After the initial euphoria wore off, one of the first reactions I had after playing Rock Band was — “Damn, those drums are loud!”
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. They are drums. Still, it would be nice if the guitarists and vocalist could hear the music without being drowned out by the frantic, relentless THWOK-THWOK-THWOK of wood on plastic. Turn the music up too loud, and it gets ridiculous.
Solution? Mod your drums to make them quieter, naturally.
When I initially looked at quieting the drums, I thought the drumsticks were the main source of noise. I found out the hard way that most of the noise comes from the drum surface, not the drumsticks. My drumstick experiments weren’t a total waste of time, though. I did discover one product that helps a little bit — the Tama Silent Tips.
These aren’t as “silent” as claimed. They reduce the sound maybe 10% at best. But they also provide a bit more bounce from hitting the drum surface, they’re easy to install on any set of drumsticks you might have, and they’re under 5 bucks. So on the whole I can recommend the Tama practice rubber tips.
If you really want to reduce drum noise, you need to place something on the drum heads themselves. I experimented with a bunch of materials until finally arriving on one that really worked — thin mouse pads. These Staples house brand mouse pads are perfect, about 1/8″ thick.
They’re three bucks each, so doing all four drums will set you back a mere $12. Here’s what you will need:
- Four thin mouse pads (no more than 1/8″ thick)
- Rubber cement
- X-Acto knife
- Drawing Compass
- Black vinyl spray paint (optional)
- The Rock Band drum diameter is 7″. Draw approximately 6 3/4″ circles on the fabric side of the mouse pads with the compass. If you’re not interested in leaving the small “ring” of color around the drum exposed, draw 7″ circles.
- Use the X-Acto knife to carefully cut the mousepad along the circular line you drew.
- Optionally, paint the fabric side of the mousepad with the black vinyl spray paint to cover the obnoxious bright red Staples logo. Vinyl paint is designed to be extra-durable, so it will survive an extended drumming beatdown.
- Wipe down the surface of your drums with isopropyl alcohol to clean them off. Use a little soap and water if you don’t have that, but the alcohol is a better choice.
- Apply rubber cement to the drum head surface, covering the entire surface and paying special attention to the edges near the colored circle. Do this relatively quickly.
- Center the mousepad fabric side up on the drum head, and smooth it down.
Note that the rubber cement is completely safe and not permanent. If you later want to remove the pads for any reason, they come off easily and clean up perfectly with a little bit of isopropyl alcohol, leaving no residue whatsoever.
Initially I placed the mousepads with the raw, black neoprene side up so I could avoid painting them, but the raw neoprene wore away quickly from intensive drumming. You must put the fabric side up. In addition to being more durable, fabric side up felt better and much more drum like, at least to me.
Placing thin mousepads on the drums was far more effective at reducing noise than anything else I tried. The end result is outstanding — the mousepad mod muted the Rock Band drum sound by 60% or more! It is a dramatic and unarguable noise reduction. You can actually hear the music now, not a mind-numbing, repetitive, sometimes erratic tok tok tok a tok tok. And it feels better to play on, too, with more bounce. It’s a win-win mod, and it is the first thing I do to any Rock Band drum set I use.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to take on this mod, you can find lots and lots of pre-cut Rock Band drum silencers on eBay. I’ve used both the gum rubber and neoprene (mouse pad) kind and they work about equally well. But there are a few caveats. Know what you are buying:
- Get drum silencers made of neoprene or gum rubber
- Do not buy anything thicker than 1/8″
- Avoid the cheap felt models!
If you’re not comfortable with eBay, Bryan Mentock sells gum rubber drum silencers for $30 including shipping. I’ve ordered a set from him myself and I can vouch for the quality. He includes double-sided carpet tape pre-installed on the bottom so they are ready to stick on and go right out of the mailer. Alternately, Drum Pads Inc offers a very similar product for under $20, although the adhesive backing will run you another $8.
Hear the difference yourself with this video of the gum rubber pads in action:
To my ear, neoprene/fabric (mouse pad) is slightly quieter, but it’s certainly in the ballpark. There hasn’t been much in the way of direct comparison, but this drum pad material super test is worth a read.
I can hardly bear to play on unmodded Rock Band drums any more. The noise and lack of bounce are distracting. I think you, too, will find it much more enjoyable when you can play drums and hear the damn music!