When it comes to our drum kits sound we all want the best, but what sounds “the best” is subjective. What sounds perfect to one drummer could sound mediocre to another. Nevertheless, the unsung hero that is sometimes overlooked when it comes to drum sound is none other than the drumheads we use.
Of course, drumheads aside, a beginner level kit will not offer the mature and pure tone that a top of the line drum set provides. A drumhead isn’t going to turn a junkyard drum set into a holy grail one, but drumheads can go a long way to changing the tone of your drums to get the sound you want, or at the very least come closer to it. The following will define the terms used to describe drum sounds, breakdown the different types of drumheads in the market, and indicate what the popular choices out there are that you can start off with if you are unsure where to begin in your drumhead quest.
When shopping around for drumheads it’s important to understand the terminology that is used in the drum world to describe sounds. Attack/Decay: This is the amount of sound that you initially get upon striking something. The decay refers to the sound after the initial attack sound is over. Warm/Bright: Tones are generally referred to as varying degrees of warmth and brightness. A bright tone represents something that is sharper in its pitch and has a shinier sound. A warm tone is lower in pitch, more subtle, and deeper. Batter Head/Resonant Head: the “batter” head side is the side that you hit and is facing you, and the “resonant” head is the side that is on the bottom of the drum and that you don’t hit.
There are two main types of drumheads, clear and coated. Clear drumheads are usually brighter and have more attack while coated drumheads are warmer with less attack. You can see the difference as one is literally clear and you can see through it, while coated drumheads have a white or black coating and the surface is not as smooth to the touch as a clear drumhead. There are many variations of clear and coated drumheads so note that these are general statements and there are some exceptions to these sound associations. There are three main drumhead companies that each offer different lines of clear and coated drums, these companies are Remo, Evans, and Aquarian. What you use is up to you, all three have excellent drumheads and it’s a matter of trial and error until you find what works for you.
CLEAR DRUMHEADS – Completely clear drumheads are a safe approach and offer a medium amount of warmth and attack. The all clear drumheads are made with one layer of film, labeled “single ply” or “1 ply” head. Sometimes there is a clear head with an added layer of film in the form of a big black dot in the middle of the clear drumhead. This extra layer adds more durability and more attack. There are also many clear drumheads that have some sort of design or circular layer around like a ring around the outside of the drumhead. These add more dampening and often have an extra layer of film also known as “2 ply” or “double ply”. The extra layer of film makes the sound a little warmer with slightly less attack but maintains the all around brightness of the tone. With 2 ply heads there is more of a thuddy sound, with single ply you get a boingier sound. Keep in mind that the added dot or layer of film also adds to the durability of the drumhead and makes it last longer.
All companies have their version of clear drumheads. Examples of a single ply all clear head include the Remo Ambassador and Evans G1. The added dot can be found on a Remo Controlled Sound, and the circular pattern around the edge of the clear heads can be found on Remo pinstripe, some Remo powerstroke heads, as well as Evans EC2.
COATED DRUMHEADS – Similarly, there are coated drumheads that are single ply and double ply. Snare drums almost always use coated drum heads but sometimes they can sound good with clear drumheads too, although the sound will be a lot brighter. Coated drumheads don’t usually have the circular design around the rim of the drumhead, rather, you see them with the added dots, or they look the same but some are thicker than others. Coated heads can have the typical white coated finish which is very standard, but there are also black finishes that are either suede or ebony. The black suede finish is double ply and can be found on Remo black suede emperors. These have a very warm sound and deep tone. Ebony heads are often used as the resonant side of the bass drum. They recently became developed for toms and have a very punchy sound with lots of attack. The ebony heads are an exception to the general rule that coated drumheads tend to be warm. Ebony heads have a lot of brightness and offer a very unique sound that can work well for recording. Remo emperors or Evans G2’s are great examples of double ply coated drumheads.
There is so much more to know and learn about the world of drumheads but hopefully this gives you a solid foundation of what to look for and what to expect from drumheads you find and purchase. You may notice that you can’t hear any difference in sounds between drumheads but that’s because sometimes our ears don’t pick up the difference. To hear the difference between drumheads try recording the sound of each one on your phone and playing it back. Below I will provide some combinations of drumheads you can use on your drum set. These are setups that I have found work really well but even I haven’t tried all the heads in the market. Again, what I find works may not be something you like, but these combinations seem to be used very often among professional drummers and they will be a good place to start to figure out what sound you want out of your drum kit.
(Clear demo) Drumheads for Kit 1:
Batter Bass Drum: Superkick 2 Aquarian/Evans EMAD 2/Remo Powerstroke 3
Resonant Drum: Any company Ebony Drumhead
Snare Drum: Evans heavyweight coated
Toms: Evans EC2’s
(Coated Demo) Drumheads for Kit 2:Resonant Bass Drum: Any company ebony head
Snare: Evans Hyrbid/Remo powerstroke 77
Toms: Remo Coated emperor/Evans G2 coated