Heads over Shells

Tommy_D

Platinum Member
Overall shell construction does have an effect on the sound of a drum. Thin vs thick, multi ply vs stave/segmented/steam bent, additions of re-rings, bearing edge design, light or heavy hardware, thin triple flange hoops vs diecast or wood, etc. These things all play a roll in the overall sound of the drum. Heads, however, are going to be the thing that stands out to many as the determining factor for a drum's sound because it is the thing that is vibrating not only the most, but with the greatest amount of energy when the drum is struck.

Heads will have a large effect on shaping the overall "tone" the drum has (this is what most people hear when they hear a drum), but the shell, its design, and the various components attached to that shell all play a roll on the tambre of the drum (these are the tiny details that fall under that initial "tone" the heads have).

Now, these tambre differences can be very subtle, and many people won't really notice them. In many ways that is good because ignorance is bliss and cheap drums are awesome (it gives you more money for cymbals). I will fully admit that my ear is not so perfectly tuned in to hearing all the tiny differences in a drum's sound, but I can hear the difference between my Birch and Maple shells despite them both being made by the same company with the same shell construction and hardware. The drums can be tuned the exact same with the same heads, but the clarity and purity of the sound is different between the two. How the different frequency ranges are emphasized within the sound spectrum is different between the two. It's not the heads that are shaping these sounds, it's the shells. In contrast, I could not hear a difference (or at least not an appreciable enough difference) between my DW Collectors kit and my PDP Concept Maple kit with fresh cut edges. So the DW's were axed. Nice drums, but they didn't perform any better (for my needs) than their cheaper cousins. So win/win for me as I got to have a great sounding inexpensive kit and spent the extra money on great cymbals.

The "marketing" that many people talk about as being hogwash is mostly deserved, but if you spent all day, every work day, listening to drums of all different sizes and constructions you would start getting your ear tuned in to hearing the tiny nuances that each of the different drums and components have. These are the tiny, subtle things that set those particular drums apart from the rest. When everyone in the business is building round cylinders with a mylar diaphram on each side, you have to get in to the nitty-gritty detail of things to find what separates your product from everyone else's. Sometimes that difference is blown out of proportion, sometimes it is not.

In the end, heads make a big difference in the sound quality of your drums, but it is not the only factor.
 

WallyY

Platinum Member
The complexities of muffling are probably most blatant in heads, but it's also evident in wood density and edge design.

Poplar drums don't sound bright, and thick heads don't sound bright.

I don't think basing judgement from a recording is accurate.
Our ears can hear a lot more than what our speakers or headphones are implying.

Most people don't have the luxury of trying the same set in different woods, and are then at the mercy of electronic interpretation.

Nothing sounds like a real drum unless you're in the room with it, and at that point, the subtle differences might be more understandable.
 

CompactDrums

Silver Member
Interesting... I might have to test this when a good opportunity arises.

That was not my experience the only time I actually tried it. I compared 12” toms, both with ambassadors, top and bottom. One drum was a Pearl CZX with extra thick shells and a Sonor HiLite which had thin shells. Yes I could hear some slight differences with one played right next to the other. But without the side by side comparison I couldn’t tell you which was which had I neen blindfolded. I attribute most of the tiny difference to tuning descrepancies.

YMMV
 

lefty2

Platinum Member
I'm not trying to cause trouble here LOL but what about the drums that don't have a shell, Remo Roto Toms. I do believe that the bearing edges affect the sound of the drums quite a bit. Especially when it comes to rounded versus Sharp bearing edges.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Wonderful responses so far and thank you, especially to our resident pro with decades of touring and recording experience! Bermuda your insight was just what I was hoping to get to shed some insight into any misconceptions on my part.
Thanks, but don't discount the fact that heads do bring something a little different to the inherent sound of the drum. Every element of a drum plays a part, including tuning, damping, stick weight, stick velocity, placement of the stick on the head, and whether the stick catches any rim, and how much!

