( Please feel free to click on the photos, they will enlarge!)
Now I know drum tuning can be a pain, and that’s not just when you’re learning!
Tuning is a big thing for all of us as drummers and it’s something I work on with all of my students as it’s a very valuable and often overlooked skill.
It’s something that some of us spend a long time developing and whilst some of us can tune up a kit in record time there are plenty of us (drummers, technicians and engineers alike) who put in a serious amount of time to make a drum sound it’s very best.
Obviously, it’s a very frustrating thing when that tuning refuses to stay put!
So what causes tuning instability? Essentially, it’s all down to those pesky tension rods finding a way to turn when we don’t want them to! Now that could be because you’re tuned really low, it could be because you play with very solid rimshots on your snare, it might even be that you’re a very heavy hitter or something else entirely but the problem is that, for whatever reason, these tension rods are being loosened by the vibration of the drum itself or by the sudden loss of tension caused by a rimshot.
Now the cause might be something you don’t want to change and you shouldn’t have to really. In my own case there’s several factors that I’ve known about for some time and, of course, these are things I don’t want to have to give up.
As a session drummer I deal with tuning more than most drummers do. Any drummer who’s had de-tuning issues in a studio (or an engineer for that matter) can tell you that it’s a pain: the take is ruined, the drum needs to be re-tuned and studio time (and the artist’s money) is being wasted in sorting this out.
In my own work de-tuning has become a big problem. In my recent sessions I have always had these four problems:
- My low tuned toms can creep out of tune over time – the sound can degenerate over the course of an album session.
- My workhorse Premier snare has several tension rods that work loose under the stress of consistent rimshots – resulting in a slowly (or quickly) changing snare sound whilst recording.
- This same snare also has a tension rod that loosens on the resonant side, directly underneath where my rimshots land – that’s right, it works loose on the underside from the force of my playing on the opposite side. Sometimes this can be loose in under 10 minutes.
- The same problems exist on my Pearl Free Floating Snare but with an interesting variation: the aluminium cradle that supports all of the hardware allows the rimshot vibrations to travel to any point – the end result being that it’s very hard to pinpoint which lugs will or will not work loose as any of them can be affected.
I’ve spent money trying to solve this problem on several occasions: nylon washers and rubber grip washers from one drum manufacturer have helped but not eliminated the issues.
The solution has been around a long time – but quite honestly, it’s been a pretty crappy way to deal with it.
Behold…the generic lug lock!
Not very exciting is it?
We’ve all seen these: little pieces of slightly flexible plastic that squeeze onto our tension rods to provide some resistance and prevent them from turning. Whether you’ve seen them looking like this or the more basic “grey rectangle” model there’s one underlying issue – they’re fairly naff and they’re not very nice to look at (especially if you need a lot of them). Not only do they not work for everyone (I’m sure many heavier hitters can attest to this) but they wear out over time and will eventually stop fitting snugly and need to be replaced again.
Now I’ve tried using these on my problematic lugs for some time now and whilst they’ve been “ok” for batter heads they do have a tendency to fall off the underside of my snare. On top of that, they can be pretty pricey too if you’re planning on building up a stockpile.
So if these aren’t working either….what are you going to do about your tuning?
A Little History…
I’d spent many hours searching for lug locks that might function more efficiently than the ones I was trying to use and I was fairly sure I’d found what I wanted to try. This was a product designed for a man who could defeat all existing lug locks, was known for being a seriously heavy player but finally had a way to reliably keep his drums in tune.That player was Mark Richardson (of Skunk Anansie fame) and I agreed with everything I read on the subject – if they worked for him and could stand up to that level of punishment then surely they could sort out my tuning issues.
There was a catch, not only were they expensive and hard to find but different online retailers seemed to have very different opinions as to availability, packaging and available colours – which concerned me as it seemed that perhaps these were old stock from a product no longer in production. So needless to say, I was pretty sure I’d found the solution to my problems…right when it didn’t seem to exist anymore.
Last month (namely, the start of June 2013) I was out in Spain for two Sonisphere Festivals and was still relying on the crappy black lug locks pictured above. Luckily I didn’t have any tuning problems despite the heat and rimshots but it doesn’t change the fact that I was very much concerned about it the whole time I was there. Once I’d let the heads and shells acclimatise to the temperature and re-tuned them I still had no guarantees that they would stay in tune on stage.
