FIG. 4. Meet the original dot – Remo’s Controlled Sound batter head.
As we work our way through drumhead ingredients, the number of permutations threatens to go off the charts. We already have the choice of single- or double-ply heads in various combinations of thicknesses. We can choose coated or clear, and several different films of different colors. To this growing menu we add dots (FIG. 4). Dots were one of the earliest modifications made to plastic drumheads. These discs are made of polyester film, usually 5mil thick, affixed to the center of drumheads. Thank Buddy Rich for this one. Rich was putting his bass drum beater right through the early versions of thin plastic heads. At Rich’s urging, Remo Belli added an extra patch of heavier material to provide greater durability. The patch also changed the sound, adding more focus to the attack, hardening the attack a bit, and changing the character of the decay sound. Though their use on toms peaked and then waned since their heyday in the 1970s, dots persist on snare heads. They are now nearly standard issue on rock snare drumheads from all manufacturers. A dot can be affixed to the top or underside of the head. Some manufacturers, like Evans, modify the basic round shape of the dots with slots and vents, seeking relief and flexibility for the stress point (FIG. 5). All dots add tremendous durability and focus the sound. And heads with dots can be found with or without coating.
FIG. 5. Evans locates its dot on the underside of its EC Reverse Dot batter head.
By the 1960s, calf heads had really slipped in popularity, and plastic heads were popular with most drummers. Jazz players tuned them quite high to achieve clarity for the fast, new sounds of modern jazz. But studio players doing pop and rock were headed the other way, tuning their drums lower on hit records of the day. In the studio, microphones were being set closer to the drums. Using an individual mike on each drum was a bold new technique. But microphones hear different frequencies than the human ear does, and soon drummers were using muffling to cut out unwanted ringing and resonance from some of the drums. Often the drummer would place his wallet on the snare head, or tape a napkin to the head, searching for the right sound for the song. By the 1970s it had become popular to cut a ring out of an old drumhead and lay it on top of the snare drum batter head. The sound was dead, with lots of mid-range snap and fat snare response. Ringing, high frequencies, which live in the outer diameter of the head, were damped down. Microphones, by now often positioned only a finger’s width from the drumhead, loved the sound of the muffled heads. Pretty soon you could buy pre-cut rings, and not long after that manufacturers began to incorporate “donuts” into the design of various drumheads. On some heads, the muffle ring donuts are made from actual rings of polyester film. They are often attached to the hoop, but held loosely against the head (FIG. 6). Some donuts are little more than a thick layer of textured, heavy spray paint around the perimeter. Some popular bass drumheads, Aquarian’s Super-Kick, for example, contain donuts made of a heavy felt material. There are many variations in between the extremes of paint and felt, each exerting different amounts of influence on the high frequencies and ring that live around the edges of the head. Another very popular type of donut, the kind found in a Remo Pinstripe head, for example, is nearly invisible. A Remo Pinstripe is a 2-ply head (the same as a Remo Emperor) with the layers joined around the perimeter. There’s just a dab of something in the inch-wide donut, and nothing else between the plies (like most companies, Remo won’t divulge what exactly is in its formulas). The act of sealing the two heads together all around the edge dampens the vibration and changes the sound, and other companies also offer edge-sealed heads with invisible donuts. Another significant approach to deadening sound was Evans’ Hydraulic heads (FIG. 7), which enjoyed brief, white-hot popularity as the ’70s collided with the ’80s. These 2-ply heads featured a thin layer of oil sandwiched in between plies. No mere donut, they are still the benchmark for deadened heads – and it was a quest for a sound between the deadness of Hydraulic and the liveliness of single-ply that led to every head that falls in between.
FIG. 6. Remo’s Powerstroke 3 includes a ring of film attached to the hoop and held loosely against the head.
There are many popular options in that land between. How about single-ply with a donut? No problem. Examples include the very popular Evans EC1, the Remo Powerstroke3, and Aquarian’s Studio-X, and choices expand within this heading. Aquarian, to give one example, offers the Studio-X in clear and coated, either with or without a center dot. Like Dunkin’s, donut technology evolves 24/7. Companies are ever striving to make a donut that feeds the hunger for perfect sound but stays clear of negatively impacting resonance, stick action, or fit between head and drum. But donuts in all types, shapes, and sizes still do now what they did then: deaden the head, fatten the sound, cut the high frequencies, and reduce the sharpness of the attack.