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The Cons - Against Drum Muffling / Treatment

The Cons of Drum Treatment / Muffling

Ok, all of you who have been ranting and raving over the stuff and nonsense above, here's your turn. This section will address the common reasons not to treat your drums. 

What's Wrong with Natural Drums?

Not much. Ask Jim Keltner or Kenny Aronoff, who prefer the sound of untreated (though incredibly well-tuned) drums. This is an especially cherished view in certain Jazz circles, as well. Many who hold this view believe that anyone who likes Treated drums has never played a really great set of drums with really great tuning. We're not going to touch that one. Instead, let's just say that natural, resonant drums do have a particular sound that is appropriate for many styles, and that might include you, no matter what style of music you play.

How Should One Approach Un-Treated Drums?

At this point, it is important to note that untreated drums will sound awful if they are not tuned well with heads in good condition. It is also important to remember that what the drummer hears is not necessarily what the audience hears. The tom ring and snare "boing" that sound horrible (or at least distracting) to the drummer may sound great (or inaudible) in the full context of the music from the audience's perspective. A dry, controlled snare that sounds good by itself may be weak and ineffective in the mix, while an open untreated snare may add the perfect amount of character to the song.

Also remember that the audience doesn't hear a snare, a  bass drum, a 17" crash cymbal, and a 15" high hat. The audience hears a drum kit as a whole, and the various drum sounds interact with each other, hopefully in a complementary way. Think of each drum being a voice in a choir. You don't hear a choir as a lot of individuals (not a good choir, anyway), but rather as a cohesive whole. With that approach, it is not only important to make sure each drum sounds good by itself, but also that the drums sound good together. While untreated drums can make this a difficult goal to achieve, proponents of open drums claim that if this goal is reached without treatment, it is the ultimate in expression and tone.

When Do Un-Treated Drums Sound Best?

To a lot of people, all of the time. But let's be pragmatic for a moment. While moving your kit from gig to gig, with little if any soundcheck, some form of treatment may be necessary to ensure a consistent sound from night to night. Even if you would usually prefer an open (untreated) sound, it might be best to treat your drums when opening up for another band, without a reliable soundcheck. 

The Studio

The studio is a good place to let your open drums shine. The time it takes to tune an open kit can pay off in spades in the studio. The extra attention to detail really makes a difference. Just as many drummers will use coated single ply heads for studio and double ply clear heads for live, the studio is the time to get it right. This is assuming that you are the one responsible for the recorded drum sound. If you aren't the one paying for the session, you may have to play whatever drum sound the artist or producer demands. That said, if you know how to get a great open sound out of a kit, this sound can get you future jobs. Even if you aren't an untreated drum fanatic, it is a good tool to have at your disposal.

Big Gigs

When you have the time to get it right live, do so. If you can get a distinctive, natural sound live, that immediately separates you from the standard Treated drums people are used to hearing live. If the music calls for it, and you can do it, this is your time for you and your drums to shine.

Do I Have To Be A Fanatic?

Not at all. Many drummers choose to blend the two approaches. For live shows, Billy Cobham has been playing a kit with open toms, an O ring on the snare, and ported resonant   bass drum heads with pads in the bass drums. And no one complains much about his sound. For his recent acoustic albums, Cobham has played more open kits. And that's a wonderful sound, too.

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