Monday, March 19, 2012

Gear Up: Drumheads - Toms

Aaaaaaaalright! It's finally time for the last (for now) installment of our discussion on heads. We'll keep it super simple, short, and to the point.

For the batter head, you basically have a few choices.

  • Single or double ply?
  • Clear or coated?
  • Pinstripes, oil-filled or other 'affects?'
And for the resonant side, the same choices basically apply. In general, you want a thinner, clearer head on the bottom than on the top.

Here are some great places to start surfing for new heads:

I currently own and play heads from all four of these companies. There are reasons to like and dislike all of them! There are some other makers, as well, but these are the most common. 

Your choices must be determined by two things: how you want to sound and where you're going to play. If you're playing jazz in a club, you're going to make very different choices than if you're making a heavy metal recording in the studio.

Just remember that the thicker the head, the more plies, the more - whatever - that's on/in/attached to the head, the shorter, punchier and more focused the sound. 

Also, how should the heads be tuned? You have some choices here, as well. 
  • Tune both heads to the same pitch. Many jazz and bebop players take this route.
  • Tune the batter lower than the resonant side. Good for rock, pop, country, etc.
  • Tune the resonant side lower than the batter. Gives the lowest, "chunkiest" fundamental sound.
I tune all of my toms with the pitch of the resonant head a minor third* (a step and a half) higher than the batter head. This gives a decent amount of resonance, and a stable pitch center. They sound great live or under a mic. 

And I know I've written this many times, but remember that your drums will sound very different under a mic or out in the audience than you hear them from the driver's seat. Make sure to get a good, accurate soundcheck by listening to the playback or walking around the venue while someone else bangs the ol' skins. 

Don't be afraid to try new things, and whenever you hear something you like - find out what they're using and how they're getting the sounds. 

Good luck and happy drumming!

*Think of the first two notes of the melody of Brahms' "Lullabye" and you've got a minor third. 

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