Inside Your Head: A To Z Of Drumhead Designs
Polyester film is king for drumheads, far outdistancing other head materials, including Aramid Fiber (Kevlar, FIG. 1), which is used for some super-duty marching heads. Mylar is a popular brand of polyester film, but not all films are Mylar. This is because, at the international manufacturing level, there are several sources for polyester film: DuPont, the owner of the “Mylar” brand name, as well as other giant companies (that most laymen have never heard of), which produce polyester films for various manufacturing sectors, including the drumhead industry. Each type of film sounds slightly different, and many drummers find their ears prefer one brand to another. Most drumhead companies don’t divulge the specs of their particular films – manufacturers guard their details like Colonel Sanders defended his fried chicken recipe. To add to the confusion and mystery, many drumhead makers use several entirely different films for different lines of drumheads. Aquarian was willing to tell us it used two or three films; Remo admits to having at least several; Evans lost count at some ten different films. Some of the films are obviously as different as black and white, while others sound dissimilar while looking the same. The thickness of the film is just as important as its type. Most companies offer several weights of single-ply heads. Typically, this translates into 7mil and 10mil thicknesses (the most common resonant snare head is 3mil thick). Some companies have expanded into heavy-duty batter-head thicknesses, including Evans’ EC1 at 14mil thick. Some companies post the actual thickness of the film on the box, while others bury the specifics in their product brochures.
FIG. 2. The surface of Aquarian’s Texture Coated heads features a sprayed-on coating that provides a warmer sound.
The stucco-like white stuff on coated heads (FIG. 2) simulates the rough texture and drag effect of calf heads, allowing drummers to play with brushes. Drummers once considered wire brushes a standard tool for a night’s work, and an uncoated plastic head is barely audible when you drag a brush across its surface. But the coating also changes the sound. Though it averages out to only about 1mil thick, regular white coating warms the sound by slowing the vibrations in the head (in this context, warmth refers to a sound in which some of the higher frequencies have been reduced). So even if you don’t do any brushwork but prefer warmer sounding heads, you might prefer coated models. There are numerous types of coating. In addition to the previously mentioned white stucco (which varies quite a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer), there are also micro-thin coatings, “smoother” rough coatings, and laminations and/or proprietary treatments that most consumers think of as a coating (FIG. 3). Swinging Singles Single-ply heads started the whole revolution, and are still quite popular. Available in clear or coated varieties, they offer the most attack, maximum ring, and plenty of volume. Single-ply heads have the least amount of frequency attenuation, with little sound control, for better or worse. Of course, you can damp them yourself with tape, Moon Gel, napkins, and other creative muffling materials. Drummers playing light to moderate volumes will find single-ply heads very versatile. They can be tuned quite high for modern jazz, mid-range for pop and classic rock, or low for funk or heavier rock sounds. Single-ply batter heads are popular for recording, including for loud rock drummers working in the studio. But single-ply heads can have a short lifespan, since vigorous pounding can dent the heads and ruin their tone. That’s why most loud drummers use double-ply batter heads in concert, even many who record their hit records with single-ply heads. Snare-side heads are also single-ply, available in several thicknesAses, but are generally thinner than batter heads. For example, an Evans Hazy snare head is just 2mil thick, and the (medium) Evans Hazy 300 snare side head is 3mil thick.
FIG. 3. Evans’ J1 Etched head has a textured, translucent surface treatment that provides an alternative to coating.
Many drummers find that two films are better than one. Double-ply heads – available in clear, coated, and alternative coatings – offer increased durability. For manufacturers, the process of mating the two films is a tricky one. Historically, two 7mil plies is a popular combination, although some companies also produce double-ply heads made with two different weights of film. These offer an interesting compromise of sound. Double-ply heads have a bit more body, sound thicker, and ring a little less than single-ply heads. So while they might be a bit stodgy for brisk jazz, this quality makes them nice and meaty for rock and roll. They tune well from medium to low. Color Colorless clear heads are very popular. But again, inclusion and exclusion help to make the seven main components work. A white coated head is usually clear under the coating. Heads are also available in white-colored polyester film as well as black. Over the years, an occasional red or blue head has been offered. And let’s not forget hazy, which is cloudy-clear and popular for snare-side heads. Color provides a clue that the film is unique. For example, Remo offers coated-white and smooth-white heads, which use different films. But Black Suede heads are the same film as a coated Ambassador without the white coating, and with black color added along with the Suede texture. Remo Renaissance heads are both a different type of film and a different type of surface treatment. Experimenting with a different head color might lead you to a new sound. Try not to get too confused. Evans says some color options are simply aesthetic choices, but more important is the sound of the color. Black film, for instance, because of its composition, sounds slightly brighter than other hues.