Tell me about plies

wildbill

Platinum Member
What differences would there be between these two shells:

one is made of 6 plies at .040" = .240" total thickness

and the other is made of 3 plies at .080" = .240" total thickness

so they have the same thickness, but one has twice as many plies as the other.
I know there's glue involved in the thickness, but let's just take that out of the overall picture for now.
Would they sound different, or would there be no practical differences at all?

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porter

Platinum Member
In my understanding, plies on shells are like plies on heads (which are kind of like muffling). The three-ply with thicker plies should have more shell tone & greater sustain, while the six-ply should have more focus IIRC.

However, as Andy will be sure to point out- as soon as one adds an additional ply beyond the first, the characteristics of solid shell drums drop off quickly & exponentially- the difference between a three- and six-ply shell (ceterus paribus) will be more noticeable than a twelve- and fifteen-ply shell, for example.

In recent news, I'm pretty sure this means Yamaha's new Maple Absolute with the Wenge center ply (sandwiched between what looks like 4-6 equally thick plies of maple- not able to find actual data on the number of plies) is kind of a gimmick, especially since (according to admittedly questionable marketing speak) the inner ply is the biggest contributor to the sound. (I've always thought that it seems the plies that contact the head on the bearing edge should make the biggest difference on sound, and Yamaha appears to think that as well.) Of course, they still sound good, but I don't think that inner ply is going to do much.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Both grunt & Porter make valid observations, although I will say this about the glue subject. It's been debated ad infinitum, but our personal experience based on A-B testing is that the sonic affects of the amount of glue used, in itself, is somewhat overstated. It is there, & how noticeable it is depends to some extent on the kind of glue used. For example, epoxy acts more like a bonding filler than a traditional wood glue. Accordingly, it's affect is more noticeable, but it's still fairly minor. The solid shell guys always list the amount of glue as being a bit of a deal breaker. I can't prove it either way, but my feeling is the affect is fairly small.

That said, it's what the glue is used to achieve that does have a big affect. Ply shells get their strength from preventing one layer from sliding against another, hence it's origins in the construction industry. The glue bond area is massive, & thus very effective in that regard. The more plies you use in a given thickness, the more rigid the shell becomes. Rigidity in itself affects pitch more than it affects the amount of resonance. For example, a bronze bell is very resonant, yet it is also very rigid.

The affect on resonance that is really noticeable is how many layers you chop the wood into. The thinner the ply, & the more layers you bond together, the less like wood in it's natural state it becomes. When wood cures, the various lignins & other elements in the cell walls harden. These hardened "channels" become mini resonance chambers that culminate to deliver the sonic voice of the wood species (some visual examples below). The more you chop these up into thin layers, compress them in a die, & stiffen them by mechanism of glue bond, the more of the original structure you remove. This makes the character differences less distinguishable between species, & increases the level of vibration input necessary to excite the structure.

Sorry, got a bit deep there :) So, the basic answer is, all other things being equal, a shell with less plies is easier to excite at lower dynamic & will speak the fundamental of the wood species more prominently compared to a shell with more plies. The same difference (only bigger) exists again when you compare a 3 ply construction to a solid shell construction of the same grain orientation.

Treat this information with care though, because the moment you take your more resonant shell & bolt a ton of hardware onto it, the difference diminishes commensurate with mass. Also worthy of repeating - the benefit of additional resonance is not limited to head sustain/decay, in fact, that's a minor bi product. The big difference is in the tone of the drum in that first second of highest excitement. That's the very voice of the drum, complete with it's attendant valuable overtones, & by far the most noticeable element in side by side comparison.

Hope this helps,

Andy.
 

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Magenta

Platinum Member
I read the title of the thread as "Tell me about piles." I'm so glad I was wrong. That was very interesting - thanks!
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Some very interesting info there, Andy. Thanks!
That was very interesting - thanks!
Great information, thanks for sharing!
No problem guys. Just pleased someone finds it useful.

Re: the information I posted: This is why, despite crappy construction, poor bearing edges, out of round, etc, early 3 ply shells are so sought after (single ply even more so). That, & ageing of the resins (can take decades), which makes them difficult to replicate in a modern ply drum without a lot of patience. It's got nothing to do with head sustain. Owners of such drums know it's about tone. Now, if you take that shell tone, & make appropriate construction choices (hardware, edges, etc), with modern material options & manufacturing techniques, you can end up with an instrument of sublime abitity :) Just making a 3 ply or even better, a single ply shell, in itself, is only part of the picture. Bolt the same old heavy pot metal lugs on it to keep that "retro" vibe, & all you'll end up with is a sonically inferior version of what went before, although it will still sound better than the same drum with lots of plies. Granted, 20 years later it might turn the tables though.
 

bobdadruma

Platinum Member
My personal non technical experience with 3 ply vs 6 ply is that 3 ply shells tend to have a warmer tone. I am basing this comparison on 50's Gretsch 3 ply shells that do not have reinforcement rings compared to Ludwig 6 ply shells from the late 70's.
 

wildbill

Platinum Member
Wow - better than a book. The info about what happens when wood cures, although technical sounding, is what makes it make sense for me.
Thanks - I'm sure a lot of people besides myself will learn good stuff from this.

Edit: makes me wonder though. If 3 ply is more desirable and sought after, why aren't all the manufacturers making them?
Seems like it shouldn't be any more difficult, unless I'm missing something.
Maybe it's just an old man, nostalgia thing that's gradually disappearing.

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Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Wow - better than a book. The info about what happens when wood cures, although technical sounding, is what makes it make sense for me.
Thanks - I'm sure a lot of people besides myself will learn good stuff from this.

