Let’s talk drum heads (or drum skins as many people refer to them as).
Drumming has come quite a long way since the dawn of time.
Unfortunately, the more and more technical drumming gets, the more confusing it becomes for consumers to find the perfect gear for their desired sound.
This article will dive into the unique attributes and sonic qualities of each type of drum head so that you can decide which type might work best for your style of music.
- 1 Origins of the Drum Head
- 2 Single-Ply Drum Heads
- 3 Double-Ply Drum Heads
- 4 Coated Vs. Clear
- 5 Pre-Muffled
- 6 Specialty Heads
- 7 Resonant Heads
- 8 Bass Drum Heads
- 9 Get Your “Head” In the Game
Origins of the Drum Head
For thousands of years, drum makers utilized animal hides by drying them out and stretching them over the shells of drums.
This style of manufacturing worked until the 20th century rolled around, and drummers decided that they needed bigger sets with different pieces that could play well in any situation.
Animal skins just couldn’t cut it anymore. In 1957, Remo Belli and Sam Muchnick got together to develop a new type of drum head with Mylar material. That was the start of the iconic Remo drum head company.
Fast forward to present day, and there are a wide variety of drum heads on the market, each with their own unique sound.
Single-Ply Drum Heads
Best Uses: Jazz, Swing, Light Alternative Rock
The single-ply drum head is easily the most popular type out there. They are the thinnest on the market and are usually manufactured with a single layer of Mylar that is around 10 mil (mil being 1/1000th of an inch, not a milliMETER).
However, you can get them in 7, 7.5, and 12 mils as well. Some snare heads even go down to 3 mils, so it depends on the sound that you are looking for.
Single-ply heads are so popular because they resonate better than any other type of head. They have a very bright sound that helps to accentuate the drum overtones. This is why many jazz drummers use them, though they can easily be used for lighter, alternative rock music as well.
The major downside to single-ply heads is that they are the least durable. If you’re a heavy-handed drummer, you might want to opt for our next choice.
Single-Ply Drum Heads We Recommend:
Double-Ply Drum Heads
Best Uses: Metal, Fusion, Rock, R&B
Double-ply drums are pretty self-explanatory – they are made with two layers of Mylar, each of which can differ in thickness to produce different tones.
Some double-ply drum heads are made with two layers of 7.5 mil plies while some are made with one 7 mils and one 3 mils. Again, it depends on the sounds that you are going for.
For the most part, double-ply heads provide you with a deeper overall sound without as many overtones as single-ply heads. The attack is very prominent, and the sustain is much shorter, giving you more of a punch.
This is why metal and rock players love them so much. They are very pronounced, helping you to articulate big fills and get that major crack. Plus, they are far more durable than single-ply drums, great for heavy-hitters.
Double-Ply Drum Heads We Recommend:
Coated Vs. Clear
When it comes to coating on drum heads, there are many different kinds. Some drum heads are sprayed with translucent coating, allowing you to see through them, while some are sprayed with colored coatings, such as black or white, or even made with textured surfaces.
Think about this: A drum head is supposed to vibrate to create sound and resonance. The more coating you put on it, the less it is going to vibrate, and the damper the sound you are going to get.
Clear drum heads are far brighter when compared to coated heads, giving you extreme resonance without as much control. They have a harder attack too.
Coated heads, on the other hand, are much warmer and darker. Even if you tune them pretty high, you won’t match the brightness of a clear head.
While we find many bass drum heads and tom heads that are clear, we usually don’t find many snare heads that leave manufacturing without coating. This is because it’s become somewhat of general knowledge that coated snare heads sound best.
Coated Drum Heads We Recommend:
Drummers tend to use a variety of different objects to dim the resonance on their drum heads. We’ve seen it all: blankets, gels, duct tape, etc.
Because muffling is such a popular application, drum manufacturers have begun pre-muffling their drums so that drummers don’t have to use any third-party objects to achieve their desired sound.
Pre-muffled sounds are made to eliminate drum overtone to better focus on the fundamental tone of the drum. Manufacturers will typically do so by adding an extra layer of Mylar on the top, bottom, or edge of the drum. It differs from drum head to drum head.
Evans makes a unique drum head with a thin layer of oil in-between two plies, dampening the sound pretty heavily.
While we see many pre-muffled snares, one of the most popular pre-muffled heads is the bass drum.
Pre-Muffled Drum Heads We Recommend:
Specialty heads are made to act in a specific and unique way. Almost all manufacturers make their own “specialty heads”.
