I will gleefully hack away at most any instrument in front of me, but I'll always be a drummer at heart. Drums are just the most fun. And after years of moving microphones and flipping phase buttons I kinda feel like I know how to record them. But I can't tune them to save my life. I mean, I understand the concept, I just can't make it work in actual practice. I was pulling my hair out recently trying to get the drums to cooperate when my bandmate loaned me his Tama Tension Watch. It's basically a weight with a gauge on top. Unlike other fancy drum tuners that measure the tension on the lugs, the Tama measures the tension on the head, which makes a lot more sense. You put the drum on a flat surface, lay the Tama on the head 10 cm in from each lug, and just keep cranking until the gauge reads the same at each lug. I grabbed my rack tom and tried it. I tuned all the lugs on the top and bottom heads to "55." Then I hit it. "Duuuuummm." Wow. It actually worked. It was a real live musical note, and not the cluster of unrelated overtones I'd come to expect. Amazing. All my drums sound way better now, and keeping them in tune is a much simpler operation. The pamphlet that comes with the Tension Watch has suggested tensions for various sized drums, and these seemed to be a good place to start. I like my kick and snare a good bit tighter than their suggestions, but that's me. Keep in mind that different heads will produce different pitches at the same tension. By that I mean "55" does not equal "F#." It all depends on the head. And you still need to use your ears. The Tension Watch just makes it a lot easier. If you've watched a "real drum guy" tune a drum, you know it takes them about a minute, and they can hold a conversation with you while they do it. And the drum will sound amazing. They'd surely thumb their noses at a product like the Tension Watch, and why not? They're masters. For the rest of us, it's a great thing. I gave my bandmate his back and bought my own. ($80 street; www.tama.com)

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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