Tuning and Set-up

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Tuning and Set-up

Postby torpedo tom » Mon Nov 26, 2012 8:31 pm

How do you tune your drums? Do you start by tuning the larger drum(s) first and then the smaller one(s) or do you do small to large? Also, I think I read somewhere, I believe JC said it, that the traditional way of setting up three drums is, in my case, since I have a quinto is the quinto in the center, conga to the left and the tumba to the right? Correct? Thanks, TT
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Re: Tuning and Set-up

Postby busyflyin » Tue Nov 27, 2012 2:39 am

Well, I'm no expert, but I set the quinto in the middle, the tumba to the right and conga to the left... I am right handed. If you are left handed, switch the tumba and conga. FYI; Poncho Sanchez has the quinto in front, conga next to the right, and tumba to the right of that. I can't play that way, but I guess to each his own. I have my quinto tuned to C, Conga to G, Tumba to D. Each drum a fifth lower than the previous. JC would have me tune quinto to E, but mine won't tune up to an E. Many do not tune to specific notes.. just a pleasing pitch and roughly a 5th apart. Another approach is to tune each drum to it's own "sweet spot" of sound. Every drum has a pitch where the drum sounds it's best. Finding that pitch takes a lot of work starting from low to high making small adjustments.. trial and error. You will find a number of posts here on this subject and it's a totally a personal thing. If you are new to this my suggestion is to NOT knock yourself out over this. Try a C-G-D combination and play that way for a long time.. or at least until you understand it all and become unhappy with the tuning. Don't get stuck on this.. spend your energy learning technique. Good Luck!
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Re: Tuning and Set-up

Postby windhorse » Tue Nov 27, 2012 2:03 pm

I go from large to small. Tuned to "here comes the bride".. That's fourths.
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Re: Tuning and Set-up

Postby busyflyin » Fri Dec 07, 2012 11:40 pm

OK.. a fourth. I always gravitate towards a fifth. :)
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Re: Tuning and Set-up

Postby rhythmrhyme » Tue Mar 12, 2013 11:12 pm

A year or so ago I ended up lending my LP giovani drums to Giovanni Hidalgo for a show and workshop he did here. I know the producer of the event, and Giovanni had done a detour from his scheduled tour circuit to play here and didn't have his drums with him - so I lent him mine.

Anyway, long story short, when I got the drums back they all were all tuned exactly as Giovanni had performed with them. I noticed right away that the lugs were "cross tuned" for lack of a better description. One lug would be higher than the next and they alternated exactly the same way around the drum. it was almost like he tuned them in pairs to the same pitch and went around one drum tuning every other lug down half a turn and then hit the other drum and tuned every other lug up half a turn. Very strange, but they sounded "just right".

do any of the other board members have tuning tricks like this that they use? I usually go around striking the head with my finger (like you would on a bongo) and balance the lugs, then set about tuning them to specific pitches. After getting my drums back from Giovanni, I've come to think there's another trick in there somewhere that I'm missing.

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Re: Tuning and Set-up

Postby RitmoBoricua » Wed Mar 13, 2013 12:56 am

busyflyin wrote: I believe JC said it, that the traditional way of setting up three drums is, in my case, since I have a quinto is the quinto in the center, conga to the left and the tumba to the right? Correct?


All depends are you right or left handed?
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Re: Tuning and Set-up

Postby bongosnotbombs » Wed Mar 13, 2013 2:58 am

I have always started from tuning the lowest first, then going up.
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Re: Tuning and Set-up

Postby JohnnyConga » Wed Mar 13, 2013 4:38 am

Well I dont know how many have u noticed but Giovanni stopped using a quinto in the middle many years ago..so his setup is 2 congas and a tumba..and the middle drum just tuned high...the quinto is for Rumba..I know drums come in sets of 3 but using 2 congas and tumba gives you a larger sound as well and more tuning possibilities...
How do I know when my conga drums are tuned?

