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What is the Difference Between a Tension Rod and a Lug?

February 6th, 2020 by Alex Howley

For some people, understanding the anatomy of a drum is second nature. Sometimes people started learning early, and they can’t remember a time they didn’t know terms like tension rod or lug.

For the rest of us, it's incredibly frustrating when terms are confusing and unintuitive, and even more frustrating when different people mean different things when they say them.

And what about a lug casing? Is it different? What is a swivel nut? How about we clear things up?

Tension Rods

Tension rods are small screws that go through the holes in the hoop/rim to tighten the head over the shell of the drum. Because the hoop holds the drum head to the shell, tightening these screws also stretches the drum head, raising the pitch near that tension rod. They're almost always tightened with a drum key.

To put it simply: screw these tighter, the drum head gets tighter near that tension rod, and that part of the drum raises in pitch. If you can get equal tension at all the tension rods, the drum head is considered “cleared” or “in tune,” because the pitch of the head is the same all the way around (unless the shell or hoop is warped, but we won't get into that now).

The tension rod is only this screw, by definition. It does not include the piece of hardware that is attached directly to the drum. Those are called...


The lug is simply the piece of the tuning hardware that attaches to the shell of the drum. The tension rod screws into the lug in order to pull the hoop tighter and tighten the drum head. The lug also often houses a spring and a small screw that is designed to hold high tensions. Many people argue that it’s important to keep these well-greased to make sure nothing strips and it’s easy to change heads or tune on the fly.

Wait - Then What is a "Lug Casing?" What is a "Swivel Nut?"

Alright, brace yourself. We're going down this rabbit hole. But first, we should be clear - if you call the thing on the drum a "lug," and you call the thing that screws into the lug a "tension rod," chances are, 99% of drummers are going to understand what you mean. We certainly will.

But, perhaps unfortunately, not everyone will. So let's dive into some of these terms:

Lug Casing is, at least to most manufacturers and most drummers we know, just another term for a lug. It's in some senses the more "formal" name, the one that the official part may be called when purchasing a replacement. That being said, it is possible that, in the wild, you may meet people who would make the argument that the casing is more specifically the metal frame that houses the thing that the tension rod screws into. In other words, it houses the inside of the lug. And the inside of the lug, the thing the tension rod screws into, is called...

A Swivel Nut. It's the small piece of hardware that a lug actually screws into. It is the receiver of the tension rod, and could be considered to be "inside" of the lug. It... swivels. Usually. This allows for the lug to connect without causing undue pressure on the shell or hardware, and provides a little bit of flex to the entire lug. Occasionally, though, the swivel nut doesn't swivel - usually this shows up with special types of lugs, like tube lugs, which may have the swivel nut bored directly into the lug itself, instead of being encased.

Wait. What?

The easiest way to think about it is from most general to most specific. In general, everyday conversation, some people will refer to the whole thing as a lug. Like this:

JERRY: "Hey Sheryl, could you pass me a drum key? I need to tighten this lug."

SHERYL: "Sure Jerry! You can use this drum key to tighten the tension rod."

In this scenario, Jerry is referring to the tension rod and the lug by just one name, a lug. This is as general and high-level as it gets. Sheryl, on the other hand is being more specific, and (debatably) more accurate. You don't strictly speaking tighten a lug - that would be more along the lines of tightening the screws that attach the lug to the drum. Instead, you technically tighten a tension rod, or even more accurately, you just screw a tension rod in or out.

So is Jerry wrong? No! Most people will know what you mean if you call the entire attachment a "lug" when you're talking about tuning each lug one at a time. But once we go one more level down, we can see that, technically, a tension rod and a lug are two different things.

SHERYL: "Let me know when you're finished tightening that tension rod into the lug, Jerry! I also need my key to tune my own drum."

ROGER: "Here, Sheryl, you can borrow my drum key if you need to tighten your drum's tension rods into each lug's swivel nut!"

No one talks like that, clearly. But that's essentially the point - Sheryl here is making the distinction between a tension rod and a lug, as most people do. But Roger takes it one step further - he sounds kind of like a super-nerd because he's flaunting his knowledge that each lug also does technically have a swivel nut inside of it, which is technically what the tension rod screws into. Silly Roger (but he's not wrong).

And remember, the fourth term, lug casing, is just another term for lug to 99% of people. Occassionaly, people might argue that a "lug" and a "lug casing" are different things, though, as mentioned above.

Hopefully that was helpful for you! If you have any more questions, feel free to give us a shout or call us toll-free at 1-866-792-0143. If you have any more to chime in, be sure to leave a comment below!

Alex started working here in 2015. He's a drummer, a producer, a Boston Crusaders alumnus, and a writer. These days, he makes all kinds of different music as a percussionist and an audio engineer.

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