Edit: makes me wonder though. If 3 ply is more desirable and sought after, why aren't all the manufacturers making them?
Seems like it shouldn't be any more difficult, unless I'm missing something.
Maybe it's just an old man, nostalgia thing that's gradually disappearing.

.
Not really. There's rumour that Keller are working on a 3 ply layup for Gretsch (smart move IMO), so there's obviously an appetite. It'll be interesting to see if they mute the benefits with heavy retro lugs to appease the nostalgia market, or develop something more appropriate that actually capitalises on the benefits. I suspect the former :(

3 ply is a little more difficult to get right compared to say 6 ply, especially on smaller drums. There's less inherent structural stability, each ply is a bit harder to form, & the sheet is a little more expensive (still cheap though compared to other costs). Single ply is on a whole 'nuther level of cost & difficulty - really good single ply (yes, there are crappy ones out there) = super difficult to get right.
 

Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
Great information Andy !

Over the last few months I have listen to many many different drummers play on my set of drums. I am in the house band for jam night. My drum set is played un-miked and played along with very loud guitars and keyboards.

I know this has been said a thousand times here on this forum. The sound of drums in this situation is most dependent on four things, and in this order.

1. The head choice and tuning.
2. How the kit is played; the technique of the drummer.
3. How loud the drums are played.
4. The construction of the drum shells.

Numbers one and two have the greatest influence on the sound of the drums.

If the drums are played in a more quiet environment or in a recording studio, the construction of the drums becomes more influential.


.
 

bobdadruma

Platinum Member
I find that I am sensitive to the type of shell that I am using.
I own many kits and I have a tuning and head preference for each kit.
Example; I like to tune my vintage 50's Gretsch and 60's Slingerland drums tighter than my 60's Ludwig Classics. I like thick single ply batter heads on the Ludwig. and standard 10 mil single ply batter heads on the Slingerland and Gretsch.
So the number of plies and shell composition do make a difference to my ears.
 

barryabko

Senior Member
Not really. There's rumour that Keller are working on a 3 ply layup for Gretsch
Hi Andy,

I just saw a prototype Gretsch 3 ply kit at NAMM (didn't hear it, though). Those are probably the shells to which you are referring. The kit looked great and the shells did not have rerings. In a different thread you mentioned that modern construction methods make rerings less critical for shell stability. Please elaborate.

Good info above regarding plies.

Best,

Barry
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Hi Andy,

I just saw a prototype Gretsch 3 ply kit at NAMM (didn't hear it, though). Those are probably the shells to which you are referring. The kit looked great and the shells did not have rerings. In a different thread you mentioned that modern construction methods make rerings less critical for shell stability. Please elaborate.

Good info above regarding plies.

Best,

Barry
Hi Barry,

modern presses/moulds can use higher temperatures & pressures, plus advancements in adhesives, collectively produce a more stable construction than was possible decades ago. Essentially, the higher the temperature, the more of the original structure you break down, and that reduces memory. The higher pressures force the plies together more completely, & the latest adhesives achieve a more complete bond. Modifying/breaking down original timber structure carries sonic performance consequences though (reference my first post in this thread), so it's a double edged sword.
 

bobdadruma

Platinum Member
modern presses/moulds can use higher temperatures & pressures, plus advancements in adhesives, collectively produce a more stable construction than was possible decades ago. Essentially, the higher the temperature, the more of the original structure you break down, and that reduces memory. The higher pressures force the plies together more completely, & the latest adhesives achieve a more complete bond. Modifying/breaking down original timber structure carries sonic performance consequences though (reference my first post in this thread), so it's a double edged sword.
I agree. Upon close examination of my recently acquired early 50's Gretch 3 ply kit I found that the plies had begun to separate at the edges on the high tom and the floor tom. The cracks weren't large but they were there. I poured wood glue in the cracks and I used a band clamp to secure the loosened shell plies. I then sanded the edges.
I noticed that the drums sounded even better after the minor repairs that I performed.
 

wildbill

Platinum Member
I wanted to start another thread about plies, but figure I'd better not push it. I'll just ask it here.

Given the above information about plies, why is it that it seems just the opposite applies when it comes to snares?
Multiple ply snares seem to be pretty popular.

This place: http://www.drumgearonline.com/multiply2.html

sells 20, 30 , 40, and 50 ply snare shells.

They give an explanation, but it doesn't jive with what's here.
 

bobdadruma

Platinum Member
I wanted to start another thread about plies, but figure I'd better not push it. I'll just ask it here.

Given the above information about plies, why is it that it seems just the opposite applies when it comes to snares?
Multiple ply snares seem to be pretty popular.

This place: http://www.drumgearonline.com/multiply2.html

sells 20, 30 , 40, and 50 ply snare shells.
I have never been a fan of snare drums with more than 6 plies. I actually prefer 3 plies with reinforcement rings to both 6 ply, or super multiple plies like you mention. I think that the best sounding snare drums have 3 plies with reinforcement rings.
 

wildbill

Platinum Member
What I was getting at was that is says this:

".... Not only do these offer easier tuning in these higher-pitched ranges, but they also offer increased projection, volume, and sensitivity...."

on that site, about shells with lots of plies.
I've never tried them, but was wondering if those who have, found that to be the case.
 

bobdadruma

Platinum Member
What I was getting at was that is says this:

".... Not only do these offer easier tuning in these higher-pitched ranges, but they also offer increased projection, volume, and sensitivity...."

on that site, about shells with lots of plies.
I've never tried them, but was wondering if those who have, found that to be the case.
What they claim to be as, "More projection" is actually just a more woody sound that is too clean to seem natural to the ear. I don't like drums that are too heavy and hollow log sounding.
 
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