November 4, 2012

My favorite head combinations

By Darin Soll

As a drummer, drum heads are a critical component of your sound.  You want to use quality heads--not included, unfortunately, with most new mid-level drum kits--and change them out periodically.  Achieving the sound you want usually requires some trial and error with different types of heads, but with all of the head choices out there, where do you begin?

One place to begin is for me to simply share the head setup on my current acoustic kits.  Here they are, with batter head listed first in each case, resonant head second:

PDP X7 kit, thin maple shells:

Snare:  Evans Power Center reverse dot coated , Evans Hazy 300 snare side
Rack toms:  Evans G2 clear, Evans G1 clear
Floor toms:  Evans G2 clear OR Evans EC2 clear, Evans G1 clear
Bass:  Aquarian Super Kick II, stock Remo PDP black

PDP FS kit, thin birch shells:

Snare:  Remo Controlled Sound reverse white dot coated, Remo Ambassador snare side (3 mil) clear
Rack toms:  Remo Emperor clear, Remo Ambassador clear
Floor toms:  Remo Emperor clear OR Remo Powerstroke 3 clear , Remo Ambassador clear
Bass:  Remo Powersonic, stock Remo PDP black

A few notes about my setup:  (1) I do port the resonant head of each bass drum with a 4-inch hole at the 4:00 position, mostly for mic placement purposes, (2) I prefer edge control batter heads on my bass drums over using pillows to avoid quieting the drum too much, and (3) I use edge control batter heads on larger floor toms as well in certain venues.  Otherwise, I think edge control is unnecessary with properly tuned drums, and I think they are actually counter-productive on snare drums.  I do like Evans' Power Center reverse dot and Remo's Controlled Sound reverse dot heads for snare drums.  They offer increased durability with a "dual zone" sound while letting the edges sing.

PDP FS birch kit with Evans G2 over G1 head setup on toms
While I tend to stick with one head manufacturer on a given drum kit, I can honestly say that I don't have a preference between Remo and Evans.  To my ear on a given shell, an Emperor over Ambassador setup is very similar to a G2 over G1, although the Evans setup is slightly brighter (slightly more emphasis on the attack).  And because birch shells are somewhat brighter than maple shells, outfitting my birch toms with Remo heads and my maple toms with Evans heads results in pretty much a dead heat.

With any new kit, I highly recommend starting out with 2-ply batter and 1-ply resonant heads for all of your toms, coated or clear, your choice.  Learn how to tune your drums properly with this setup, and then if your particular sound or situation requires some additional overtone control, try Moongels first, and pre-muffled heads as a last resort.  I recommend this for three reasons:  (1) many drummers use pre-muffled heads as a "crutch" to eliminate undesired overtones ("ring") rather than learning to properly tune them out, (2) pre-muffled heads can actually be more difficult to tune and keep in tune, especially in smaller sizes, and (3) pre-muffled heads are more expensive.  Also, keep in mind that two-ply heads such as the Emperor and G2 do provide some overtone dampening, especially when compared to the one-ply heads included with many new mid-level drum kits.

The point is that you should start out with a new drum kit by letting it sing...remember that there is a difference between undesired ring and desired resonance!  Once you are comfortable tuning it up and getting a good sound out of it, then you can start making adjustments for the types of music and venues you typically play.

I recognize that all experienced drummers have developed their own head preferences--I am simply sharing what I have learned to get a good sound out of my acoustic kits.  At the risk of offending the Remo Pinstripe lovers out there, in my opinion, your kit should never wear Pinstripes.  The 1970s are behind us, and toms should not sound like cardboard boxes!  If you find you do need some edge control, the Remo Powerstroke 4 and Evans EC2 are better choices, utilizing edge control mechanisms that are a bit less drastic.  Using a Pinstripe head is similar to dropping an O-ring on your drum, resulting in a decay that is a bit too quick, at least for my tastes.  By the way, some drummers do drop o-rings on their drums in the practice studio when they want a bit less volume and sustain, and then pull them off when they play live gigs.  That "best of both words" scenario may work for you as well.

I am also not a fan of the Remo Emperor X head--while it is probably the world's most durable drumhead, two 10 mil heads with a 5 mil reverse dot dampens the tone a bit too much for my tastes.  While I have not tried Aquarian heads on anything other than bass drums, I think the Super Kick II is probably the best bass drum head on the market right now.

