There are basically three kinds: Coated, clear plastic and bulls-eye.
Most rock drummers seem to favor the bulls-eye, which are clear plastic heads with a big, black laminated plastic circle.
Coated heads are favored by jazz and “old- pro” drummers from the 1950’s. These come as opaque white and don’t ring as clearly as either the black dot bulls-eye or the clear heads.
Clear heads are often used as either a bottom head or sometimes on top. The problem with using them on top is that they wear away far more quickly than either the bulls-eye or coated heads and became “dead.”
Clear heads are almost always used as snare bottoms.
Clear heads “ring” (provide more overtones) more than both the black dot and coated heads. Black dot bulls-eye heads give generally more overtones than do the coated heads.
Coated heads are good for brush work, which is why a lot of jazz dummers may seem to prefer these heads over the others.
The bulls-eye or black dot heads wear better than both the clear and the coated, because they have a laminated re-enforcement over the center portion where most drummers make their hits.
Drum heads are not cheap! A 14” head costs between $20 and $30 and they go dead real fast. For live work a dead head is still usable, but in a recording session a dead head (not to be confused with a person who likes The Grateful Dead a lot) is as bad for some songs as old, used guitar strings. The overtones (or upper harmonics) are gone and the drum may not tune well.
Heads are supposed to be tuned uniformly around the outside edge, using opposite lug nuts. For example, you start at 12 o’clock and tune that lug a quarter turn, then you go to 6 o’clock and tune that lug a quarter turn. Then you go to 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock and tune those lugs. Ultimately you should get the same rough tone all the way around the inside rim when you tap the lug.
To help keep some heads from dying to quickly (especially the very expensive 24 or 26” kick drum head) some drummers put a patch of “lambskin” over the area where the stick or beater ball goes. A Dr. Scholl’s callous pad is often the choice of many drummers.
For the snare a wad of tissue paper taped to one edge often gets ride of excessive ring.
Old heads that are still intact shouldn’t be thrown away, but instead kept for emergency use on stage if you can’t afford to buy back-up 12”, 14” and 16” heads or that very expensive 24” to 28” kick drum head! Keep them in the box your new head came in and take it to gigs with you “just in case.”
By and large, Remo still makes the head most drummers prefer.
-- Contributing to this was Rebeca Spencer, Kevin Slater, Ron from Valley Drums, Eddie from Sound Pad Music, Charlies Garcia, Snap and Dr. D
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