Hang Drum Recording Technique (NOW WITH AUDIO!!)

I recently had the bright idea to compose a piece for hang drum (official name “Hang”), marimba, vibraphone, bells, drum set, and percussion that turned out to be nine and a half minutes long. This will undoubtedly be a monster of a piece to record, but I had to start somewhere. I started with the Hang because that was the backbone of the whole piece (more on the musical aspects of the piece later). I hadn’t recorded a hang drum before, so before starting the session I did a quick search for hang drum recording techniques online and found one picture that made no sense at all, and not much else that was very helpful (doesn’t mean it’s not out there). I figured I would go by a few basic mic’ing principles that I picked up in college:

First, “You’re not mic’ing the instrument – you’re mic’ing the air around the instrument.”

Now, this sounds MUCH more esoteric than it actually is. It’s really a great concept to keep in mind when mic’ing anything. Sound is vibrations in the air which are picked up by the mics, so that’s what you want the mics to capture (based on your mic’s pickup pattern), and not the instrument itself. 

Second, “Q: How do I mic this thing? A: How do you listen to it?”

Disclaimer: That Q&A doesn’t apply in every situation, but in this case it did help to weed out a few mic positions and save some time. Getting back to the strange method I saw in my short research on this topic, there were two large diaphragm condensers on the player’s right and left, facing each other and pointed down toward the instrument at about a 45 degree angle (spaced pair, maybe?). There was also a third mic in this same position in front of the player. Phasing issues aside, referring back to the second bold point above: unless you have very spaced out ears (we’re talking 3-4 feet) with a third ear extending out from your forehead, chances are that’s not how you would listen to the instrument. You most likely have two ears, which makes it worthwhile to go with a plain and simple stereo mic’ing technique. I set up two AKG C214’s right next to each other, facing out at about 35 degree angles, 8-10 inches directly above* the center note of the Hang. Since the 214’s have a cardioid pickup pattern, this mic position allows for full coverage of the instrument’s nine notes. When panned about half-right and half-left, it gives a very real representation of the Hang through the MOTU 8Pre Interface.


*I also saw another picture where someone had one mic out in front of the instrument pointed down at a 45 degree angle, about a foot and half or two feet in front of and above it. The issue with that is the Hang is a circular instrument with notes all around it, so mic’ing it from any one side will produce louder results from the notes closest to the mic, while the notes farthest from it might not pick up as well (think of how the sound waves will spread similar to the Sun’s light and heat affecting planets closer or further away from it).


That’s why I figured that a stereo pair right above the center note would be best, and to my relief, it didn’t really need any further processing from there. It had just enough of the “proximity effect” to sound full, articulate, and “beefy” without sounding too bassy or muddy, and the instrument itself is very resonant, so any artificial reverb just clouded it up. When all of the other instruments are added in, I’ll re-examine the Hang tracks for further processing, but for solo purposes, this is the setup I’ll be sticking with – very pleased with the results, and can’t wait to share when the track is complete! I would love to hear your experiences recording the Hang or any other instrument that gave you a challenge!

Here’s a little something that I improv’d on the Hang with this mic placement. I enabled free downloading for this track on soundcloud.

The Dark Arts of Percussion, Vol 1: The Wind Gongs of Willow Grove is officially released!

My new album recorded with only three wind gongs is now released (link below)! This was a very interesting project for me to work on, and I think it turned out quite well. Really captures the energy put out by these incredibly versatile instruments! I’d love to know what you think of it – leave a comment :) Also, what would you think of a live performance of this?


These gongs are extra-special because they were selected at Steve Weiss Music, the premier gong dealer in the USA. These gongs were chosen from the factory in the Wuhan province in China -BEFORE- any of the larger brands can get to them, and not mass-produced like some of the other larger brands. These are 100% hand-hammered and have the sounds to back it up!


CLICK HERE to listen to the entire album for free or download.

The Dark Arts of Percussion

Q: What is The Dark Arts of Percussion, and should I report you for being a part of it?

      A: No, calm down.


