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  #1  
Old 05-16-2018, 11:36 PM
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larryace larryace is offline
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Default Calfskin Heads

TLDR: Calf = fundamental and snare wires, mylar = fundamental, snare wires, plus nasty o-tones.

I wanted to chronicle my journey with calfskin heads. I decided to try out a full set, top and bottom, on my segmented walnut gig drums with the "unique to Guru" solid maple finger jointed tom hoops, Miss Pennsylvania herself, Yolanda.

(She likes a big entrance)

So far I've only received 2 of the 7 calf heads I ordered, a 14" I got 2 days ago and a 13" I got today. They are both installed. I did a quick and dirty recording of my 13" tom before with a clear ambassador batter and then after with calf on the batter.

I'm not sure if I'm going to try calf on the bottom snare head. It is offered. My snare tone is already radically changed with the calf on just the batter, and I'm still in culture shock. Not sure on the bass drum either. I'm very happy with my current BD sound. We'll see.

I did make some interesting discoveries. By far is the overtone ratio. My snare with calf on batter is I'm estimating at a ratio (for descriptive purposes) of 80/15/5 with 80% being the fundamental, 15% the snare wire sound and 5% the overtones. With plastic, I'd put the ratio at 50/15/35.

By comparison, plastic heads have fairly noticeable, not very nice sounding, tinny timbre-ed reflections that I never thought twice about. The kind of O-tones I liked TBH...or learned to like..in a snare to date. So this new calf head snare tone is like me trying to eat brussel sprouts. Trying to acquire the taste. How will I get that Bruford sound? I'm not a 2 snare guy. I just added a 12" timbale (thanks Al, it's perfect) which freaks me out enough.

I like ring in a snare, I'm imprinted with ring, and with the calf head, most of the ring seems gone now. I'm hoping I will like this snare tone better than the plastic tone eventually. Like hopefully in the future I'll gag when I hear plastic, like I gag when I hear muffled toms (I used to muffle toms). I want to like calf. I want to give Yolanda the best heads on Earth. That could be calfskin heads. Plus who plays calf anymore? It's cool to be off the beaten path sometimes. Plus it's completely traditional. The longevity is a major factor, I will admit that. If it is indeed true that they keep their tone for a decade or more. The tom toms...I know I'm gonna like the tone there. I don't need tom O-tones. Give me fundamental on toms for days. Sustain too. I will be listening closely for the sustain factor this weekend. The snare...time will tell.

With my 13" tom, calf on batter side only, I experienced what I'd put at a 90/10 relationship of fundamental to overtone. With plastic on the same tom I'd put the ratio at 70/30.

The really interesting thing I notice is on the toms. Pitch bend is almost not there. Right? This befuddles me. |8 - / # I double checked and yea, no pitch bend on my 13" tom tuned medium.

I've learned that plastic heads are the generators of the harsh O-tones, not the shells. I believe those harsh tones are lost in a band mix anyway TBH. So in the end, the O-tones aren't too much of an issue IMO. But they may rob from the fundamental. I think that perhaps unmiced drums, with calf heads, may be perceived as louder or purer toned in the crowd, by virtue of the more prominent fundamental. This is just a theory.

However, I'm pretty sure calf heads would really cut down on muffling for people who currently muffle their plastic heads. You hear a much clearer fundamental and a definite reduction in overall O-tones, with calf heads as heard from the throne. Muffling kills a drums tone 10 feet from the drums in an unmiced situation to my ears. Calf heads could prevent that tragic loss of tone, and sound good to the drummer, all at the same time. A dessert topping AND a floor wax (reference anyone?)

Another interesting thing is...and they say it right in the instructions, is that if the heads sound too thick for your tastes (or something to that effect)...you can sand them down on the inside with I forget 000 sandpaper or 000 steel wool. Don't hold me to that. The point is you can mod them lol.

I have 2 gigs this weekend. Stay tuned for the next episode to see if the calf heads... stay tuned for the next episode to see if the calf heads...stay tuned for the next episode to see if the calf heads...
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Last edited by larryace; 05-17-2018 at 02:06 PM.
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Old 05-17-2018, 12:07 AM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

Glad that timbale's working out for you. Interested to see where this grand experiment of yours goes.
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Old 05-17-2018, 01:12 PM
Mcdonap Mcdonap is offline
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

Thanks for the update. I've been interested in your comments/findings since you mentioned getting the calf head in the other thread...

I'm interested because I, too, would like to get rid of the plastic sound.

I've also been researching all of the other calf related threads on DW because it is a fairly expensive undertaking to go with all calfskin heads. Some of the comments/concerns are interesting.