One final point--experimentation is key to finding the right drum head combination for you, so get used to the idea of changing your drum heads.  Drum tuning is not a "set it and forget it" exercise--you have to make it part of your routine to achieve and maintain your sound.  Hopefully my recommendations will help you get the best sound out of your kit!

--Darin

16 comments:

  1. Good info DrumNut!
    In addition, there are a BAZILLION combo's of drums and heads. I have changed heads on my kit just to better match the situation I'm in, but your comment about "undesired ring and desired resonance" is spot on!
    I currently play a Ludwig Super Classic 4-ply maple kit and (for me) my favorite heads are Aquarian Double Thins-top and Evans Resonant-bottom. Kick is Aquarian Super Kick II-batter and Force II Resonant-front. This combo has been proven by a few engineers that have commented how easy they are to get a great sound.
    Since this is blog is for everyone of every skill level, lets make sure to mention you must "seat" your drumheads during the tuning process. To eliminate this proceedure will cause a lot of headaches and your drums will NEVER stay in tune.

    HOW TO:
    1) Tune new heads to medium tension.
    2) Put the palm of your hand in the middle of the head with other hand on top.
    3) With all of your weight push down on head and you will hear it "crack'--that's good--it's whay you want!
    4) Tune drum again (you will find out this process just made your drum sound a lot lower!)
    5) Repeat all steps again and you'll be shocked at how well your drums stay in tune.

    As a side note don't worry about puttong too much pressure on your heads or drums while seating them; for larger drums (14"+) I literally STAND on them and bounce and I'm 6'3" and 200 lbs! As long as you are directly in the middle of the head you won't hurt a thing and yes, this is what the pro's do!

    --RythymDog

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  2. Good advice, Rythym Dog, on making sure new heads are properly seated. I call the process "pre-seating" the heads, and I've used the process with excellent results. While Bob Gatzen from Evans raises concerns about over-stretching, I've never damaged or noticed reduced life in any of the heads I've seated in this manner.

    I've found that if I don't firmly pre-seat new heads, it takes several practice sessions to break them in, which means much more time spent tuning and re-tuning when I'm trying to play--that is if I can even get them to tune properly in the first place!

    While tuning is never a "set and forget" process, pre-seating reduces the amount of time it takes to get a new set of heads dialed in initially.

    Thanks again for the tip, Rythym Dog! --DrumNut

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  3. DrumNut,

    I recently purchased a PDP X7 Maple kit, but am having trouble tuning it. Could you possibly share the tuning scheme, frequencies or notes you are using? I also recently purchased a Tune Bot.

    Thank you sir,
    Allen

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  4. Absolutely, Allen. Here is my X7 tuning scheme, by drum, starting with the note and fundamental frequency I'm after (i.e, the desired frequency when hitting the center of the batter head). Then I list the frequencies at the lugs (i.e., the desired frequency when tapping a couple inches away from each tuning lug):

    10" tom (3d, 147Hz): tune each batter and reso lug to 252Hz
    12" tom (2b, 124Hz): tune each batter and reso lug to 210Hz
    14" tom (2g, 98Hz): tune each batter and reso lug to 166Hz
    16" tom (2d, 74Hz): tune each batter and reso lug to 130Hz
    22" bass (1e, 42Hz): tune batter lugs to 80Hz, reso lugs to 68Hz
    Snare: You will have to experiment with your particular snare; I like them tuned high, so I tune reso lugs to 400Hz and work batter lugs up from 260Hz until I reach my desired note

    Tips: (1) Tune your reso heads first--I find it more convenient to dial in the final note on the batter side. (2) Once you get a lug to the desired frequency, press the "Filter" button on your TuneBot so it ignores overtones. Otherwise, TuneBot will pick up overtones, and you will occasionally get different frequency readings for the same lug at the same tuning. The Filter function is a huge help in screening out those "bad" readings. (3) When tuning larger drums, you may have to move the TuneBot closer to the lug you are tuning--I've found that I can't leave the TuneBot in one position on the hoop when working my way around larger drums. (4) Be careful with your bearing edges! It's all too easy to ding an edge when changing out heads.

