The DW Vertical Grain Inquisition

cjrtrio

Junior Member
Before I begin, I did a search on "vertical grain" and didn't see relevant results from it. Could be my lazy eye(s).

<seinfeldvoice>What's the deal with DW's vertical grain strategy?</seinfeldvoice>

I put it to you that this is the sort of topic which could (and hopefully will) elicit metric tons of quality methane (read hot opinions) from the mental digestion systems of the many highly-evolved and opinionated drum connoisseurs out there.

I have often special-ordered DW drums to create custom kits (I like deep floor toms on legs - 14x14, 16x16, etc.). The broken glass floor tom I got recently was vertical grained. I wasn't particularly happy - it was a detail I didn't cover with my vendor, but I assumed that I'd be getting the old-school normal maple shell.

So I've got this thing...and it bugs me. I'm going to put a coated head on it so I don't see the verticalness. How will it hold up after 20 years (guess we'll have to find out). Is it more prone to damage from a blow to the side or to the bearing edge? (Wife could toss it out in street or the samsonite gorilla could attack me at a gig - you never know...).

And what about the sound, REALLY?...?

I am convinced that, given that mine is "bound up" with wrap and has die-cast hoops, I would wind up tuning it to the same note as a normal (horizontal grain) drum and, if I had them side by side, that I could not sense an appreciable sonic difference between them.

<seinfeldvoice>I mean, you'd think they have an ulterior motive or something the way they are biased toward them for larger drums. I think they're taking advantage of us, somehow!</seinfeildvoice>

<kramervoice>Those 8@$TARDS!</kramervoice>

Has anyone done an A/B comparison and detected anything measureable?

Don't reply and say "mine's great and tunes low and nice - boffo" - that's my situation already. I want some geeky comparison info if its out there. (I guess double-blind randomized testing is a lot to ask for...).

Sorry for this - hope it doesn't suck too much time from the drummerworld talent.

cjrtrio.


PS:
In defense of my die-cast hoops: I like how dw shells sound with rolled hoops (very musical), but they outperform other shells in the die cast hoop world too. I frequently like to go at my toms with rimshots like they were timbales, and get all sorts of nice wack sounds out of them with die cast hoops. You can hear the shell talking. Hitting a rolled hoop sounds like you're hitting a porcelain sink or something - "denk". Just not good for me in that arena. (While we're on that subject, Tama die cast zinc hoops are by far the best if you like a stout hoop that lets the stick/head/shell do the talking.
 

MikeM

Platinum Member
Two things:
First, When I was visiting the DW website watching the first John Good video where he fist tested a normal DW shell w/rerings, the same one w/o rerings, a VLT, and an X shell. I thought it was pretty impressive that those notes could drop like that, but I had to crank my computer speakers (admittedly not hi-fi but what I hear the lion's share of my music on nonetheless) and enhance the lows in order to hear it once he got to the VLTs, otherwise the notes just turned into thuds on those last two shells.

Then the thought occurred to me that hey, maybe these things are going to have trouble projecting through a band, and maybe making shells go that low isn't such a good idea after all. I mean, if you're taking all the tension off the shell, aren't you cutting it off at the knees? How is that different from taking the tension off of a guitar string? You wouldn't want to do that, would you?

The other thing is that while I'm new to thinking about this whole drum grain issue, isn't it true that drum companies typically cross laminate their shells, and are essentially VLT also? Is it just DW showing the vertical plies on the inside and outside that hasn't been done? Or maybe they're just using more vertical plies than anyone else? Either way, it gets back to my first point about taking too much tension away.

It's all very confusing because the heads are still tensioned up with the plastic wrap and hardware all mounted, so what the overall effect ends up being, I'm not at all sure about. If I were to ever consider buying a DW, I think I'd want to rent a couple flavors of them (and maybe their competitors) to see what it's really all about before dropping any coin on them.
 

cjrtrio

Junior Member
It's all very confusing because the heads are still tensioned up with the plastic wrap and hardware all mounted, so what the overall effect ends up being, I'm not at all sure about. If I were to ever consider buying a DW, I think I'd want to rent a couple flavors of them (and maybe their competitors) to see what it's really all about before dropping any coin on them.
I've dropped just enough bags of coin over there that perhaps they've suffered some concussions from them. :^D

The drum is like other dw drums I've had - superb in fit and finish. It's a 15x15 with an 8x12 above and an 18x20 below. So it has a big sonic sandbox to play in. So far, it's part of very successful 4pc. But it still bugs me!

