Updated: Dec 9, 2022
Hello everyone. Thanks for stopping in to read my latest drum tuning/tech blog. I’ve been reading a lot of articles on drums, and drumming during my 2 week self quarantine after returning from a postponed UK tour. One of the articles I came across was an awesome review of drum kits for Jazz drumming on an awesome site called Jen Reviews at https://www.jenreviews.com . Not only did I find tons of great articles on self help, product reviews, and health tips, but they also had an AWESOME overview of some great drum kits for jazz drumming via their Beginner Guitar HQ page https://beginnerguitarhq.com/best-jazz-drum-kits/. In this post they talked about a drum kit that I have, that I love, that is great for jazz drumming, and for which I’ve done a whole slew of drum tuning videos for my YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/c/KennySharretts The kit is the Ludwig Questlove Breakbeats Kit. While there were many great drum sets in the Jenn Reviews article the QBB kit is affordable, portable, and I’ve been using it extensively on my gigs as I recovered from a broken ankle. (IT’S SOOOO EZ to lug around). Hence I have a good idea of how to tune it, and what heads would sound best on this particular drum set.
You can check out the QBB kit here:
Ludwig Breakbeats By Questlove 4-piece Shell Pack with Snare Drum - Black Sparkle https://imp.i114863.net/EaMvrW
My thought in doing a tuning series on the QBB was "if you can make a discount drum kit sound great, you can make any kit sound great, as well as sound great PLAYING your discount kit." LOL! When tuned well this kit has performed incredibly well in every venue I played. Indoors, outdoors, small venue, large venue. Part of the reason it does so well are the the drum heads I chose to use, and part of the reason are the tunings I use. Now coincidentally during my hunt for good articles on drums, and I noticed a lot of drummers on Facebook forums, and Instagram posts or via direct messages to my KENNY SHARRETTS DRUM PAGE on Facebook asking for suggestions on drum head choice for the type of music they play, or great tunings for jazz drumming. Hence the new topic for my blog. Drum head selection, and jazz tunings. While I can’t cover it all I do have some great suggestions for how to make the QBB kit sound great for jazz or pop/country music, as well as heads I recommend that will accentuate the tunings you use for each style of music. So here’s a quick breakdown of tunings, and heads I can recommend with video links to help you learn how to dial your drum sound for any style of music.
To hear two great tunings for this kit with the appropriate head configuration for both Jazz, and Rock drumming check out my video “Discount Drum Transformation”. Tuning tips are included in the video. The first tuning, demonstrated by ATX drummer Alec Cabrera, represents one head configuration, and one tuning style for playing jazz that does well on the QBB kit.
Batter - G2 Coated 13" https://imp.i114863.net/MXOBJP
Reso G1 Clear 13" https://imp.i114863.net/yR7GnG
Tuning interval - Reso a Major 3rd above the batter
Watch the vid for the specific notes I used. The second head setup, played by ATX master drummer Brian Christopher Mendes, is great for rock drumming even though it’s the same tuning interval.
Batter - EC2 Clear https://imp.i114863.net/rn7A4y
Reso - G1 Coated https://imp.i114863.net/0JekQE
Tuning interval - Reso a Major 3rd above the batter
This vid is a fine example of how the choice of drumhead you use can affect the sound of the drum.
WHICH HEADS TO USE ON THE QBB FOR JAZZ DRUMMING
Now here is a topic that truly depends on the drummers taste, and feel. A drum needs to respond in a way that suits the players technique, and feel. Hence for jazz drumming, drummers tend to use single ply coated heads on the batter side for 4 reasons. 1. Single ply heads provide the kind of sensitivity needed for jazz music. 2. Very often single ply heads were used in the recording of jazz music drummers are trying to emulate. 3. In order to keep volume low, AND play with sensitivity drummers often use thinner/lighter weight sticks such as Pro Mark’s Acid Jazz TX718W’s to play jazz drums. My stick of choice for jazz drumming.
4. Single ply coated heads have a bright, but controlled sound that speaks well in smaller jazz clubs. While in the past a clear single ply head has been popular as the resonant side head, recent trends have been leaning towards using single ply coated, or synthetic calf skin style heads in order to emulate the warm tones of classic jazz, and big band recordings. So let’s take a look at some options.
HEAD CHOICE FOR TOMS AND SNARES ON THE QBB
With single ply heads, however, there are a variety of choices for a player to choose from. Since I’m an Evans guy I will mention a few head models that fit the bill. To check out any of the Evans Drumheads I talk about in this article please visit https://imp.i114863.net/rn7A4y
For Evans the standard single ply head is the G1. It’s a single ply of 10mil film that allows for great sensitivity, but is still durable. Tuned low its a great head for a thunderous rock sound, but tuned high it can be the perfect head for a warm, focused jazz sound on your toms, and snare. On the QBB Kit, however, I have found that the G1 Coated sounds great tuned high, but tends to be a bit whangy at lower tunings on this kit. Check em out at https://imp.i114863.net/0JekQE
As the resonant head, however, I can’t speak highly enough of the coated G1 for controlling the tone to give you a warm sustain no matter what head is on the batter side. The only coated Evans head I like better as a choice for your resonant head (for jazz) is the ...
