An essential tool for controlling drum resonances in the studio
By Phil O'Keefe
Tonal preferences for drums have varied quite considerably over the years. This is especially true in terms of "ring", and the amount of dampening applied to the heads, if any, has a enormous effect on this. Various materials have been used to "deaden" the ring of drums; either to lessen their sustain, or to control unwanted overtones. Ringo Starr famously draped dish towels over his snare and toms when recording with The Beatles in the 1960s, and a large sweater was used to dampen his kick drum. Wallets, duct tape and countless other materials have been used as dampening pads on drums since then.
Regardless of where you stand on the question of dampened vs "open" drums, there are still times in the studio when you may need to reign in a whacky resonance or pingy sounding ring from a otherwise great sounding drum. Today, a variety of commercially produced solutions are available. One of my favorites is RTOM Moongel Damper Pads. (Fig 1) I find Moongel to be an essential tool in the studio for dampening drums whenever the need arises.
Figure 1: Moongel Damper Pads
Moongel is a non-toxic gel material that is self-adhesive and reusable. It comes in a small plastic storage case and each pack includes four pieces, each about 1" x 1.5" in size. The material can easily be cut in half with regular scissors if you need even less dampening. If it gets dirty, or starts to lose its adhesive properties, Moongel can be washed with warm soapy water, rinsed with clear water, and allowed to dry, and it will be good as new.
Using Moongel is really easy. First, determine which head is causing the ringing and resonance that you want to damp. Don't forget to check the resonant head as well as the batter head. You can lightly dampen the resonant head with your hand, then strike the batter head and listen to see if it is the source of the problem. Apply one piece of Moongel directly to the drum head. I usually start with it close to the edge of the rim (Fig. 2) or about an inch or two away from it. Different positions will give different results, so feel free to experiment with the placement. I recommend moving it around to various spots on the head and listening to the effect it has on the sound. The further towards the center of the drum you place it, the more dampening you'll get. Don't forget to try it on cymbals too.
Figure 2: The further away from the rim you place the Moongel, the greater the dampening effect
For some tasks, two or more pieces may be needed, or you may need to use Moongel on both the batter and resonant heads of the same drum in order to achieve the desired results, but use taste and caution - you don't want to kill all of the life out of your drums - or do you? That's a production decision that is ultimately up to you. Whether the drum is surgically dampened and lightly controlled, or highly dampened and dead will depend on how much you decide to use, and where you place it. Either way, Moongel gets the job done effectively, inexpensively and without leaving a sticky residue on your drums. It's very effective, and at about $6.50 per pack, it's affordable too, which makes Moongel a must-have for all drummers, studios, engineers, and techs.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.