Aging of tonewoods


"Uncle Larry"
I'd like to think that all wood drums will sound better as time goes on. I mean on paper it makes sense, moisture content goes down, lignins harden, it all sounds like it should be a thing that would increase true resonance.

But is it? I mean would a person be able to tell? Would the tone change or just stay the same with more resonance? (Assuming more resonance is a thing with old wood) Perceptions change so that's not reliable enough.

If one were to record a brand new set of drums, and somehow using the exact same recording mics, the same set gets recorded say 50 years later in the same space, same heads, player, everything. Humor me please.

Would I be able to hear the difference? Any wood enthusiasts out there I'd love to hear your take.

Do shells shrink over time? I hope not.

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
I agree with dboomer here. Wood is dynamic rather than static. Heat and humidity can promote expansion; cold and aridity can encourage contraction. When it comes to drums, finishes and wraps provide some degree of protection, but environmental factors can be influential regardless. My goal is always to protect my drums from extreme conditions.

The ability to "hear the difference" would probably, as in all auditory matters, show dramatic variance from person to person. We sometimes hear what we want to, not what's really present.


Platinum Member
Uncle Larry I dont know if this will help or not, but in relation to what dboomer said, when I was building speaker cabs, I would have to calibrate the mic/computer for humidity every day. I could not personally tell the difference, but the mic/computer could. If I forgot, speakers would start failing at an enormous rate. So basically Monday's test would show different results with Tuesdays weather. Even with the same speakers.

Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
I played a vintage set of drums one time at a jam. The tone wood had aged over a long period of time.
The shells were badly warped and they sounded terrible.
Horrible overtones and sounded different at every hit, depending on where on the head I hit them.
But, they did have a lot of sustain !



Senior Member
Well generally the bearing edges aren’t finished and there are holes for hardware, etc. If the finish is lacquer moisture can go right through it as it is more like fish scales than a continuous sheet.

Think about it like when you leave a wet glass on your table and get a white ring.

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
If the finish is lacquer moisture can go right through it as it is more like fish scales than a continuous sheet.
It's for that reason I've always considered wrap more protective than lacquer. Wrap is a more uniform barrier against the elements.

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
But there’s air pockets under some wraps, right?
There can be. I've never noticed visible pockets or bubbles on any kits I've owned, but I'm sure most materials have undetectable imperfections of some sort. There's something wrong with just about everything. That's the first law of the universe.


Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
Let's say in an environment that is somewhat stable, your house , over the years the mositure content may decrease a little at a time, but still within that percentage there will still be fluctuations. I doubt, under those situations, if it's just moistue content and not warped or damaged, I doubt if the average ear will hear the difference. Do wooden keyed xylophones change pitch over time or during humid seasons. Do we tune a band with the current tuning of the xylophone? Not that I remember.

Push pull stroke

Platinum Member
Do wooden keyed xylophones change pitch over time or during humid seasons?
I have played a xylophone that was almost a half-step flat due to having spent so many years in a non-climate-controlled space. It was just ridiculous. But rosewood is a highly dense and resinous/oily wood, it doesn’t absorb moisture as easily as regular temperate climate woods.


Staff member
Assuming the wood was correctly cured before use, loss or gain of moisture, in itself, is not a long term tonal change consideration, as that's a dynamic environment driven change that will exist throughout the life of the drum. It is however, a consideration potentially affecting warping, splitting, and shrinkage, and those are likely negatives in the delivery of the instrument.

Wood consists mainly of cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose. It gradually loses hemicellulose over a long period of time, and that equates to a hardening of the lignin (cell walls) and loss of weight. It also loses some tensile strength in the process, but does not lose stiffness as quickly. That delivers one of the key benefits of a good tone wood, a higher stiffness to weight ratio (Young's modulus).

Wether that long term change in Young's modulus produces an audible difference is very much dependant on wether the drum was so constructed to feature the character benefits of lower mass assisted resonance. Also, the very gradual timeline of change means that the instrument owner is most unlikely to appreciate any differences without the benefit of A-B real time comparison, and there isn't a viable or meaningful science model to prove / quantify it either. In other words, it's a thing, but appreciating or proving it's a thing is both difficult & highly contextual.

My advice on this is simply to select your instrument on how it sounds at the time of acquiring it, enjoy it in the now, and let the future decide if it wants to surprise you further or not.

As for moisture (or in the case of long term gradual change, loss of VOC's), pretty much every material / coating leaks to some extent at a gas phase, it's just a question of magnitude.


Platinum Member
I know with solid-wood acoustic guitars, there can be a great difference in sound between the day it was built and just five years down the road. Acoustic guitars tend to mellow-out with time; the frequencies seem to become smoother and deeper. If there's any "chime" in a guitar, it can taper off slightly too (all this depends on a variety of factors including construction and material).

With all of this said, I'm talking about solid-wood guitars. The majority of drums are made with plies; therefore, the changes in time come more subtle. There is a certain "thing" that some vintage drums have that I find it the sound, the feel, or the overall vibe. I can't put my finger on it. However, as far as them sounding better over time, I believe that they do.


Gold Member
OMG. Seriously?
Yes. If solid-top guitars change Sonics over time, do drum shells? If so, is it due to changes in moisture content over time or due to work hardening of the wood fibers from years of vibration?

I think a wrap would negate a valid test as the vinyl & glue introduces an undesirable variable into the test. If anything, an old vinyl wrap will distort the Sonics more than old wood.


Silver Member
I work in stringed instruments, importing violins, violas, cellos and basses. Some fully carved, some laminate, some hybrid. Carved (meaning solid) instruments improve with time generally speaking. We often times use a device that sits on a new instrument's bridge over the weekend to start the playing-in factor. It makes a difference, and it's generally agreed upon that instruments improve with age as long as the playing continues and they're kept in good repair. It's part of the myth of the Stradivari tone secret: make a good violin, and play it for 200 years.
But a plywood instrument doesn't improve in any significant way. They are very stable by way of opposing grain directions and a whole lot of adhesive, which makes them ideal for tough situations like school districts and hard gigging. Players have been known to wax lyrical about how their old Kay bass mellowed into a wonderful blah blah blah, but we've heard hundreds of them and there is no grand improving going on. Plywood is plywood. So I would say no, there is no reason to believe a ply drum will play-in. On day one, it's probably as good as it's gonna get. It's up to us to do the improving with age.