Certain reader questions seem to repeat themselves. Several of them involve the ins and outs of bass drums. What size? What kind of heads? How do I tune them? Do I use a single head or double heads? Should I muffle it? Should I mike it? How can I get my bass drum to project better? What kind of bass drum pedal should I use? What kind of beater? Should I use a heal-to-toe method or a heel-up method? Would it be better to have tight or loose spring tension on the footpedal? Should my beater hit the drum dead center?
I decided to call a broad spectrum of drummers for their opinions. The results are very interesting. The drummers themselves cover almost every kind of music involving a drumset, and they are all active in the studio and/or in live performing. I tried to stay clear of “specialized” drummers, so that the reader would have a broad, general overview on bass drums.
I use different bass drums for different kinds of music. For the last five-and-a-half years with Pat Metheny, I tried a variety of different bass drums: an 18″, a 20″ and a 22″. The last couple of tours I used the 20″—an in-between size—that worked pretty well. The 18″ tended to give a tighter, more compact sound and the 22″ tended to get a deeper sound. With Pat’s music it was such a cross-section of styles, I needed a bass drum that was as versatile as possible, that sounded a little like both the 18″ and the 22″. I was always attracted to the Tony Williams sound, or the more modern jazz sound, which is very open with no padding. But it didn’t seem to work for most of the music that we were playing. So, I ended up padding even the 18″ bass drum. Then I realized that I needed something with a little bit stronger sound, and I was going to end up padding it anyway.
I used a blanket laid against the bottom part of the beater head and put a weight in front of the rug. I’d say the blanket covered 1/3 of the head. I was just sticking the rug in there, trying to get sort of a dead sound. Nothing specific. I ended up also using one felt strip a little bit to cut down a bit of the ring. In other words, if you took the blanket out, it would be slightly dead already from the one felt strip. There was no moleskin pad. I got a little more attack without that moleskin pad.
I ended up using Ludwig clear heads with no dot. For a while, I was using Ludwig Silver Dots. It was an interesting sound and also seemed to provide a bit more protection for the head.
I always used the same bass drum sound for concert or recording. I found that what was working best for Pat’s music—which is the predominant amount of recording I’ve done—was a very flat bass drum sound. Any kind of sustain on the bass drum just didn’t seem to fit the music.
My album Elements, with Mark Egan, was a completely different story. I used a studio bass drum that was a 24″ drum. I loved the way that it sounded. It was the first time I’d ever really tried a 24″. I padded it, and even with the padding it seemed to get a much deeper sound than anything I had used. It might have been a little over powering in Pat’s group. But, as far as that recording, it fit the music perfectly. In fact, all the drums I was using were a little bit oversized compared to the ones I usually used. Using a bigger bass drum for certain things could have a great effect. It’s more of a sound to work with. I want to start experimenting with the bigger bass drums, especially if they’re going to be padded.
Also, in recording, a lot of the sound of the bass drum has to do with the mixing and miking of the drum. Many times the sound of the bass drum on the record is completely dependent upon whoever’s mixing the record. On a few of the records I’ve been on, the bass drum has been mixed way down and it sounds real thin. Having a microphone rather close to that bass drum head seems to work when I’m playing with Metheny live.
In the early days when I was getting the open jazz sound, I always liked using two heads. In fact, in certain types of music when I am going for that open, small group sound, I usually use a smaller bass drum with a head on the front, with one piece of felt. That’s what I prefer for jazz playing. With the music I’ve been playing, I tried no head on the front for a while. It sounded pretty good, but I found that the front part of the bass drum was getting completely nicked up and destroyed when I was traveling. I was using the Eames 12-ply bass drum shell with Ludwig hardware. The plys were starting to get nicked with out the front head. I tried that drum with two heads, but it gave a bit more ring than I wanted and it was harder to mike. The sound seemed to work best then with the mic’ inside the bass drum. I finally cut a hole in the front head about 10″ or 12″ around. It made the sound ring just a touch more and sounded pretty good. The 24″ drum I used on Elements was single headed.
Also, on Elements, they used a blanket inside the bass drum that covered the outside of the drum as well. I think they were trying to attain total separation. They stuck the mic’ in the drum and covered the whole thing over like a tunnel. For the studio, for that particular record, it worked really well.