THE RESO 7, which is also coated is designed TO BE a Resonant Head. It's a variation in the film that provides a touch of control to the sustain, and a certain sweet warmth to the tone of toms. Reso 7's are my jam for a dryer resonance no two ways about it. Check out the Reso 7 here. https://imp.i114863.net/x970g5
However, if you want a brighter sound, OR if you are playing a loud rock gig, or a huge outdoor gig you can NEVER GO WRONG with a clear G1 as your resonant head LOL!
Check em out here https://imp.i114863.net/do1vP3
The G12 is a single ply of 12 mil film that adds a bit more heft, and control to the toms, and snare without sacrificing sensitivity. It aims to be more durable, and gives you a sound akin to old school big band toms, or warm classic rock toms. Think thud with a warm, but short sustain.
Check out the Evans G12 Coated Drumhead - 14 inch here https://imp.i114863.net/15qkK6
This unique drumhead is a single ply of 10mil film that’s been treated with a patented UV coating which gives this head a unique sound that performs very well for jazz tunings on the QBB. We will talk about tuning in a moment, but please note the UV1 kills it for both higher tension tunings on the batter (with looser resonant skins), or loose batters (with tighter reso skins). You can check out the UV1 here
The Calftone is a synthetic calfskin style head designed to replicate the tone of old school calf skin heads. The tone is pretty warm, with good attack on the toms, gives you deep textures when played with brushes, and it is hands down my favorite Resonant Head For bass drums of ANY size. It adds a rich texture to the tone. A certain depth that hints at a vintage tone without it being the only tone it can get. If you want a more vintage sound to the QBB this may be the head for you. As a reso head it can be a bit too controlling, but again if that's your sound, this may be a head to try. Check out the Calftone head here
While all of these heads sound good on the kit I will say, however, that for the QBB kit at low tom tunings, a coated G2 (2 plies of 7mil film) on the batter, and a G1 clear on the reso has been the best sounding head combo I've found for a warm jazzy sound, while still giving the drummer sensitivity on the toms. You can check them out here:
I will also say that the drumhead I found that works best on the QBB snare, which can be a bit rangy due to it’s shallow depth, is the Power Center Reverse Dot. The dot helps focus the drums sound while still allowing for enough sensitivity to play delicate buzz rolls, or to play brushes. With the dot being on the bottom, you still have a great surface for playing brushes although if brushes are your mainstay I highly recommend the UV1 for the QBB snare, and coated G12's for the tom batters. Check out the 14" Power Center Reverse Dot here
300 SNARE SIDE
On the snare side I highly recommend an Evans 300 Snare Side as it’s the most versatile bottom snare head Evans has to offer. Light enough for great stick, and brush response, but thick enough for a good rock backbeat. You can check them out here
Or for those who want/need a lighter tone, and even more sensitivity I recommend the Evans 200 as it is a 2mil thick head that will give you tons of sensitivity, and a crisper lighter snare sound. Perfect for combo jazz.
For the QBB Bass Drum I highly recommend using a EQ4 Calftone for the front head on this QBB 16" Bass Drum. Rich whose dark sustain that fits EVERY MUSIC STYLE. Love it! I actually love it for ALL my kits as a reso head for the bass drum. You can check it out the Evans EQ4 Calftone Bass Drumhead - 16 inch here:
For a truly jazzy tone, though, a coated single ply head just may give you what you need. Especially if you are putting in a mic port. You can hear the difference between the two in the "Discount Drum Transformation" video posted above.
For the batter side I recommend the EMAD for rock, and the Calftone EQ4 for Jazz (and rock). The best part about using Evans Drum Heads on this little 16” kick drum is they make bass Drum Heads with a collar that’s DESIGNED FOR BASS DRUMS. Make sure that’s what you use on this tiny kick, or you will not get the bottom end a drummer needs for their kick drum.
Check out the Evans EMAD Clear Bass Drum Batter Head - 16 inch here:
Here’s a video explaining how to set up the QBB 16” kick drum for maximum bottom end.
WHICH TUNING TO USE FOR JAZZ MUSIC
All right now this is a broad topic, and everyone has their own taste so I’m going to offer up a few suggestions for tom tunings
1. THE MAJOR 3RD (Reso a Major 3rd higher than the batter) FOR THOSE WHO LIKE LOWER TENSIONS/TUNINGS
All right, all right this is the interval I LOVE for playing jazz, or pretty much ANY style of music on this kit. This setup gives you a warm , but controlled tone for your toms. It’s best when used at lower tensions. This tuning interval brings out the lower tones that are possible with the QBB toms even though they are “smaller sized” drums. Here’s two videos that explain how to achieve this tuning interval, and what it sounds like.