I've been going through so many heads lately trying to find the sound I want. I appreciate that you're doing this. Keep us posted!
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Old 05-17-2018, 02:03 PM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

Man cool experiment Larry thanks for update. Wow so the plasticky ping is the head-I've seen people put muffling in their 16 in toms. Do the calfskins have a large tuning range? I'm really curious what both head on a snare would sound like, but I'm like you and have reservations about reso. Playing loud with a band you don't notice the snare buzz and tom overtones, but in quiet venues it can be a nuisance. I'd like to try the calfskins for playing quiet venues-get a nice clear note (I'm curious about brushes, but they played brushes on them in the old days). Those walnut toms already sound fantastic-what adjective would you describe the change in sound besides less overtones? More attack, more warm, more etc. can you get much sustain with the calfskin. Sorry-I ask a lot of questions-my bad.
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Old 05-17-2018, 02:19 PM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mcdonap View Post
Thanks for the update. I've been interested in your comments/findings since you mentioned getting the calf head in the other thread...

I'm interested because I, too, would like to get rid of the plastic sound.

I've also been researching all of the other calf related threads on DW because it is a fairly expensive undertaking to go with all calfskin heads. Some of the comments/concerns are interesting.

I've been going through so many heads lately trying to find the sound I want. I appreciate that you're doing this. Keep us posted!
Hey you're welcome. I thought it deserved it's own thread, if only for the scarcity of threads on calf. I am interested in the long term change in tone....if any...with these heads. In my mind, I can imagine them stiffer when new. After playing them and compressing the skin 10 billion times...I would think a change in tone would slowly take place. I imagine it to have a a slightly crisper attack, more treble. Not a lot though. Just not quite as soft a landing. I don't get the slap of the stick on the mylar with calf. Admittedly, I may be totally off there. Hopeful even. That's what I'm interested to see. If I do think it changes, it very well could be my own flawed perception, or my tastes changing, but I can't worry about that. I will be listening hard to them.

I can't believe trying these out didn't occur to me much sooner than this.

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Last edited by larryace; 05-17-2018 at 02:39 PM.
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Old 05-17-2018, 02:30 PM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

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Originally Posted by GetAgrippa View Post
Do the calfskins have a large tuning range? (I'm curious about brushes, but they played brushes on them in the old days). Those walnut toms already sound fantastic-what adjective would you describe the change in sound besides less overtones? More attack, more warm, more etc. can you get much sustain with the calfskin. Sorry-I ask a lot of questions-my bad.
Large tuning range, give me some time on that. They do low better than anyone this I can tell. High is where I'm not sure of yet.

Traditionally, everyone compared their plastic coating to calf for brush response. It will do brushes like a champ. It feels like less pronounced pigskin (think football). It has genuine Mother Nature made texture, the best this planet has to offer. You won't get coating chip lol. I hope they don't dent too.

Warm is the best term. On my walnut drum, calf removes most of the O-tones, boosts the fundamental, which to my ear is what warm is. Big fundamental = warm to me.

Also the attack. I am used to a crisp attack. So it's an adjustment. I'm good with a soft attack on toms....if I have a ton of warmth. The snare I pull so tight that the attack isn't a factor. My first impressions is calf has a less slappy attack on toms, which contributes to the warmth. You get warmth at the expense of O-tones and reflections (treble basically) and yea you lose like most of the stick slap. (which only the drummer can detect anyway) I think calf is probably better for the listening audience than plastic. This is just a theory that I will be looking to my recordings to see if my logic is right. I love testing my logic.

It's a different flavor for sure, like from orange soda to root beer.
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Last edited by larryace; 05-17-2018 at 02:47 PM.
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Old 05-17-2018, 02:31 PM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

Very interesting. The evolution of things fascinates me. It's funny to think that a whole industry has been built around dealing with the sound properties of Mylar heads.

Drum makers started building drums from different wood species like birch. You've got your MoonGels and BFSD. Even recording software. All this stuff came into existence to deal with mylar head overtones. If we went back to calfskin heads, would any of those products even exist?

These companies should all band together and start donating big money to PETA to stop the calfskin renaissance before it begins!
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Old 05-17-2018, 02:42 PM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

these are a must watch when dealing with these finicky sumbiches

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xaj3OHbYz6E

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSGrmPF8KvM
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Old 05-22-2018, 12:55 AM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

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Originally Posted by WhoIsTony? View Post
these are a must watch when dealing with these finicky sumbiches

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xaj3OHbYz6E

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSGrmPF8KvM
Haha, glad to hear that these videos were of use!
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Old 05-22-2018, 02:27 AM
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larryace larryace is offline
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

Here's that update:

I had 3 gigs this past weekend. By the 3rd gig, there were no calfskin heads on my drums. Journey's over lol.

Why you ask?

While I didn't mind the tom sound from the throne, lots of fundamental,
warm, but almost no attack....on the recordings, it sounded like I was playing on drums with indoor/outdoor carpet for drumheads. On some tom stuff I did, it sounded like a low rumble, not the clear precise note and attack with the pitch bend I get with plastic. Plus wow did they go slack on me at one point during the night. That I could put up with if the live recorded tone was a step up. But not to my ear with these heads on these drums.

This was with just calfskin on the batters. Maybe it's because they don't work well with walnut drums. Walnut drums may be too dark. Maybe on stainless steel drums they would sound better than on walnut.