I tend to like a lower, deep-sounding bass drum. I usually tune the batter head a little past when the wrinkles start in the head. I’m not going for a particular note, just a deep sound. I usually tune the front head pretty tight; a lot tighter than the back head. It depends on the padding sometimes. Usually I have a little bit of the blanket touching the front head, which tends to make it not ring. But, it doesn’t seem to affect it that much. The tuning of the front head isn’t really crucial.
I keep the bass drum set up pretty much the same regardless of whether my drums are miked or not. In most of the clubs that I play, there are usually microphones for some instruments. The drums tend to get picked up on those mic’s anyway—usually it’s the mic’s on an acoustic piano, and it’s usually a problem.
I’m using the Ludwig Speed King pedal, which I’ve always used. I’ve got a couple of old ones that seem to be pretty well bro ken in. I oil them every once in a while. They’re very flexible. I’m using a felt beater. Again, a lot of this stems from doing an abundance of playing with Pat Metheny. I tried to use a wood beater and it tended to be a little too harsh and the attack was a bit too strong. But, it sounds great for certain kinds of music. A lot of times a strong bass drum can really add to certain things that you’re playing. Metheny preferred a light bass drum sound. The spring tension on my pedals is medium. The throw distance of the beater is a little further back than halfway between the head and my leg. Everybody has to figure out what’s comfortable for them.
One thing that I’m working on now is articulation for the bass drum. It’s very easy to play the same volume. Playing dynamics on the bass drum is something that’s really hard to do; something that you may not even think about that much. For practicing that, you could use Stick Control. But, instead of playing those exercises at face value, after you feel comfortable with your feet, you could start playing them with dynamics or different levels. That’s what really makes it sound musical.
Another thing is balancing the bass drum with the rest of the drums. When you’re playing a bass drum that’s padded and tom-toms that are wide open, there’s a wide difference in sound between the two. It helps also if the snare drum is kind of padded like a studio snare. I tend to use that a lot. It makes the bass and snare sound very compatible. But, then here come the tom-toms that ring a lot. If you end up playing a beat or a pattern that uses the muffled bass drum and the tom-toms that ring, sometimes they tend to be out of balance. That’s something you have to work on as well. I went to hear Elvin Jones recently, and his bass drum sounded very much like a tom-tom in terms of texture. A lot of drummers do that and it works very well for certain types of music.
Tune the bass drum similar to the way you tune the other drums. Make it equal tension all around. Not tight, not loose, but a little bit more than when the flabbiness is out of it. I like to use either an Emperor heavy head, Evans Black Diamond or the Fiberskyn IL
You can muffle it with a piece of foam rubber to fit in between the head and the front. For rock playing, I’d take the front head off because it’s too boomy the other way, and you’re not going to get any definition unless you mike it.
I have a friend who has a double-headed bass drum with a real little hole cut in the upper left quadrant. He stuck a mic’ right in there and it sounds great!
Basically, you don’t want the head too tight. If you can get used to playing without any muffling, it’ll be a little louder, but the feel is a little different. You’ve got to tune the drum so that it’s in tune with everything else.
Even when I was doing club dates and wasn’t using microphones, I tuned the bass drum the same way. I use a Rogers bass drum beater that’s made out of some fiberglass composition, I think. You want a real “poppy” sound. If you want to listen to a good bass drum sound, Poco’s live album had a great bass drum sound. The Police have a real good sound. Russ Kunkel has the best bass drum sound going—any one of the records he played on, especially the Hold Out Jackson Browne album and anything of Linda Ronstadt.
I have a 24″ Ludwig bass drum. I’d say use a 22″ or a 24″ for heavier rock playing. You can get a smaller bass drum, but you’re going to get a higher sound and it won’t be as loud. I’d say anything above 24″ is a waste.
