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  #1  
Old 04-02-2010, 03:13 AM
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Default Do heads really matter as much as we think?

I travel alot and have the oppurtunity to hear live music in several different cities and most of the time the whole drum kit is miked. With that in mind here is something I was thinking about recently: Most of us have our favorite brand and type of head but can any of you really hear the subtle difference between them in a miked live setting? I'd say 90% of the drummers I hear are playing either Remo emps or amb or Evans G1 or G2s clear or coated. That being said, when I walk into a club and the band is jamming I personally can't tell you what heads are being used. Unless the sound is completely dead, I have no idea until I go look at the kit. I think we tend to argue about the subtle differences we hear in our practice room or bedroom without the other musicians. Maybe its just me but I'm starting to think that swearing by one brand or the other is just silly. A properly tuned drum with any quality head sounds good period. Thoughts?
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Old 04-02-2010, 03:44 AM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Well if the only time you ever listen to music is in a crazy club setting, then probably not.

But if you ever actually listen to albums and such, then heads DO matter.
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Old 04-02-2010, 03:47 AM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Heads matter to drummers in the same way that guitar players have preferences for different gauges of strings. Can you hear what kind of strings a guitar player has on his guitar? I doubt it.

Can you tell what kind of sticks a drummer is using by listening to him?
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Old 04-02-2010, 03:52 AM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Bad analogy. Think of it more like distortion type or guitar model. Can you tell the difference between a Stratocaster and a Tele? You might not be aware of it, but if I were to play clips of each you could tell that they ARE different. Same if I put the guitars through different types of distortion or various pickups.

You're honestly saying the difference between snare types or cymbal makes? They may not be blatant differences, but they do have an affect on sound.
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Old 04-02-2010, 05:10 AM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Along the same lines, with a mic'd kit and a good soundman behind the board - does the hot blonde in the front row (or anybody else) hear a difference between a $5,000 kit and a $1,200 kit? No. I know people that delude themselves into believing this isnt true, since they just spent 4-5k on drums, but it is.
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Old 04-02-2010, 05:54 AM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

If we're going by what the audience can tell, for the most part they wouldn't know top of the line gear from Wal-Mart trash as long as the sound guys do their job, but there IS an audible difference that contributes to a sort of subconscious interpretation of the sound.

Ever heard a pianist on a beat up old upright versus a pristine baby grand? Oh sure, no one could be looking at their plate and go "wait, that crap sounds like an old cheapie upright!" but it'll make a difference nonetheless.
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Old 04-02-2010, 03:29 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

I remember doing a double bill many, many moons ago. I got to hear the first band, and the drums sounded KILLER. Couldn't wait to play them. When I got onstage, these drums were tuned so awful, and had such a crap stage sound... The difference was substantial. I just had to remember how great they sounded from the audience. So my thought is that when you're miced, heads and tuning are not as important as in an unmiced setting. Unmiced, low tuned 2 ply heads that are muffled sound just awful to me, (especially in the audience) and a slack tuned snare drum makes it worse.
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Old 04-02-2010, 03:45 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Of course, if you play metal, just trigger everything and almost nothing matters.
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Old 04-02-2010, 04:22 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Is your question about whether we can tell the difference between head types... or brands? You allude to both, and they're different questions with different responses.

By just hearing a drum, could a drummer tell which brand the head is? Most drummers, probably not. Could a non-drummer tell? Doubtful.

Yet among the variety of heads widely available in the US from Evans, Aquarian, Remo, Ludwig and Attack, there are very obvious differences in sound and feel from the drummer's perspective. The sonic differences are even more apparent when the drums are miked (except in extreme situations, such as where every drum is completely padded and not allowed to resonate.)

As for why I play one brand, it's because the heads I happen to love all come from one company. Does that mean I dislike heads from other manufacturers? For some head types, yes!

Now when you say "A properly tuned drum with any quality head sounds good period" that's true, although the terms 'good' and 'quality' are subjective. Also, that's another different question, as it doesn't relate to brand or head type. I suppose most of us could take any drum and any head, and make it sound as good (to our ears) as it can.

But that doesn't mean we couldn't improve the sound (to our ears) with a different head... as there are differences. :)

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Old 04-02-2010, 05:02 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

It doesn't matter if the audience can tell the difference in heads; it's all about what sounds good and feels good to you while you're playing them.