One type of specialty head that we see quite often is the center-dot drum head. These drums have a large dot in the center that gives them far better focus and attack. They are essentially a hybrid between clear and coated drum heads. If you’re looking for a focused sound and a durable build, these are some of the best around.
Center-Dot Drum Heads We Recommend:
Another popular specialty drum head is the Kevlar head. This type of drum head has small pinhole vents around the outer edge, allowing them to vibrate in a unique way.
The material is some of the strongest around, making it great for heavy-hitting rock drummers or metal drummers. You’ll often see Kevlar drums in drum lines too.
What’s different about Kevlar is that you can tune it extremely tightly, giving you more of a “digital” sound if you want.
While Kevlar drums are tight and durable, many drummers describe their sound as “flat”. This is because they have almost no resonance or sustain, no matter how much you adjust the tuning.
Kevlar Drum Heads We Recommend:
Vented heads are manufactured with small holes punched around the edges of the drum. When you hit a drum, you’re creating a type of compression. The vents in vented heads allow air to escape, thereby creating a beautiful resonance and sustain.
Vented drum heads give you tons of depth with natural resonance. They also give you tons of volume, making them great for playing outside or in places where you’re drums aren’t mic’d up.
The sound is like playing a pair of bongos on a stand vs. playing them on the floor. The air has no room to escape when they’re on the floor, making the sound far more lifeless.
Calf Skin Head
Calfskin is by far the rarest kind of drum head around. They are the darkest of all of the drum heads, providing you with a tone that is both warm and fat.
While calfskin has an interesting sound, it comes with its own set of problems.
For starters, calfskin head tuning can vary greatly depending on the weather and the environment that they are in. It makes them a bit unreliable. This is why some companies have started making synthetic “calfskin” heads that hold up better in different environments.
More than anything, you’ll typically find calfskin heads on larger percussion drums, such as congas and djembes.
Calfskin Drum Heads We Recommend:
The majority of this article has been about batter heads, as they are at the top of the drum and are meant to be struck, therefore providing you with an important, initial tone. At the other end of the drum, you have what is known as the resonant head.
Resonant heads sit at the bottom of the drum and influence the overall resonance. They react to the air compression underneath the batter heads.
The thickness of resonant heads varies from drum to drum. Resonant heads on toms are typically a bit thicker, ranging anywhere from 7 to 10 mil, while resonant heads on snares are generally thinner, ranging anywhere from 2 to 5 mil.
All you need to know is the thicker your resonant head, the better sustain you are going to get, and the deeper your overall tone will be. Thin heads give you a brighter sound with a shorter sustain, and they also need to be tuned more often, as they vibrate more aggressively than their counterparts.
Many drum manufacturers coat their resonant heads to create warmer tones, and some even use dampening materials to bring out those deep, rich, low overtones.
Bass Drum Heads
A lot of people don’t look into bass drum heads, which is pretty surprising considering that they can make a massive difference in your tone. Yes, we understand that they are harder to change, but the difference in tone can be so worth it in the end.
There are various choices when you look at bass drum heads. You can go coated, clear, vented, frosted, pre-muffled, etc.
While that’s all gravy, the most important decision to make is whether you will get a ported drum head or a non-ported drum head.
Ported Bass Drum Head
Ported bass drum heads give you far better attack and projection, as the sound can escape through the front of the drum. They are much better for live situations, as sound engineers love to place mics within the kick drum to get that boom boom.
Plus, you can alter the sound of your drum with ease by sticking blankets or other pieces of cloth inside the port.
Ported Bass Drum Heads We Recommend:
Non-Ported Bass Drum Head
A non-ported bass drum will give you a far boomier sound, which can be kind of cool depending on the sound you are going for. Just know that you will get less projection and attack, though far more resonance.
Non-Ported Bass Drum Heads We Recommend:
Get Your “Head” In the Game
When you choose your drum heads, there are a lot of things to consider.
- What kind of music are you playing?
- Do you play with a heavy, rock hand or a light, jazz hand?
- Do you want a brighter or darker sound?
Make sure you spend some time deciding on the tone that you want before you pick up the first drum head you see. There are plenty of options out there for every style of drumming.
Also, remember that you can adjust the resonance and tone of your drum with different products, including putty, dampening gels, and tone rings.
We hope that our article helped give you all the info you need to craft the ultimate drum set.
You’ll go through many drum heads in your lifetime. Enjoy the process and the journey.