Assuming I've got more vertical plies than horizontal (?), I wonder if the shell vertically compresses less on stick attack. Assume a strike to the die cast hoop (i.e. playing the floor tom hoop like a cowbell). In this circumstance, this particular drum makes very little residual tone - it's just a percussive wooden sounding click. That would seem to be the result of less vertical compression. Guess that's ok.

As far as hitting the middle of the head, DW's point seems to be that the shell expands outwards because it's like a barrell without barrell rings. (I'm imagining that it explodes and a smoking wylie coyote is standing there). This expansion effect would seem to be less of a noticeable effect than the hitting the rim (air is a very lazy intermediary, and the drum wrap is not made of tissue paper, and 2 pi vertical times mc squared = lower unit cost with no discernable sonic difference). I don't know!

As far as tuning, I do it by feel, carefully and iteratively, on each drum, using two opposing keys. Start with 8x12 and stay on the high side - then I find the highest 15x15 tuning I can to go with it (around a 5th below the 8x12 - want some bounce in it. I'd only tune it low if, ha, some recording engineer told me to ("um, Mr. Scoville wants your tom tuned lower"). Ha.

Vertical. Hmmmm...
 

Brundlefly

Senior Member
My first DW kit was a standard collectors, before they started doing these grain alterations. Now I have a hybrid with normal, VLT and X-shells intermixed. So, I was able to compare them on regular basis for about 8 months, and the difference between the two was pretty huge. I also have a set of 8" ratatoms where the main pitching factor is actually the shell construction. There is a length variation too, but it isn't all that huge (6-18). Combining the length with altered construction opened up their range considerably.


So, in a somewhat large nut shell...

Altering the grains alters tension which allows them to dial in a certain pitch range without having to alter the diameter. It is literally that straight forward. Why alter the pitch range of any given drum? Most people will fall into one of three general categories of opinions:

1) Those who tune their drums indiscriminate of shell pitch, are happy with what they have and really don't care about grain alteration. DWs may or may not seem worth while to these people.

2) Those who are constantly searching for lower note values and have reached the lowest threshold at which their non-DW drums can comply. VLT and X-shell tech lets DW produce lower noted drums. And, more importantly, more consistently lower noted drums because they carefully controlling all of the parameters at hand.

3) Those who are interested in downsizing their drum diameters but still want to be able to hit low notes. The difference between standard and X-shell can be as much as a size or more. For instance, my new 8 X-shell is easily lower pitched than my old 10 and almost as low as my old 12! I downsized my entire kit one whole size... and then added more drums, of course. ;)

With respect to taking too much tension away, the only point where that matters is the point where the drum loses so much strength that it can no longer hold up. Lowering the pitch in this way isn't going to affect projection, but if the drums are large enough, it may drop them into a range which makes it harder for them to cut through the mix, but I doubt it. After all, your bass drum is a pretty damned low note and everyone can hear that just fine. Also consider that you can order X-shells and then tighten them up to a tension that would have been really high for a standard shell, but X's will remain deep due to the tension difference.


All of that said, the best purpose for this technology is the one often over looked. I see lots of people asking, "is VLT better than X-shell?", "Which is best?" The answer is neither. These options are actually put to best use when you don't specify them at all. Instead, describe how big you want your drums to be, how low you want them to go and how you want the notes distributed and then let DW use the appropriate technology to build that sound. Do this and the results will blow your mind.

THAT is what this stuff is really all about. It's for people who are chasing that sound from their entire kit that they hear in their heads but aren't able to get it from other kits. For instance, I wanted the smallest sizes with the lowest pitches and distributed as tightly as possible. You can't manufacture a result like that when all you have is one tension choice.
 

Rob Izzy

Junior Member
Brundlefly got it exactly right. Go to dwdrums.com and check out the SSC section. It has diagrams showing the shell construction for standard, VLT, X and VLX shells. They are all still cross-laminated, so no need to worry about the durability of the shell. In addition, VLT, X, and VLX shells are all 8 ply, while standard Collectors are only 7 ply.
 