My philosophy on tuning is that you should always tune so that the drums sound good for you; never tune for the audience. You're up there to create the music, and if the drums don't sound musical to you, then your ability to play the musical ideas in your head will suffer. If your drums don't sound good in the audience, that's what miking them is for - so the audience hears what you hear sitting behind the kit. It's the sound guy's job (or your job, if you're doing your own sound) to faithfully reproduce the sound of the kit for the audience.
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Old 04-02-2010, 05:15 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Thanks for the reply Bermuda, its nice to have a pros perspective. I guess my point is I personally cannot tell the difference live (when miked) between similar head types. I'll use Evans as an example: I cannot say that the drummer is using coated G2 vs clear G2 or even coated G1 by just listening, yet as a gear junkie, I tend to get caught up in the subtle differences between the heads and go back and forth over which I want to use. My point is why do I this? I play out miked most of the time and if even I can't hear the difference why do I, or we as drummers in general argue over which is best? If I struggle to hear the differences while tuning at home with no other sounds happening how can I expect any drastic diffferences while playing with the band? So why do we as drummers put so much emphasis on drumheads and brands and coated vs clear? Does it matter that much?
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Old 04-02-2010, 05:53 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

I for one try to get the best possible sound out of a drum. There is always a subtle difference in the sound among the different heads. What plays more into it is the tuning of the drum and lastly how well the head holds up, I'm speaking in terms of the coated heads. I recently ,about three years ago, switched from Remo to Evans because of premature coating wear. I have four kits and three out of the four have different batter heads on the toms. I use Evans G2 clear, G2 coated and G1 coated batter heads. All the resonant heads are G1 clear. I'm lucky enough to be able to make A/B recordings of my drums and really scrutinise the difference in their sound. Sometimes it's very little, but other times it just blows you away.

I don't tune my drums for the venue, I tune them for the shell's resonance. Most of the time very little fine tuning is necessary for either stage or the studio, and they usually sounds just as good in the drum throne as it does out in front.

In a nut shell, heads do affect the sound of your drums, but tuning matters much more. The more experience a person gathers with their kit, the more they learn how to hear and what to listen for.

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Old 04-02-2010, 06:38 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

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Originally Posted by MisterMixelpix View Post
Can you tell the difference between a Stratocaster and a Tele?
Absolutely! I've played guitar for longer than I've played drums, and I was as much of a gear junkie for guitars as I am now for drums. Will the audience be able to tell, sound-wise? Nope. Will I, as the performer, be able to tell? Yes. Will it influence my performance? Yes. Do I have a preference? Yep.

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Originally Posted by MisterMixelpix View Post
Same if I put the guitars through different types of distortion or various pickups.
Once you know what you're listening for, it's easy to tell if somebody is playing through a Fender or a Marshall or a Mesa Boogie or a DS-1 or a Big Muff or a Tube Screamer on a record. It's harder to tell if they're playing on a PRS or an Ibanez. And, of course, with all of the production factors, sometimes even then I get it wrong. It's really hard to tell if somebody is playing on a Gretsch kit or a Ludwig or a Tama, since the heads are usually close-miked.

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You're honestly saying the difference between snare types or cymbal makes? They may not be blatant differences, but they do have an affect on sound.
When I do recording sessions, knowing what kind of sound they are looking for is job one for me. That way, I know what snares and cymbals to bring. Oh, and what heads to bring, too. Timbre is very important to recording engineers who have the final mix-down in mind. It's also important to drummers like me who view the quality of the sound your instruments make as our voice. Sure, you could hire a male singer for a session, but what timbre/attitude do you want...Billy Corgan or Tom Waits?
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Old 04-02-2010, 07:03 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

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Originally Posted by Doug Masters View Post
I travel alot and have the oppurtunity to hear live music in several different cities and most of the time the whole drum kit is miked. With that in mind here is something I was thinking about recently: Most of us have our favorite brand and type of head but can any of you really hear the subtle difference between them in a miked live setting? I'd say 90% of the drummers I hear are playing either Remo emps or amb or Evans G1 or G2s clear or coated. That being said, when I walk into a club and the band is jamming I personally can't tell you what heads are being used. Unless the sound is completely dead, I have no idea until I go look at the kit. I think we tend to argue about the subtle differences we hear in our practice room or bedroom without the other musicians. Maybe its just me but I'm starting to think that swearing by one brand or the other is just silly. A properly tuned drum with any quality head sounds good period. Thoughts?
Just because you can't ID what head is being used sight unseen does not mean an ambassador and a pinstripe sound the same through that PA in the club. Logic is flawed. Most people couldn't tell you if the guitar player is using a PAF or a super distortion but are easily distinguished when A/b'd
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Old 04-02-2010, 09:21 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

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My philosophy on tuning is that you should always tune so that the drums sound good for you; never tune for the audience... If your drums don't sound good in the audience, that's what miking them is for - so the audience hears what you hear sitting behind the kit.
Except that the mic hears a drum differently 2" from the head, or inside the kick, than you do sitting 20" or more away from a drum's batter, with the benefit of air moving and room ambience. If the drum sounds good to you, but not to the FOH guy or recording engineer, do you stick it down his throat and tell him that's his job to make it sound better?

