Ever noticed how when you buy a new drumkit you never actually KNOW what heads it comes with?
And it doesn’t matter how expensive your kit is, you’ll always get random, low-end heads labeled with the drum company logo, without further details.
That’s why most drummers proceed to change their heads right off the bat when they acquire a new drumset.
You probably already know drumheads aren’t all the same, but do you know EXACTLY what sets one apart from the other?
And which one you need for your playing?
Well if you’re looking for answers to these questions, you’ve come to the right place as I have in today’s post everything you need to know about drumheads.
There are two categories of drum heads:
- batter heads – which are on the top, and meant to be struck
- resonant heads – which are on the bottom and are meant to influence the sound.
Keep in mind that, technically, you CAN use any type of drumhead as either batter or resonant…
But since batter heads influence the overall sound the most, as well as have the most variations, that’s where you’ll probably want to focus your choice.
Now let’s see what the key features of a drumhead are:
- The amount of plies – one or two to be more specific
- The finish – which refers to the texture of the surface of the head
- Other characteristics – such as inlay rings, center dots or even a dampening agent placed between two plies.
Before we look into each of these categories with more details, let’s keep in mind that ALL these added features have one common goal:
Dampening the sound. Got it?
Heads can either have:
- One ply – which means the head is made out of one sheet of material, or…
- Two plies – which means the head is made out of two sheet of material
With single-ply heads you get:
- More sensitivity
- More overtones
- A brighter sound
- Decreased durability
With double-ply heads you get:
- A heavier sound
- Fewer overtones
- A more defined attack
- Shorter sustain
- Increased durability
Another factor to take into consideration is the thickness of the plies — the thicker the ply, the more muffled the sound.
Most heads thickness range from 7 to 10 mil (1 mil = 0.001 inch) but some single-ply ones have a 5 or even 3 mil thick plies for added sensitivity.
Here is an excellent video comparing about 20 different snare heads:
Batter heads can either be uncoated (commonly refered to as “clear”), or coated.
Clear heads offer:
- A brighter sound
- More “attack” than coated heads
- An overall louder tone as well as more sustain
Coated heads on the other hand offer:
- A warmer sound
- A greater muting of the various overtones
- More bounce
- Also, coated heads will produce a distinctive sound when played with brushes, which is essential when playing jazz ballads, for example.
Remo’s Suede drumheads series have a textured top and bottom that provide increased mid range and a warm tone.
They are said to “produce a cross between the brightness and resonance of Clear and the warmth of Coated drumheads.”, according to the brand itself.
Check out this video to see how they’re made:
There are other types of coating such as rawhide imitation or black suede but the difference in terms of sound is negligible, compared to the one between clear and coated heads.
As for the facts, many drummers choose clear heads for the toms and a coated head for the snare.
Check out this video that compares various coated and clear tom heads:
All drum heads companies basically offer the same technologies and features, labeled under different names, but all with one common goal: reducing unwanted overtones.
These features can be:
- A dampening agent applied between a two-ply head
- A center “dot” to extend the lifespan of the heads by reinforcing its hitting point
- An inlay ring, to reduce harmonics
On the image below, you can see the different brands and names given to the same techniques used.
You’ll notice that some models combine various features:
How to choose your kick drum head
For some reason, kick drum heads are often overlooked…
Maybe because drummers don’t think they make such a big difference anyway… or maybe because they’re just too lazy to change them.
But whatever that reason is, the truth is that the influence kick drum heads have on the sound is just as important as any other element of the kit.
So the process for selecting a drumhead for your kick drum is really no different than for the rest of your drum set: you’ll have to choose between coated, clear, frosted or pre-dampened heads.
There is one difference though: your resonant head can have a hole – called port hole – or not.
With a port hole you get:
- Greater attack – without a wall to bounce on back and forth, there is no echo effect going on since the sound can escape
- More projection – for the same reason stated above
- An easier way to mic the kick drum – if you’re used to gigging already, you probably know soundguys are always happier if they can place the bass mic inside your kick drum.
- A quick way to muffle/unmuffle your sound by adding or removing clothes or other objects from inside the kick drum.
Without a hole, you essentially get a more “boomy”, more resonating sound.
To get a better idea of the sound differences, check out this video, which also covers different mic positions as well as a device called KickPort, which we’ll cover next:
If your drumhead doesn’t come with a pre-cut port hole already, you can absolutely cut one yourself. You can use DYI techniques, or a purposed device called the Port Hole Cutter made by the brand Gibraltar.
But you’re probably wondering:
Why would I cut a hole myself if some heads already come pre-cut?
Well, the main reason is customization. By cutting a hole yourself you can choose all the parameters, such as the diameter of the hole, its position on the head and even the amount of holes you want.
Watch this video to see how to do it yourself:
- Click here to compare the prices of the Port Hole Cutter : (Amazon)
To protect and reinforce the holes you cut, you can use a port hole protector such as these ones:
Now here’s a device that was created with the goal of enhancing the low-end “thump” of the kick drum.
The KickPort modifies the way air goes out of the kick drum by essentially slowing its exit down, just like a trumpet mute.
And this creates a “fatter” sound.
Here’s a helpful video that compares the sound of the kick drum without a hole, with a hole and with the KickPort installed:
Pre dampened kick drum batter heads
It’s hard to know for sure which brand came up with that idea first, but the fact is that all 3 of them offer at least one model of pre-dampened kick drum head.
So what does that mean?
Pre-dampened basically means that a separate piece comes with these specific models, which goal is to dampen even more the sound.
It’s usually adjustable so you can control the level of dampening, and ultimately reach your desired sound.
It also means you might be able to avoid filling your kickdrum with towels/clothes or whatever you’re used to shoving in there to muffle your sound.
Now, for Evans and Aquarian these separate pieces are 2 foam rings that you can mount on the head.
For Remo, it’s 2 foam rings plus another piece of foam locked to the lower part of the head, adding even more muffling.
Check them out:
- Remo Powersonic – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Evans EMAD – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Aquarian Super Kick II Series – (Amazon/Thomann)
The three brands I included in this list are the three most popular ones, and they have become so by continuously delivering quality and consistency:
Since each brand offers several dozens of different types of drumheads, I chose to start from least muffled to more muffled and each category will feature at least one model per brand.
- Remo Ambassador Single ply – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Remo Diplomat Single ply 6″ to 18″ – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Remo Emperor Double ply 10″, 12″ and 14″ pack – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Evans G1 Single ply 6″ to 20″ – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Evans G2 Double ply 6″ to 20″– (Amazon/Thomann)
- Aquarian Hi Frequency 1 ply
- Remo Ambassador 10″, 12″ and 14″ pack – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Remo Emperor – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Evans G1 – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Evans G2 – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Evans UV1 – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Aquarian Studio-X – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Aquarian Texture Coated – (Amazon/Thomann)
2 plies with dampening agent
- Remo Pinstripe Clear – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Evans Hydraulics – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Aquarian Peformace II Clear – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Batter Heads
- Resonant Heads
And That’s It
So there you go guys, The Ultimate Guide to Drumheads. Hopefully with all this information you can now buy the perfect drumhead for you!
‘Til next time.