Every drummer wants a different sound from their drum kit, and the bass drum is no exception. Some want a really open sound, others want a tight and constricted sound, maybe for use with triggers or a particular beater action on the drumhead. Let’s take a look at some common bass drum muffling techniques and how they affect the drum’s sound.
Bass drums are a mighty piece of equipment and they want to sing and be heard just as any other drum does. The size of your typical bass drum is much larger than any other drum on the drum set, so it’s not surprising that it wants to make itself known.
Sometimes though, you might want to dampen down the sound, remove some overtones, and be left with a nice ‘thud’ which fits better with your idea of how the bass drum should sound amongst the other drums. The larger the bass drum, the more you may need to consider reigning in some of the overtones to produce a more controlled sound.
I won’t go into any great detail about tuning in this post but make sure that your bass drum is tuned well and that you’re relatively happy with the sound – even if it is a bit ‘boomy’ before considering the need for muffling.
You might want to try tuning the batter head slightly higher than the resonant head – this should eliminate some of the lower frequencies. Just be careful not to over tighten the batter head or you might damage it.
Heads With Built in Muffling
A lot of drumhead manufacturers have produced heads that take away some unwanted overtones straight out of the box.
A good example would be the Evans EMAD, which comes with two different foam muffling rings which sit in between two layers on the drumhead and can be swapped out depending on your requirements.
The Aquarian Super Kick III features a felt ring attached to the rear of the head which reduces unwanted overtones and allows for punchy and defined sound.
These controlled heads do a good job but may leave you wanting to control the sound a little more with extra dampening.
Muffling With Household Items
Muffling your bass drum doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. In fact, you can even use a couple of items that should be floating about the house. It’s a bit easier if your resonant head has a porthole so you easily try different options, otherwise you’ll have to remove the resonant head.
A beach towel might be best for this job given its larger size. Fold the towel in half a couple of times, first lengthways and then widthways. Roll it up into a tube and sit it against the back side of the batter head at the bottom so it reaches part way up each side, like a smiley face. Please ensure that the towel is clean and thoroughly dry before placing it inside the drum.
You can do the same thing with the resonant head if you want some extra muffling. Sit another towel in the same smiley face position but sticking out over the bearing edge about halfway on the resonant side. This ensures the towel has decent contact with the resonant head when you put it back on.
Pillows are a fairly good way to muffle some overtones without taking all the drum’s character away. There’s likely a spare pillow in the house, so it’s an easy and effective muffling technique.
The good thing about a pillow is that, depending on your bass drum size, muffle both heads at once when placed lengthways. Experiment with the placement of the pillow for different levels of dampening.
Jared from Drumeo demonstrates the beach towel method:
Purpose Built Solutions
If you’re interested in off the shelf tools for bass drum muffling, a good one is the Evans EQ bass drum damper pad.
The EQ pad resembles a pillow but sticks to the shell of the bass drum to stop sliding and cuts out a lot of overtones while leaving you with a nice solid thud. It’s small enough to fit through most resonant head portholes.
For a different approach, closer to the beach towel mentioned earlier, check out the Remo Dave Weckl Adjustable Muffling System. It is held firmly in place on the drum shell with Velcro and is available in sizes to suit 18”, 20” and 22” bass drums.
Removing the Resonant Head
An extreme option to remove resonance from the bass drum is to take off the resonant head altogether. This also allows you to easily access the batter head from behind if you want to add a layer of muffling.
That said, there are some reasons not to remove the resonant head completely like this. The resonant head’s tuning lugs will be loose without anything to hold them steady and they’ll probably rattle.
The drum’s bearing edge, normally safe from damage, will be exposed. If it gets damaged, it’ll cause you some problems down the line if you want to use a resonant head again.
If the kit is at home and there’s no chance of anything bashing into your equipment, then you might get away with it.
If you have a cat or small to medium dog, and a headless bass drum with a pillow inside, they’re going to think it’s their new bed. Be kind when evicting them!
To get a similar result to removing the resonant head, you could cut a large port hole in your existing head. This way the bearing edge is protected, and you won’t get the rattling from the drum hardware.
If you want to go a little further and pretty much kill all of the drum’s sound, maybe for quiet practice hours, consider drum set mutes, such as this Vic Firth Bass Drum Mute.
Mutes are a good option for quickly and effectively bringing your bass drum’s volume down by up to seventy percent. Also available for all of your other drums and cymbals, like these Rock Fusion Kit mutes. They are a breeze to put on and take off and make a huge difference.
While you can spend a lot of time achieving what you believe to be the perfect bass drum sound, it will most likely sound different from the other side of the kit, or elsewhere in the room.
If this is a concern for you, it might be a good idea to get somebody else to play your kit while you move around the room to hear for yourself.
If you or a recording engineer are going to be recording your drums, bear in mind that the positioning of microphones and recording techniques can change the final sound of both the bass drum, and the whole kit a huge amount.
Knowing this, it may be best to tune your bass drum to a relatively ‘normal’ pitch and keep muffling to a minimum. It may be harder for the engineer to pull a decent sound out of a choked drum than one that ‘sings’, even if you don’t like the tone while playing the kit.
It can be a challenge to control the sound of a bass drum due to its large size, but it’s not always best to simply stuff a bunch of blankets inside the drum and hope for the best. Take a measured approach, firstly by tuning the drum to a reasonable standard for your style of playing, and then start to experiment with muffling options. Take it a step at a time and you’ll have a great sound in no time.
Do you have a favourite muffling technique? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.