By Mike Fasano, as told to Andy Doerschuk

Mike Fasano is one of the few industry pros that can work both sides of the drumming business with equal aplomb. As a drummer he laid down grooves with such acts as Warrant, Gloryhole, Tiger Army, and Gilby Clarke, and in his alter-ego as a studio and roadie drum tech he has pampered tubs for Matt Sorum, Travis Barker, Tre Cool, and Mick Fleetwood. An expert tuner, Fasano offers his most sage advice right up front: “Don’t be afraid of tuning. It’s wood and metal and Mylar and a little tuning key. The more you do it, the more you’ll be familiar with it.”

1. Find The Right Heads For You

Finding the type of head that works for you depends on a number of things. It depends on the application. It depends on the drummer. It depends on what you’re going for. I tend to like double-ply coated heads for tom batters. The coating rounds the slap out of it. Clear heads have got a vibe to them [as batters], but I don’t like the way they feel when I play them, and I don’t like the slap that you get off of them. But that might work if you like to do rip-around-the-kit fills. I like to use clear heads on the bottom, though—usually a clear double-ply head. I think single-ply heads get a bit papery sounding, although there’s something to be said for that kind of sound, too. You’ll get a little more ring out of it, and you might want to tune it up a little more. Most maintenance involves the top head—I change the bottom head about every six months.

2. Seat The Head On The Bearing Edge

The drum won’t stay in tune if it’s pulled down too much on one side, so you have to get the head seated on the bearing edge evenly. Whenever you take the head and tension rods off of a drum, take a look at your bearing edge. Stick chips and dust tend to get inside the rim of the drum, so I like to get a moist cloth and just run it around the edge to clean it off. Then I take my finger and feel around the edge, just to make sure there’s nothing sticking to it or caught up around it. The bearing edge is the point your head rests on, so a little stick chip can become a tuning problem pretty quickly.

3. Tension The Head Evenly

Once you have the head seated, tighten the tension rods so that they actually touch the hoop while only barely putting tension on the head. Then start to bring the pitch up by going from a lug on one side of the shell to the lug on the opposite side. Then move to the next set of two parallel lugs, and do the same thing (I use two keys at once to make this procedure faster). Be sure not to crank a tension rod down too far on one side. All my moves are deliberate eighth or quarter turns. I would rather go all the way around the drum way more times and bring it up ever so slightly in pitch, rather than do a whole turn or two turns on each lug. Once I get the drum to where it sounds right, I’ll actually put it on the ground and step on the head to crack the glue that holds the Mylar in the hoop (Aquarian and Evans don’t use glue rings, so you won’t need to take this step if you use either of those brands). Once the glue is cracked, tap on the head next to the lugs, and you’ll actually hear where the glue broke. Just tighten the closest tension rod up a little to bring the head back to a balanced tension.

4. Change Heads Regularly

The only way to learn how to tune your drums is if you replace your heads regularly. You should change the batter heads at least every month, no matter how many times you play your drums per week. And definitely replace a head if you see stick wear or actually hear your head become lifeless. If your band has a gig, freshen them up at the last rehearsal before the gig so you can play them in a bit, because I always think heads sound a little bit better played in.

5. Use Suspension Tom Mounts

A drum is an acoustic instrument, like an acoustic guitar. If you put your hands on the guitar when you strum it, it chokes the sound, because it doesn’t let the wood vibrate. A traditional tom mount requires a metal receiver attached to the shell, with a tom arm that extends inside the drum. A suspension tom mount takes all that metal off of the shell, and disperses the weight to half of the drum, instead of focusing it on one little point. This lets the drum vibrate more; meaning it’s going to ring more, and ring is what you want. You want to hear some decay when you hit the drum. If you convert your tom from a traditional mounting system to a suspension mount, have a pro drum repairman glue a piece of dowel in the tom arm hole that is the same thickness as the shell. It just seals it. It’s better. It’s cleaner.

6. Bass Drum Muffling

The bass drum needs to be a little bit thumpier rather than open and ringy (unless you’re going for something open and ringy). Some bass drumheads now have little rings built into the inside of the head. This works like the old Richie Ring that you used to throw on your snare drum, and muffles the drum slightly. It’s a great starting point that evenly muffles the head, taking some of the slap out of the impact and adding a little more low tone. I also like to put a little pillow in the bass drum touching the front and back head. Sometimes I give the pillow a quarter turn so that only the tips touch the heads, just to open up the kick a little more. You don’t want to have a totally dead kick drum, because then there’s no resonance or life to it, but if it’s too wide open you might not get the thump that you need. So the pillow is a preference for the feel you like or what you’re going for with your band.

This article was originally published in the August-September 2004 issue of Drum! magazine as part of the article “101 Ways To Become A Better Drummer.”

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