Deathmetalconga

Platinum Member
Question: Is the grain vertically oriented in all plies? So that there is no cross-lamination?

Cross-lamination is what gives plywood its superior strength. If you didn't have cross-lamination, the sound would conduct more efficiently through the shell (giving you bigger sound) but the shells seem like they'd be somewhat fragile unless reinforced.
 

cjrtrio

Junior Member
I'll have to learn that on my own. I agree with shell thickness arguments more than wood type/grain arguments (Nobel and Cooley idea is great but I need to hear one). I have a 12-ply birch set (Eames) which can be tuned very low. But I tune it high to the point where the cylindrical volumes, together with the head thickness/tension, create notes that have the right mix of resonance and decay. And I go for some bounce in the sticks.

Let's go with the given that we're talking about a DW collectors tom with reinforcing hoops. My argument is that the length and width of cylindrical volume and the choice of heads are the two preeminent factors determining pitch, with head type/tension being the next two, and everything else is practically negligible. I believe that I'd tune any like-sized pair of dw drums, regardless of wood type, to about the same pitch, plus or minus a whole step. The note may sound different (ring longer or attack faster) but we're talking about a metal-gilt, strapped down cylinder.
 

Brundlefly

Senior Member
Let's go with the given that we're talking about a DW collectors tom with reinforcing hoops. My argument is that the length and width of cylindrical volume and the choice of heads are the two preeminent factors determining pitch, with head type/tension being the next two, and everything else is practically negligible. I believe that I'd tune any like-sized pair of dw drums, regardless of wood type, to about the same pitch, plus or minus a whole step. The note may sound different (ring longer or attack faster) but we're talking about a metal-gilt, strapped down cylinder.
Well, you can believe what you like, but there is a science at work here. Here's the formula for significant contributing factors for a drum's pitch:

(topHeadTension + bottomHeadTension) + (shellDiameter + shellLength) + (shellGrainDirection + shellMass) = a pitch (or more likely: pitches)

In order to discuss this subject at any reasonable level, you have to agree to throw out head tensions, diameters and lengths. Those are controllable variables, but the problem is that nothing is preventing you from tuning your heads away from a low-pitched shell and then calling foul on laminate direction as a contributing factor. The description of your personal tuning process and lack of side by side comparisons account for a truck load of subjectivity.

So, throwing out all things except shellGrainDirection as a control on shell tension, a drum with standard laminates will be pitched generally higher than one with more vertical laminates. A lower pitched shell will have a lower pitched sweet spot, which yields a lower threshold for tone.

But to notice this difference, you have to control those other factors... and you might not really be interested in doing that (most drummers aren't). In which case, laminate direction options aren't necessarily beneficial to you. But that doesn't mean that it does not work.
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
In order to discuss this subject at any reasonable level, you have to agree to throw out head tensions, diameters and lengths.
Well, that's exactly where pitch comes from--the diameter of the drumhead and how it's tensioned. The shell doesn't change the overall pitch, just the timbre. Well, it does, when the hardware and bearing edges allow a drumhead to tune lower and/or higher than another drum, but you can't take a head off of one shell, place it on another identically-constructed shell (albeit with the plies going in different directions), and say, "Oh, look! Now the head can tension differently!"

Now...if we want to talk about how the direction of the wood grain affects the tension of the shell and how THAT affects the reflective/resonant qualities of the shell and how THAT filters out different frequencies so that we perceive the overall pitch to be lower, then please do...
 

Brundlefly

Senior Member
Well, that's exactly where pitch comes from--the diameter of the drumhead and how it's tensioned. The shell doesn't change the overall pitch, just the timbre. Well, it does, when the hardware and bearing edges allow a drumhead to tune lower and/or higher than another drum, but you can't take a head off of one shell, place it on another identically-constructed shell (albeit with the plies going in different directions), and say, "Oh, look! Now the head can tension differently!"

