As the heartbeat of almost every song in music today, the drums have to sound great in order to really give the song the punch it needs.
Unfortunately most engineers and musicians, and even a surprising number of drummers, aren’t sure what makes drums sound the way they do.
Of course tuning is most important in getting a great drum sound, but just like a guitar or bass intonation, there are certain aspects to the drums themselves that really make a difference in the ultimate sound.
As noted in this excerpt from the 3rd edition of The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, there are a great number of factors that make the drums sound the way they do.
It’s true that different people have different ideas of what constitutes a great sound kit, but in the studio it usually means a kit that’s well-tuned and free of buzzes and sympathetic vibrations.
Free of sympathetic vibrations means that when you hit the snare drum, for instance, the toms don’t ring along with it. Or if you hit the rack toms, the snare and the other toms don’t ring along as well.
The way to achieve this is all in the tuning and the kit maintenance, which we’ll check out in depth later in the chapter, but first, lets learn a little bit about drums themselves, since it helps to have a basic idea of why they sound the way they do.
Here are the things that affect the sound of a drum.
Shell Size has the most impact on the natural pitch of a drum. The larger the diameter, the lower the natural pitch, although you can obviously change this a bit by tuning the heads.
Shell Depth is mostly responsible for how loud the drum will be and to some degree, the articulation of the sound. This means that a shallow shell (say a 9” tom) doesn’t have as much surface area as a larger one, so the sound doesn’t ring as long and has a sharper attack.
Shell Thickness is usually overlooked as a contributing factor to the sound of a drum. Thinner shells actually are more resonant since they’re easier to excite because they have a lower mass than a heavier, thicker shell.