The bigger a drum is, the more difficult it is to tune. This statement is all too true for most drummers. Tuning a floor tom is always my biggest struggle when setting up a drum set. It took me years to figure out the most optimal way to do it.
Luckily, I’ve learned some tips that I can share with you so that tuning the floor tom isn’t such a struggle.
Tools for Tuning
Firstly, you’re going to need a drum key. Every drummer has drum keys lying around, but not every drummer is good at tuning the drums. There are some fantastic products out there that can help you with this.
My favorite one is the Tune-Bot. You attach it to the drum to measure the pitch, stopping you from having to rely on your ears to decide if the tensions of the lugs are equal all around. The great thing about this is that many people share their specific tuning settings, allowing you to take inspiration from those.
Products like this are amazing for when you need to tune your drums quickly and don’t have time to do any fine-tuning.
Best Tension for Floor Toms
Moving onto the specific tension of the drumhead on your floor tom. You need to think about both the top and bottom heads. The bottom head is what controls the amount of resonance the drum has. The tighter it is, the more resonance it has and vice versa. I’d suggest you tune that head first.
The top head will control the pitch of your floor tom. If you’re playing jazz, you’re going to need to tune it fairly high. This means the head will be quite tight. If you’re playing anything else, you’re going to tune it low.
I’ve found that the best way to get a great sound out of the floor tom is to tune it just slightly past a loose tension. If you loosen it any more after that, the head will be too loose to make a proper sound. That’s a great place to be at and you’ll get a thumping low tone.
If you’re finding that the floor tom is resonating too much, you can apply some muffling to it. I’d suggest the first thing you do is drop a cotton ball inside the drum. It’s a tiny thing, but it makes the world of difference.
If that isn’t enough, try adding some duct tape or Moongel.
Tuning is a skill, just like playing the drums. This means that the more you do it, the better you’re going to get at it. It can be very fulfilling to mess around with tuning settings and decide which tensions are your favorite.
If you use the techniques I mentioned, you should be able to get a killer floor tom sound. Just remember that tuning the bottom head is just as important as tuning the top one. Once you get the good floor tom sound, you can move onto the never-ending battle of trying to get the perfect snare drum sound.