When it comes to shaping your drumming sound, choosing the best drum heads is crucial. The right drum heads can transform ordinary drums into a beautiful sounding drum kit, lending character, tone, and responsiveness to your playing.
In this guide, we will dig into the world of drum heads, exploring the various types, materials, brand names and considerations to help you choose the best drum heads for your kit.
What Are Drum Heads?
Drum heads, also known as drum skins, are the thin membranes stretched over the top (and usually the bottom) of a drum shell. They play an important role in determining the tonal characteristics of a drum, affecting its attack, sustain, and overall sound quality.
Drum heads come in different materials, such as Mylar, Kevlar, and coated or clear options. Aside from the material, understanding the differences between single-ply and double-ply drum heads is also essential, as each type contributes differently to the overall sound of the drum. To choose the best drum heads you must consider factors such as thickness, material, and coating and what your playing style and musical tastes are.
Types of Drum Heads
The batter head is the drum head on the top side, the side typically struck by drumsticks. It significantly influences attack, tone, and responsiveness. Batter heads are available as coated or clear, and each impact the sound produced.
Positioned on the bottom of the drum, resonant heads contribute to the drum’s sustain and overall tonal quality. They are available in various weights and styles, each affecting the drum’s resonance in unique ways. Resonant heads are usually clear although coated heads may also be used.
Drum Head Thickness
Drum heads come in varying thicknesses. This aspect significantly influences the drum’s sound. Thin heads produce a brighter, more sensitive sound with a quick decay, while thicker heads offer a deeper, more focused tone with increased durability. The choice between thin and thick drum heads depends on your playing style, musical genre, and personal preference.
Thin Drum Heads
Ideal for jazz and lighter genres, thin drum heads provide enhanced sensitivity and responsiveness. They are excellent for intricate patterns and nuanced playing, making them a favorite among jazz drummers.
Medium Drum Heads
These heads strike a balance between the brightness of thin heads and the depth of thick heads. They are versatile and well-suited for a wide range of genres, making them a popular choice for drummers who play diverse styles.
Thick Drum Heads
Suited for rock, metal, and other genres that demand a powerful, deep sound, thick drum heads offer increased durability and sustain. They can withstand heavy playing and produce a robust, controlled tone.
When selecting the best drum heads, consider the style of music you play and the dynamics you apply to the music. Experimenting with different thicknesses can help you find the perfect balance for your sound.
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Single-Ply vs. Double-Ply: What’s the Difference?
Single-Ply: As the name suggests, single-ply drum heads are constructed from a single layer of material, usually made of Mylar or another synthetic film. The thinness of the material allows for a more open and resonant sound.
Double-Ply: Double-ply drum heads consist of two layers of material, either two thin plies or a thicker outer ply with a thinner inner ply. The added layer provides extra durability and reduces the overall sensitivity and resonance compared to single-ply heads.
Single-Ply: These drum heads are known for their bright, open, and sensitive sound. They tend to have more overtones and sustain, making them suitable for styles like jazz, light rock, or situations where a lively and responsive sound is desired.
Double-Ply: Double-ply heads produce a warmer, drier sound with a shorter sustain. They are often preferred in heavier music genres like rock, metal, or situations where a more controlled and focused sound is necessary.
Single-Ply: Generally, single-ply drum heads are more susceptible to damage because of their thinner construction. They may be prone to denting, especially with aggressive playing styles or heavier drumsticks.
Double-Ply: The added layer in double-ply heads provides increased durability and can withstand more aggressive playing. They are less prone to denting and are the best drum heads for drummers who play with greater force.
Single-Ply: Single-ply heads often have a wider tuning range, allowing for higher and lower pitches. They are more responsive to changes in tension and can produce a variety of tones across the drum.
Double-Ply: Double-ply heads may have a more limited tuning range compared to single-ply heads. The extra layers can make them less responsive to changes in tension, resulting in a more focused range of tones.
Drum Head Materials
The material used to construct drum heads significantly influences their tonal characteristics. Different materials produce distinct sounds, allowing drummers to tailor their kits to suit various musical genres.
Coated Drum Heads
Coated drum heads are equipped with a layer of material, typically Mylar, that alters the drum’s sound. This coating produces a warmer, drier tone, making them the best drum heads suitable for genres like jazz and classic rock. The coating also adds a textured surface, reducing overtones and providing a more controlled sound.
Clear Drum Heads
Clear drum heads, often made from single-ply Mylar, deliver a bright and open sound. These heads are popular in genres like rock and pop, where a pronounced attack and sustain are desired. Clear drum heads allow for greater resonance and projection, making them a preferred choice for drummers seeking a bold, cutting sound.
