Selecting the right drumheads can make all the difference in the sound you get. For any of you shaking your head right now and thinking – ‘I’ve had the same heads on my drums since I got the kit and they sound fine’ – simply don’t know how good you can get your drums to sound with a little TLC. Whether you’d like to fully nerd out or just freshen up your wood children, this Single Guide to Drumheads
In the beginning….
Most drumheads today are made of plastic. They were once made out of calf skin, which are of course natural products that don’t stand up to moisture and changes in temperature well. Synthetic drumheads were invented by Chick Evans (of Evans drumheads) in 1956 and made popular by Remo Belli, who was an actual guy until he passed a few years ago. The fundamentals of sound comes from the type of plastic used, thickness of the plastic in the head (2 mil to 15 mil, for example), from the amount of plastic sheets on top of each other (plies), if they are coated or not and with what, and finally, there are all kinds of modifications that have been invented to dampen, dry, or muffle drums to your liking.
Fundamentals of the modern drumhead
For many drummers, drumheads start and end with a single ply, 10 mil head. Remo’s is called the Ambassador. Evans’ is called UV1 (which was recently added to compliment their G1). Using an Ambassador (or UV1) on all of your drums top and bottom (except the bottom head of your snare) will result in a wide open, unharnessed sound. In most cases, drum manufacturers use one of these 2 heads as their model for what they want their drums to sound like. If you know how to tune well, and have some moon gel (rubbery material you can stick on the heads to remove excess ring), you can go pretty far with this combination. For many, however, the sound that you’ll get will not be the sound you want. Here’s where we get into options. Here’s a loose guide to help you make heads or tails of drumheads.
Remo vs. Evans vs. Aquarian: All make great products. The difference in sound is pretty nominal to the average ear. We’re going to talk in reference to Remo and Evans below as they are 90% of the drumhead market combined. Sorry Aquarian people. We still love you.
Coated vs. Uncoated:
Uncoated drumheads tend to “sing.”
Coated heads are warmer and more controllable.
Single ply vs. double ply:
Single ply heads will bring out the most open, sensitive, and resonant sounds. Because there’s less plastic there, they are more prone to denting or breaking. If you are not a heavy hitter, breaking drumheads is nothing to worry about.
Double ply heads offer more control, less resonance, and more durability to your head. Remo makes the Emperor. Evans makes a G2.
Top heads vs. bottom heads:
On your snare drum, you MUST use a head designated as “snare side.” These are significantly thinner heads (2 or 3 ply), which give your snare wire the ability to vibrate so as to create a snare sound.
Otherwise, essentially, any head can be used as a top (batter side) or bottom head (resonant or “reso” head), though different combinations will yield different sonic results. For almost anyone, we recommend a single ply, clear head on the bottom. Either an Ambassador or a G1. Doing so will give you the widest tuning range to compliment whatever you put on the tops.
Here, we will draw a line in the sand with a strong recommendation. Do not use a pillow to dampen your bass drum. Use the right drumhead combination. Bass drums are vastly overlooked as a melodic part of your kit and many miss out on this wonderful thing by stuffing an entire bed set in the drum.
How to get the sound you want.
OK, for those still reading, you’re looking to get a very specific sound out of your drums. You’ve got a discerning ear and we love you for it.
You can use drumheads to achieve all, but not limited to, the following:
- The controlled, earthy sound you hear in jazz drums: Evans Calftone on top, Evans G1 on the reso head
- The singy, open sound you hear in jazz drums and often country too:
Coated Ambassador/UV1 on top, clear Ambassador or G1 on the bottom
- The attack-heavy, fast decaying sound you hear in heavy metal drums:
Remo Ebony or Evans Black Chrome on top, Coated G1 or UV1 on the bottom
- The warm, thuddy sound of 1970s rock drums: Evans Hydraulic on top, G1 clear on the bottom
- A very controlled, EQ’d sound you often hear on major label, commercial radio rock songs: Remo Pinstripe or Evans _____ on top, G1 or Ambassador on the bottom
- An open, ringy sound: Ambassador or UV1
- A super controlled, tight, dry sound with no ring:
Evans HD Dry
- The dry crack you hear on a James Brown record:
Evans Coated Hydraulic
- Boomy, high-tuned bass drums common to jazz: Ambassador or UV1 on the batter side, and an Evans Calftone or Remo Fiberskyn on the reso head
- Boomy, low range sound heard in hip-hop or EDM: Evans EQ4 on the batter, and Evans Calftone on the reso
- Controlled, low thud you hear in punk or indie rock records: Evans EMAD 2 coated on the reso, Evans EQ3 on the reso.
- Open, boomy tone with short decay you hear in reggae: Evans G2 or Remo Emperor on the batter side, and no reso head.
When should you change your drumheads?
While the different-stokes-for-different-folks theory applies here, for the average drummer, who gigs a couple times a month and practices a few times a week, we recommend changing heads a couple times a year. You may need to do so more often on the snare, or if you’re a super heavy hitter. You should change your reso heads (yes, you should!) every other time you change heads. It’s also a good idea to put on fresh heads before you go into the studio.