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!