How to tame unwanted overtones and tune your kick drum to match the music and the rest of your kit.
By Dan Blackstone
You've just purchased the new drum set of your dreams, assembled it, and tuned it up. You play a few rolls around the toms and snare, lay down a simple groove, and everything sounds great, except the bass drum, which has a huge, roaring sound that overwhelms all the other drums in your set with its volume and resonance. Don't despair, getting a fat-yet-controlled bass drum sound takes just a few simple steps.
To begin with, once the heads have been mounted on the drum, tune them just past the point where the heads still show wrinkles, which you can usually do with your fingers. Then, tune to even tension all around the head (tapping just the head about an inch in from each tuning lug to match the fundamental note) until you get a note with a "singing" quality that integrates well with the rest of your set.
A second key to attaining a more controlled bass drum sound is to either cut a hole in the front bass drum resonant head (there are bass drum hole-cutting kits available that allow you to do this easily and cleanly), or buy a bass drum head with the hole pre-cut. This allows you to put a pillow or padding against the batter head, effectively controlling the amount of resonance that you desire. Having a hole in the front bass drum head also makes it easier to effectively mic the bass drum by placing a bass drum mic directly in front of the hole.
Musician’s Friend has a comprehensive selection of drum dampening devices including tone control rings, gels, pads, and mutes to deal with unwanted resonance.
Some drummers prefer a more open tone with a minimal amount of muffling. For a more open tone try using a felt strip especially designed for the bass drum. This strip is placed against the batter head when you put the head on, and runs across the diameter of the head.
Most drummers also attach a kick pad (a small, flat adhesive pad) to the batter head at the point where the kick beater meets the head. This mellows the tone out a bit and also prolongs the life of the drumhead. A piece of "moleskin" (the adhesive pad used for blister protection on feet, available at drugstores) also works well for this.
Tuning your bass drum head is a highly subjective matter, and the tuning you prefer will likely differ depending on what kind of music you like to play. In general, rock and funk drummers tune the heads lower for a deeper, more muffled or "dead" tone with a strong attack. Jazz and soul drummers often tune the bass drum higher for a more musical sound. Again, there are no hard-and-fast rules here, let your ears be your guide.
So whether you like your bass drum sound huge and Bonham-esque, or tight and punchy, the solution is close at hand.