The Dark Arts of Percussion is a new series of albums by Jeff Willet Music. First in the series we have “The Wind Gongs of Willow Grove,” an album recorded only with three Wind Gongs, a gong beater named “King Gong,” and a simple straw brush. It is a meditative album, meant to be listened straight through the six tracks, and focuses on the harmonic content of these wonderful gongs that create a beautiful soundscape that relaxes the mind to a state of deeper thought. The tracks are not named so as to not steer your thoughts in any way while experiencing the sounds contained therein, but rather left unnamed to leave the musical journey up to your own imagination. Much time was spent crafting the sound and the mix of the album to represent what it would be like to hear this performed live as far as stereo imaging as well as careful and precise EQ’ing. These gongs are also special because of where they are from. They were hand-selected in the Wuhan Province of China for Steve Weiss Music before the major brands could get to them. Steve Weiss himself was given the nickname of “King Gong” by Frank Zappa many years ago, and has been a landmark in the Gong and Percussion communities ever since. You can download the album the price of your choice HERE.


The second album in The Dark Arts of Percussion series is still in the works but promises to be much bigger, with more large-scale, percussion-focused arrangements, featuring both melodic and rhythmic percussion instruments from all over the world. Not exactly tribal, not exactly jazz/fusion, but a contemporary blend of multiple genres to let the instruments speak as they wish. Writing, rehearsing, and recording for this album will take place throughout in 2015. More details about the what/where/when/why/who’s of this album will be released shortly.

Even though The Dark Arts of Percussion is primarily a studio project, live performances are not out of the question! Please email jeffwilletmusic@gmail.com for more info.

My Custom Snare

The finished product!

7×14 Cherry Segment Snare w/Black Nickel Hardware

Well a lot has certainly happened since my last post here – got engaged to my amazing fiancé, been in and out of three bands, and learned a lot about myself and my drumming in the process. Since I started working at Steve Weiss Music a couple years ago, I’ve got to know all of the specific things that go into a cymbal or a drum, and that helped me design my own custom snare drum (with some help!). I first had the idea to have a snare that would primarily be used with the snares “off” for that Danny Carey/TOOL sound, but later decided “why not just make an awesome snare all around, on and off?” So from there, everything pretty much fell into place. I had my eye on a custom drum maker who only works with segment shells (not stave, not ply), which really caught my eye, and had some incredible designs and wood combinations going on. So when I saw his company Addiction Drum Design was having a sale on snare shells up to 7″x14″, I jumped at the opportunity and went with that size because a more “beefy” sounding snare would fit well with my other drums and my playing. I chose Cherry wood because I had seen posts about other cherry drums he had made. “Nothing resonates quite like cherry”, is how he put it, so I was very curious at that point. I ran my ideas by him and he seemed to agree cherry would be the best fit. So that was ordered with the drilling, bearing edge, and finish extra. Now to gather all of my dream hardware…


I had my heart set on black chrome die-cast hoops after liking the sound of my Tama Spartan Warlord snare, which has die-cast hoops which work great for that drum. My Tama Starclassic Performer EFX drum set has die-cast hoops as well and they sound great. But then I got a small Yamaha Rock Tour drum set to take out to shows and rehearsals, and I loved how “open” those drums sounded because of their triple-flanged hoops. I still thought I would prefer the die-cast hoops for the new snare, so I began my search for the hook-up. One company who shall not be named gave me a rough ETA of January 2014, which was about 3-4 months longer than I had hoped to wait. The second company who shall not be named that I tried actually had the black chrome die-cast hoops in stock! …but would only export them OUT of the USA! So feeling a bit defeated and unimpressed with the percussion market, I almost went back to nameless company #1 to wait for the hoops until January 2014. But on a whim, I emailed Mapex, who shall be named because of their awesome customer service and prices. It just so happened that the guy I emailed said “I have those very hoops next to my desk here” and gave me an incredible price (which shall not be named on here). AND they are better than the typical die-cast hoops – they are Mapex’s SonicSaver Hoops, which combine triple-flanged and die-cast into exactly what I need for this snare! The part where the tension rod goes through looks like a triple-flanged hoop so it won’t choke up the drum like a die-cast hoop would, but instead of curving OUT at the top, they curve IN, resembling the thicker die-cast hoops for that incredible rimshot – They also look badass in a brushed black nickel finish! That was SUCH a huge relief finding out about those hoops, and after trying them out, I am definitely a fan!