There's a lot going on with drums... don't even ask what effect wire type, strand count, tension, and tuning of the reso has on snare drums! :O

Bermuda
 

Push pull stroke

Platinum Member
You guys are balls with this idea about heads here (14" deep bass drums too, but thats another discussion). Your basic Rockstar or Catalina etc. will not run with a PHX, Starclassic, Collectors etc, etc regardless of heads. You can tell yourself what you need to, but it won't be true. You say you'll head it better and tune it better, but what's stopping a high end owner from doing the same. Its like tubocharging a 4 cylinder and saying it's as good as an 8. Well I'll just supercharge my 8 and then it's settled. Game over. Better shells win over junk. Now can you hear the difference between Cherry and Maple? You sure can. Maybe not so much recorded with an IPhone held over them on the floor of the NAMM show, but then those were also all high end drums. Not a Rockstar or Catalina among them. Buy budget drums if thats all you can afford or justify, and they can sound great. So enjoy them, but please don't think that a 10-20 dollar head will ever make them sound as good as a better drum with the same. Thats just you trying to convince yourself of something. What that is or why, i don't know.
Maybe. Honestly, though, it seems to me that the main difference between new drums these days is hardware quality. And spending more than about 4K on a new set is completely pointless, IMHO.
 

Jeremy Bender

Platinum Member
Wonderful responses so far and thank you, especially to our resident pro with decades of touring and recording experience! Bermuda your insight was just what I was hoping to get to shed some insight into any misconceptions on my part.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
I picked up somewhere along the line that 80% of a drum's sound is the head and its tuning...
Remo Belli said that, something like 'the sound comes from the head'. Oh wait... he owned a major head company! Gee, I wonder if that was just marketing? :O

I'm not saying a head isn't important, just that it's not the single most important aspect of a drum's sound. There are many other factors & specs that determine the sound a drum makes.

Bermuda
 

timmdrum

Silver Member
I picked up somewhere along the line that 80% of a drum's sound is the head and its tuning, and that the biggest shell factors that matter are if the shell is true round (as viewed from straight above) and the bearing edge true flat (viewed from 90 degree angle), because those affect the *head's* performance. Then the thing about warmth/attack from rounder/sharper edges come into play, then the shell thickness, and then the last factor was the wood type, not mattering nearly as much as all the aforementioned.

I don't recall any of my sources. :D
 
You guys are balls with this idea about heads here (14" deep bass drums too, but thats another discussion). Your basic Rockstar or Catalina etc. will not run with a PHX, Starclassic, Collectors etc, etc regardless of heads. You can tell yourself what you need to, but it won't be true. You say you'll head it better and tune it better, but what's stopping a high end owner from doing the same. Its like tubocharging a 4 cylinder and saying it's as good as an 8. Well I'll just supercharge my 8 and then it's settled. Game over. Better shells win over junk. Now can you hear the difference between Cherry and Maple? You sure can. Maybe not so much recorded with an IPhone held over them on the floor of the NAMM show, but then those were also all high end drums. Not a Rockstar or Catalina among them. Buy budget drums if thats all you can afford or justify, and they can sound great. So enjoy them, but please don't think that a 10-20 dollar head will ever make them sound as good as a better drum with the same. Thats just you trying to convince yourself of something. What that is or why, i don't know.
 
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dboomer

Senior Member
Well as much as you have a point, try putting the exact same heads on a set of 6mm maple shells and a set of 11 mm Birch shells.

They will sound completely different. Not even close to each other.
That was not my experience the only time I actually tried it. I compared 12” toms, both with ambassadors, top and bottom. One drum was a Pearl CZX with extra thick shells and a Sonor HiLite which had thin shells. Yes I could hear some slight differences with one played right next to the other. But without the side by side comparison I couldn’t tell you which was which had I neen blindfolded. I attribute most of the tiny difference to tuning descrepancies.

YMMV
 

steadypocket

Gold Member
Head type and tensioning/tuning influences a drum's tone more than anything IMO. Bearing edges, hoop and hardware type, and shell thickness, depth and diameter all factor in of course. Ranking way towards the bottom is wood type, at least for ply drums. I don't buy into the ridiculous hype and marketing claims. Metal type to my ears influences tone much more than wood type.
 

BertTheDrummer

Gold Member
Couldn't agree with you more.

This video speaks volumes re.

Nice sentiment, bad tuning and noisy background aside, even though they spent so much time yelling out "They are the same!" They weren't the same, and you can hear differences. Not saying it is extreme differences, but there are differences. Plus not to mention that all of those toms were made by the same company, so one would expect them to have at least some inherent similar characteristics.
 
