Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Drum heads!

This. Just get this. 
Did you know that it's rather hard to write about drum stuff while your country is being dismantled and driven into the ground by a narcissistic criminal psychopath, who is certainly compromised by a hostile foreign power, and is apparently hell bent spreading disease and sacrificing the lives of hundreds of thousands of your fellow countrymen and women, nominally in a futile bid to revive the economy, and his electoral prospects along with it, but actually just a mass-suicidal gesture of fealty to his boundless, pathological vanity? It is. Hard to write under those circumstances. Or to do much productive work at all.

So let's talk about DRUM HEADS today. This is by no means a complete overview of what's available, it's just my personal impressionistic idiosyncratic list of what I've played and recommend, and for what purpose. Or what I recommend against.

Remo Ambassador
Remo's medium weight general purpose head, and the Coca-Cola of drumheads. The one correct answer that is always correct for any music, tuned high or low. These are just what drums sound like. Use them top (coated) and bottom (uncoated or coated), for all drums, including bass drum (no muffling, if you dare), and be done with it. Easy to get a sound, pleasing character.

Remo Renaissance Ambassador
A hazy medium weight head, with a slightly textured, matte finish. They handle well in a range of tunings. Sort of a “natural” look and sound. Possibly slightly lighter than regular Ambassadors? They “play” a little lighter, more responsive, slightly less body. Since about 2000, these have been the tom heads on my Gretsch set, and have been excellent tuned high or low. I used them more recently on my Sonor set and they didn't work so well.

Remo Pinstripe
Drumhead of the 80s, for that full-on post-Gadd fusion sound. They have a particular timbre that sounds quite dated. But they also have a promising full sound tuned high, and I do know one or two jazz drummers who still use them. I used them on my Sonor set recently, on a lark. In the 80s they were the standard tenor drum heads in drum corps, and sounded great tuned extremely high.

Remo Emperor
A two ply head in case you need more durability, but you don't want to go full Pinstripe. Similar sound, with less of that Pinstripe character, and less character overall. It's a blunted sound. Bass drum head is acceptable, if you want a semi-live sound, without going for the full unmuffled Ambassador experience.

Remo CS Black Dot 
For an edgy 70s sound. Like the Pinstripes they have a distinctive sound that is dated— see mid-period Tony Williams— but it's been quite awhile since they were popular. Standard head for concert toms, if anyone is still using those. It's not a pretty sound, but it has an energetic edge to it. Right now I'm using one on my bass drum with a felt strip, and I like it a lot. I probably would not use them on regular toms, definitely not on the snare drum.

Evans coated medium single ply
The RC Cola of drum heads. They're fine, they sound pretty good, but characterless. Characterless as the name they gave the line, which I can never remember, and am not going to look up. Acceptable, but to me not a great sound in any tuning.

Evans coated single play bass drum head with the changeable muffle rings
Again, give your heads a name I can remember, please. Excellent head, with a nice tonal sound; they sound too pretty to me. It's a mannered sound. Younger jazz drummers will love them. I need more edge. I'm sure it's an easy head to record. Comes with three sizes of muffling rings, I never used any of them. The ring holder alone muffles the drum enough.

Evans ST Dry
You know these muffled heads don't sound to the audience the way they sound to you, right? Specialty snare drum head, with an extra ring around the edge on the inside, pinholes around the edge. I normally don't muffle my drums at all, but I have this on one of my drums, and I liked it for low volume playing. Good for maintaining definition if you play a lot of dense stuff on the snare drum. Probably great for recording, once again.

Not recommended

Remo Fiberskyn
These came installed on my first drum set back in 1982, and I've tried them a few times since then, and they just don't make it. They have a stiff feel, and I could never get a deep sound with them, or a good high sound— any good sound at all. It's a very surface sound, with a funny slap, and a strange kind of papery roar.

Remo Diplomat
The thinnest general purpose head by Remo. They don't quite handle the way you expect them to. Strange trebly, papery sound, they choke easily. It's a choked sound generally— lighter weight does not equal more resonance. Some potential as a snare drum top head if you're doing a lot of brush playing, and use light sticks— they have a very bright, edgy sound. If there's any funk in your touch you'll kill it. I've had one on my hammered bronze Ludwig drum for about ten years. I don't like the Diplomat snare side head— again, a thin, papery sound.