    Good luck! --DrumNut

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  5. DrumNut,

    Thank you very much. I've only done the 16 and 14 so far, but they sound MUCH better. Fixing to get started on the 12. I notice you didn,t include the 8 inch tom. Not using it?

    Thanks again for sharing your settings. I will post again once I get everything all tuned up.

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  6. Almost forgot, I wanted to ask how you came about your scheme... did you start out aiming for specific notes, or did you go by ear with what sounded good? Or was a combination of the two?

    You see, the problem I have been having (before I found you) is that to my ears, it seemed as I was trying to 'force' my drums into ranges they did not want to go. I found various schemes and recommendations on the web, and tried a bunch, but nothing really fit.

    My next step was going to be forgetting trying to tune to specific notes and just starting over from scratch, loosening up everything, and then slowly raising each drum looking for a sweet spot. Letting the drum speak to me.

    The only problem with that.. is I haven't been speaking this language very long. :-) It might as well be Russian or Chinese.

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  7. Allen, glad to hear that you are getting better results! Can you imagine what drum techs went through back in the 70s when artists had those huge, sweeping drum kits? Tuning nightmare...

    You are correct, I don't use my 8" tom. But if I did, I would tune it to 3e, 165Hz. That would put the lug frequency at about 280Hz-290Hz, although it would take some experimentation to dial it in.

    I will tell you exactly where I started...before I had Tune-Bot, I would tune by ear, trying to match my toms to drum voices on my electronic kit, or to sound clips of various drums on the web. I got pretty good at getting consistent tone across lugs, except for my floor toms, where overtones throw my ear a bit. And, I wasn't dialing my drums into fundamental notes. For example, my band plays "Melt With You" by Modern English, which has a distinct floor tom ride. Well, before my 14" tom was tuned to 2g, the bass player would grimace every time we played that cover.

    Then I discovered Tune-Bot.

    After getting the hang of Tune-Bot, I thought it would be cool to see other drummers' Tune-Bot settings, and when I searched for this on the web, I ended up at Tune-Bot's site. Check out http://tune-bot.com/drum-tuning.html. This page provides great information on fundamental notes for various drums, and offers tuning approaches for toms, snares, and bass drums. Their lug frequency calcs were off a bit, at least for my kits, so I've shared the "street" lug frequencies I've worked out over the past several months to achieve the desired fundamental notes.

    You can also check out http://tune-bot.com/forums/ for comments from other drummers using Tune-Bot, although there is not as much participation here as I would like to see. If you had already stumbled across this page, you may have noticed that some of the posting tunings seem to disregard fundamental notes.

    Once you get the rest of your drums tuned up (it gets easier once you get used to Tune-Bot), you will find that the PDP X7 is a pro-quality kit. It is far and away the best set of drums I have ever owned, and it holds its own with premium kits I have played. Enjoy!

    --DrumNut

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  8. Well.. I haven't posted again since I've gotten very frustrated over the last couple days because I'm having trouble getting a sound I like from the other toms.

    Plus, I've been tapping and tuning so much... I'm numb to the whole thing.

    It's started to drain (suck dry) my motivation to play so I guess I'm going to take a couple days away from the drums.

    By the way I never mentioned I've put on new Evans G2 Coated tops, Evans G1 bottoms, all toms, replacing the cheapie factory heads.

    Hopefully I will be back posting some good news soon.

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  9. Seriously, I cannot express the frustration and disappointment I'm feeling right now. I'm ready to rock and I know this kit is just waiting to sound great, but I'm failing to do something right....

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    Replies
    1. You have selected a great head combination...just take the drums one at a time.

      One suggestion...tune the smaller toms by ear first, and then use Tune-Bot to fine tune them. I think its easier to dial them in if the frequencies from lug-to-lug are already fairly consistent when you break out the Tune-Bot.

      Don't give up! Learning to tune drums properly takes practice and patience...but once you get it, the results are huge. --DrumNut

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  10. Nut,

    I have good news.. I finally have the kit rocking, with the except of the 8 inch.

    I will share my settings and my mildly interesting path to finding them tonight after work. I'm about to leave now.

    Speaking of the 8 inch, it seems to be the odd man out. It only sounds good when I tune it nearly as high as my snare, and that creates 2 problems. First, a lot of snare buzz. Second, it doesn't add much variety to my sound since it's so close to the snare.

