An adjustable dampening product that can retrofit onto any drumhead.
When it comes to bass drum muffling, every drummer has his or her preference. For some, a basic bedroom pillow placed inside the shell is perfect. For others, a more open old-school sound using felt strips is the secret. And every drumhead manufacturer offers versions of a muffled head that produces a dry, punchy, mix-ready thud. But what about those of us who want to be able to easily switch between a fully resonant tone to a more controlled punch without having to add or subtract deadening materials inside the shell? Remo seeks to serve that desire with its new External Sub Muff’l system. Let’s take a closer look.
What Is It?
The External Sub Muff’l system comprises a black plastic tray and a foam circle insert that’s cut into quarters. The tray is designed to fit between the hoop and the drumhead. It has a form-fitting collar that sits flush with the flesh hoop of the drumhead once installed, but it extends a fraction of an inch above the outer 2″ of the drumhead. That way, without any of the foam inserts installed under the plastic tray, the drumhead will resonate fully.
The four segments of foam can be added to taste to enhance low-end frequencies, shorten the decay, and increase attack. Installing the first three foam pieces takes minimal effort. Just slide them under the tray and make sure the cutouts in the pieces are interlocking correctly. To get the fourth ring segment into place, you’ll need to arch the center up a bit so that the ends can be tucked under the tray. Once they’re aligned, you then push the center down to get the foam to fit flat and flush under the tray.
I don’t think I would want to be adding and removing that fourth piece on the fly during gigs, since it took a bit of finagling to get into place. But going from a wide-open tone to a subtly dampened sound with one, two, or three inserts took mere seconds to execute.
My only other word of caution is to make sure the tray is flush with the collar of the drumhead before tightening down the drum hoop. If it’s not perfectly aligned, the tray could buckle slightly, causing a bit of a gap between the foam inserts and the tray, thus leading to less effective tone control and potential buzzing. On several perfectly round modern bass drums, the tray sat flat and had no issues. On an older vintage drum with imperfect hoops, I had to be more careful during the initial installation.
How Does It Sound?
While I appreciate the convenience of pre-muffed bass drum heads, I’m often frustrated by their one-dimensional sound. What if I want my bass drum to ring a little bit? If you’re using a model with the dampening placed underneath the drumhead, then you’re stuck with what you’ve got. If you’re using one that has an external foam or fabric dampener, then you can customize the amount of muffling by cutting or removing some of the material. But all of those designs involve a drumhead with some type of dampening system glued to the head itself. So you have to buy a new head each time you want to try a different approach. Remo’s External Sub Muff’l allows you to start with any drumhead of your choosing (except those with prefabricated external dampening) for a more customized experience.
I tried the system with single-ply Ambassador Coated, Powerstroke P3 Clear, and double-ply Powerstroke P4 Clear models. On all three, the experience was the same. With no inserts installed under the tray, the drum sounded exactly as it would without the tray attached. One insert had a minimal impact on volume, resonance, or attack. The main difference was that the high-end overtones were attenuated slightly, giving the drum a more focused fundamental. Two inserts shortened the decay a bit; this made the drum punchier while still sounding big and open. Three inserts had a similar sonic impact as when I tossed a bath towel inside the shell but didn’t have it touch either head. When all four inserts were in place, the drum had an ideal balance of openness and focused punch. The drumhead was dampened enough to rein in the overtones for maximum low-end oomph, and the resonance was truncated so that the drum didn’t ring for too long between notes.
For live, unmiked situations, the External Sub Muff’l system allowed for maximum volume and depth with no other muffling required. If you’re going to use close mics, either on live gigs or studio sessions, you might need to further add some dampening inside the shell or against the resonant head to tighten up the sustain a little more.
I welcome the flexibility of this new muffling system from Remo. I appreciated that I could start dialing in my bass drum tone by simply adjusting the amount of dampening foam placed on the outside of the batter head. In many cases, that’s all the muffling I needed.