Although perhaps not as immediately apparent as an out-of-tune guitar or piano, a badly tuned drum kit can make otherwise great recordings sound cheap and unprofessional, but tuning drums has always been a bit of a black art. You only have look at YouTube, or drummer's forums, to see that it's a hot topic, rife with opinion, technique and 'secret methods' for achieving that killer drum sound.
Over the years, various tuning aids have emerged to assist those not blessed with the ability to tune by ear, but all relied on mechanical methods to measure the tension of the drum head or torque of the tension rod. They enjoyed varying degrees of success, but none did the job particularly well. Enter the Tune-Bot, a unique electronic tuner designed for drums.
Looking very much like a clip-on guitar tuner, the Tune-Bot is a neat little device sporting a large, backlit LCD, with six tactile buttons below. The clip attaching it to the drum is chunky and strong, and can be easily rotated through 360 degrees for ideal positioning of the unit around the drum rim. To use the Tune-Bot, simply clip it on the drum rim between any two lugs. Once it's in position, there's no need to move it around the drum as you tune each lug.
Tuning with the Tune-Bot is carried out as normal, finger tightening each lug and then working around the drum in a star pattern, gradually increasing the tension of each lug. The big difference is that as you tap the head an inch or so from the tuning lug, the Tune-Bot displays its pitch in Hertz. If you want to see the pitch as a musical note (A1, C3, and so on), you simply press the Note button. The ultimate goal, then, is to get each lug to display exactly the same value as you tap around the head, bringing the drum into tune with itself.
To help you further, a Difference Mode button shows how far above or below pitch a given lug is, compared to another. The information is displayed in Hz, along with a +/- guitar-style tuner display that indicates how sharp or flat you are.
If you're tuning the drum while it's still mounted on the kit (or have a particularly challenging drum), a very useful Filter mode filters out extraneous frequencies the drum may produce, focusing on the pitch of the actual lug you're working on. In this mode, you're only presented with frequencies or notes within a similar range.
In addition to displaying the individual pitch of each lug, the Tune-Bot can also show you the overall fundamental pitch of the drum (again, in either Hertz or musical note values) if you strike the middle of the drum head, with no damping. This enables you to establish specific musical intervals between your toms, again using the guitar-style display to indicate whether the note is sharp or flat. Nine memory locations for storing drum pitch settings are provided, and Settings can be saved under Snare, Tom or Bass headings, and then top or bottom head values.
To sum up, I find it hard to think of anything missing on the Tune-Bot, with its large, bright LCD, ability to display pitches in Hz and notes, a filter mode for tricky drums, and memory locations for favourite tunings.
It won't be for everyone, of course. It's not particularly cheap, and there are many drummers who will always trust their ears and their enviable ability to tune drums using just a drum key. However, for the drummer lacking that skill, the Tune-Bot is a real boon. I certainly found it extremely useful, and was pleasantly surprised by how easy to use and ultimately effective it was. The speed with which I could get my drums in tune and sounding better than they had for a long time was well worth the investment.
And it's not just drummers who will find the Tune-Bot useful. I can see it being an invaluable tool for any studio engineer presented with the task of recording a badly-tuned drum kit. It's not always possible to rely on the drummer to tune the kit, but you can take charge of the process yourself, armed with one of these little devils. The manual and manufacturer web site give example tunings for all manner of drum sizes and kit configurations, which are great starting points. Mark Gordon
£99 including VAT.