6 Best Drum Tuners in 2019 and Why You Need One

Do you have any idea how many garage drummers use drum tuners? – I can say with confidence - not enough. Not even professional drummers who play in front of huge crowds can be bothered to use drum tuners to set up their drums.

Why aren’t more drummers inclined to use the best drum tuners to their advantage? Maybe because tuning drums is not about tuning by keys like tuning string instruments like piano and guitar. Or maybe it’s because so many of them have learned to tune their drums by ear.

But if you ask any studio producer about the importance of drum tuners (and if they don’t tell you off because they don’t know you) you’ll probably get a crash course on why all instruments should be properly tuned with dedicated tuners, regardless of what self-taught musicians would say.

6 Best Drum Tuners - Analog and Digital

This is the analog version of the Drum Dial, arguably one of the best and most precise drum tuners available. This gadget measures head tension instead of the torque of the tension rods. This is one of the reasons why it’s so accurate compared to others.

The Drum Dial requires you to put some pressure on it when you’re taking the reading. You don’t need too much pressure but you have to make sure that it’s aligned with a lug and there’s a 1” separation from the edge of the rim.

After you’ve taken your first reading, you should repeat the process with each lug.

  • Timeless precision
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    Small and easy to use
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    Analog
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    Durable
  • Limited features

The Tune Bot TBS-001 is a very accurate digital drum tuner. It is a clip-on which allows it to be kept on the drum kit at all times. Or you can use it for “hands-free” tuning, as in you won’t need to push it into the head or anything like that.

One of the coolest things about the Tune Bot is that it doesn’t need any specific positioning. Put it anywhere on the rim and wait for the display to show you which tension rods need adjusting.

Another advantage is the internal memory. You have the ability to store five pitches for five drum kits so that you’ll be able to make fast adjustments whenever needed. This also ensures that once you’ve found your sweet spot, you can continue to explore your options without any fear of losing that pitch.

  • Internal memory
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    Decent build quality
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    Flexible
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    Access to smartphone apps
  • Upper price range

The Tama Tension Watch is a sleek-looking analog drum tuner. It operates like most other tuners modeled after the well-known Drum Dial drum tuner.

This tool gives accurate readings as long as you provide just enough pressure when you’re aligning it with the tension rods.

One thing worth pointing out is that the TAMTW100 is just as accurate as its higher-end version. The only real difference is the presence of a detachable bumper. This spares users from the trouble of having to measure the distance between the rim and the tuner.

This doesn’t necessarily improve the overall accuracy but mostly the ease of use. If you can live with more work, you can save a few bucks with the TAMTW100.

  • Easy to use
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    Accurate readings
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    Durable
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    Takes head tension
  • Simplistic design

The digital version of the Drum Dial is not that different from the original analog model. Case in point, the two look virtually the same from a distance. Of course, the main difference that you will notice is that the digital version has an LCD screen (black and white large numbers) and two buttons.

Most people should be wondering, what’s the point of going digital? It certainly makes it easier to read the tension with an exact readout on the screen. Besides having to squint and decipher the little scales, the glass of the analog tuner may accumulate dirt and fingerprints and stuff and become even harder to read.

The digital model has no such issues. In terms of precision, this tuner is as accurate as they come. As with many other manual drum tuners, this one also takes into account the head tension rather than the rod tension, which leads to more accurate readings.

  • Large digital numbers
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    Calc button
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    Quick measurements
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    High precision
  • Slightly expensive

Overtone Labs’ TBG001 is a highly modified version of the Tune Bot and one of the fastest acoustic drum digital tuners around. This device matches the lug pitch to frequencies and lets you do fast adjustments to get the desired pitch.

It features a large LCD screen with great readability. The backlight makes it visible in poor lighting conditions too.

Its design allows it to be clipped to any drum hoop. And, due to the way it works, there’s no need for lug alignments and other gimmicks to take accurate readings.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that the TBG001 comes with a toggle button for switching between the various tuning programs.

  • Hard plastic body
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    Large screen
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    Quick measurements
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    Accurate tuner
  • Expensive

The Tru Tuner TT001 is something not too many people are familiar with. It’s a drum head replacement system designed for 14” and 16” drums.

It’s essentially a cheat sheet which shows you various notes and tensions on the head, depending on the size of the drums and the number of lugs. Originally designed for 6-lug drum heads, the TT001 works even with 12-lug marching band-style drum heads.

The beauty of using the TT001 over other tuners is that you can adjust all the lugs simultaneously and avoid stretching too much or too little in particular positions. This lets you tune faster and change heads faster, and it prevents warping of the wood.

  • Simultaneous tension adjustment
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    Works on a wide range of drums
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    Very safe to use
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    Folding design
  • Not the most accurate or durable tuner

Make Good Use of Your Tuner

Whenever you’re adjusting the tension, remember to skip tension rods. Moving onto the opposite tension rod will let you make quicker and more repeatable adjustments.

Tuning consecutive tension rods may cause them to actually loosen and you’ll end up with off-pitch drums. Sometimes you may even end up back where you started.

Also, if you’ve never tuned a drum before, you should know that applying extra tension is not always a bad thing. Stretch the heads by using your palm to apply extra force to the center of the head. This helps to loosen the grip of the glue.

Analog vs. Digital Drum Tuners

You must have known that this topic would get addressed. Proponents of analog tuners argue in favor of less technical tuners if you want to preserve your tone and sound better.

These gadgets have a very simple task to accomplish and they do it very well. The readings are very accurate, especially for head tension instead of rod tension.

Digital drum tuners can be highly accurate too but they often take too long to calculate and match frequencies. This makes them a bit annoying to rely on if you’re in a jam. Not to mention the fact that most digital tuners are quite expensive for how little they’re likely to be used.

That being said, even with analog tuners, some are better than others. And there’s more than one way to tune drums depending on tuner of choice.

Don’t Expect More than Just Tuning

Many drummers who use a drum tuner for the first time would share a weird experience. The drums just don’t sound as good or the same anymore. That makes sense if they’re playing on tuned drum heads for the first time.

Put that aside for a minute, it’s important to know the difference between the tuning and the pitch of your drums. What tuning does is helping your drums to stay in tune with each other. It helps you put equal tension on all the lugs so that you get a consistent sound.

It’s only then that you can easily raise or lower the pitch and start creating your unique sound. Don’t mistake tuners for pitch adjusters. This is something that you will likely have to do on your own since the pitch comes down to personal preference.

Tuning just evens things out, maintains consistency, and removes unwanted overtones and other imperfections.

Start Using a Tuner and Monitor Your Drum Heads’ Life Expectancy

All the tuners in this article are very good at what they do. Whether you fancy digital or analog tuners, or basic vs souped-up tuners, it won’t matter too much unless you’re working in a recording studio that demands absolute quality.

For home use, practice, regular gigs, and such, any tuner on my list should suffice. So long as you can maintain pitch consistency.

Gavin Whitner
    Gavin Whitner
     

    A guitar player, songwriter, composer, and also the lead editor of MusicOomph, Gavin is one of the four musician friends behind this site. Outside of music, he's an avid sports fan and hardly misses anything from football (soccer) to F1.

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