Hybrid Drum Heads
Combining elements of both coated and clear heads, hybrid drum heads aim to offer a balanced sound. They incorporate a thin layer of coating to control overtones while maintaining the brightness associated with clear heads. Hybrid heads are versatile, making them suitable for various musical styles.
Vintage Drum Heads
Vintage-style drum heads replicate the sound of classic drumming eras. These heads often feature a single-ply design with a slightly textured surface, delivering a warm and resonant tone reminiscent of the drums used in the early days of rock and jazz.
Consider experimenting with different drum head materials to discover which best complements your playing style and the musical genres you explore.
The Best Drum Heads for Specific Genres
Different music genres place unique demands on drummers and choosing the right drum heads can enhance your ability to deliver the right sound. Here are some recommendations for specific genres:
Rock and Metal:
Batter Head: Consider using medium to thick clear heads for a powerful attack and controlled sustain. Double-ply coatings can enhance durability during heavy playing.
Resonant Head: Opt for a medium to thick clear resonant head to complement the batter head, providing balance and projection.
Batter Head: Choose thin, coated heads for increased sensitivity and articulation. The coating helps control overtones, contributing to a warm and focused sound and allows for textural playing with wire brushes.
Resonant Head: Thin, clear resonant heads are ideal for jazz, offering enhanced responsiveness and allowing the drum to resonate freely.
Pop and Country:
Batter Head: Clear medium to thin heads provide a bright and open sound, perfect for genres that prioritize clarity and definition.
Resonant Head: Pair the batter head with a medium to thin clear resonant head to achieve a balanced and lively tone.
Funk and R&B:
Batter Head: Consider coated heads of medium thickness for a warm and controlled sound. The coating helps tame overtones, contributing to a punchy and articulate tone.
Resonant Head: Choose a medium to thin clear resonant head to complement the batter head, allowing for optimal resonance and projection.
Drum Head Manufacturers Compared
There are three major manufacturers that offer a wide range of the best drum heads on the market. Each has its unique features, materials, and designs. Here’s a brief summary and comparison of the three prominent drum head manufacturers:
Remo is one of the most well-known and widely used drum head manufacturers globally. They offer a variety of materials, including coated heads in the Ambassador and Emperor series. For clear heads their Pinstripe series are well known and highly recommended. Remo also has Mylar film, and vintage emulating like the Remo Fiberskyn series.
Evans is recognized for its innovation in drum head design and technology. They utilize technologies like Level 360 for improved contact with the drum shell and a more consistent tuning. Evans drum heads are often favored for their precision tuning and a diverse range of options for different musical styles.
Aquarian is known for its commitment to quality and a manufacturing processes. They use materials like Clear, Texture Coated, and Super-2 Mylar films. Aquarian emphasizes their Safe-T-Loc hoop, designed to prevent slippage and maintain consistent tension.
Maintaining Your Drum Heads
Once you’ve selected the best drum heads for your kit, proper maintenance is essential to ensure longevity and consistent performance. Here are some tips for keeping your best drum heads in top condition:
Regular Tuning: Regularly tune your drum heads to maintain optimal tension and tonal quality. Tuning not only affects the pitch but also influences the overall feel and responsiveness of the drums.
Avoid Extreme Temperatures: Drum heads are sensitive to temperature changes. Avoid exposing your kit to extreme heat or cold, as this can affect the tension and overall performance of the heads.
Use the Right Drumsticks: Match your drumsticks to the playing style and genre. Heavy drumsticks can put excessive strain on thin heads, leading to premature wear. Conversely, light sticks may not produce the desired impact on thicker heads.
Dampen or Muffle as Needed: Depending on the sound you’re aiming for, consider using dampening tools such as gels, rings, or blankets to control overtones. Experiment with different methods to find the balance that suits your playing style.
Clean Your Drum Heads: Over time, even the best drum heads accumulate dirt, oils, and residue from sticks. Clean your heads regularly with a mild solution of water and soap to maintain their responsiveness and appearance.
Choosing the best drum heads for your drum kit is a nuanced process that requires careful consideration of thickness, material, and coating. By understanding the impact of these factors on drum sound, you can tailor your kit to match your playing style and the demands of different musical genres.
Experimenting with various combinations of drum heads allows you to discover the unique tonal possibilities your kit can offer. Whether you’re a jazz aficionado, a rock enthusiast, or a versatile player exploring multiple genres, the right drum heads can elevate your drumming experience to new heights.
Investing time in selecting and maintaining your drum heads is a worthwhile endeavour that pays off in the form of a personalized and expressive drumming sound. So, embark on the journey of sonic exploration, and let your drum kit resonate with the rhythm of your musical expression.