Now...if we want to talk about how the direction of the wood grain affects the tension of the shell and how THAT affects the reflective/resonant qualities of the shell and how THAT filters out different frequencies so that we perceive the overall pitch to be lower, then please do...
If a shell has a tension then it has a resonant frequency. Proof: tap a shell and if you hear anything, then that shell produces a note. The frequency of that note has a noticeable impact on the overall make up of the pitche(s) you hear when you hit your drum. As a result, the pitches that any drum can achieve are affected by grain direction. Perceived, perhaps, but perceived pitch is the only one that matters because we don't buy drums for their imperceptible attributes... or that could just be me. :)

When I say "throw out," what I mean is throw them out as variables. Agree that they are constant. So, the only thing being changed between two sources is grain direction. And when you do that, you hear a difference. Tapping bare shells is the easiest way to detect what is going on. But to hear it in the final product, the context that really matters, those variables need to be wrangled in to a reasonable consistency.
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
If a shell has a tension then it has a resonant frequency. Proof: tap a shell and if you hear anything, then that shell produces a note. The frequency of that note has a noticeable impact on the overall make up of the pitche(s) you hear when you hit your drum. As a result, the pitches that any drum can achieve are affected by grain direction. Perceived, perhaps, but perceived pitch is the only one that matters because we don't buy drums for their imperceptible attributes... or that could just be me. :)

When I say "throw out," what I mean is throw them out as variables. Agree that they are constant. So, the only thing being changed between two sources is grain direction. And when you do that, you hear a difference. Tapping bare shells is the easiest way to detect what is going on. But to hear it in the final product, the context that really matters, those variables need to be wrangled in to a reasonable consistency.
So, are you saying that you can take a head, which has a constant (ie: the lowest pitch it can possibly produce) and mount it onto a shell and generate a lower pitch from it? I'm sorry, but I'm not buying that for a second...

When you tap a bare shell, yes, you DO get some sort of perceived pitch out of it. But, once you add all of the hardware to the shell, the perceived pitch changes considerably (the vibration is stifled, losing a lot of the lower notes produced). And THEN throw the added tension of the head onto it, it will change again. This is why the myth of tuning a drum to the pitch that's stamped inside the DW shells never worked. (And, yes, I know that they use these pitch stamps to match a set with good spread before they're constructed...)

What I'm wondering is how the actual science of this works out...do you hear more of the inherent fundamental of the head due to the lesser tension in the shell? How does the lesser tension of the (X, VLT, whatever...) shell affect the absorption/reflection properties of the shell itself? Does it naturally cut out the highs so you hear mostly the lower overtones? Does the lesser tension allow more vibrations to travel through the shells, so you get more sound out of the sides of the drum?

Yes, I realize that there is some perception of the pitch of the drum being lower, but I want to know exactly why that is, since you can't actually tune the heads lower...
 

Steady Freddy

Pioneer Member
I have two DW kits. A regular collectors and a VLT.The collectors kit has 14 X 14 and 16 X 16 floor toms. The VLT kit has 14 X 12 and 16 X 14 floor toms. With the same heads I can get a lower clear tone out of the VLTs.

Same with the kick drums that are both 22 X 18.

This stuff works.

YMMV
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
I have two DW kits. A regular collectors and a VLT.The collectors kit has 14 X 14 and 16 X 16 floor toms. The VLT kit has 14 X 12 and 16 X 14 floor toms. With the same heads I can get a lower clear tone out of the VLTs.

Same with the kick drums that are both 22 X 18.

This stuff works.
Yes...but HOW?!?!?!?

If you play on a kit with great bearing edges, you can get a lower pitch out of a drum than you can with a kit with bad edges, but I'm assuming that both the Collector's kit and the VLT kit have the same construction (number of plies, bearing edges, same depth to the reinforcing rings, etc...). What exactly about the inner and outer plies being vertical makes the drum (not the head) sound lower? Does anyone here know anybody who works at the DW factory who can answer this?
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I think the only real answer to this question is to get an identical sized drum, w/ the different grain orientations, same hardware, heads etc. and somehow tune them exactly perfect, and somehow record them identically, and look at the waveform to see the various frequencies each drum produces. I'll get right on that.
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
I think the only real answer to this question is to get an identical sized drum, w/ the different grain orientations, same hardware, heads etc. and somehow tune them exactly perfect, and somehow record them identically, and look at the waveform to see the various frequencies each drum produces. I'll get right on that.
Thanks, Larryace! I'll generously compensate you for your time...
 