It’s also very important to hit the bass drum consistently, because notes tend to drop out. Develop a consistent beating pattern. The arc of my bass drum beater is not particularly long. My pedal spring tension is real loose. I like to do the work myself. Tight spring tension is good if you’re playing with your heel down. But, unless you’re just playing straight four beats on the bass drum, to play in a loud rock band, it’s almost impossible to play with your heel down. If you want to play with your heel down, you have to wear a boot with heels, believe it or not. For years I couldn’t play with my heel down because I wore sneakers. I had a conversation with Buddy Rich about this. He said, “How can anybody play in sneakers?” If you look at it, you can’t get the leverage. With a boot you can get the leverage. Use the heel as a lever. That’s why I’m wearing boots now. I like to play with my heel down and it gives me more control. Heel down, more control. Heel up, much more power. It’s important to stress that you should keep equal dynamics on the bass drum. You’ve got to develop consistent dynamics, or else the bass drum gets lost. The simpler, the better. That goes for everything, but particularly the bass drum.
Another real important thing is that most drummers expect that you tune your drums and go from one room into another room. The drums sound terrible, and they wonder what’s wrong! You have to tune those drums for the room you’re in. I have to tune my drums for every concert hall and every arena I play in. Nothing ever stays the same, even though they’re miked. If the drum doesn’t sound good at the source, it’s not going to sound good miked. My drums sound basically the same when you’re right next to them as they do from the back of a big hall. They’re just a bit softer. It’s in the tuning. It’s not in the volume. I didn’t realize this for a long time. I thought that if you tuned them up and they sounded good in one hall, then they should sound good in another. That’s not true.
Experience tells you that sometimes your drums will sound good to you, but they’ll sound terrible out front. You have to know how to make them sound good out front. You have to trust someone’s judgment that the drums are getting the sound you want out front. If someone comes up to me and asks, “When did you stop playing the snare drum?” I know something’s wrong! Or, “Didn’t you used to play cymbals on that part?” People have done that in past tours years ago. People would say, “You guys were great, but you can’t hear the drums at all.” That’s why when you’re playing any where, the simpler, the better. Just keep the beat. You’ve got to learn to tune for the audience. That’s who you’ve got to please. You’ve got to make those drums sound good out front and sometimes that means you’ve got to suffer with the sound that you get for yourself. Sometimes what sounds good to you sitting behind the drums, might sound terrible out front.
You’ve got to tune for whatever room you’re in. That’s why I carry a couple of snare drums that are all tuned differently. I tune my drums “live” sounding. Your bass drum will be louder if there’s no muffling in it. And use a wood beater. Also, it’ll be louder if, when you hit the bass drum, you release the pedal and you don’t dig the beater into the head. You’ve got to pull the sound out. That takes a lot of control and control takes discipline, and a lot of rock drummers don’t have that.
PAUL T. RIDDLE
Basically I always use a 22″ bass drum. Most of the time I use an Evans Looking Glass head on the batter side, which is a very, very thick head. It takes out a lot of ring and gives you a lot of snap as well. On the front head I normally cut a medium size hole. The padding I use is dependent upon the hall, playing live, or the tune, if you’re in the studio. Usually with the Looking Glass head on the batter side you don’t need any more muffling.
If I’m using a Pinstripe head on the batter side—which I use sometimes on the road and in the studio—I might use a little extra padding sometimes. Maybe a felt strip or two. My front head is the standard black Pearl bass drum head that comes straight out of the factory.
With my offshoot band, The Throbbers—which is similar to a fusion band— I’m using the regular Ambassador head on the batter side, with two felt strips and just a little padding inside the drum with a small hole cut in the front head. It rings a little bit more and it’s not quite as dry as what I use with the Marshall Tucker Band.
Kevin, our engineer, basically uses the same mic’ set up in the studio and live. He uses a Sennheiser 421. He starts out as a rule of thumb—both in the studio and live—with an EQ of + 2 at 5,000 cycles, – 12 at 400 cycles, + 2 at 50 cycles. Basically what he’s doing here is adding a little high end, taking out some mid-range and he’s adding a little low end. Depending on the hall, or the song—if you’re in the studio—he may change it a little bit either way.
If I was playing in a club with no microphones on my drums, I’d have the bass drum tuned and set up the same way. But, I would not put any padding inside the bass drum. I’d use the same Looking Glass head and I ‘d maybe use Deadringers on the inside of the drum—not on the head itself—where it would touch the head just a little bit to take out that extra ring. I’d use just a small hole in the front head so it would be a little more punchy. But, it wouldn’t be as dry without the padding in the middle. I think that’d kick a club’s ass. I use the ugliest, hardest pedal you’ve ever seen. It’s an old Rogers pedal. I can hardly even practice with that pedal. I like the pedal to feel top heavy. I play it with heel to toe and with the ball of my foot. I like for the beater ball to feel heavy, where it’s almost got a slingshot feel.
