I’m sure you’ve heard the ridiculous old joke – you can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish. But did you know that you can – and you should- tune a drum? Your snare drum, kick drum, and toms all need to be tuned regularly to keep their sound resonant and their heads at the right tautness.
While you can tune a drum by ear, a tuner will help you get a better sound and more even tension across the drumhead, which is better for the drumhead and your drum. But what drum tuner should you buy?
In this article, we’re going to talk about the five best drum tuners for acoustic drums. If you play electric drums, you probably won’t need to tune them at all! But we’ll give you all their best features, tell you the pros and cons, and what each tuner is best for. Then, we’ll talk about the criteria you need to consider when choosing a good drum tuner. And lastly, we’ll give you our pick for what we think is the best one! Let’s get started.
Quick glance at the best drum tuners available today:
The Drumdial Precision Drum Tuner is an analog tuner with a large, easy-to-read gage. To use the tuner, place it on your drum and line it up with a lug an inch from the rim. Next, apply pressure to the dial to see the reading. Next, repeat for all of the lugs around the drum, adjusting them to the same number. Once the drum has equal tension, you can fine-tune your adjustments to raise or lower the drum’s pitch.
This tuner helps you tune your drums quickly and with precision
It’s really easy to use – you just set it on the drumhead in the right spot and move it around to tighten each lug
It enables you to tune your drums without hitting them repeatedly (so you can do it quietly)
It may leave marks on your drumhead if you aren’t careful.
Tunes by tension, not tone, so drums may sound different with different drumheads
Using the digital drum dial will help you gain precision when tuning your drums. As you move the dial from one lug to another, you can tune them all to be the same tension. This will help prevent strange overtones or vibrations from ruining the quality of your drum performance. In addition, the digital drum dial gives you a digital readout rather than a gage readout – which is quicker to use and easier to see.
The Overtone Labe Tune-bot Studio Drum Tuner operates like a guitar tuner, giving you more precision and musicality in your tuning. However, instead of setting the tuner on the drumhead, you clip it onto the drum rim.
It measures the frequency or pitch of your drum, then converts it into a note so you can tune your drums to musical intervals, if you desire.
You can save multiple drum tunings for multiple kits so you can tune them the same every time. This tuner also has a filter to prevent issues like false readings, too, so you know your tunings will be accurate and quick.
This drum tuner contains features that may take a while to learn.
The Tama Tension Watch is an analog drum tuner with a dial readout. It comes with a nylon bumper, so when you set the gage on your drum head, it will help you keep a consistent distance from the rim all the way around the drum.
The Tama Tension Watch comes with directions that give you suggested tunings for your drums, taking the guesswork out of tuning. As a result, you’ll be able to tune up your drums quickly and easily.
Not as precise as a digital tuner
The Overtone Labs Tunebot Gig Tuner is easy to use. Just clip it on the drum rim near the lug, and you are ready to go. You can toggle through the different frequency and note modes with just the touch of a button. Then you can adjust your tone, tune your toms to specific intervals, and match your lug pitches. The LCD display is backlit, so it’s easy to read even on darker stages. Of course, it filters out any strange overtones, so you don’t get false readings when you’re trying to accurately tune up your drums.
One of the best parts of this tuner is that it will measure the pitch at the lug as well as the overall pitch of the drum, so there is no guesswork involved.
If you’ve never bought a drum tuner before, it might seem overwhelming to pick just one. But don’t worry – your drum tuner is supposed to make the process of tuning your drum easier, not harder.
We’ll take a look at some of the characteristics of good drum tuners, so you know which one to pick. There’s just one caveat, though. In order to get good use of your drum tuner, you’re going to need a drum key.
In order to tune your drums, you’re going to need a drum key or two. The drum key is a small tool that you can use to tighten and loosen the tension rods on the sides of your drum. These control the pitch of the drum.
If you tighten the rods with the drum key, the pitch will go up. If you loosen them, the pitch will go down.
You may even want to use two drum keys so you can tune opposite sides of the drum simultaneously, which helps make sure you get even tension on the drum. Check outthis article from the School of Rock on how to tune your drums or read this one for how to tune your drums using just one drum key.
