Over the years I have gone through hundreds (if not thousands) of drum heads, between replacing them on my personal kits, and installing them on custom drum sets that I have built. A few drum heads have impressed me over and over again and stayed on my kit for weeks, but other drum heads have come off my kit after a few hours of playing them. This post will show you what drum heads I’ve generally trusted over the years to provide me with a sound that makes my sound engineer go wild.
Snare Drum Heads:
Remo Ambassador Coated Drum Head
Remo Ambassador Snare Head, Hazy
BFSD “Steve’s Donut”
- Pros: Fairly cheap, almost always in stock at any music store, sounds great tuned low and tuned high, very articulate even for ghost notes.
- Cons: 1 ply drum head can dent easily for heavy hitters and may need to be replaced more often.
- My Tuning: I tune both batter and resonant heads to the same pitch, I try to tune them high enough to give me a mid-range “crack”, as well as giving me a good stick response. On the resonant head I tune the lugs closest to the snare wires about 2 turns tighter than the rest of the head. This allows the snare wires to have a more crisp and clean snap as well as picking up more snare snap when playing ghost notes. Throw Steve’s Donut on top of this tuning for an instant vintage beefy snare drum sound.
Remo Emperor Tom Drumheads (batter side – coated or clear)
Remo Ambassador Tom Drumheads (resonant side – clear)
- Pros: Fairly cheap, the simplicity in the construction of the clear drum heads allow characteristics of the bearing edge and wood type to come through unobstructed by sound rings or power dots on other drum heads, they sound great tuned high or low, the clear heads adds a brightness to make your toms cut through the mix. Choose coated heads for a darker tone.
- Cons: Leave a comment if you have a con to discuss, because I love these heads!
- My Tuning: Each tom has it’s own sweet spot that the drum will resonate at best. I try to find this sweet spot and tune both the batter and resonant drum heads to this pitch. What I mean by “sweet spot” is, the tuning that produces the most full sound without any buzzing/flabbiness (caused from being too loose) or choked off tinniness (caused from being too tight). For my toms, I generally find that sweet spot at a “just above finger tight” tuning.
Bass Drum Heads
Evans EMAD2 Clear Bass Drum Head with the larger external muffling ring (batter side)
Remo Fiberskyn with 6″ sound hole (resonant side)
Evans Pillow inside the drum only touching the front bass head
- Pros: Tons of attack as well as low end, extremely easy to EQ when mic’ed up.
- Cons: The Emad’s plastic ring that holds the external dampening ALWAYS cracks and ends up rattling, and eventually you’ll either need to tape the dampening ring on, or replace the drum head completely. The Fiberskyn doesn’t come with a pre-cut hole, which means you’ll have to cut your own (if you choose to cut a hole), which can be a little difficult if your not used to doing this (I recommend this bass drum hole cutter) The Fiberskyn is a little more difficult to find in stock at music stores.
- My Tuning: I tune the front head to where there are no wrinkles, with a moderately tight tuning across the head. I tune the Emad finger tight and try to keep the wrinkles out (but sometimes it’s ok to still have a slight wrinkle, you be the judge depending on how it sounds) I place the Emad Pillow (or a towel or small blanket) on the inside of the drum where it is only touching the front resonate head. Without the pillow touching the front head you’ll have an open, ringy sound, more suitable for jazz. The pillow dampens it just enough to let the kick punch you in the chest the way it should.
When Should I Change Drum Heads?
This is a great question, and there are several factors that play into this question.
My general rule of thumb is to change drum heads when I can no longer achieve my desired sound through tuning. It doesn’t matter if it has been 1 week or 1 year, if you are unable to get the drum to sound the way you want, it’s time to change the drum heads.
I don’t usually give my kit an entire drum head overhaul at one time, unless we are gearing up for a live worship recording. The snare drum batter head will need to be changed most frequently, since you hit this drum the most.
When I install new drum heads I write the date of installation on the drum head as a reference, and I have gone 6 months without changing my batter tom heads, and several years without changing my resonant heads.
I know some of you reading this will disagree with me when it comes to drum head selection, and I welcome your comments and or rebukes. I would love to know what your favorite drum heads are and why. Feel free to discuss by leaving a comment below!