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WHAT IS A DRUM HEAD?
A drum head is a piece of material that’s tightened and placed over one or both sides of a drum to create a consistent surface for you to hit. One side is the side you hit (a.k.a. the “batter side”) and the other side is the resonant side. Also referred to as a “drum skin,” these were once created from actual animal skins (I.e. calf skin) that were stretched over or tied around a drum. These days though, they’re mostly made from synthetic materials, like plastic.
Drum heads are made for all the different parts of a drum kit, from the snare drum to the toms to the bass. Think of a drum head as the lid of the drum; without one, there is nothing for you to strike.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD DRUM HEAD?
While most drums come with a drum head, many of these are standard stock quality and won’t provide the fullness of sound your drums can create. To get the most out of your drums, you’ll want to consider upgrading to a separate skin.
While they come in different thicknesses, the most common drum head size is “single-ply” (literally a single sheet of plastic). The best single-ply drum heads will get you sound that is punchy and bright, and the heads will also react more sensitively to your drum sticks. There are also double-ply drum heads, which will be thicker in size and fuller in sound.
Some drum heads come with a thin coating, which may look nice, but tends to muffle the sound a bit. Clearer heads will sound more “open.” At the end of the day though, it’s all a matter of preference — and playing style.
“A good drum is truly a matter of taste and what sound you’re looking for,” says Mike Marsh, drummer for folk rockers, The Avett Brothers. “The truth of the matter is that in most cases it’s about who’s playing it and how their approach is interpreted; take a cheap bass drum and put some great heads on it, tune it and treat it to your liking or to what the song or genre calls for. Put a good drummer behind [the kit],” he adds, “and chances are, you can get something out of it.”
Drum heads are a necessity for drumming, but with the right ones, they can also help improve the sound quality and feeling of a performance. “Being a drummer is hard work and calls for endless hours of fine tuning within its art form,” Marsh says. “It’s easy to want to be a bashing drummer because it’s loud and drum sets look awesome, but making a song feel good takes talent, hard work and dedication.” In our opinion: a good set of drum heads doesn’t hurt either.
1. Evans EMAD System Drum Head Pack
This set from Evans gets you a batter bass drum head and a resonant drum head with an externally mounted adjustable damping system (EMAD) that lets you control how your drum sounds and feels by choosing from one of two removable foam damping rings.
Both drum heads are made from a single ply of 10 mm film. The resonant drum head adds an offset microphone port. Users say both drum heads are super durable and can really take a beating.
Thanks to their “Level 360” technology, Evans says the drum heads will slot easily over most bass drums. Sound is tight, clean and well-balanced across all lows, mids and highs.
All Evans drum heads are designed, engineered, and manufactured in the USA.
PROS: Users say their drums sound more musical, with more expression and less thud.
CONS: Though these are studio-grade drum heads, they are also most expensive option on our list.
2. Remo PP-1470-PS Pinstripe Clear Tom Drum Head Pack
This set of clear drum heads is from the Remo family, whose founder Remo D Belli is known as a percussion pioneer, for his work in developing the first synthetic Mylar drum heads.
This set includes three different drum heads for your toms, each made from a two-ply, 7 mm film. Remo says the “overtone reducing agent” applied between the two layers help to provide overtone control with increased attack.
Users, meantime, say the Remos deliver rich, powerful sound, with clear mid-range and deep low-end tones. That makes these drum heads especially ideal for R&B and rock musicians, who need to deliver a good thump to their songs.
PROS: Durable, resilient drum heads that deliver full, punchy sound.
CONS: Jazz or pop musicians will want drum heads that sound a little brighter and snappier.
3. Remo Silentstroke Drum Head
If you are trying to lower the volume or silence your drum kit, say in a tiny studio or apartment, you’ll want to pick up these “Silentstroke” drum heads from Evans. Made from a one-ply mesh construction, they slide easily over your bass and snare drums for a tight, secure fit (these are available in six to 24-inch sizes).
Users say the drum heads reduce volume to about 10-20 percent of the regular level, but sound reminds crisp and responsive, delivering a spring-like feel at very low decibel levels. A great step up from rubber practice pads, which typically mute or muffle sound completely.
PROS: Great pick-up and rebound for a set of quiet drum heads.
CONS: Tone won’t be as loud or resonant as regular drum heads. Some users also found these harder to tune than other models on our list.