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BenOBrienSmith

Senior Member
Heads are certainly the biggest variation that can be made to a drum's sound by the drummer, due to the large number of choices available. But I would disagree that the head as a component of the drum is the "biggest determining factor" in the sound. Shell material, plies, edges, hardware mass and rim weight are at least equally crucial elements to the sound a given drum wants to make. Heads give some sonic choices and leeway, but not much in terms of the basic resulting sound.
I'll second this with the addition of tuning (and touch...). Great drums with great heads in a great room does not necessarily mean great sound. Great drum sounds exist at the intersection of the drum construction, drumhead construction, tuning, touch (performance), and placement (within a space). You can make a low-end kit sound pretty darn good in if all of the other factors are managed but when you put it up against a high-end kit with all of the same factors accounted for, it tends to be pretty obvious (especially before you stick microphones on them and go to work with the signal chain). There's a bit of a "weakest link" scenario here, though not all factors are necessarily evenly weighted.

Many companies have come up with some pretty dense marketing stories to push their products and the key is that not all of the "benefits" that come from the "features" are grounded in sound, despite what you may be lead to believe. The market eats up exotic finishes and woods, beautifully machined accessories and colorful product variations. It's up to the individual to think critically and determine what is of value to them. Is sound all that matters? But what about that gorgeous new finish...? Do you want an instrument that gets the job done or looks mighty fine under the lights (or up on a pedestal)?

The danger is when we start to believe the hype about a product sounding significantly different from another simply because of a particular feature without some legitimate evidence to back up the claims. Buyer's remorse is strong in the musical instrument industry because of this.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Heads are certainly the biggest variation that can be made to a drum's sound by the drummer, due to the large number of choices available. But I would disagree that the head as a component of the drum is the "biggest determining factor" in the sound. Shell material, plies, edges, hardware mass and rim weight are at least equally crucial elements to the sound a given drum wants to make. Heads give some sonic choices and leeway, but not much in terms of the basic resulting sound.

For example... a drum with roundover edges is not going to have a lot of attack, regardless of the head used. And a drum with sharp edges is not going to have a lot of warmth, regardless of the head. Those drums have a propensity to make certain sounds, and the head choice does little to change that.

It's all kind of a 'dance'. Some drums sound their best with certain heads, others sound best with different heads. I have a lot of drums with a lot of different make-ups and edges, and I use a lot of different heads to get each to sound its best (to my ear.) For me, the shell tends to govern the sound and determines which head sounds best, rather than the other way around.

Bermuda
 

Stroker

Platinum Member
While watching videos and reading posts lately I learned quite a bit about shell construction than ever before. However I'm still convinced the biggest determining factor in drum sound is the heads used on the drums.
In other words... the majority of tone we, the audience (or microphone) hears is the head selection not necessarily the Lake Superior maple cross laminated stress free secret sauce legacy hybrid bearing edge etc... that the folks in the marketing dept. would have us obsess over.

I'm not saying those items don't affect the sound. I just don't think they have the dramatic effect on tone that they're presented as when compared to head selection.
Couldn't agree with you more.

This video speaks volumes re.
 

CompactDrums

Silver Member
One exception to my above post.

Put an Aquarian SuperKick II on any bass drum and it will sound like an Aquarian SuperKick II :) Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Those heads sound like a premastered bass drum even without any attempt at decent tuning. :)
 

CompactDrums

Silver Member
Well as much as you have a point, try putting the exact same heads on a set of 6mm maple shells and a set of 11 mm Birch shells.

They will sound completely different. Not even close to each other.

Now take two identical shells, cut a standard 45/45 bearing edge on one and a roundover on the other. Even with the same heads, they won't sound anything alike.

Yes changing heads has the most impact on the sound of the same drums, but crappy drums will sound crappy regardless of heads.

While watching videos and reading posts lately I learned quite a bit about shell construction than ever before. However I'm still convinced the biggest determining factor in drum sound is the heads used on the drums.
In other words... the majority of tone we, the audience (or microphone) hears is the head selection not necessarily the Lake Superior maple cross laminated stress free secret sauce legacy hybrid bearing edge etc... that the folks in the marketing dept. would have us obsess over.

I'm not saying those items don't affect the sound. I just don't think they have the dramatic effect on tone that they're presented as when compared to head selection.
 

Jeremy Bender

Platinum Member
While watching videos and reading posts lately I learned quite a bit about shell construction than ever before. However I'm still convinced the biggest determining factor in drum sound is the heads used on the drums.
In other words... the majority of tone we, the audience (or microphone) hears is the head selection not necessarily the Lake Superior maple cross laminated stress free secret sauce legacy hybrid bearing edge etc... that the folks in the marketing dept. would have us obsess over.

I'm not saying those items don't affect the sound. I just don't think they have the dramatic effect on tone that they're presented as when compared to head selection.
 
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