I do so many different things with bass drums. Last night I finished working on a new 22 x 20. They’re normally 22 x 14. My preference now is a 22 x 16. That’s the most average normal size. Pure, natural wood without any kind of covering on it for the studio—that always seems to be the best sound. My head preference is generally the head that comes with the drum. That’s what I’ve been using for years. In the studio they generally take the front head off. I’ve found that it’s better to take the whole head off, rather than cut a hole in it. Cutting a hole in it is okay for the stage, but taking the head off gives you more of what they’re looking for in the studio. The batter head I use is a Pearl, which is the same thing as a Remo coated Ambassador. I prefer that one, although the Remo CS black dot heads are nice in certain cases, and also a calf head. I go between those three.
I like to keep the white coated heads tuned slack in the studio. Live I like a punchier, tighter sound. Maybe use two heads and a little hole in the front for the mic’ to fit in. I’m using May EA microphones installed in one of my bass drums right now. My plan is to try to have both heads on with no hole and do some acoustic messing around on the inside with some foam or something. I just tune the heads until they sound good.
To muffle the drum I use a blanket on the inside, touching the batter head. You can put more blanket in for more of a “tick” sound or flat sound—which is desirable for some songs—and you use less blanket to have a rounder sound. It depends on the song and what you want. Felt strips are useless for me generally. If I couldn’t use microphones on the bass drum I would have both heads on. That’s the sound I prefer. And I would put some shredded foam to fill the drum about halfway. At that point I might use felt strips to take away a little bit of the overtones from the upper area of the drum. Jimmy Karstein gets the credit for that idea. I heard a tape of him playing live with J. J. Cale one time and the sound of his bass drum blew me totally away. He told me to use two heads and shredded foam inside.
I prefer the DW 5000 pedal. I also use the DW 5002 double bass drum pedal when I can. It’s a lot of fun, but sometimes there’s a temptation to use it too much. I go by the song, group and session. I generally have the 5002 set up all the time and if I see I’m not going to use it, I’ll unhook the second one. I used a Caroline pedal for years. I think Ronnie Tutt and I were the first guys to use Caroline pedals when they first came into Southern California. Then I found out it was too heavy, so I went back to the DW 5000, which was the Camco pedal prior to that. That’s where my heart’s always been and that’s where it’ll be. I saw Elvin Jones play with the Coltrane Quartet about 1962. There are absolutely no words to describe watching Elvin play. I noticed that he had a Gretsch pedal which was the same as the Camco. From that point on, I started using that pedal.
I’ve been playing with the spring tension on the pedal fairly loose. I may start experimenting with it a little tighter. I go between a hard felt beater and a wood one. Larrie Londin’s bass drum beater is so far back from the head that it lays hard against the floor! I’ve tried to play his pedal and can’t for the life of me. They tell me that one of my all-time favorite drummers, Sonny Payne, had a pedal that came all the way back like that too. Mine doesn’t come back nearly that far. But that may change.
If I was going to be real sincere for kids who wanted to know about bass drums, I’d say the best thing in the world is to get a bass drum that’s real round—a good drum whether it’s wood or has pearl covering—and take some drummer’s word about his bass drum, and try every kind of head combination that you can try. It’s a little expensive, but how else are you going to know?
The bass drum sounds on records can be real deceiving. A bass drum can sound like absolute crap in person, and an engineer can just work wonders with it through EQ. Kids are trying to copy the sounds of drummers on records and they don’t realize that the man has got close mic’s all over the place—very sophisticated mic’s—and an engineer who’s in there EQing like nuts. A kid will be trying to set up his bass drum like a studio bass drum, and he’s a million miles away from a studio.
I use the muffler that comes with the Sonor bass drum. You can screw it on and off like the Gretsch internal bass drum muffler. I don’t have the muffler touching the skin. I have about a half an inch of space between the muffler and the skin so the skin rings long enough, then reaches the muffler and stops. The ring doesn’t run into the other drums but it rings long enough to get a round tone. That’s what I do for tone. I don’t usually use any miking with my group. I use double skins on the bass drum; Remo Ambassadors. If I’m doing an outdoor concert they usually mike the bass drum in front around the center of the head about one to two inches away from the skins. My feeling is that I’m the one that’s playing the drums, so the soundmen have to get the sound that I want. I don’t have to get the sound they want.
