About 5 years ago, I grabbed my first Drum Dial on Craigslist for $45. I had started to notice that my drums sounded BAD. I had first begun to toy around with recording my drums (correctly) in college, and quickly learned that a poorly tuned drum set didn’t stand a chance in the studio. I originally purchased the Drum Dial in hopes to ad it to my arsenal of tools for studio sessions, and it did just that.
I like to describe the the Drum Dial as a “reverse scale” measuring pressure from the bottom of the device, rather than the top. The Drum Dial is placed on your drum head, about 1 or 2 inches from the outside surface of each lug. (Don’t worry, an “edge gauge” is included with every Drum Dial, so you can be sure you’re measuring in he correct place for each tuning lug.) When the Drum Dial is in use, it looks like the picture below.
Now you’ll notice right away, Drum Dial has a new look. They now offer a digital model, simply called “The Digital Drum Dial.” Not only is the digital model far easier to read, it also comes with a very handy backlight. My studio lighting has primarily overhead lighting. This looks great on camera, but for something as tedious as tuning, I really had trouble seeing the scale on those awkward lugs underneath cymbals and high hats. The neon orange backlight makes it crystal clear, so you’ll never have to worry about tuning blindly. A quick tune up between songs on a dingy bar gig is now something you CAN do. Crazy, right?
So before we cover more specifics, let’s talk about what’s in the box. The Digital Drum Dial includes a hard black case, with nice foam interior lining. Remember you’ll often be traveling with this device, as its a must have for any studio recordings, or any longer gigs. Drum Dial did a great job of making sure this device is portable and easy to store.
Inside the carrying case, you’ll find the Digital Drum Dial unit, the Edge Gauge, a spare battery, and a small square of glass for calibration. (All with cut-outs in the foam for easy and safe storage.)
Drum Dial also includes some helpful papers with your purchase. You receive warrantee paperwork, crystal clear instructions for how to use the Drum Dial, as well as specific tuning recommendations. And when I say specific, I mean very specific. Check out the tuning chart below. Once you have your new Digital Drum Dial, you only need to reference the size chart to find your recommended tuning settings. Of course, you don’t need to adhere to these settings, but they are very helpful (and musical) recommendations. Remember, this chart is useful only with a Drum Dial! You can also use the provided papers to write down your own personal tuning settings.
So what are those actual settings? What do those numbers mean in reference to tuning? Drum Dial projects its measurements to you in Timpanic Pressure Units or TPU’s. (Ex. “My favorite snare drum tuning is 75 TPU on the top head, and 65 TPU on the bottom.”)
Now, when it comes actually to using the unit, you won’t find an ounce of trouble. This device does exactly what it claims with ease. I’m going to walk you through how I use my Drum Dial on my own personal kit. Keep in mind there are many ways to tune a drum kit; this is just my preferred method.
I begin my de-tuning all heads, and re-tuning them to a very low tension. I try to make my heads sound a thick and sludgy as possible. (Try going for the lowest sounding tuning you could stomach, while still being in tune.) From here, I make 1/4″ to 1/8″ around each drum to bring up the tension. I’m not shooting to reach the perfect tension just yet, I’m only trying to bring up the drum’s tension slowly and evenly. Not only do we not want to stress the drum and/or heads unnecessarily, but we also don’t want to blast past the sweet spot. I like to take my time and slowly work towards that perfect tone, that only comes from a finely tuned head.
Once my drums are tuned close to the sweet spot, it’s time to break out the Drum Dial. I prefer to use the Drum Dial later in the tuning process because it helps me check my own natural tuning abilities. I’m not perfect, but I’ve been tuning drums a damn long time. It’s helpful and humbling to see how close you can actually get to perfection, by using the Drum Dial after you’ve given your own tuning a shot. You’ll be amazed at how far off you are! (At least I always am. Science has a special way of embarrassing us, doesn’t it?)
Starting with my snare, I use the Edge Gauge to test each lug’s tension. Ideally, I want each lug to be brought up or down to match the lug nearest to it.
I used to attempt to complete this process with the “torque-based” drum keys, which claim to help improve tuning accuracy. They sadly do NOT help, as these keys measure the tension and wear of your tension rods and screws. We aren’t here to judge the quality and durability of the threads of your tuning lugs, but if we were – that torque key might come in handy! Steer clear of those junky things!
Anyhow. Starting with the snare, I move around each drum and slowly “equalize” the various tensions with the Drum Dial. If you did a good job on your first unassisted tuning, you’ll notice that the Drum Dial simply offers “suggestions” for each lug. You should be within a half turn of perfection on each lug, and the Drum Dial is the only device that can give you the necessary data to make those adjustments. Sometimes the difference in sound between two lugs (with different tensions) can be nearly inaudible. In fact, the closer you get to a perfect tuning, the more difficult it becomes to actually perfect that tuning. When the difference between “almost perfect” and “perfect” is a 1/16″ turn on one lug, you need a device to give you that data. This is what the Drum Dial provides; flawless, clearly delivered data about our precious drum head’s tension. With this data, you can hone and shape your drum’s sound to their absolute fullest potential, guaranteed.
Many drummers view tuning as a sacred act. A man, his ears, and his drums; nothing more required. Well, I’m a man of science and facts, so I’m gonna call bullshit on that old school notion. Your ears are NOT smarter than a Drum Dial. This is a tool for humble perfectionists; for those brave enough to admit they cannot tune a perfect drum. If you’re like me, you won’t hesitate to join the club of Drum Dialers. This is an absolutely essential tool for the working drummer, and should at the very least, make it on your Christmas list.
The Orlando Drummer