Lugs, Throw-off, Tension Rods, Air Vent Grommet, Snare Wires:

I wanted to stay with the black nickel hardware look, and I also wanted this drum to be completely unique, so I went with the Arch2 lugs from Drum Foundry, which look amazing. Drum Foundry also had the RCK throw-offs, which I was referred to over the Trick throw-offs by someone who’s had experience with both. Adding the black nickel RCK throw-off and butt plate, as well as Dynamicx snare wires, I was almost all set! Black tension rods (w/black plastic washers) and a black chrome air vent grommet was an easy find from Drum Factory Direct.

But now, which heads?

Evans, of course! Because I really love the way my Tama Spartan Warlord sounds, I thought I wanted the same heads on there – a Genera Coated on top, and a Hazy 300 on the bottom, but stainless steel is WAY different than cherry, so the Power Center Reverse Dot head on top opened it up a bit more for the sound I was looking for. It has a great feel and a huge sound – Better than what I was hoping for! With the snares off, it has a beefy tribal sound that sings beautifully with the right amount of overtones thanks to the 45 degree bearing edges, and with the snares on it has an old school lo-fi kinda phat sound (when tuned lower, but I usually keep it pretty cranked up), plus you can still hear the deep tone of the drum – so its a win/win! Ghost notes sound sneaky and playful, not too dead, and the snare response is great from the Dynamicx snare wires along with the Hazy 300 bottom head.

Oh yeah, and throw a shorter snare stand in there too…

Had to buy a shorter snare stand because of the 7″ depth, so the drum wouldn’t sit too high for me to play comfortably.

While there are no recordings with this drum yet since I just assembled it yesterday 11/18/13 (but I did write some great new stuff with it today!), here are some pictures all throughout the assembly phase, as well as the finished product. Very excited to share with you all!

Shell - 7"x14" Cherry Segment, by Addiction Drum Design

Shell – 7″x14″ Cherry Segment, by Addiction Drum Design

Shell with Arch2 lugs from Drum Foundry

Shell with Arch2 lugs from Drum Foundry

Some assembly required.

Some assembly required.

All put together

All put together

New snare added into the rest of the studio set.New snare added into the rest of the studio set.

Custom Drums

As I sit here listening to some new kalimba tracks I’m working on, I’d like to bring to the attention of all of the drummers & percussionists who read this that there is a golden opportunity to get your hands on the fully custom drum set of your dreams! Steve Weiss Music now offers custom drums in four brands – Gretsch, Yamaha, Pearl, and Ludwig – all with some pretty sweet options, click around through them all!

When you build your own custom drum set, you have complete control over things like wood type, drum & hardware finish, bearing edges, and obviously the sizes of the drums and the configuration. Too much to choose from? They’ll even help you along the way to make sure you’re getting what you want from it if you call or fill out the short form on their page. ***You are no longer limited to the standard 4 and 5-piece drum sets that you see at music stores!*** If you’ve ever said anything like, “well that one’s nice, but I’d like a bigger bass drum size with those same toms,” or “that finish would jump out better with black or gold hardware,” then … make it happen! There are some wild and crazy possibilities with this – the conventional idea of what a drum set is could soon become obsolete if this really takes off!

I’m actually bringing you all this great news as a custom drum set owner myself – below is a picture of what I came up with – it’s unique, not sold like this in stores, but it is possible to get something similar (or completely different!) through SWM’s new custom drums builder:

My custom drum set\m/(>_<)\m/

My custom drum set

22″ x 18″ bass drum (birch) – 8″ x 7″, 10″ x 8″ , 12″ x 9″, 13″ x 11″, 14″ x 12″ toms (birch) – 6.5″ x 14″ metal snare – but the Sabian Cymbals bring it all to life!

Years of The Mist: The Complete Collection

As promised, I have released both of The Gathering Mist’s full-length albums as one jam packed two-hour/33 track download-only collection through Bandcamp.com, which is graciously offered in a variety of formats by them … ***FOR JUST $9.00*** … (or more, if you so choose). The tracks are also sold individually there for just $1.00 each, but c’mon, the full collection is available just as easily, right in the same place :) Most importantly, the beautiful cover artwork by Jen Mitlas ties it all together very nicely for a great finishing touch!