I shave a hard-felt beater so that part of it goes flat against the skin, so you almost get a “stick” sound. That also makes it project more. I don’t think head tensioning matters for projection. I think tensioning gets the “kind” of sound you want. I keep both heads at equal tension to get the same note from the front skin to the back skin. I tune the bass drum in some kind of melodic sequence with the rest of the drums.
I play a 14 x 18 wood Gretsch bass drum. I use an Emperor white coated head on the batter side, and a white coated Ambassador on the front. For muffling I use the Gretsch internal muffler. It’s just a slice of felt. I can turn the tuning rods and make the drum sound like a 20″ to a 22″ in between songs. Then there’s always the 18″ sound. I play it tuned more like a 20″ than an 18″. Basically, I tune the bass drum the same way I tune all my drums. The batter head is the looser side.
I used an 18 x 20 Slingerland bass drum that I made for orchestra work. All of them work alright when you’ve got a microphone in front. Since I’ve been playing jazz with Earl Ford and T. Levitz, I found that 18 x 20 doesn’t project any more than that 14 x 18 when you stand out front and listen to it. So I’m going back to the 14 x 18 Gretsch. And I still use the mic’. When you’re using a microphone you might as well use what you like best. I haven’t found anything that sounds better than that 14 x 18. I got that drum in 1970. The 18″ Camco I used on the last Allman Brothers tour sounded alright as long as it was miked. Without that microphone it’s the worst sounding drum in the world. That’s a 16 x 18. The 14 x 18 Gretsch is one of the old Elvin Jones models. Brown mahogany.
I had my bass drum set up the same way when I recorded with it. I took the front head off one time and it sounded like a cannon. What amazes me is that they want the bass drum so loud and then they stick a pillow in it. If you want it loud, take the head off the front of an 18″ Gretsch bass drum and don’t put anything in it. That damn thing will drown out the auditorium! I’ve never heard anything so loud! I finally put the head back on and cut a hole in it the size of a quarter in the center so they could stick the mic’ in. I eventually cut a hole about 3″ or 4″ and that’s where I left it. That was on a jet-black pearl 18″ Gretsch bass drum. The drum sounded like it died. I think the pearl finish had a lot to do with it. When you put pearl around drums it makes them flat sounding. Any drummer who doesn’t believe that—tell them to take the pearl off the drums, tune it up and they’ll see.
If I was playing without mic’s I’d take the muffler off the bass drum and play it wide open. See, when I don’t use a microphone I tune the drum lower so it will sound like it has a pretty solid bottom on it. When I use a mic’ then I can tune it the way I want to tune it and still have the highs that I like on a bass drum and the bottom too.
Now I’m using a Tama King Beat pedal. The spring on it is pretty tight compared to the way other drummers use their pedals. Most drummers play with their toes. I play both ways. Eighty per-cent of my playing is with my foot and twenty per-cent is with my toes. By tightening the spring all you have to do is touch the pedal, and it has not quite as much power as using the toes. But, if you can’t play with your toes you can get a lot of power with your flat foot by using a tight spring. The pedal does the work instead of your leg. It’s the same as tuning your drums high instead of tuning them low. When they’re real low you’re doing all the work. When you tighten them up to where they cut through then the drums do all the work.
I use one microphone on my bass drum—sometimes two—on the front about two feet from the bass drum. That gives you a natural drum sound. The ringing that they supposedly can’t get out of the bass drum—by setting the mic’ back two feet from it, you can get the ring out of it. You’ve got to move it around and test it. The reason the damn thing rings is because they want to stick the mic’ up in the bass drum. Why is it that some guy who runs a P.A. system—with his genius mind, has got a $250,000 P. A. system in front of him with gold inlets so that there won’t be no shorting in it—has to come up to a drum mer and ask him to take the front head off? If they would set those mic’s far enough away from the drums so that they still picked them up then you’d get a natural sound, rather than that crazy sound you get when a drummer takes a solo and all of a sudden it sounds like the building is coming down! That’s from sticking the mic’s all over the drums. The guy’s sitting at the P.A. thinking he can control it. How can he control it when he doesn’t know what the drummer’s thinking? He’s not a drummer. There are musicians on the bandstand who can’t figure out what the drummer is doing. Other drummers can’t figure out what the drummer is doing. And a cat thinks he can sit there with those knobs and bring your volume up and down. He should set those knobs at a certain level, set the mic’s away from the drums so that they pick up the natural sound, and let the drummer control the volume.
