Ringo's Drum Sound

Hi there.

I wanted to see if anyone here can talk a little bit about the drum sounds the Beatles got on their recordings – particularly on the later Beatles records like Abbey Road and Let It Be. I’ve seen some photos of Ringo in the studio for these records, and it looks like they are only using two mics on the kit – one on the bass drum and one placed in a really awkward position in the “middle” of the kit, near his hands. On top of that, it also seems like Ringo started putting a blanket over his tons at this time as well.

Has anyone tried this approach to mic’ing drums? For the kind of music I make, I really like the more minimalist drum sounds that you hear on the Beatles records as well as Levon Helm’s drums on the first two Band records, and of course Bonham’s drum tone on the Zep records. I’m not really into “centralizing” the drums in the mix, but rather really like when they are just one component of the mix alla the hard-panned stero mixes of the mid to late 60s.

I’d love to get your take. Thanks!


Just a note that for the home recordist, the room itself is likely to be a significant sound consideration in addition to the microphone placement. You may be juggling microphone deployment so you don’t pick up the walls and ceiling slap and echo. That goes a long way to determining the sound.


If they were publicity shots, then they do not necessarily indicate the actual microphone placements used for recording. For example if there was an additional microphone directly in form of Ringo’s face, then it would be moved out of the way for the photograph.

I’m not familiar with the set-up used to record Ringo’s drums, but Keith Moon was often recorded using only three microphones - one in the kick drum (which was usually called the “bass drum” in those days) and a pair of “overheads” to pick up the rest of the kit. This arrangement can produce a well balanced and natural sound of the entire kit. In later recordings of drum kits the trend has been to mic up each individual drum. This allows greater flexibility for tweaking the tone of individual drums.

In the Let It Be movie you can see a towel on the floor tom during a recording session, IIRC.

I’m a big advocate of minimalist drum micing. One mic on the kick and a coincident stereo overhead. Once you get into multi-micing you start getting phase cancellation problems between mics, have to start gating mics, etc. To my ear it never sounds natural. Of course, some producers/artists are looking for a “big” drum sound that bears little relation to what the actual drum kit sounds like, and that’s valid as well.

– Bill

an interesting note, since you brought up Levon Helm and The Band:

I remember reading that Levon and Robbie Robertson worked really hard on the drum set itself for the early band recordings – especially their second “brown album.” Apparently for the toms, they would tighten only 2 or 3 lug nuts really tight and leave the rest of them almost completely slack. That’s how they got that really vintage sound on the toms – almost like hitting a calf skin head, but with no resonance whatsoever. I think that “Tears of Rage” is a great example of this sound, and you really get to hear it, what with Helm doing those Ringo-esque “Day In the Life” fills thoughout the verses.

This is just to say that the way the drum set itself sounds also has a lot to do with how drums come off on recordings from the 60s and 70s.

Which leads into my next hobby-horse. Get the sound right before you record it. I’ve had so many drummers come in with less-than-optimal kits and expect me to work magic with 8 microphones tight-miced on each drum then use EQ, delay and reverb to make their kit sound like John Bonham’s.

– Bill

I’ve seen recording/engineers build blanket covered tubes in front of the bass/kick - David Barbe from AthensGA did that for an artist we recorded. I assume, this is to keep it out of the overheads.
As a creative semi-pro, I think I might want to try a close mic on the bat side of the kick drum provided I can minimize the sound of the pedal and chain… never tried it. sounds very - :ugeek:

by the way, I really like the blankets over the toms notion. I did not know about that. Must also agree, starting with a poor sounding kit in a marginal space sure makes it tough.

Hello to another Ringo fan. A large part of Ringo’s drum sound on Abbey Road is created by tea towels on the drums. Thin tea towels.(normal towel is too heavy). You can get a look at some good studio photos of ringo’s kit circa Abbey Rd on a web site called Beatlesgear I think it is. The Beatles actually used the tea towels from the studio cafetaria or tea room. I have been reseaching this sound for a while because like you I really love it, and am currently home recording and using this drum sound. A bit of fiddling with the drum tuning, then on with a tea towel. Close miking works best, but I am also achieving a very pleasing sound with 2 O/Hs , a bass drum mic, and a snare mike. Playing the cymbals lightly works well with OHs because the toms come through relatively louder and fatter. Not such an issue when close miking individual drums.

Ah sorry, that website for the photos of Ringos kit is http://www.ringosbeatlekits.com
Look under a section called ‘muffelling’.