2. THE MINOR 3RD (Reso a Minor 3rd higher than the batter) FOR THOSE WHO LIKE LOWER TENSIONS/TUNINGS, AND A JAZZY BEND TO THEIR TOM SOUND
This tuning is a classic staple for jazz drum tuning. The minor 3rd gives the drum a lot of tonal color, and presence that is often needed in the jazz realm. Also great for lower tensions, as this interval can bring out the lower tones of these smaller sized drums. Here’s two videos that explain how to achieve this tuning interval, and what it sounds like.
3. THE INVERTED MAJOR 3RD FOR THOSE WHO LIKE HIGHER TENSIONS/TUNINGS, AND A JAZZY BEND TO THEIR TOM SOUND
Now this tuning interval is my MAGIC TRICK for drummers who want their high tom (a 10” on the QBB) to be able to get timbale like rimshots, but still have a deep tone when played normally. This also helps you tune the 13” QBB floor tom to have a lower tone, but still fit well with the higher 10” tom. Any time I’ve done a private tuning session for a jazz drummer using a cocktail sized kit like the QBB THIS IS THE INTERVAL THEY LOVED on their toms. Here’s two videos that explain how to achieve this tuning interval, and what it sounds like.
Snare tuning in jazz music is COMPLETELY a matter of taste to the drummer. They know what they want to hear, and so here are some intervals I recommend to help the jazz drummer find the sound for which they are looking.
1. THE HALF STEP (Reso a Half Step Higher Than The Batter)
This is a classic tuning interval that is straight to the point. Crisp, dry, clean, and great at all tensions. Not as much projection as the next two intervals, but that’s often a great thing in Jazz music. Perfect for 5” to 5.5” snare drums, but also effective on shallower, and deeper snare drums.
2. THE PERFECT 4TH
This is one of my fave tunings for lower tensions as it adds, beef, focus, projection, and depth to a snare drum’s sound. Great for 5” and 5.5” drums, but even better in 6.5”, and 8” deep drums. This interval is also great for Big Band drumming as it adds the volume a drummer needs to project over a large band. Very often with this tuning interval it’s best to tune the bottom head of the snare to a pretty tight tension, so the reso is actually an Octave & a perfect fourth above the reso. This will enhance projection, and stick/brush sensitivity. If you like it fat, though, keep it at a perfect 4th.
3. THE PERFECT 5th (Reso a perfect 5th above the Batter)
This is hands down my favorite tuning for snare drums. Especially 6.5” deep or 5.5” drums with the batter tuned loosely. The 5th increases projection, and sensitivity more than any other tuning interval. As with the Perfect 4th, very often with this tuning interval it’s best to tune the bottom head of the snare to a pretty tight tension, so the reso is actually an Octave & a perfect fourth above the reso. This will enhance projection, and stick/brush sensitivity. If you like it fat, though, keep it at a perfect 5th.
Here’s a video which shows you a classic jazz tuning using the Perfect 5th, on a classic jazz snare drum. The 5” x 14” Rogers Dyna- Sonic.
Here’s a video on a 13” x 7” Tama G-Maple Snare that explains how to achieve these tuning intervals, and what they sound like. Includes tuning instructions, and the three intervals at two different tensions that are great for jazz drumming.
BASS DRUM TUNINGS
Finally we come to bass drums. Again tuning a bass drum is a matter of taste, and feel, but with this tiny bass drum the low tuning discussed in the video posted above on "How To Tune A QBB 16" Bass Drum" Is really what works best to get the maximum bottom end out of this tiny kick drum. As not everyone wants the sound I want here’s a few tuning intervals I recommend for the QBB 16” Bass Drum that may help you find the perfect sound you are looking for.
1. RESO A HALF STEP OR WHOLE STEP HIGHER THAN THE BATTER
This is my tuning of choice on the QBB kick in order to get the deepest tone possible, and is the one I used in the video I referenced earlier. Max bottom end, and a loose feel to the batter head. Notes are relative in terms of this drum. Tune the batter as low as it can go without wrinkles, then tune the batter either a half step (more sustain/boom), or a whole step (tighter sustain/ boom) higher than the pitch of the batter head.
2. RESO A HALF STEP OR WHOLE STEP LOWER THAN THE BATTER
This interval is for drummers who like a bit more tension on their batter head, but don’t want to sacrifice bottom end. With this interval you would tune the batter to where it feels good to you, then tune the front head a half step (tighter sustain/boom) or a whole step (more sustain/boom) below the pitch of the batter head.
Here are some videos that give you a listen to several bass drum tuning intervals, and how they affect the bass drum sound. It’s on a 20” bass drum, but you will get the point.
In the end my hope is this blog has helped you gain some perspective on drum head choice, and tuning intervals that will help you get the sound you want for jazz drumming, and a great idea of how to make your Questlove Breakbeats Kit or other small cocktail kits sound great in a jazz setting. BTW please remember to check out Jen Reviews at https://www.jenreviews.com for all KINDS of great info on health, life hack, and product reviews for musical gear.
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Kenny "Dexter" Sharretts