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How to Dampen a Bass Drum in the Recording Studio

Anyone who has recorded real drums knows the frustration of muting a bass drum. People have used pillows and blankets to deaden the decay, but the problem with those two options is that they move.

You may have spent a good amount of time getting the exact placement to achieve the perfect amount of control. Often times small adjustments drastically change the dampening and halfway through a take you hear the tone of the bass drum change. Yup, the pillow and blanket have moved. This can kill a perfect take.

To make matters worse, it can also be a time killer if you put a bass drum head on the front that isn’t ported. This is one of the reasons a lot of drummers use a head with holes in the resonant head. Easy access to muting the batter head.

Ringtone

Sometimes on a session, it’s more desirable to have a resonant head without a hole in it. It sounds different.

People have tried putting bricks on top of the pillow or blanket to prevent slipping. This method is sometimes successful. Not always though.

Sticky Fingers

Drummers have also bought felt and attached it to the inside of the head with packaging tape. Often they apply the tape and felt to the batter and resonant head.

This yields a really nice tone, but it’s not very flexible. You’re not going to have an easy time removing packaging tape.

This is a commitment type situation. This is enough to make any engineer run.

Muting materials are not usually supplied by drummers arriving on the session unless they bring their own drum kit. Believe me, you don’t want their nasty blankets in your space. They smell like… Drummers. I kid, I kid, I joke. I joke.

Shark Tank

A studio that supplies a house kit needs to have materials on hand. Which brings me to ask the question, “why hasn’t someone developed a bass drum muting system?” Well, let me tell you something… They have!

It’s impossible to stay on top of all the new inventions unless you actually play the specific instrument. An engineer that doesn’t play drums probably doesn’t get drum trade magazines with all the new doodads in it.

Oh, Just Tell Us Already

DW (Drum Workshop) has developed a special pillow that attaches to the bass drum with Velcro. Yeah, seems simple right? How did we send a telescope into deep space before this was invented?

The product is called the DW Bass Drum Muffling Pillow. Not a very creative name, but gets to the point.

It’s not your average pillow. It’s smaller and has a special shape so it fits perfectly in the drum.

The big selling point is the Velcro. The pillow has a strip of Velcro on it. Then you attach the other side of the Velcro to the drum.

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It’s good quality Velcro. It holds tight. This means that no matter how hard you play it’s not moving.

The other added advantage is if you have to tear down the kit, you won’t lose your sound. Did I mention it doesn’t move?

Calgon, Take Me Away

Some might say, “there are specially designed drum heads that sound more muted, why not just use those with no muting?” This is somewhat limiting.

Often these heads have a very specific EQ curve to them. I might not want that bright click sound. Maybe I want the warmth of an Emperor but with a little less resonance.

A pillow can also help tailor the pitch of the drum. Depending on how much the pillow is touching the head, it lowers the pitch.

Micro Manage

Obviously, when you’re in the studio, having the ability to make micro-adjustments becomes very important. In live situations, you can use more of a broad strokes approach. Stage sound is not as microscopic.

The fact that the pillow is attached to the inside of the drum allows it to barely kiss the drum head if that’ what you wish. Sometimes that’s all you need to kill unwanted resonance.

Pumpkin Spice Half-Caf Soy Latte

Another added joy about these pillows is they’re relatively cheap. I mean, it’s not the price of a latte, but $25 is a small price to pay for the flexibility in a studio.

There are two different shapes you can get as well. One is called the scone. They kind of look like apple turnovers. I’m sure they don’t taste like it.

The other option is a single pillow that will run the entire length of the bass drum. You have options of 16” and 18” length depending on how deep your bass drum is.

Marriage Counseling

Some changes are good and your wife is no longer going to yell at you for stealing the nice afghan her mom made for her birthday.

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Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at guitaristmarkmarshall.com

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