    Not to mention, I have this natural desire to hit the damn thing too often because it sits just above the snare, first in line of the Toms.

    By the way, I'm not using the X7 snare at the moment. I have a Ludwig Black Beauty 6.5 deep snare. And I tell you, that thing sounds good no matter what you do to it. Tune it high. Tune it low. Tune it in the middle. Whatever. It's a sweet drum.

    Thanks again for all your help and advice. I will post again soon!

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  11. Hello! I'm finally back.

    I started over from scratch, listening closely to each drum trying to find the sweet spot. I tried a tip from John Good at DW by tapping on the shells (unmounted and heads removed/muted) listening for any obvious notes/tones coming from the shell itself, then tuning the resonant/bottom head as close to that as possible. You need a quiet room, good hearing and a lot of patience. Ultimately I could not go solely by the sound of the shell, because it's a tricky thing, and hardly an exact science, but it did help steer my direction.

    Here are my current settings. I have followed DrumNut's listing method showing notes and frequencies. I have also listed my heads, snare and other specifics of my setup.

    PDP X7 all-maple kit.

    All Toms have Evans G2 coated heads Top with Evans G1 clear heads Bottom.

    Kick drum has the Evans EMAD system, Clear batter head, Black ported resonant head. These heads come with external damping rings. The resonant head port ring came install!d and is still in place. The batter head ring that came installed on the batter is still in place. I have not used the extra damping ring that came with the batter head, nor have I felt the need to try it. The PDP pillow that came with the kick drum has been removed and I have no internal damping now.

    10 x 8 Tom: (3C#, 139Hz): tune each batter lug to 238Hz (3A#), tune each reso lug to 224Hz (3A)
    12 x 9 Tom: (2G#, 105Hz): tune each batter lug to 184Hz (3F#), tune each reso lug to 170Hz (3F)
    14 x 12 Tom: (2F, 87Hz): tune each batter lug to 152Hz (3D#), tune each reso lug to 149Hz (3D)
    16 x 14 Tom: (2D, 74Hz): tune each batter lug to 132Hz (3C), tune each reso lug to 120Hz (2B)

    22 x 18 Kick Drum: (1D, 36Hz): tune each batter lug to 55Hz (1A), tune each reso lug to 74Hz (2D)

    I'm getting good, solid, deep throaty sounds from all toms now.

    The bass drum sounds great too. For that matter the X7 bass drum has sounded great at several different tunings. This current setting is actually the TuneBot's recommendation for a 22/24 bass drum. There are three recommendations for a 22 and this is the lowest of them, yet it's still higher than any of my previous kick tunings. But you would not know it by listening. The bass drum sounds big and bad, without being too boomy. And the bit of extra tension gives the pedal a nice feel on the batter head. I did not like the TuneBot recommended settings for Toms, but this particular bass drum setting is working out nicely.


    Ludwig Black Beauty Snare, 14 x 6.5, Factory P85 Supra-Phonic snare strainer/throw-off.

    Top head is Remo WeatherKing Coated Ambassador. Bottom head is Evans Hazy 300.
    Snares are kept loose, just tightened enough for the first crack/pop sound to appear.

    14 x 6.5 Snare: (3G, 196Hz): tune each batter lug to 301Hz (4D), tune each reso lug to 334Hz (4E)

    With this tuning and loose snares, I have a deep, fat sound that is classic rock, which is what I like, and most of what I play. You can get a lot more crack/pop (and a little less snare buzz) by tightening the snares further but you lose a bit of the fatness.

    END of settings.


    Couple of notes...

    When I do a roll from high to low, 10 then 12, 14 and finishing on 16, I feel the 16 sounds a bit flat or dull as it finishes, as if the note should... do something. Swing up a little, or maybe down. Not sure how to describe it. Is there any way to upload a sound file?

    You want loud? When I tuned both top and bottom heads exactly the same, to what I perceived as the note coming from the wood shell, the Toms sounded almost like they were amplified. So loud and such long sustain, but also lots of ringing. So much ringing that it turned me off. But man it was loud!

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  12. Alleninallen, that's great news...glad to hear that you have your kit dialed in the way you want it. So, your kit not only sounds good to your ear, but you now have baseline tunings to make head replacement and other future adjustments MUCH easier.

