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Bass Drum Holes: Everything You Need To Know
Got a new resonant bass drumhead but unsure how or where to cut a hole? Want to know what a bass drum hole actually does? Wondering whether you actually need a bass drum port hole? Your bass drum has a huge impact on your overall sound, and the resonant head contributes a lot to this. Knowing how and where to put the bass drum port hole is important! Luckily, everything you need to know is right here on the one page.
So what does a bass drum hole do?
It’s important to begin by saying you don’t need a bass drum port hole. It comes down to the sound you want, and personal preference. A hole in your bass drum changes the sound, and gives you the ability to do a few other things. With the hole, you have:
- Better projection (your bass drum sound will go further).
- More attack, and greater definition from the bass drum beater (especially when only the resonant head has a microphone). Without a hole, the resonant mic can’t capture much beater definition.
- Less rebound from the bass drum beater.
- A slightly brighter sound (the hole removes some of the warmth from your bass drum sound).
- A place for the bass drum microphone.
- An easy way to add and remove dampening (towels, small cushions, etc.) for when you need to change up your sound.
Want to explore drum sound factors in more detail?
Take a look at the Drum Sound FAQ.
All of the above points depend on where you place the hole, and how large it is. Read on for more information!
Where to put the bass drum hole?
Bass drum holes are usually cut on the bottom half of the drumhead, between the center and edge of the head (or slightly closer to the edge). Most commonly, holes are either on the bottom left or bottom right of the drumhead.
Why? A bass drum hole on the lower half of the head gives more options for placing a microphone. Engineers can use a small or large boom stand, or a table-top stand for the bass drum mic. A hole at the very bottom of the drumhead can sometimes be harder to mic. Placing the bass drum hole closer to the center will change your sound much more than an off-center hole (see below for why). However, don’t put the hole too close to the edge or you’ll weaken the drumhead.
A bass drum hole in the center is not recommended. A center hole cuts the sustain almost completely, meaning no ringing and a brighter (higher-pitch) sound. Why? After the beater strikes the batter drumhead, vibrations travel directly across to the center of the resonant head. A center bass drum hole means the resonant drumhead won’t vibrate, as most of the resonance is lost through the hole. Note: If actually you want this kind of sound, a center hole is not necessarily a bad thing.
You can also put the bass drum hole around the top or directly left/right of the drumhead’s center. This is more of a cosmetic choice, depending on where the logo is on your drumhead. A hole in the upper half of the drumhead can limit (slightly) the microphone stand options, but this is a very minor issue.
Tip: If you’re really concerned about losing sustain and warmth, put the bass drum hole at the furthest point from where the beater strikes. This minimises the effect of the hole. Depending on your drum pedal and drum size, your hole placement may need to be at the very top or very bottom of the resonant drumhead… Measure your beater’s striking point before cutting the hole! For very large bass drums (above 24 inches), the hole may be best at the top of the resonant head. For smaller bass drums, the opposite may be true.
Important Note: When placing the hole, make sure any built-in dampening is not cut. Some resonant drumheads have rings or felt on the inside to muffle the sound – avoid cutting these!
What size should my bass drum hole be?
Unsure of how large to cut the drum hole? 4 to 5 inches is a good size, to easily allow microphones while retaining good bass drum tone. As a guide, follow these points when deciding on a hole size:
- Minimum 4 inches in diameter to allow a microphone (although 5 inches is best to ensure all mics will fit). If you never plan to mic the bass drum, the minimum is 3 inches – you won’t notice much difference if you go below this.
- Maximum 7 inches in diameter – larger holes change the sound more dramatically. A bass drum hole wider than 7 inches will sound like you have no resonant drumhead at all.
Note: These hole sizes are for 20 to 24 inch bass drums. If you’ve got something much larger, you can get away with a slightly larger hole. Similarly, for smaller bass drums, take an inch or two off the maximum and minimum sizes.
Tip: If you want to keep some warmth (a deeper bass drum sound), make the hole as small as possible. As the hole gets larger, you’ll hear less resonant head and more batter head (and beater). The resonant drumhead is a huge factor in providing warmth and sustain.
How to cut a bass drum hole?
