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How to Make Your Own Porthole in Your Bass Drum

by
Gift

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This post is part of a series called Creative Session: DIY Guides.
How to Save Money in Your Home Studio
Quality Instrument Cable: Why It Matters, and How To Make Your Own

You have been playing with the band for some time now and everybody agrees that it is time to cut a record. However, you know that in order to get that in your face punch out of your kick drum you need a porthole in your resonant head so that the engineer can put a microphone right up against the batter head. That means you need to buy a new resonant head right? Wrong!

Buying any head for any drum is usually a slightly costly endeavor. Having to get another head strictly for recording can almost seem like a waste; especially when you have to pay the engineer too! But if you are at the point where you want to record real drums and are playing live gigs with a sound man on hand, having the porthole in your kick can really help your drum kits sound.

The easiest and cheapest way to get the porthole in the resonant head is to make it yourself. In this tutorial we will go over the supplies and procedures you will need to make a porthole in your kick drum's resonant head.

Keep in mind that every head is made of different materials and we will be using heat and sharp objects to create our porthole. Neither I nor audio.tutsplus.com is responsible for any damages that may occur. Modify your kick drum head at your own risk!


Step 1: Planning the Procedure

Before we dive into actually creating our porthole we need to plan out what needs to be done and why. While it may seem trivial, it will save you headache and possibly your drum head when we actually go to create the porthole. Here are some considerations that we must take into account before performing this operation...

  • The resonant head should be off the drum. While some people will create their porthole with the head still tight on the drum, I would not advise this. Not all heads are made the same and if something goes wrong you could tear the head and end up with something not resembling a hole.
  • How big should the hole be? The porthole should be big enough for a medium sized microphone to fit through but small enough to preserve some of the drums natural resonance. Too big and your drum will sound dead and too small and you will not fit a microphone through it.
  • Where are you going to actually create the hole? You will need a reasonably open area with access to heat and a hard flat surface. Often times the kitchen will work to fill this need. However, if your kitchen is small and or very messy you will need to either clear space or find another area to perform the operation.

Step 2: Choose Your Weapons

In order to actually create the porthole we will need some way of cutting or burning through the resonant head cleanly and without tears. I recommend using a very hot metal can that is the desired diameter in order to burn a clean whole straight through the head. However you may or may not get a clean burn when creating the hole so having a sharp knife on hand is a must to clean up any stubborn edges.

But how big should this metal can be? Earlier I mentioned that it should be big enough for a microphone but small enough to preserve resonance. With that in mind I would recommend a diameter of about 3.5 to 4 inches (8.89 to 10.16 cm) for a 22 inch bass drum. You can of course change the size relative to your kick drum but keep this in mind... just because your kick drum changes size, doesn't mean that the microphones will.

NOTE

Make sure you are using a metal can and not a can made out of cardboard with a metal bottom. If are not using a metal can you will probably catch it on fire! In addition make sure your can is open on one side.


Step 3: Setup Your Workplace

As I mentioned earlier the kitchen most likely the area you will be working in. With access to a hard countertop, cutting board, and a stovetop (or hotplate) you will have all the required tools aside from the knife and a metal can.

When you go to lay your resonant head down on the cutting board, make sure the cutting board is on a flat even surface (like a countertop) and that the head is perfectly flat against the cutting board. If the head is not completely flat you will run the risk of tears in your resonant head.

The easiest way to assure the head is flat against the cutting board is to turn it upside down. Most drum heads have a beveled edge and will not sit flat when sitting on the metal rim.

Here is a drawing to better illustrate how the head should sit on the cutting board...


Step 4: Where Should the Porthole Go?

Having taken everything into account we have but one last decision left to make and that is where the hole should go. There are a few factors you should take into account when making this decision.

If you want a more dead sounding kick drum with less boom then you might want to smack that hole right in the middle of the kick. However if you want to preserve more resonance in your resonant head then off center will suit you best. However if you move too far off to the edge you will probably get a rather odd sound and it will be harder to mic the beater. In addition, you probably will not want to burn holes in any logos and keep the overall aesthetics of the porthole pleasing if you are going to be gigging with this kick.

Here is a diagram split into quads of what I would consider optimal placement for the porthole. Simply pick a quad which fits your needs.


Step 5: Time for Surgery!

Now that we have taken everything into account it is time to make ourselves a porthole for our kick drum. The following is a play by play list of operations to make yourself the porthole after you have taken the above steps into consideration. Remember to take your time!

  • Remove the resonant head from the kick drum.
  • Place the head on a cutting board.
  • Put your can on the stove top or other heat source for 10-30 seconds on very high heat. Make sure the open side of the can is facing down directly into the heat.

  • Using an oven mitt, remove the can from the heat and carefully press it into the desired spot on the head. Keep in mind the head will be upside down and your placement will need to mirror your desired location. Keep pressing down into the cutting board for at least two minutes, possibly turning it slightly but making sure it does not rip.
  • With the hot can sufficiently pressed into the head, carefully start to lift the can away from the cutting board. If the head moves with the can then you will need to use a knife and cut the plastic off from the can to avoid tears.

And when you are done you will have this!


Step 6: Wrapping It All Up

Hopefully it all went well and your head (as well your person) survived the ordeal.

The last final touch I would recommend is to take a nail filer and smooth out the rough edges of the porthole. It is not necessary but a nice touch. Here is a final comparison of mine both before and after...

I hope you enjoyed and saved some cash too! Thanks for reading!

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