Brundlefly

Senior Member
So, are you saying that you can take a head, which has a constant (ie: the lowest pitch it can possibly produce) and mount it onto a shell and generate a lower pitch from it? I'm sorry, but I'm not buying that for a second...
.
No, because nobody plays on drums with heads at their the lowest possible tension (which is none). There are tensions where the heads and drum come together to produce a clear note. Below that point is just papery thuds. The lowest point where you can get a good clear note with all three major elements in synch is lower with vertical grains.

And, btw, I do get a fairly discernible note when I tap my shells with hardware on and heads off. And it isn't different enough from when all the hardware is off to make a difference. I've tried it.

This is why the myth of tuning a drum to the pitch that's stamped inside the DW shells never worked.
Never worked? According to whom? I have a lot of experience tuning my drums against those stamps and have found them to be reliable. That is, if I tune to the a reference pitch of that stamped note, I get the most open and clear ringing note with a focused fundamental. And when I don't use a reference and just hunt around until I find the that what I think is the best sweet spot, it always is that exact note. I get the next best results when the heads are a fifth apart from the shell, and the next best result when they are a third off. This is totally consistent with the math behind how sound frequencies add up.

Anyway, this is as many swats at the verbal ping pong ball as I'm willing to take.
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
No, because nobody plays on drums with heads at their the lowest possible tension (which is none). There are tensions where the heads and drum come together to produce a clear note. Below that point is just papery thuds. The lowest point where you can get a good clear note with all three major elements in synch is lower with vertical grains.
I didn't say lowest possible tension, I said "lowest pitch it can possibly produce". What I meant by that was JAW tuning. Let's say you take a head and mount it on just a rim (with no shell, like an Arbiter Flats kit) with just enough tension to produce a note just above the papery sound--it would seem as though THAT is the threshold of the lowest pitch that the head can produce. If you take that exact tension on the head, and transfer it between the 2 identical shells (like I posted about earlier), you can't possibly create a lower pitch from the head itself--the head has its limits. You might *perceive* a lower pitch because of other factors (which is what I'm trying to steer the conversation towards), but the head itself doesn't vibrate at a slower frequency because of how the plies in the shell are aligned.

And, btw, I do get a fairly discernible note when I tap my shells with hardware on and heads off. And it isn't different enough from when all the hardware is off to make a difference. I've tried it.
I've tried it as well. My 10" tom (stamped with a "B") sings at a B without the hardware, and resonates with a C# (almost up to a D) with the hardware on. Same thing with all of the other toms and the bass drum (which is stamped with a D, but resonates somewhere between an Eb and E with the hardware on). I guess your shells are magical or mine are defective or something.


Never worked? According to whom? I have a lot of experience tuning my drums against those stamps and have found them to be reliable. That is, if I tune to the a reference pitch of that stamped note, I get the most open and clear ringing note with a focused fundamental. And when I don't use a reference and just hunt around until I find the that what I think is the best sweet spot, it always is that exact note. I get the next best results when the heads are a fifth apart from the shell, and the next best result when they are a third off. This is totally consistent with the math behind how sound frequencies add up.
Okay, well that's your experience. My experience reveals otherwise. I find that when I use different heads (ambassadors, coated ambassadors, emperors, and coated emperors), they each have a sweet spot at a different pitch. It's consistent from each type of head to the next head of the same type (emperors have the same sweet spot as other emperors, but not other coated emperors, etc...). Also, when I change the reso head to a different weight (diplomat, ambassador, or emperor), the sweet spot changes again. But, then again, my drums have multiple sweet spots (...or is it the heads?).

Anyway, this is as many swats at the verbal ping pong ball as I'm willing to take.
Verbal ping-pong is good, in my opinion. It's how we can communicate or debate or collaborate or argue...but, I guess we don't share the same opinion on a lot of things, huh? Peace!
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
FWIW, I got different results from shell tapping with and without hardware installed.
I too think the stamped notes don't mean anything. Maybe if after the drum was finished and assembled with the heads you will use, tuned to the tensions you use, THEN do the shell tap note thing, THEN maybe that would make a difference, but how much, really? There have been great sounding sets long before note stamping came to be, so I don't put too much creedence in it. The grain orientation thing I could definitely see affecting the range of pitches though.
 
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