I use a hard felt beater. I try to find those old Rogers beaters because they’re real large. But Rogers has stopped making them large. The throw distance is about 4″ or 5″ for accenting and heavy stuff. Normally it’s about 3″.
If you’re moving your drums around a lot you should check the tuning on them before it’s time for you to go onstage. If you’re doing a week or two in a club, once you’ve tuned them up they’re pretty well set. Check them if you hear anything that sounds funny. They can get loose after playing awhile. As they’re getting loose you’ll go with the sound. The sound will change without your knowing it and it’ll sound good at the same time. But, by checking that sound you’ll know that it’s not the sound you started off with even though it might be the sound you like. I find that when you position your drums where you don’t really like them to be, it causes you to be offset. It could cause your leg to be tired.
I prefer a 22″ bass drum, although I’ve used a 20″ bass drum on occasion, and I’ve done a lot of records with a 20″. But, a 22″ is a real good, all-around drum. It’s got a lot of depth to it. I think it’s great for live playing and the studio.
I use a Pinstripe head on the batter side and I’ve got a head on the front that’s got a sound port so that you can put a microphone in it. It lets the sound escape a little bit better and you still get that singleheaded sound. A lot of guys are playing with double heads. I’ve not experimented with that. I have that single-headed type sound. I use a Rogers felt beater that they dyed black and it made the beater harder. It’s not like wood, but it’s not like felt either. It’s very, very hard and you get more of a “whack” out of the bass drum.
I tune my bass drum fairly low, and inside I have either a pillow or a thick blanket up against the batter head, not to where it chokes all the sound. You should still get a little bit of a ring with the drum, but the padding doesn’t interfere with the attack of the drum. You don’t have anything touching the point where the head is being struck. That seems to give it a pretty wide open kind of sound and still retains the real “thud” sound.
I don’t think the spring tension of the bass drum pedal makes that much difference. Where the bass drum is struck has a lot to do with the volume and sound of the drum. I position mine so it’s almost dead center, just a little above dead center. There’s a fair amount of play in the pedal spring. It’s not real tight and it’s not real loose either. But, I don’t think that’s a factor in the way that the bass drum sounds.
The distance that the beater has to travel varies on different drums. The rims on the bass drum affect that as well. I had some Sonor drums, and their rims came out further from the bass drum. So, that point at which the beater ball hit the head definitely changed the sound a lot. On my Rogers bass drum I’m currently using an Asba/Caroline pedal. That pedal is set up so that the beater strikes the head straight up and down. It’s not like some of the pedals where the front of the beater will be in front of the pedal at the point of contact. This is straight up and down. That seems to affect the sound and physical feel of the beater striking the head.
In a general sense, the 22″ bass drum is the most versatile size if you’re doing a lot of different kinds of playing. The 22″ can be used in a large group or a small group. If a drummer is going to use a larger bass drum, my experience is that once you get past a 24″ drum, the larger the head area, the slower the drum responds. Even though you start to get more volume, the bass drum tends to respond more slowly. Also, the larger the drum, the lower the pitch. If the pitch gets too low, it’s going to be hard to mike it.
Bernard Purdie made all those Aretha Franklin records with an 18″ bass drum. They just miked it and it really popped through. If you’re going to mike it, I think a 24″ drum is probably as big as you need. If you’re getting to the volume level where a 24″ drum won’t do it , then you’ve got to mike stuff. Even if you go up to a 28″ bass drum, to get to where you’ve got to match the volume of that drum with your cymbals, you’re going to start breaking cymbals.
There seems to be lot of different ideas on muffling. If you can, avoid over-muffling the bass drum. There’s going to be a teeny bit of ring even if you put a pillow in it. If you take all the ring out you wind up defeating yourself because you’ve muffled the drum so much that you can’t get any sound out of it. There’s a balance; a tradeoff point. If we’re talking about double-headed drums, usually most drummers use the felt strips and then they will loosen the playing head, particularly the top two tension screws. That’ll get a flatter sound.