    It's no surprise that you prefer slightly different tunings than I do. With your roots in classic rock, you'll remember that the standard rock kit of the 70s was outfitted with 12" and 13" rack toms. I suspect that you tuned your X7's 10" and 12" toms a bit lower to get closer to the sound of those bigger toms. I went with slightly higher tunings since I typically play more modern pop/rock, but I do find that I start fills on my 12" tom when I play 70s Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy, etc.

    I started out at 1d with my 22" bass drum as well, and you're right, the X7 maple shell absolutely booms that note. However, I found that the lower frequency was getting lost in the mix, especially during recording, so I bumped it up to 1e, which I think is TuneBot's highest recommendation for 22" bass drums. One other benefit of the higher tuning is that I like the pedal response better at this head tension. I also think it's possible that my old ears just don't pick up frequencies below 40Hz as well anymore :)

    You are correct in that John Good from DW talks about the fundamental note of each drum shell--in fact, it's stamped in ink on the inside of each DW shell. However, each shell has a tuning range within which it resonates well, and so far, the only drum I've managed to choke by wandering outside its tuning range is my Slingerland COB snare. The shell will resonate best (and therefore produce the most volume) at its precise fundamental note, but musically, that may not be the note you want. You described it as ringing, but it's really maximum shell resonance. To me, the term "ringing" refers to undesired overtones that come from improperly tuned heads, especially on the batter side. But I understand your point--it was too much resonance, too boomy, at least in your practice setting.

    In a live setting, however, it might be the perfect amount of resonance, so keep track of your shells' fundamental notes. I think it's cool that you were able to dial them in on your X7 shells!

    I've never owned a Black Beauty, but everyone raves about it, so I'm sure it's a step up from my old Slingy!

    Regarding your 16" floor tom...I don't think you are looking for a pitch bend as you seemed to be hinting. Floor toms sometimes need a bit of dampening, and on the X7's 16" floor tom, I've had good results by either (1) using an edge-control head such as an Evans EC2, or (2) dropping a 4"x4" swatch of terry cloth into the drum. Rythym Dog shared this tip with me. You simply drop the piece of cloth into the drum, and let it sit on the reso head. When you hit the drum, it bounces for a fraction of a second and then falls back onto the reso head, providing just the right amount of dampening at the right moment. Rythym Dog has also ported the reso heads of larger floor toms, like bass drums but with a smaller port. I haven't tried that method.

    Congratulations on getting your PDP X7 dialed into notes that work for your music! You will likely get comments from your bandmates: "Hey man, those drums sound amazing! What did you do?" Enjoy!

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  13. A piece of terry cloth? Ha! That's awesome. I will check it out.

    Nut, I'm sorry for posting so much on your blog, in this one topic.I don't mean to make a pest of myself. Hopefully my experiences can help somebody too.

    Thanks again to you (and Rythym Dog) for the advice, tips and information.

    By the way, on a completely different topic, the mounts on my Toms were putting too much pressure on the tuning lugs and this was causing some minor choking of the drums, as well as minor tuning issues. I searched the web to see if any other X7 owners had the same issues and sure enough, I found many examples including this forum thread at DrumChat...

    http://www.drumchat.com/showthread.php/pdp-x7-tom-mounts-25831.html

    The good news is the issue is easy to fix, and pretty quick. You just have to remove the hardware from the tom, and then carefully bend the bracket a little bit at a time, holding it up to the drum for a test fit after each adjustment. The PDP service department actually recommended this bend-it-yourself fix as well, and their email reply is documented in that thread by the person who started it and contacted them with photos etc.

    I fixed both my 10 and 12 mounts in about 20-30 minutes. They are perfect now, and there is no pressure on the tuning lugs or bolts.

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  14. Alleninallen, no problem at all...our back-and-forth dialogue is in fact my objective for this blog. The conversation is what triggers the "ah-ha" moments...we learn from each other, and others can learn from what we've learned. These pages are in fact getting hits, and that's the first step toward helping others.

    I forgot about the suspension mount binding issue on the PDP X7. I reshaped my mounts a few years ago when I bought my PDP X7 maple kit, and then again a year ago when I bought my PDP FS birch kit, which includes the same hardware. The effects of the binding and the fix you describe are spot on.

    Thanks again and feel free to reply to any of the posts on this blog. I need to get Rythym Dog to jump in more as well!

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