Drum heads can be a tricky thing. Even for the most experienced player, they can be a daunting prospect but they needn’t be. I’m going to take through my drum head choices and why I use them. Hopefully it provides some food for thought.
Firstly I’m going to say I use Birch drums (Yamaha Recording Custom). So this means my drums will naturally have low end and are ëpre – EQ’d’ (Yamaha’s language, not mine) which suggests that, hopefully, I won’t need any aids such as moongel to dampen the drums down, especially if I select the correct heads for the job.
If you read my last blog post on drum sticks, then you’ll know that I play a lot of varied gigs and choose tools accordingly for the job at hand. I’d love to be able to do that for drum heads as well, however it’s both impractical (sometimes I don’t have time to constantly change drum heads for each gig) and it would also be expensive.
So what does that mean for when I select heads? Well around 80% of the sound your drum makes is down to the head that is on it. Single ply heads will be open and ëringy’ (for lack of a better term). They will bring out higher pitches in the drum and tend to be used for Jazz or lighter styles of music. Double ply heads seem to provide plenty of mid/low end, especially on my drums and I’ve gravitated towards them for that reason.
I love Remo. Specifically Coated Emperors. They sustain like no other head for me when needed, are very controllable and last forever. They suit most of the styles I play too. I can tune them really high for jazz gigs and they don’t choke or sustain, while still bringing out the fundamental pitch of the drums which I love. I can tune them down for rock gigs so they’re fat and beefy with great sustain and have them somewhere in the middle of it all if thats the sound I require. I also like the slightly drier sound you get from coated heads. They seem just a little more focussed to me. I still have the factory Yamaha heads on the bottom which Clear Ambassadors and they’re perfect. As long as the tuning between top and bottom heads is in sync, the drums rock.
I have 2 main snare drums – a Brass 13 x 6.5 and a Bamboo 14 x 5.5
The brass shell has a Powerstroke 3 on it currently and it’s great. It’s lively enough to not sound too muffled or dead, but the underlay controls the overtones that naturally exist in a brass shelled drum. I have used an Emperor X (which in effect is almost a 3 ply head) however I felt too much resonance was removed from the drum. The trade off was projection – lots of volume and a really focussed sound. Perfect for hard hitting rock.
The Bamboo drum is naturally dry so an Ambassador is perfect. It has the brightness I want and I don’t need to moongel the drum to focus the tone, it does it naturally in the shell/head combination.
For my bass drum, I mainly use a 20″ drum, but do have an 18″ and 22″.
The 18″ is the jazz drum so it has a coated Ambassador and usually stays at the one pitch/tuning. I also use Gibraltar felt strips on the front head and batter head, just to take the edge off – especially if I know it’s going to be mic’d. I don’t port the front head so the felt strips help the engineer out with overtones etc. I also usually play it quietly (although not all the time) so it’s a little easier to deal with in that respect. There’s nothing inside the drum so the sound is pretty traditional and wide open.
The 20″ drum is my main stay and it has a Clear/Coated Powerstroke 3 on it. I swear by this head. On most top end kits, it’s the factory standard and I understand why. It’s an awesome drum head. Versatile and punchy, especially from 20″ on up to 22″/24″.
This drum I will mess around with depending on the gig. Sometimes I’ll change out the front head and take out the damping/pillow, use some felt strips and have no hole in the front, with a coated Ambassador and it sounds amazing. Tunes up well and cuts through. I use this combination if I’m playing more modern Jazz or with my Connected band and it’s perfect. For functions or rock n roll gigs, I’m 95% of the time mic’d so it’s a ported Coated Ambassador on the front, a pillow in the drum and a Powerstroke 3 tuned down. Perfect. No fuss and an all round awesome sound. Just what I need.
So that’s my head choices. They’re a myriad of options out there. Rhythm Base is well stocked in both Remo and Evans and the guys are very clued in to what each head offers. Try different things. The one thing I’ve never done an need to try is mixing heads. Maybe my 10″ will sound much better with a Diplomat on it, or a Controlled Sound and same applies to the rest of my drums. The experimentation is certainly worth it to try and find different sounds.