One of the biggest differences you’ll find in modern drum tuners is whether they are digital or analog. An analog drum tuner measures the tension on the drum head at each lug. Therefore, the pitch of the drum will be affected by the thickness of the drumhead so that a thicker drumhead will have a lower pitch than a thinner drumhead at the same tension.
A digital drum tuner typically measures the pitch of the drumhead. So you’ll be able to tune your drum to the same pitch no matter the thickness of the drum head.
Neither is right nor wrong. It is just your personal preference for how you prefer to tune your drums. Regardless of whether you choose a digital or analog tuner, you’ll still need to use your ears to make sure the drum resonates the way you want it to.
To put it simply, if you prefer to tune your drums according to tension, you’ll probably want to choose an analog drum tuner. If you prefer to tune your drums according to pitch, you’ll probably want to select a digital drum tuner.
Most of the drum tuners on this list claim enhanced accuracy for tuning. This is important, because if your drum tune’ isn't accurate, your drumheads won’t have equal tension when you play. The drum may not resonate as clearly, they may be unnecessary noise, and your drumming techniques may be affected.
If you’re a busy drummer, you’ll probably be taking your drums – and therefore your drum tuner – on the go. The last thing you want is for your drum tuner to get cracked or broken when you’re getting ready for a gig, so you’ll want to choose one that’s durable and has a solid case to protect it.
Remember, you’ll be tossing it in a gig bag, carrying it around, and using it – a lot. So even though it’s a precision instrument, it still needs to be pretty tough. But, on the other hand, the right drum tuner should last you for years.
How well will you be able to read the screen of your drum tuner? For example, if you are tuning your drums on a poorly lit stage, will you be able to read an analog tuner? Will you need to also bring a flashlight to see it? Or will you need a digital drum tuner with a backlit LCD to be able to do the job?
You might find that an analog tuner that sits on the drum head puts the gauge at a hard angle to see. Some people find that digital tuners are easier to read, especially the type that clip on to the rim of the drum. The angle of the screen and the lighting of the screen make them much more visible, which makes tuning faster and easier, especially in high-stress situations (like right before a concert!)
Do you need to constantly tap on the drums to make the drum tuner work? Or does it work silently? If you are working in a studio, it might not matter if you need to make noise while tuning your drum. On the other hand, if you are out playing gigs, you might not want people to hear you while you are tuning up. In this case, you’ll want a tuner that can check your drum tension silently.
Some drum tuners sit directly on the drum head. They may come with a frame or bumper that helps you position the tuner in the same spot every time. On the other hand, some tuners clip onto the rim of the drum. This may be better for the drum head since it won’t scratch or leave a mark.
Most drum tuners are roughly the same size, but make sure the one you get is small enough to travel easily from gig to gig. If it is too bulky, you’ll likely end up just leaving it at home.
Your drum tuner should come calibrated from the factory, but you may need to check the calibration from time to time. You check the calibration by setting the drum tuner on a flat piece of glass. If it reads zero, you don’t need to calibrate.
A digital tuner is calibrated using a button on the unit. The analog tuner needs to be calibrated by loosening the the bezel lock, rotating the bezel to zero, and tightening the lock again. You may want to choose your drum tuner based on how hard or easy it is for your calibrate.
Of course, price is always a factor when purchasing any piece of equipment, including your drum tuner. If you are on a very tight budget, you might find that an analog tuner is more accessible for you. On the other hand, if you have a little more room in your budget, a digital tuner is easy to use and well worth the investment.
To be honest, any of these quality drum tuners will get the job done. If they fit your budget and your musical capabilities, then any of them will work. However, our favorite drum tuner is theOvertone Labs Tunebot Gig Tuner.
We think this is the best overall drum tuner because it’s really easy to use. First of all, you can clip it right onto the drum rim, so you don’t have to worry about any damage to your drum head. Second, it’s a digital tuner, so it tunes by frequency. Finally, the backlight LCD screen is easy to read, even in the dark when you are prepping for a gig.
The Gig Tuner will measure your drum heads by frequency or by pitch, just depending on your preference. It can measure the pitch at each individual lug as well as the tune of the overall drum. It also includes pitch charts, so you know how to tune your drums, as well.
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