The snare calfskin lasted 1 gig. I like O-tones, and no, not nearly enough for me. This is all judged from the gig recordings.

I had to try these heads once. They may record nicely, lots of fundamental, controlled O-tones. But if I don't like them on my live recordings, chances are I won't prefer them on my studio recordings either.
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Old 05-22-2018, 04:45 PM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

Thanks for the report, Larry. When you described the snare sound as having so few overtones initially, I wondered if that would be the result when you went live.

Well, now you know!
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Old 05-22-2018, 04:58 PM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

Hey Larry - my experience with Earthtones was similar to yours. I was pretty disappointed as I had come to believe that calf heads were the holy grail. Took ‘em off after one gig. That was an expensive lesson.
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Old 05-22-2018, 11:08 PM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

Thanks for the update, Larry!

I'm sorry that it didn't work out. I appreciate that you went to some expense to try these heads out. I know it wasn't an inexpensive experiment!

Larry, dboomer and any others who've tried calfskin and didn't like them - what heads have you moved on to?
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Old 05-22-2018, 11:22 PM
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larryace larryace is offline
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

Quote:
Originally Posted by IDDrummer View Post
Thanks for the report, Larry. When you described the snare sound as having so few overtones initially, I wondered if that would be the result when you went live.

Well, now you know!
I didn't know what to expect. The toms were the most disappointing on the recordings. So was the snare. Stupid calfskin heads!

Quote:
Originally Posted by dboomer View Post
Hey Larry - my experience with Earthtones was similar to yours. I was pretty disappointed as I had come to believe that calf heads were the holy grail. Took ‘em off after one gig. That was an expensive lesson.
Expensive lesson indeed. This just further reinforces my convictions as to what kind of sound I like from my drums. I need a crisp attack, a definite pitch and as much sustain as it's capable of. I like the pitch bend. Calf had zero pitch bend. That continues to amaze me. I could try and sand them down to make them thinner, but I can't see them ever doing what I want.

Put me squarely in the camp of a modern drumset sound.

One of the rare things I prefer manmade over Nature made, drumheads!

$265.00 lesson right there.
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Old 05-23-2018, 12:53 AM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

Sorry to hear you don't dig them. I'd like to try a set on my 3-ply Ludwigs, but that is an expensive experiment.
"Mmm, tastes terrific... and just look at that shine!"
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Old 05-23-2018, 02:11 AM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

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Sorry to hear you don't dig them. I'd like to try a set on my 3-ply Ludwigs, but that is an expensive experiment.
"Mmm, tastes terrific... and just look at that shine!"
Ah you got the reference. I always liked that one.

I have a 12, 13 and 16 you can have. PM me.
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Old 05-23-2018, 02:43 AM
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Damn - calfskin must be turruble!
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Old 05-23-2018, 03:20 AM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

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Damn - calfskin must be turruble!
It works great on bigger drums. Anything 16 or bigger in diameter sounds pretty good with nice calf heads. It also works well (for my taste) on snares. It’s probably not ideal for louder players, though.

The best I’ve ever heard calf sound is on large concert bass drums, like 34” and bigger. It’s like a thunderclap right next to you.

I rarely use calf on smaller drums. I do have a special Jenkins-Martin fiberglass 22-inch-deep set of concert toms, 10, 13, and 16 diameter, which I have calf heads on. They’re not for everyday gigging with those heads, except the 16.
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Old 05-23-2018, 03:38 AM
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So that's the rule, basically? 16 and up?

Good to know.
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Old 05-23-2018, 04:00 AM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

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Originally Posted by MasterBlaster View Post
So that's the rule, basically? 16 and up?

Good to know.
You can put them on smaller ones, but they either need to be thick to handle some pounding, which kills the resonance that small drums lack, or you get them extremely thin, which means you can’t ever hit them hard at all. They’re great on big drums, though. And snares, as long as you’re not playing really loud all the time.
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Old 05-23-2018, 02:38 PM
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

I can't help but wonder if the type of music is a big factor in whether you're going to like calfskin heads. When I think of calfskin, I think of Gene Krupa. By the time rock music and big backbeats were a thing, I'm pretty sure mylar was taking over.
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Old 05-23-2018, 03:34 PM
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BenOBrienSmith BenOBrienSmith is offline
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Default Re: Calfskin Heads

They're definitely not for everybody but kudos to you for trying them! Also, I'm sure someone would be interested in buying them off of you. It's a little different when you're not talking about a $14 snare drum head- there's still plenty of value in your calf heads.

Another big thing to keep in mind here is room you're playing in (a general consideration we should ALWAYS be making when we consider the sound of our drums). If the room is controlled or even a bit dead, you'll be less likely to hear any subtle nuances of playing on calf from a distance. They're warmer in tone and mellower in attack. Room resonance plays a huge role in how that sound is perceived above the drums and especially at a distance.

Cheers and happy tuning!
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