets and tutorials.
Jared’s tuning time – 3:34
Jared’s rating – 7/10
These snare drums use a unique cable tuning system that lets you tune the top and bottom heads independently with one dial. They also have a patented system for changing drumheads – it’s a brilliant design and the hoop just pops right off! It’s extremely quick to tune: just crank the dial for a consistent sound. You can even tune while you play.
Jared’s tuning time – 0:54
Jared’s rating – 9/10 (innovative and quick)
These are some of the most popular drum tuning products on the market, and they help you refine your tuning either by tension or by sound (tone/frequency). The most important thing to remember is to use your ears and learn how to trust them. The better you can do that, the more you can use these devices to your benefit and not as a crutch.
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