Why Do People Cut Holes in their Drum Heads?

You’ve probably seen drums that look like this before:

bass drum porthole
Looks familiar?  Or maybe because I took that from Wikipedia

What’s with drummers who cut holes in their drum heads?!

First up, those are not just any regular holes.

They are called ‘port holes‘. lol

These port holes are usually found on the resonant drum head of the bass drum or kick drum.

And you do not necessarily have to cut the hole yourself.

You could get a drum head that has a hole pre-cut:

Now let’s get back to the topic at hand:

Why do people cut holes in their drum heads?


They are not trying to destroy their drum heads.

Instead, they do it for 3 very practical reasons. And you might want to consider cutting a hole in your drumhead after finding out why below:

#1 – Alter the sound of the bass drum

It’s all about the sound, baby.

Before you read any more, listen to the difference first:

Bass Drum without PortholeBass Drum with PortholeBass Drum without Resonant Head

Click to play the videos. Listen to how the sound of the bass drum is altered. (videos compiled from YouTube)

With the port hole in the drum head, the bass drum tends to sound:

  • louder,
  • brighter, and
  • depending on the location and size of the port hole, the amount of resonance and sustain also changes

Other than trying to achieve a certain characteristic of sound, drummers often cut holes in their drum heads for these 2 other reasons as well.

#2 – For ease of dampening


Bass drums are usually dampened by placing cloth or dampening pads inside the drum.

The placement of the dampening tools also affect the resultant sound of your bass drum.

It is really a pain to have to remove your resonant drum head every time you’d like to adjust the level of dampening.

Hence, the port hole.

Just stick your hand in and move the dampening cloth or pad to your desired position.

(all videos used were compiled from YouTube)


#3 – For ease of setting up a microphone


Whether you are playing live, or recording for your Youtube channel, you’ll need a mic.

And to be honest, the microphone is not apt at capturing the sound of the bass drum.

Without the port hole, much of the resonant and bounce happens within the bass drum.

And stays inside.

This doesn’t affect the way the drummer or the few people who are near the drums.

But the bass drum sound really can’t travel through the entire room, hall nor can it penetrate the resonant drum head into the microphone.

Hence, the port hole.

Setting up the microphone just outside, or even sticking it right into the bass drum really helps to capture those low thumping bass drum sounds.

Here’s a great introductory video on how you should mic up your bass drum:

(all videos used were compiled from YouTube)


How to cut a port hole in your bass drum head?

You really don’t have to DIY and cut the port hole on your own because there are many bass drum heads that already come with port holes that you can buy off the shelf.

However, if you have a spare drum head lying around.

Or, if you want to customize the size, shape and position of the port hole to fine tune the resultant sound from your bass drum…

Here are 3 ways you can cut a port hole in your drum heads, arranged from the most dangerous to the safest 😀


#1 – Heated Can Method

  1. Choose a can of your desired diameter.
  2. Cut open one end of the can.
  3. Heat up the opened end of the can using your stove, or a blow torch. Don’t use a lighter, it’ll take forever. (make sure its very hot, red hot!)
  4. Transfer the heated end of the can onto the area you wish to remove on the drum head. (don’t use bare hands.)
  5. Press down
  6. Melt port hole
  7. Remove can
  8. Viola, clean port hole on drum head!

Can’t visualize the process?

Here’s a video tutorial:

(all videos used were compiled from YouTube)

This in my opinion, is the most dangerous way.

But there are drummers in many forums like this who swear by it. 🤷


#2 – Old School Compass Method

The old school compass method to cutting a port hole is straightforward. This is how you do it:

  1. Decide on the diameter of your port hole.
  2. Set up the compass using the radius.
  3. Cut out the circle using the sharp end of the compass.
  4. Touch up with penknife if necessary.
  5. Done!

By ‘compass’, I mean these:

This method would be way easier in my opinion.

Not as flashy, but hey not everyone has the time and patience to heat up an old can just to burn a hole in a drum head yea?

Unfortunately for this method, you’d need to either remove the drum head or make sure it’s relatively taut on the drum so that you get a round port hole.


#3 – Gibraltar Port Hole Cutter

This tool was created specifically for this purpose!

All you need to do is:

  • Place the center thumb tack at the right radius based on your desired diameter.
  • Punch a hole on the drum head
  • Turn the Gibraltar Port Hole Cutter to compete the cut
  • Done!

Here’s a video on how to use it:

(all videos used were compiled from YouTube)

Having a tool just for this purpose might be an overkill.

But if you’ve got clumsy hands like me, this could be a godsend.


Some additional tips on customizing your port hole

  • it is recommended to start with a 3.5 inch port hole, if you are new to this.
    • start with a smaller hole, then enlarge it if you need to.
  • if you are cutting the port hole to mic your drum, but want to emphasize lower tones, consider using the Kickport.

The KickPort helps to emphasize lower tones due to its shape, listen to the difference:

(all videos used were compiled from YouTube)



Where to cut the port hole on a drum head?

Source: http://www.vintagelogos.com


If you are cutting a port hole for the brighter tones, your port hole should be near the edge of the bass drum head, avoid the center.

Otherwise, it’s really easier to just remove the entire resonant head.

As per the image from Vintage Logos, the most common position to cut a port hole would be at the 4 o’clock or the 8 o’clock position.

If you are more advanced and want to cut multiple holes, here’s the guide from Vintage Logos as well:

Source: http://www.vintagelogos.com


Now, once you have your port hole cut out, its not over yet!

Because those exposed cuts can split anytime, especially if you are going to use it to insert dampening tools or mic your bass drum.


How to protect your bass drum after cutting your port hole?


Let’s face it, cutting or melting a hole in your drum head will ultimately weaken it.

You’ll want to protect the cut area to prevent it from splitting, cracking, tearing, etc.

Here’s 2 ways to protect your DIY port hole:

#1 – Duct Tape

Cost effective and simple.

Just grab some duct tape and tape over the cut edges.


#2 – Port Hole Protectors

As the name suggests, port hole protectors were created to protect port holes.

They are available in rubber or metal.

And come in various diameters.

Most of them come with a plastic piece of protector that the metal/rubber will seat on.

You can use that piece of plastic protector as the template as such:

(all videos used were compiled from YouTube)

Make sure you get the right size!



Well, I hope that you have come to see why do people cut holes in their drum heads.

And if you are convinced to try it, I’ve also listed down 3 ways you can cut a port hole as well.

Remember to protect your port hole once you have cut it.

Let me know how it goes in the comments!

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