Of course not. In those situations, you defer to the person who ultimately controls your sound.

But I do know some drummers who stand their ground, and as long as they're having a good time, nothing else matters. None of them work nearly as much as I do, and engineers value my ability to make sure the drums sound good for them. It's rare that one of my drums sounds bad to me, but good to the mic. In those situations, I grin & bear it, knowing that the resulting sound will make me sound good.

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Old 04-02-2010, 09:29 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

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Thanks for the reply Bermuda, its nice to have a pros perspective. I guess my point is I personally cannot tell the difference live (when miked) between similar head types.
Thanks, and there is less of a difference between similar heads from different manufacturers, but drummers can still tell. Does an Evans G2 sound like a Remo Emperor? Yeah, pretty darn close.

As for coated vs. clear, thats a very noticeable difference both for the drummer, and the mic.

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Old 04-02-2010, 09:40 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

i think it depends really. is the sound good? have the drums been heavily eq? depends what kind of gig too, if it's a small quiet gig the more likely it is you can pick out some nuances rather than if it is a rock/loud gig. also depends how loud the speakers/bass bins are at that time, how much of the original drum can be heard vs the FoH mix.
basically, i think it depends how much editing has gone into the drum sound.

then again if you mean when i'm personally going to play a gig do i choose my heads carefully? well ofcourse. it's like guitarists playing with different guage strings for different occasions.

personally i don't go into a loud club, hear a random mid tom and automatically think 'wow that must be such and such'. but, if it sounds good during the gig then i will go and check out what it sounds like on stage after the gig (with no one in the venue) and get an a/b with the FX on the channel strip on/off if possible. and get the sound engineers contact details ofcourse.
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Old 04-02-2010, 09:53 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

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Except that the mic hears a drum differently 2" from the head, or inside the kick, than you do sitting 20" or more away from a drum's batter, with the benefit of air moving and room ambience. If the drum sounds good to you, but not to the FOH guy or recording engineer, do you stick it down his throat and tell him that's his job to make it sound better?

Of course not. In those situations, you defer to the person who ultimately controls your sound.

But I do know some drummers who stand their ground, and as long as they're having a good time, nothing else matters. None of them work nearly as much as I do, and engineers value my ability to make sure the drums sound good for them. It's rare that one of my drums sounds bad to me, but good to the mic. In those situations, I grin & bear it, knowing that the resulting sound will make me sound good.

Bermuda
In a studio recording situation it's different; you're going to tune the drums so they sound best on the recording. I was just talking about a live playing situation.

I come from a jazz background. When I get a musical idea in my head, I know what it should sound like, and my drums should be tuned so I can express that musical idea the way I hear it in my head. If my drums are tuned so that they don't sound good to me, then I can't express those musical ideas, and my playing suffers. Therefore I need my drums to sound the way I expect them to sound. You wouldn't expect a guitar player to play an out-of-tune guitar, even if the audience heard it in-tune.

When there's a disconnect between what the musicians are playing, and what the audience is hearing, that's a problem. Because of this, you have to trust the sound guy to accurately reproduce the sounds of our instruments. Will they sound exactly the same as me sitting behind the kit? Nope, but if the sound guy does their job well, the sound will be close enough that it won't matter.
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Old 04-02-2010, 10:21 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Of course you hear the difference, especially while tuning that is. Ambassadors don't give as many boomy low tones i.e., but emperors don't allow higher pitched open tuning as good.

Asking if girl x or guy y in the audience is hearing any difference is silly IMO.

Discussing head choice when you muffle the toms more or less to death (or muffle anyway for that matter) doesn't make too much sense either.

One guy that notices the difference (if he's good in his job) definitely in my experience is the sound engineer.
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Old 04-02-2010, 10:34 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

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You wouldn't expect a guitar player to play an out-of-tune guitar, even if the audience heard it in-tune.
This analogy doesn't work - if a guitar is out of tune it's out of tune, period. Drums do not go by the same physics to produce sound.