On returning, I’d acquired a new follower on Twitter which bizarrely seemed to be a re-branded version of the product I’d been considering buying some months prior. I was informed by Ian, the chap that ran this account, (as well as Mark Richardson himself) that the company was about to relaunch it’s product with an improved design and that I’d be able to order some by the end of the month. We spent the next few weeks discussing the product and my problems and concerns with existing lug locks and as the end of June rolled around I was informed that they were finally available to order.
The results have been fantastic and my tuning issues are most definitely gone!
So here they are, a hard plastic fish shaped approach to the classic lug lock design that promises to completely eliminate any de-tuning issues caused by tension rod rotation.
Instead of a hole that needs to be forced onto a tension rod the Tuner-Fish has an 8 pointed star shaped hole. This allows it to be better positioned for a secure fit and most importantly means that, because you’re not forcing the tension rod into a hole it doesn’t fit in, you’re not wearing out the Tuner-Fish’s ability to stay in place. The choice of a hard plastic also increases it’s longevity.
There might be the need for some minute tension rod adjustment on fitting to make sure that the Tuner-Fish’s tail is as close to the hoop as possible but this shouldn’t involve turning your tension rods enough to affect the tuning that’s been established.
But why is it fish shaped?
Well that’s the most important part of the design: the tail makes the Tuner-Fish much longer than a standard lug lock and allows it to provide a higher level of resistance by way of basic leverage principles. A long spanner is easier to turn that a tiny one isn’t it? That works in reverse too – the added length gives the Tuner-Fish a considerable advantage over it’s predecessor.
Here’s the conventional lug lock and the Tuner-Fish positioned with their holes in line – that’s a lot more resistance!
This added resistance and stability has eliminated my old tuning problems entirely. I’ve already worked on a session for 3 days straight without having to re-tune, find my lug locks on the floor or (worst of all) go looking for the tension rod after it’s fallen out altogether. I’ve not even fitted one to every lug on my drums so far – just the ones most likely to be affected (namely the tom lugs closest to me and the obvious problematic snare lugs on the top and bottom) and my tuning is rock solid.
So how do they work on the underside? In very much the same way but with a little added security.
Included in your pack of Tuner-Fish are some elastic bands – there’s a variety of methods for attaching them (personally I’ve tried two completely different ways so far) but as long as you’re wrapped around your tension rod and the band is clipped into the indentations on your Tuner-Fish then you should be good to go.
This is the recommended way to attach your Tuner-Fish with the supplied elastic band
Tuner-Fish come in a range of colours – you can order them in black, red, yellow, blue, green, orange and clear. I opted for clear ones because I didn’t want them to detract from the white finish of my kit – the photos below show just how invisible they can be if you want them to be.
What if I only need a few?
Tuner-Fish are available in small packs of 4 and 8 and go right up to packs of 24 and 50 lug locks. Obviously, you’ll make quite a saving if you purchase a larger pack which would leave you with spares if some go missing or you really want to lock down every lug on the kit for a recording session.
Time for a verdict…
As someone who’s battled tuning issues for quite some time, Tuner-Fish are an absolute godsend and I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. My tension rods are locked in place and I don’t have to worry about them finding a way loose during a recording session, rehearsal or gig.
Most importantly, I’m no longer afraid to take my Pearl Free Floating Snare to a session in case it completely de-tunes!
In all honesty, I’ll be recommending these to my drummer friends and my students – these lug locks are a worthy investment for any player looking to keep their drums sounding the way they want them to.
I’d like to stress that I have not received these lug locks for free and there has been no incentive for me to write this rather sizable review other than my desire to raise the profile of what I feel to be a fantastic product that deserves more exposure.
I’d like to thank you all for reading this lengthy piece.
For more details you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or follow the brand on Twitter: @tfluglocks or Facebook: facebook.com/tfluglocks
An additional note (added October 14th 2013)
Having used Tuner Fish Lug Locks for many months now I’ve noticed an important detail that I feel anyone using these lug locks should bare in mind.
On some tension rods (as they are not all made to the same dimensions by different manufacturers) you may find that your Tuner Fish feel a little loose or rattle – I’ve discovered that with some very minute tweaking of the tension rod’s position (literally by a few degrees) that you can find the “sweet spot” where the locks will fit snuggly and securely into place.