So you’ve decided where to place the hole, and how large it should be. There are a few options for cutting the hole very cheaply (or free!). Regardless of which option you choose, it’s recommended to get an adhesive bass drum hole template. These have two purposes: 1) They’re a great template for cutting the hole. 2) Importantly, they stick onto the bass drumhead, reinforcing the hole so it doesn’t tear. The Remo DynamO or Aquarian Port-Hole are two good options for adhesive bass drum templates. Take a look at Bass Drum O’s for something more colourful (these snap onto the hole). If you’re playing shows, you’ll definitely need some sort of reinforcement to ensure the hole doesn’t tear. Tears occur easily from bumps with microphone stands, or when moving / setting up your kit.
Option 1: Cutting a bass drum hole
A quick and easy way to create the hole is to cut it with a knife (an x-acto knife, stanley knife, scalpel, or anything than can do precise cuts). Note: Never cut a drumhead while it’s attached to the drum – the tension will cause it to tear!
- Buy a bass drum hole template (see the options above), or use something round that matches the diameter you need. Some ideas for a template: a cup / tin can / glass jar / CD / plastic container / splash cymbal / small plate.
Note: if you’re planning to reinforce the hole with a stick-on ring, Kickport, etc, make sure the diameter matches this!
- Place the drumhead face down on a flat surface (e.g. a cutting board).
- If you have a stick-on hole template, stick it on now. If you’re using something else (cup / jar / tin can / etc.) press down onto it so it doesn’t move.
- Carefully cut around the hole with your knife. Take your time here, so you don’t slip and ruin the head. Be extra careful not to make small cuts that spread into the drumhead – these will slowly tear over time.
Tip: If you don’t want to use a knife, get the Bass Drum O’s Bass Drum Hole Cutter. This device is cheap, accurate, and can adjust quickly to cut holes between 1 to 9 inches in diameter. It has a built-in blade and centering pin, making hole cutting very easy.
Option 2: Melting a bass drum hole
You can use a hot tin can to quickly melt through the bass drumhead. While a little more dangerous, the benefits are that you don’t risk slipping with the knife, the hole is very accurate, and it won’t tear as easily. To melt a hole:
- Find a tin can that matches the size of the hole you require.
- Lay your bass drumhead flat, with the outside of the head facing down. Using the tin can, outline a ring exactly where you want the hole.
- Heat the open side of the can on the stove for 1-2 minutes on a medium-high temperature.
- Using oven mitts, pick up the hot can and press it onto the bass drumhead. Hold the can against the head for around 20 seconds, and slowly rotate the can to avoid it sticking. The can should melt through, creating a perfectly round bass drum hole. Once you can see the can has melted through, you can remove it.
Note: If the can sticks when you try to remove it, you can carefully loosen it with a knife.
Tip: Keep the circle you cut out of your bass drum. It can be used as dampening for your snare or toms, like a mini Big Fat Snare Drum.
So I have a bass drum hole, now what?
Put the drumhead on and test it out!
Tune your bass drum without any dampening first, then add it later if you want. Starting out with the best sound possible (before adding dampening) will give you the best end result. Now that you have a bass drum hole, you can easily stuff some dampening in after you’re tuned.
Make sure you reinforce the hole, to avoid it tearing. Get a reinforcement ring, or use tape (inside the head) as a bare minimum.
The Kickport. Is it worth it? A Kickport fits inside the bass drum hole, with a longer back section projecting into the drum. Designed to capture the lower frequencies, Kickports give you a deeper, boomier bass drum sound. They’re easy to remove if you need to change the sound (held in place by a compression gasket)… Once you’ve cut the hole, you don’t need to remove the drumhead to install or remove the Kickport. These work with all sized bass drums, but are most effective with smaller drums (20 inches or less; although you’ll still notice a difference with larger drums). If you use a lot of dampening (pillows/towels/etc inside your bass drum), the Kickport is not for you… This product is best with undampened or slightly dampened drums, and is pretty effective at bringing out the lower notes.
One final word
Experiment! When you buy a new bass drumhead, try it without the hole first. If you like the sound, you don’t need to cut a hole in it (John Bonham, anyone?). A lot of drummers decide to keep their resonant bass drumhead hole-free. This will obviously depend on your music style… Very loud music usually benefits from the greater attack and projection of a bass drum hole. If you play a lot of shows, sound engineers appreciate having a hole for the bass drum mic. In the studio, it comes down to personal preference and the number of microphones available… Without a hole, you’ll need a second mic on the batter bass drumhead (although most engineers do this anyway), to capture the beater.
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