On the main topic - I don't think all the heads are the same. It depends on one's expectations, what sound they are going for. I've found that equivalents of different brands don't work the same on a same drum kit... It's kind of a weird debate all this lol.
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Old 04-02-2010, 10:56 PM
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This analogy doesn't work - if a guitar is out of tune it's out of tune, period. Drums do not go by the same physics to produce sound.

On the main topic - I don't think all the heads are the same. It depends on one's expectations, what sound they are going for. I've found that equivalents of different brands don't work the same on a same drum kit... It's kind of a weird debate all this lol.
Okay, the guitarist is playing with clean tone, but the audience hears it with heavy distortion. Those open chords might sound good on stage, not so much for the audience. You get the idea.

I guess it's not a big deal if you play music with concrete parts where you're doing the same exact thing every night. But for music that's mostly improvised, you need your drums to sound good.
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Old 04-03-2010, 02:04 AM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

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I was just talking about a live playing situation... If my drums are tuned so that they don't sound good to me, then I can't express those musical ideas, and my playing suffers. Therefore I need my drums to sound the way I expect them to sound.
It applies in a live situation as well, and I too play better when my drums sound the way I like them. But we cannot disregard the sound to the mics, or put it on the shoulders of an engineer. Drums sounding good to our ears and the mics is not (necessarily) mutually exclusive, and it's perfectly easy to make both sound great. In fact for typical jazz tuning, it should be quite easy. There shouldn't be an issue at all.

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Old 04-03-2010, 05:17 AM
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Most people couldn't tell you if the guitar player is using a PAF or a super distortion but are easily distinguished when A/b'd
LOL, there we go. I've been trying to figure out just how to say this for the entire thread, you nailed it in one try.

Yeah, sure, if you were to go around and ask if they could tell what kind of heads/cymbals the drummer is using the audience would be blanked out, but if you took a break and switched EVERYTHING out, they'd definitely notice.
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Old 04-04-2010, 05:35 AM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

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A properly tuned drum with any quality head sounds good period. Thoughts?
True, but if you hear a certain sound in your head, you naturally want to achieve it in reality. Sound reinforcement can make up for a drum's deficiencies, but if you start with the sound you want, you have a better chance of amplifying it later. I've tried all makes of heads and always come back to Remo. Their heads have a certain roundness of tone that I need. Evans sound more brittle to me.

I play best when my instrument sounds right to me acoustically.
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Old 04-19-2010, 12:54 AM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

I recently purchased a Mapex birch kit with 5 1/2 snare I,m not happy with the snappy sound of this drum. I,m trying to achieve a warmer 'tock' tone. what sort of batter head should I get.
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Old 04-19-2010, 02:05 AM
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From a high-quality-to-low-quality standpoint, yes. Just about every low- to mid-high-priced kit you buy will have terrible heads on it. They feel and sound bad.

To be honest, when I drop serious cash on something, it's not so other people can go "Wow, that sounds good", or "Wow, that looks good". It's so that I can think "Wow, that sounds good", or "Wow, that looks good".

As for the differences between heads? Well, there is something in that argument. Especially when it comes down to the differences between Emps and Ambs, or G2s and G1s. I will always use G2s and Emperors simply because they're thicker. I play a lot of punk and metal, so I need heads that can step up and take a beating. I've hit holes in thinner heads before, and there's nothing more annoying than that, so I always go for thick. Not only that, but they feel nice when you hit them.
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Old 04-24-2010, 05:16 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

I heard a band about a month or so back that the drummer was playing a Tama bubinga kit. I knew right away that he was not plating the G-2 heads. The sound was more dead than my own kit. I was correct. He had on EC2s. I tried them on my own kit about 2 years ago and removed them as quickly as I installed them for that very same reason. So,yes,sometimes you can hear the difference from the audience.
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Old 04-25-2010, 01:48 AM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

I was about to give up on my Onyx heads after a brief honeymoon period because I couldn't tune them where I wanted to. Finally I replaced all my stock reso heads with Evans G1 clears, tuned 'em pretty much exactly where I had the heads the first time and BAM. The kit just WOKE UP. My heads went from having a thin "BOMP" to a giant "BOOM" with tons of attack, and I credit the new resos.

So... yeah. I think heads make a difference. Not so much between parallel lines of one brand versus another, maybe, but change out your 1 ply stock heads for some 2 ply Aquarian P2's and you'll see a HUGE difference.
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Old 04-25-2010, 04:16 AM
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I saw the famous Drummers of Burundi on the weekend and had a peak at their custom drums (e.g. a carver chopped down a tree, carved out the inside and then put a cowskin head on it using a peg system). Not one of the drums were completely round; and forget about a bearing edge! Yet, to the audience, they founded (and looked) fantastic!