Years of The Mist: The Complete Collection - album cover by Jen Mitlas

Years of The Mist: The Complete Collection – album cover by Jen Mitlas

Like I said in my previous Gathering Mist update, I still plan to re-do a couple of these tracks in the near future under the name “The Gathering Re-Mixt” (album artwork by Clint Cooper/Jen Mitlas!). I am currently finishing up one track, and it sounds incredible – looking forward to sharing it with everyone as soon as it’s ready! Any guesses which track it could be? You have a 1/33 chance of being right…

The Gathering Re-Mixt album cover by Clint Cooper/Jen Mitlas

The Gathering Re-Mixt album cover by Clint Cooper/Jen Mitlas

Both of The Gathering Mist’s separate full-length albums, “Rhythmic Epiphany” and “Reservoir,” will continue to be available from CDBaby.com, Amazon mp3, and iTunes, but the Collection album will be available exclusively through Bandcamp (Click HERE). Again, a HUGE thanks to most of the people who contributed tracks or helped out in any way with the original two full-lengths.

***Look for more instrument showcase and technique demonstration blogs soon, as well as an AWESOME play-through video of another track from The Gathering Mist – take a guess which one? Again, 1/33 chance…

The Gathering Mist - new video play-through preview

The Gathering Mist – new video play-through preview

HAPI Drums

Jeff Willet playing an E minor pentatonic HAPI Drum

Jeff Willet playing an E minor pentatonic HAPI Drum

Getting back into showcasing some of the different percussion instruments that I play, I definitely feel that the HAPI Drums deserve some recognition. They have brought some of my pieces to life with their unique melodic and percussive qualities, and captured audiences’ eyes and ears for a few years now, hopefully not just because they look like waffle-makers (although that would a be great selling point – “Free Waffles with Purchase of CDs!” – I’ll consider it). As for their percussive and melodic capabilities, they are precision-tuned steel tongue drums in a set key, played with fingers or mallets (I prefer fingers), with a sound somewhere between a Hang Drum/HandPan and a vibraphone. The different pitches come from the different sized cut outs on the top of the instrument, and the percussive tones can be achieved by hitting in between those notes or in the center of the drum on the logo.

A Brief Description

The HAPI Drum is another example of an “idiophone” – you hit it, it resonates, and thats where the sound comes from – very simple design (in the same family as my Udu Drums). The notes are strategically positioned around the top of the instrument so that when you hit one note, the other notes around it ring sympathetically to create its unique timbre, which I can only describe as “colorful” and packed with overtones, yet when you hit one note and mute all the others, it has a very dry/dull sound – go figure, you sneaky ears!

Tuning, Usage and Design

As I mentioned before, each HAPI drum is in a set key. There are plenty of options available as to which key, but choose carefully to pick the one that appeals most to you. I first went with the E minor pentatonic tuning because of how well it would go with my Kalimbas (in A minor), and then I added the D minor pentatonic to have a full octave and a half of the D Dorian scale between both of them. This continuous series of notes in a scale (each drum has 8 notes total, these two have 4 overlapping notes) allows for some nice melodic applications in a few pieces, while sometimes I’ll take a more rhythmic approach – I’ve even used them for bass lines occasionally.

Playing and Recording Techniques


Mic position for a HAPI Drum

As far as the playing technique goes, there really is no right or wrong way to play a HAPI Drum! I often use something similar to tabla techniques with them for more precision and speed. Because the instrument has such a long sustain, muting techniques are a nice contrasting touch to use also. For more recent recordings, I’ve been treating them like guitar tracks, and “doubling” the tracks – playing it twice, each on mono tracks panned hard right & left to fill up the stereo image a bit more. To record these wonderful instruments, I’ve had the best luck with a large-diaphragm condenser mic positioned about 12 inches/30cm directly over the center of the drum, in a cardioid pickup pattern. For recording two HAPI Drums at the same time, place the mic at the same height, centered between the two drums (or just use two mics). Any other positioning will affect how present certain notes will be (closer notes to the mic will be louder, and those further away won’t be heard as well).

See And Hear For Yourself

For anyone curious as to what HAPI Drums actually look and sound like, here are a few examples of pieces featuring them from The Gathering Mist’s albums. They always seem to interact well with any other instrument too:



“Underwater Groove”


“From The Four Winds”

My ONLY critique about this instrument is its name, which isn’t really a major concern. HAPI stands for Hand Activated Percussion Instrument, which doesn’t describe what it specifically is at all. Most percussion instruments are hand-activated, and these even also include mallets to “activate” the sound with as well. But that being said, they’re incredible instruments and I appreciate everyone who’s checked them out! For more info on Hapi Drums, check out the blog that I wrote to introduce them at Steve Weiss Music, where they can now be purchased too!