Introduction: How to Create a Mic Port on a Bass Drum and Tune Toms
After purchasing a very small 14" (35 cm) bass drum, I needed a way to amplify it at shows so that it could be heard. It didn't come with a mic port on the resonance head (which will be explained later), and this is the solution I came across that worked for me, as resonance heads with mic ports are three to four times more expensive than normal heads. This process is very simple and you should do fine. This will also act as a guide on how to tune a bass drum, or any drum besides a snare, as the rules are still applicable. You will need the objects shown above, in this order: a hoop (the ring that secures the skin to the drum), the drum itself, a tension rod (that holds the hoop to the drum), a skin (also called a head), a drum key (to turn the tension rods), and a can. Any novice can do this and it should take no more than 30-45 minutes.
Step 1: Place Head on Top of Drum
If the head is attached to the drum already, skip to step 5, and if you want to learn how to tune a drum, skip to step 8. If not, continue here: this is the resonance head, not the batter head. The resonance head is the skin that faces out, the batter head is the one that you strike with a stick, brush, or in the case of a bass drum, a mallet attached to a pedal. Again, all the steps from here refer to the resonance head.
Step 2: Place Hoop on Drum
The hoop should rest naturally on the skin
Step 3: Align Tension Rods With Holes
The tension rods should rest naturally hooked onto the rim with the screw end in the hole.
Step 4: Tighten Rods
All rods should be tightened by hand until they are just tight enough to hold the head and hoop in place. If you can't physically tighten them enough for it to be secure, use the key to tighten them further, but just enough so that the rods still have some room to move.
Step 5: Place Can on Head and Measure
The hole can go anywhere on the drum except near the center, but convention, sound quality, and ease of attaching a mic dictate it go in the lower right or left quadrant, as pictured (the hole can go on the right or left, either side of the pen). Mark with a pencil the outline of the can when you're satisfied with its location.
Step 6: Heat Can
This can be done on a skillet, right on the stove, or with a torch. Heat for about one minute on high heat. WARNING: ensure the can has the label removed, is empty, and is completely clean of any residue. The residue or paper will begin to smoke or potentially ignite while heated). The can should be between 3 and 6" (7.6-15.25 cm), preferably 4.5" (11.4 cm) in diameter.
Step 7: Align Can and Push Through
Ensure you are using an oven mitt or some form of protection when gripping the heated can. Perform this in a well ventilated area as melting plastic releases carcinogenic fumes. Wear a mask or wet towel over your nose and glasses if you can. Align the can with your pencil marking and apply reasonable pressure (not too much that the skin wrinkles or you have to strain, if it is heated properly it should sink a bit and then pop through with little force. Be careful not to drop can into the drum). If the can doesn't go through after applying reasonable pressure, heat it up some more. Try to apply even pressure as not doing so can lead to serrated edges or pieces left around the rim. If this does happen, trim it with a razor blade or a very sharp knife.
Step 8: Sound Deading
Bass drums that are completely hollow will often sound like small battle drums, with overpowering resonance and a hollow sound. Almost all forms of music involving a drum kit want a flat, full, low resonance sound from the bass. To do this, place old t-shirts, blankets, towels, or pillows into the bass drum. The benefit to using old t-shirts and towels as I do is that they are small enough that you can pass them through the new mic port without removing the head, granting you the ability to tune your bass without disassembling it. Make sure this step is completed after burning the hole in the head.
Step 9: Tighten Tension Rods
The diagram above illustrates how you tighten (and loosen) tension rods on a drum kit, and at each rod, you only do one half rotation of the drum key (180 degrees). If you go in a circle and tighten each screw all the way, one at a time, you have the potential to warp or damage your head and/or hoop. The process, in words, is as follows: Place the key on the top left rod (you can start wherever you want) and rotate the key 180 degrees to the right (clockwise). Then move to the lower right (the opposite rod), and perform the same task with the key. Then go to the top right (the opposite of the last one), etc. If you see the skin getting wrinkly, you are tightening too much on one screw before moving on to the others. You are done when you place your finger in the middle of the drum and apply pressure and it indents 0.5 - 1" (1.3 - 2.5 cm).
Step 10: Tuning
Check each rod is at the same tension by applying pressure with your finger to the head immediately in front of the rod (I've marked on the image above the locations you do this to). Do this for all six rods and if they feel about the same pressure, then that head is complete. Perform the same check to the batter head, and if the pressure is roughly the same as the resonance head, they should be relatively in tune. For more in depth tuning, lightly strike the head directly in front of a rod with a drum stick and note the pitch. Check its neighbor and if the pitch is the same, they are in tune. If not, tighten or loosen the head depending on whether it is too low or too high respectively.
Step 11: Conclusion
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, didn't destroy your drum kit, and didn't destroy your head! Your bass drum should now be able to be better mic'd up at venues and heard more easily. I've been drumming for twelve years and this has worked for me on several kits. Thanks!
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