Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Maybe It Wasn't ‘Broke’

I finally got the small tom on my new 'jazz' kit sounding just the way I want. I bought the kit because I had the same type of set years ago and it has always been my favourite. But the new drums just didn't have the vibrant, open, rich sound of that classic set. Yes, many years have gone by and my memory has no doubt idealized the situation, but that didn't deter me from trying to figure out what was up with the drum.

First to go were the clear heads, replaced by medium-weight coated heads as on the originals. Unfortunately, swapping heads and playing around with tuning wasn't getting me where I wanted to go, so what else might I look at. The rims are lighter, but that's an issue I'm not prepared to finance right now. Hmmm ... my original set had the small tom ‘bolted’ to the bass drum. This new one had it hanging from a ring. So maybe I should try it without the suspension ring.

I don't drill holes in my drums without some sort of visceral reaction, but it seemed like the right thing to do. So I drilled the holes, bolted the bracket directly to the shell and tuned it up. The result was surprising. The sound was much fuller and more controlled. The drum was also easier to tune. Basically happy with the result, I left it for a few weeks to let the change settle in.

As good as the direct mounting was, it didn't get the drum to where I wanted it. My original drums had the tension casings bolted directly to the shell. For years now, drum makers have been putting isolating pads under the casings. The idea is to separate all that metal from the drum which, theoretically, would let the shell breathe and resonate more. On the other hand, I've always wondered whether packing a bunch of rubber against the shell was a good idea. So my next modification was to remove the spacers from all the tom's lugs. 

Actually, I have a competing tension lug theory. Aside from possibly damping the shell with lumps of rubber, the spacers can prevent the tension casings from coupling solidly with the drum. My reasoning is that, if the casings are firmly attached to the shell, they then become part of the resonating system and work with the drum rather than against it. Now, I can't say whether my theory holds water, but the instant I struck the drum 'sans spacers' I was struck by the difference (and, yes, I'm aware of the pun). That was more like the sound I had been expecting. It was rich, full, well controlled, and a lot of unwanted overtones had disappeared completely. The drum now has an authoritative bottom end and faster response.

In my case, the isolating tom mount took the drum in the wrong direction. So did the tension casing spacers. I'm not advocating that you throw away your RIMS system, but many of the classic drums we revere today had none of the modern 'enhancements'. So it's OK to occasionally ask, "But was it actually broken?" Because, as they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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