One reason drummers who play a lot of shows do that is that they can loosen those top two and get a fairly funky sound, then tighten them up for the next tune, which might be a Count Basie chart.
The other possibility is to cut a hole in the front head. I find that to be quite effective, halfway between a double-head sound and a totally flat sound. If the hole gets much bigger than a 45-rpm record, then it’s the same as taking the front head off. That’s based on my own experience. The whole point is to keep a little air moving inside the bass drum so you’ll get a fuller sound.
I’m surprised that so many drummers use felt beaters when they’re after volume. They should put some kind of protective pad on the bass drum head and use either wood, plexiglass or a harder bass drum beater. It’s just like if you hit a tom-tom with a timpani mallet, it doesn’t have nearly the same projection as it would if you hit it with a large drumstick. That’s why for years, all the famous big band drummers—who are probably stylistically closer to the rock drummer than the small group jazz drummer—have used the wooden beater. I use a plexiglass beater because it’s perfectly round and I always get a good angle on the head, no matter what kind of bass drum I’m playing on.
I’ve played a lot of different kind of bass drum heads. The Pinstripe heads are pretty good, or the clear heads, or just the Ambassador white head. They all sound pretty good.
A lot of muffling pads on the market may affect the sound of the drum too. You can get leather or something more durable, or you can go the less expensive route and use Dr. Scholls 3″ x 4″ pads.
There’s still this misconception that the pedal spring has to be unbelievably tight in order to play quick or loud. It just has to be medium. But, if the stroke is longer, and the beater rodded out longer, then you get more power with the stroke because the head of the beater is traveling a greater distance. Also, if the pedal is set up this way, you have a better chance of hitting near center of the bass drum. As the beater gets nearer the center of the bass drum, you get a fuller sound. You can argue about whether it should be dead center or not. But, if the beater gets too far away from the center—which happens with a 24″ or 26″ drum—then you lose an awful lot of sound. So, there’s no point in having a 26″ bass drum unless you have a pedal that’s set up so that you can hit fairly near the center of it.
I’ve only had experience playing bass drums in miking situations. I’ve had the most luck with a 20″ single-headed woodshell kick drum with Remo Ambassador coated heads. In order to get rid of a little bit of the undesirable smack that you get from the beater against the head, I stumbled onto Dr. Scholl’s moleskin pads. They work great. They don’t wear out. It’s a thin cloth that covers the beater side of the head and takes away just enough of the attack. It’s a pleasing result, and you wear through the moleskin and not the bass drum head.
I use a wood cube beater called World Beaters. I don’t think they make them anymore. I scooped up four or five of them ten years ago. One attack side is wood and the opposite side has a thin foam covering. The beater swivels on the rod. For studio, and some club use, these things have been really handy. You definitely get two entirely different sounds. For some of the really soft ballads that Gordon Lightfoot plays, if you play a kick drum too softly with the wood side, you really get an undesirable sound. I turn the attack side to the foam, and play it with just about the same intensity and it’s a rounder, warmer sound.
My spring tension is about medium.
I’ve been using a blanket to muffle the bass drum, maybe four to six inches up against the head, with a weight inside the drum to secure it, but not so it pushes against the head. Some engineers want to push that weight up against the head and it takes all the tone right out of it. But, you do need something to secure that dampening.
I have a 20″ Gretsch bass drum that I’ve had all my drumming career. It’s about 20 years old. I prefer that all-around. If I had my choice, I’d probably have an 18″ for jazz gigs, a 22″ for funkier things, and the 20″ for anything I wanted in between that. My preference is to have heads on both sides when I play jazz. I have a Fiberskyn on the outside and a Pinstripe on the inside. There’s no big reason why I have that; it just worked out that way this time.
I only use the Gretsch internal mufflers when I have both heads on. Then I put a piece of moleskin where the beater hits the head. That’s to soften the sound a little and protect the head a little. I use a felt beater unless I’m playing something where I really need to cut through. Then I use a wood beater. I also have a polyurethane beater. I’d only use that for some very heavy rock thing that I usually don’t do, so I don’t use that one too much. I like the felt and wood because they’re light and I like the accent that I can get out of them.
