How to Prepare a Drum Kit for Recording

Most recordists will agree that acoustic drums are the most challenging instrument to record (and record well). One of the reasons (among several) is that a drum kit has so many moving parts that are prone to rattles, squeaks, buzzes, and other annoying sounds. It’s also quite a task to tune a drumkit, which always needs to be done prior to any recording session.

So here in this article, I’ve attempted to list out some things that I’ve routinely done in the past to prepare a drumkit for recording. If you own a set of high-end drums, you may find that your drums already include some of these improvements (such as nylon washers, greased tension rods, stuffed lugs, etc.). But if you own a cheaper to mid-grade kit, your drums will definitely benefit greatly by making some of these tweaks and upgrades.

Replace Washers and Lubricate Lugs

Remove each of your lug rods and swap out the metal washers for nylon washers. Nylon won’t rust, rattle, bind, or squeak, and also allows for smoother tuning. If the threaded ends of your lug rods are ungreased, dip the tip of each one in Vaseline before inserting it back through the hoop into the lug. This will lubricate the threaded insert of the lug and allow for smoothing tuning.

Pack the Lugs

If you’re playing an older set of drums, the lugs probably have a metal spring inside that holds the threaded lug insert in place. Those springs are notorious to rattle. To remedy this, remove one of the heads from the drum, remove each lug, and stuff a cotton ball or a piece of foam inside it so that it fills the void inside the lug and touches the spring. This will help to dampen any vibrations in the lug and prevent the spring from rattling. If your drums are newer and have plastic inserts instead of springs, packing the lugs generally shouldn’t be necessary.

Lubricate Pedals

Lubricate the moving parts on your bass drum and hi-hat pedals. Use some 3-in-1 Oil or lithium grease (or whatever the owner’s manual for your pedal recommends). This will make your pedals faster, smoother, and should help to eliminate any squeaks. Be sure to lubricate any bearings, U-joints, or other moving parts on the pedal/s.

Check the Bearing Edges

The “bearing edges” are the angled top and bottom edges of a drum where the head actually contacts the shell. It’s important that the bearing edges are smooth and even so that the head can be properly seated against the shell. To inspect the bearing edges, remove the heads, and wipe them clean with a damp cloth. There should be no cracks, gaps, or dents in the edge, or you may have problems getting the drum to tune properly. If an edge is badly damaged, you might consider having it re-cut by a professional drum-builder. If the edge looks good, you can simply replace the head. If the edge is a little rough, or there are small dents or voids in it, you can rub a light coat of paraffin wax on it to fill the voids. The wax will give a more even surface for the head to contact, and will help the head slide smoothly over the edge as you tune the drum.

Replace Your Heads

Replace any old, worn-out heads with new ones. Heads have a limited useful life, and when you’re recording, you want your drums to sound their absolute best. Remember, this recording will be around to haunt you for years to come, so you don’t want to cringe every time you hear that song and notice how dead the toms sound. Also, don’t forget to replace your resonant (bottom) heads once in a while, too. I’ve been guilty in the past of thinking that because I don’t actually hit the resonant heads, they should last forever, but that’s just not the case. These heads will lose their liveliness, too, which will adversely affect the resonance of the drum.

Tune Your Heads

Even if your heads are relatively new and in good shape, tune them up before each session. You’d be surprised at how quickly a drum head can go out of tune with even very little playing time. For tips on tuning drums, read my article on Drum Tuning Tips. Also, I highly recommend owning a Drum Dial. The Drum Dial is an ingenious device that makes tuning the drums infinitely easier than it is without one.

Inspect Your Snare Wires

Turn your snare drum upside down and inspect the snare wires. Cut away any wires that have broken or are loose. Be careful not to leave any sharp ends of the wire in place that could cut you or poke a hole in the bottom head. If more than 2 or 3 of the snare wires have broken, simply replace them with new ones. Also inspect the plastic strips or string that attaches the snare wires to your strainer and butt-plate. Replace them if necessary, too.

Cymbal Stands

Tighten all wingnuts (with the exception of the wingnuts that hold the cymbals down) so that they don’t rattle. If there’s a metal wingnut on the top of the stand that holds the cymbal down, replace it with a plastic wingnut, if possible. The plastic won’t rattle, and won’t damage your cymbals like metal can.

Muffling the Snare and Toms

If your Snare and Toms seem a bit too ringy, you can try muffling them. There are many different methods that can be used for this, but I have two specific ones that I will mention. The first is using the plastic o-rings, such as the RemOs by Remo, or the Aquarian Studio Rings that simply lay on top of your batter heads. These work pretty well, but don’t give you much control over tweaking the sound. Some kits, such as the RemOs Snare Kit will include a few rings of varying widths, giving you more control over the sound of the drum.

The second method (and the one that I prefer) is using Moon Gels. Moon Gels are sticky little gel squares that you simply stick to the batter head of a drum that helps to deaden the drum and kill some of the overtones. You can achieve a wide variety of sounds using a Moon Gel by simply changing the placement of the gel–just move it closer to, or further away from the edge of the drum until you like how it sounds. You may also try cutting the gels into smaller pieces to achieve a less pronounced effect (I usually cut them in half), or even try using multiple gels on a single drum.

Muffling the Kick Drum

Many drummers will use a pillow or blanket to muffle their bass drum. In my experience, this often deadens the drum too much for my taste. So I recommend muffling your bass drum using a piece of foam, like maybe from a mattress pad that you would typically use on a bed (sometimes called “eggcrate foam”), or even a piece of foam that you can buy at a hobby store for re-upholstering a chair. Any low-density foam around 2″ to 3″ thick should work. Cut a piece of the foam to fit the depth of the drum so that it touches both the batter and front head. Cut the length so that when you put it in the bottom of the drum, it covers the bottom and curves up the sides to a little less than half the height of the drum.

Cut a Hole in the Front Bass Drum Head

If the front head of your bass drum doesn’t have a hole, you should cut one into it to allow a microphone to be placed inside of the drum. You can even buy adhesive-backed plastic rings that you stick to the head first, and then cut around the inside of the ring with a razor knife. This plastic ring will reinforce the head around the hole to keep the head from tearing.


I hope that some of these suggestions will be helpful to drummers who are gearing up for their next recording session. Most kits will benefit from some, if not all, of these tweaks or upgrades. If you’ll follow the advice above, your next session will sure to be a “smashing” success.

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