The most simple way to know whether your drums are tuned is by using your personal judgment. In other words, if you like the sound, then it is tuned. Your personal taste is most important. But with that said, when it comes to tuning a conga set, many players use interval tuning. Why? Simply because they like that sound and/or because it best harmonizes with other instruments in their band. Harmonizing the drums by tuning each drum to a certain pitch and certain interval in relation to the other drums is interval tuning (more about interval tuning below). Before you consider interval tuning here are some tips for tuning.

General Conga Tips

Tip: If the diameter of the head is 9.5" or larger, then tune all the lugs in a star pattern. Personally, I prefer the star pattern as compared to tuning in a circle (clock-wise or counter clock-wise) because I find the star pattern stretches the head most evenly. With that said, many congueros simple tune clock-wise or counter clock-wise. (For small heads, such as on bongos I tune clock-wise or counter clock-wise.)

Tip: Right after you turn each lug, play a slap, open and/or bass tone to hear any change in sound; and determine if that's the sound you want.

Tip: As the head gets tight make a fist and use the side of your fist (not your knuckles, but the part beside your pinky) to bang on the center of the head. This helps to settle the head, rim and lugs. You might hear a crackle or popping sound when you do this. That is normal. You do not need to bang with all your might; firm strikes should do; always use common sense.

Tip: While tuning observe the tightness of the lugs. Once a lug is very tight, don't force it. If they are tight and you aren't satisfied with the sound, then loosen the lug(s) and start over.

Tip: When the tuning is complete it is best to have each nut turned about the same amount so that each nut is at about the same spot on each lug. This keeps the head balanced.

Tip: Sometimes a lug can be loosened (i.e. 1/4 or 1/2 a turn) rather than tightened to achieve the tone and resonance you want.

Tip: Good tuning will allow the conga head to vibrate (like a tight string) and the drum shell to serve as a chamber which resonates.

Tip: There are a many enjoyable tuning combinations for congas, bongos & other hand drums. So, play around and enjoy the sounds!

Q: Should I use interval tuning for my conga set?

What is an interval?

An interval is the distance between notes. The smallest interval in Western music is a 1/2 step. The distance between C & C# or E & F is 1/2 step or 1/2 an interval; the distance between C & D is 1 step or a whole interval. The distance between C & D# is 1 1/2 steps or 3, half steps. The distance between C & E is 2 whole steps; & so on.

What is common practice by congueros?

Many advanced conga players tune their drums according to intervals. Poncho Sanchez and Mongo Santa Maria are known for tuning their congas to E-G-C (from lowest to highest; E is the tuning of the tumba and high C the tuning of the quinto.) E-G-C is an inverted C major chord. and is called the first inversion of the C major chord. The C major chord is comprised of the C-E-G (I-III-V) notes. Even if you change the order of those notes it is still a C major; but when you change the order it is called an inverted chord. Poncho & Mongo's tuning makes excellent harmonies, but it's not the only option. Many other professionals use other intervals and tunings.

Tip: Interval tuning is an effective way to harmonize the drums, but it's not your only option. The most important thing is to like how they sound and harmonies between the drums and with other instruments when playing with others.

Tip: Some tuners can register the low, fundamental, frequency of a drum. Finding a tuner that does that can help you to play around with many different tunings.

Tip: Trial & error can be a great teacher. Have fun & be creative!
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Re: Tuning and Set-up

Postby RitmoBoricua » Wed Mar 13, 2013 10:30 am

....as far as tuning goes nobody ever told or taught me how to tune my drums.
I think when you grow surrounded by all this music and rhythms you know
how a drum suppose to sound. Can't go wrong with the wonderful information
JC has provided like we used to say in my old job "read and heed".
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Re: Tuning and Set-up

Postby joaozinho » Wed Mar 13, 2013 12:16 pm

Good information indeed!! A "correct" tunning doenst exist,just acepted conventions and tradition keep by centuries.Of course to play any current style we have to respect those convenctions,but hour ears and feel most determinates the choise.Sometimes the most dificullt is to tune ourselfes.So many times that we are tired ,with lots of brain noise ,anxious of a result that we can not play and have the joy in music.I think we must have the freedom to play with differents tunes and combinations,music is much like painting,we have so many tonalities ,none are bad ,and wall deserves to be used
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