I tune the bass drum to correspond to the tones of the toms. I don’t really tune any of the drums to any special intervals. I just tune them to where my ear likes them. I tune the bass drum batter head to the tension that I like and then I use the outside head to get the tone that I want.
I have a quick stroke on the foot pedal—which is especially effective in jazz—and the beater does not stay buried in the head. When the beater hits the drum it immediately bounces back off the head. That gives it more of atone.
The spring tension on my bass drum pedal is tight. I use a Camco pedal and I like the pedal to go with my foot. The beater sits back at about a 75-degree angle to the floor when it’s idle. I like to use the split-footboard pedal. If I was into rock I might consider a solid footboard. I’m really into playing with my whole foot on the surface of the pedal, playing from the heel.
I prefer two different size bass drums. On the road I prefer a 22 x 16 and a 24 x 16. I’m real sold on the deeper bass drums. In the studio I use a 20 x 16 and a 22 x 16. All the bass drums are Gretsch. I like a bigger, boomier sound live. It gives me more to work with. In the studio I like the smaller, poppier sound. Gino is into the philosophy that in the studio, the smaller the bass drums, the better. On Brother to Brother I think I used an 18″ and a 20″. All I ever use are the clear Ambassador heads front and back. I’m using double heads and recently I’ve been cutting a small hole off to one side of the front head, so I can stick a mic’ in and get more of the double head sound. But I haven’t tried that in the studio much. Usually in the studio there’s about an 18″ hole cut in the front.
I keep the front heads pretty tight. A lot of the bottom end comes out of the front tuning. I like to keep the back head fairly loose with an internal muffler, and then I usually put a pillow in there too, although Buddy Rich would probably make fun of me! When I don’t have mic’s I loosen it a lot and get the sound from the whole drum. Live, you have to go with the engineer and the studio. By the time they get a bass drum sound, with a blanket over it, there’s not much left as far as your ear.
I’m using the Gretsch Hydraulic pedals which I’m real pleased with. They changed the name because, I guess, theoretically it isn’t a hydraulic pedal. I also use one of their chain drive pedals which is like the DW pedal. I’m an old Ghost man. I used Ghost pedals for years. I’ve just started with these Gretsch pedals. Sonor makes some Signature pedals that I had for a while. They were almost so smooth that I couldn’t get used to them. But, I like a real smooth pedal. I always use felt beaters. I have a long beater shaft, and the throw distance to the bass drum head is a pretty good distance. I go for as much throw as I can get. because my technique is always on the toe. No heel down. I like the spring tension looser. I figure I get my weightlifting while I’m out mowing. I can’t stand a real tight pedal. It’s an instrument, and you’ve got to play it that way.
I’ve always had trouble getting a good bass drum sound. I have Slingerland bass drums, and I don’t think it’s really the drums’ fault. I think it has a lot to do with miking. I’ve used the same drums a lot of times with different mic’s in them. One time it sounds great and one time it doesn’t.
One of my bass drums is 26″ and one’s a 22″. The Pearl drumset that I have coming, the left bass drum is a 28″ and the right one’s a 22″.
I never had the miking problems when I was with Lynyrd Skynyrd. The guy who was doing our sound with that band was Kevin Olson, who’s working with Journey now. He always used to get a real good sound on my drums.
I liked the Evans Looking Class heads. They seemed to be the ones that I got the most “rubbery” sound out of and that’s the kind of sound I really like. I used them front and back, but usually I cut a hole in the front heads—a large hole, maybe 10 inches. It seemed to get a real good resonance.
I used to put about two inches of foam all the way around the inside of the drum to muffle it, so that it just barely touched either head. It got a pretty good, strong sound that way.
For a long time I used a triangular hard felt beater, and then I used a square hard felt beater. Then I used the Rogers Black Jack beaters. I like a pretty hard slap. I use Rogers bass drum pedals also.
If I was in a situation where I wasn’t using mic’s on the bass drums, I’d still set them up the same way. Because that’s the way I set them up before I got mic’s! And I was getting a real good throw with it. Then I put the mic’s on there and it just enhanced it. The way I play, the audience is going to hear my bass drums. I’m going to make sure of that, even if I have to stand up on the drums.