It took me a while to realize, that 99% of what I do seems to be for me, rather than the audience. I don't gig very much, but I practice a fair amount. I am beyond having to be flamboyant. I keep the beat and not too much more. Bonham triplets ... only in practice/jams. Therefore, most of the gear tweaking and upgrades are for me; most of the audience will never notice.

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Old 04-25-2010, 04:31 AM
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I wonder why it's all being discussed in terms of LIVE sessions. Obviously a bunch of stuff doesn't make a huge difference in a chaotic situation like a live performance.
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Old 04-26-2010, 08:36 PM
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

I think heads are one of the most important things on a drumset. I also think NEW heads are more important than what brand. I don't know how many times I've taken a beginner drumset and put new professional heads on them and made the kit sound exceptional.

My choice of brands is mainly a two fold decision. I have had bad experiences with remo heads pulling out and it has wasted alot of money and time on my part messing with them. I use evans heads because I've never had one pull out, and they are pretty widely available in the United States so when I'm on tour I can get to a shop and pick up my "usual" heads. Aquarian makes great stuff too but I cannot always find what I'm looking for even in my own town let alone out on the road.
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  #32  
Old 06-17-2010, 11:46 PM
Bass of Clubs Bass of Clubs is offline
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

I think you could ask a more general question... does gear matter as much as we think?

I think the difference between bad gear (and/or badly tuned gear) and ok gear is much bigger than the difference between ok gear and top gear.

Once you get into a reasonable level of quality, the thing that makes the biggest difference to the audience is the quality of the drumming not the quality of the gear. As long as the gear isn't audibly "bad" I think the audience couldn't give a toss whether you're using 1,500 or 10,000 worth of gear.

So I reckon it's 95% talent and 5% gear.

Better get practising...
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  #33  
Old 06-29-2010, 02:19 PM
ShaunStruwig ShaunStruwig is offline
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Quote:
Originally Posted by kel egan View Post
I recently purchased a Mapex birch kit with 5 1/2 snare I,m not happy with the snappy sound of this drum. I,m trying to achieve a warmer 'tock' tone. what sort of batter head should I get.
I have the Same problem, I put a G2 head on it and it's alot better. Although If you want to make it even better I'd recommend puttign die-cast hoops on it. Hope that helps.
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  #34  
Old 07-25-2010, 01:20 PM
longsleeveless longsleeveless is offline
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Will your kit sound better if you have a great heads but a cheap/unbranded drumset?
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  #35  
Old 07-26-2010, 05:08 AM
DTDDrums
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Bottom line is, aftermarket heads will make any drumset sound better. But a no name cheap set will never sound good, although it will sound better.
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  #36  
Old 07-27-2010, 12:11 AM
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Swiss Matthias Swiss Matthias is offline
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Quote:
Originally Posted by longsleeveless View Post
Will your kit sound better if you have a great heads but a cheap/unbranded drumset?
Yes. 20
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  #37  
Old 07-27-2010, 11:23 AM
mediocrefunkybeat
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

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Originally Posted by DTDDrums View Post
Bottom line is, aftermarket heads will make any drumset sound better. But a no name cheap set will never sound good, although it will sound better.
That actually depends on the kit.

Two examples. One member here sent me one of his band albums a while back. On the phone the other day, he informed me that it was a 'Sonic' set that had been tuned properly with decent heads. Would I have had ANY idea? Absolutely not - and I like to think I have better than average ears. Lucky? Perhaps, but unlikely.

The second example is another member who is sadly no longer with us (I considered him a personal friend and I miss him dearly). He bought a Yamaha Rydeen - not rubbish kit, but certainly low-end. A set of Fiberskyns later and that little kit sounded like countless professional kits.

At this point, it's worth me mentioning two more things. i) Snares are an exception to this and a good snare is a worthwhile investment and ii) the quality of brand construction now is better than it has EVER been. There are flaky, generic sets out there, but 95% of what major manufacturers put out now is great quality and as far as I'm concerned, if the quality is good, then the rest really just does not matter.
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  #38  
Old 07-28-2010, 06:33 AM
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jonutarr jonutarr is offline
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Default Re: Do heads really matter as much as we think?

Yes!

Heads are more important than shells!

Quote:
Originally Posted by MisterMixelpix View Post
Bad analogy. Think of it more like distortion type or guitar model.
As a guitarist I'd say that is a bad analogy, distortion is an effect not part of the instrument, strings and heads are a good analogy and I can tell the difference in both
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