Mount And Mic Your Hand Drums Without Tears

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An article that offers an inexpensive and effective way to mount and record your hand drums in the studio.

I have several hand drums that I like to play together. When I'm just playing around with friends, typically I'll put my bongoes, tabla set, and another hand drum together on a table, with a shaker wedged in between the drums. That works pretty well, and I have a pretty good feel for that kind of setup by now. What I wanted to do was to take that into my small studio space, but I wasn't sure how to go about doing that.

My idea was to get some of those "yaffa blocks" plastic crates (similar to those cube-shaped milk crates) and support my drums with a stack of 2 of them.

I ended up buying two of the crates from Walmart. Stacked, they are exactly the height one needs when sitting in a chair and playing hand drums. From there, I took them into my studio space, stacked them, and found that my drums fit them almost perfectly. I removed a select few of the sections of plastic struts right in the center of the back and the left side of the top block, and made a hole big enough to run a mic through on the boom.

I had a small problem due to the fact that my tabla weren't the same height as my bongo on a flat surface, so what I did was cut two of the diagonal struts out of the top block's horizontal plane. Then I wedged a couple of squares of scrap foam in the grooves created. This created a taco shell-shaped foam cradle for the tabla set. Once the tabla set was placed upon it, the foam base gave it a few inches of height and stabilized the round ceramic bottoms of the tabla.

The total cost of the 2 plastic blocks was about $10. The only other materials used were boom mic stands that I had on hand, running $50 for the big boom and $30 for the mini-boom stand, both from Guitar Center. Of course, I also had the mics and the drums themselves.

I have found that an excellent way to mic that setup is to place a mic (in my case, my Shure SM57 - an indispensable all-around quality studio mic, $75 from Guitar Center) on the main boom stand, about 6-7 inches above my drums. I used an old, cheap V-tech mic ($17 on sale from a small local music store), on a mini-boom stand, positioned so as to poke through the holes I'd cut in the plastic blocks, about 6-7 inches below the drums. From there, I ran both mics into my mixer (Behringer MX602A, $80 from Guitar Center) and adjusted the levels until I had achieved a sound I liked.

The final sound used the Shure - a higher quality mic - to capture the definition and nuance of the drum performance from above the drums, and used the lower quality mic to capture the less-defined low-end sound from the drums. Since the blocks basically have a large grid pattern on them, the drums rested on the blocks just above the bottom mic, and I was able to get a clear, unobstructed sound from below. That low-end sound, combined with the clarity of the sound captured from above, combined to give me a really nice hand drum sound. Not world-class, by any means, but pretty good for a guy recording drums in his closet using a $17 mic and a couple of plastic crates from Walmart. For an example of the sound I got with this method, you can check out the first song I recorded with the drums in this configuration. It's in Member's Music, Pro Instrumental, and track is called "Slap Jam".

Components used:

  • Plastic blocks $10
  • Boom stand $50
  • Mini-boom stand $30
  • Shure SM57 mic $75
  • V-tech mic $17
  • Hand Drums

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