Powerstroke bass drum heads
And their copycats— that is most “modern” bass drum heads. Anything multi ply, anything with built in rings. I hate 'em. It's a “thick”, long sound that people interpret as “full.” A lot of lows, I guess, and mediocre attack. People hear them as having a full, “funky” sound, but they're mediocre. Poor response, difficult to produce much volume.

All other heads
I've gotten to use Aquarian heads in various settings since before they were even commercially available, and I've never been particularly impressed. I used one of their vintage-style heads a few years ago, and did not dig it. Multi-ply Evans heads never made much of an impression on me— basically they're flavorless Pinstripes, even-more-flavorless Emperors. The no-name heads that came with your mid-line drum set suck, replace them with Ambassadors. There are some new calf/goat/???-skin heads being made I would like to try, but the manufacturers never respond to my requests for free stuff.


Anonymous said...

Thanks. Had a couple questions -

I’ve always wondered - for an 18 inch bass drum, is it important to use a designated ‘Bass Drum Head’, or does a regular Remo Coated Ambassador 18” Tom Head work just as well?

Also, do you have an opinion on Attack drum heads?

Todd Bishop said...

I think the regular 18 will work-- that Black Dot on my 18 is a regular tom tom head. I think it doesn't work the other way around-- the bass drum head won't fit a tom tom.

I've never used Attack heads to my knowledge. If I did I wasn't impressed enough to note their brand.

Anonymous said...

In my experience it depends on the drum - "bass drum" heads have a thicker hoop than a normal drum head. I've used bds where an 18" tom head works fine, but I've also faced the opposite - without the thicker head-hoop the bd hoop doesn't sit well and it's difficult to tune, or the tuning slips.

Again, I think it really depends on the bass drum and its hoop, perhaps the brand of head, too.

Todd, if haven't already you might like some of the Aquarian Heads - the "vintage" and DeJohnette series. I love Ambassadors, too, but I find the coating on those particular Aquarian heads lasts longer than on Ambassadors, especially if one is playing a lot of brushes. On the flip side, because the coating is different/thicker (and I also think those heads, while single-ply, are a little bit thicker than Ambs) they are a bit bit more muffled sounding, IMLO. I don't know, maybe you won't like them, but thought I'd offer the suggestion.

Anonymous said...

I missed that you had already tried the Aq. Vintage heads and didn't care for them... my apologies...

Anonymous said...

Given the current situation in the United States (and especially in Portland) I feel terribly uninspired. I’m currently making myself learn “the boring stuff” as if I were a 9 year old being forced to learn piano. Turns out that’s very good for my playing which is inspiring on its own. Do you have any posts that you know you need to write someday but have been put off because they’re too difficult or boring (for you)? Maybe now is a good time to get those out: like cleaning house when it’s raining because you can’t go outside. Poor analogy for Portlanders because we go out anyway but you get the idea. Hang in there! This really is temporary, as hard as that is to see.

Todd Bishop said...

I think I just used one of those Aquarian heads on the bass drum. One of my snares is due for a change, so I might try one on that. It definitely seemed like a thicker/stiffer coating, which would be nice for brushes. Then again, I see people playing these old wasted Ambassadors and sounding great with brushes, so maybe the coating really doesn't matter that much.

Anonymous said...

The Aquarian Vintage on a snare is super nice, especially on my SupraLite. The thickness is welcome there and the coating lasts a very long time. Actually I don’t know if it’s “coated” at all. It feels more like it’s an actual textured plastic surface. Brushes sound loud!

Anonymous said...

FYI I believe the only difference between the Aquarian Vintage and Aquarian Modern Vintage is the Vintage is a slightly larger diameter for older snares. Modern Vintage is standard diameter.

Bernd Klug said...

Todd, I just found/read THIS post.

To be very honest, I am definitely not an admirer of the US of A, and the jester who ruled your country until last January topped it all!

The introduction to your posting regarding drumheads has shown me that in even the US of A there are some folks with a brain, a heart and a clear mind!

Thank you for that and - of course - for all the material you shared with the drumming community. Please stay healthy and take care of yourself and your beloved.

('Non-gay' LOL) hugs from Germany

Bernd (

Todd Bishop said...

Thanks Bernd, most of us are glad to be rid of him(?), too. I hoped W Bush would be our national low point-- for modern times anyway. Unfortunately a large part of the populace lives just to create new low points.