The choice you make about the type of drum skins (drumheads) will have an impact on the sound of your drum kit and the music you play. This guide covers the main considerations when choosing and changing drum skins.
Drum skins come with a lot of choices of different thicknesses, finishings, coatings and mufflings. Find the type of drumhead that is right for you.
The first thing to say is that here at Elephant Drums we don’t sell drum skins. We are not a drum shop or drum supplier. We are a team of drum teachers, specialising in face-to-face drum tuition in London.
We can offer advice and help in choosing and changing drum skins, but to buy them you’ll need to head to a drum shop that sells drum skins.
If you are in need of drum lessons or help with the maintenance of your drum kit, please use the following link to view all the options for drum lessons in London
Let’s get on to talking about drum skins…
What is a drum skin made of?
Despite the word “skin” in the name, drum skins (also known as drumheads) are rarely made of animal skin. A synthetic material is almost always used for drum skins intended for the drum kit. The plastic skins are more durable, cheaper and more consistently reliable than animal skin. Aside from the obvious moral issues associated with using animal skin, it is a lot easier to make skins from plastics using modern manufacturing processes. Drum skins made of synthetic materials are the accepted standard product that you would find in any drum shop.
The Batter Heads go on the side of the drum that you strike with the sticks. Resonant Heads go on the bottom of the drum (the drum skin which resonates). This section deals with the Batter Heads.
Finishes & Coatings
Frosted / Hazy
Unmuffled – normal
Choose the thickness:
The resonance of the drum can be affected by the thickness of the skin. ‘Resonance’ in this context relates to how long the note is sustained after the drum is struck. When choosing drum skins read the manufacturer’s descriptions about the properties of each particular type of drum skin. In very general terms, thinner skins tend to suit drummers who want a more lively/ringy sound, whereas thicker skins and two-ply heads tend to suit drummers who want to get a drier/thuddy sound.
Select the finish:
The finish of the drum skin is not only an aesthetic choice. Whilst many drummers choose a drum skin for the way it looks, there are sonic characteristics that come with specific finishes. Coated or frosted finishes are said to add warmth to the tone of the heads, whereas uncoated heads tend to have more definition and attack. Coated batter heads also provide a texture that is ideal for brushes.
How to choose your Batter Heads:
A good place to start is to search online and visit the websites for the main manufacturers. Each of the main brands have their full range of drumheads online, with descriptions of the tonal properties for each. This will help gain a better understanding of the combinations which are possible.
Here are the three main drum skin manufacturer’s websites:
Remo – remo.com
Aquarian – www.aquariandrumheads.com
Evans – www.evansdrumheads.com
These manufacturer websites also include some further details and useful advice about what to consider when choosing your new drum skins.
When you have decided what type of Batter Heads you need, it’s worth thinking whether it is necessary to also order new resonant drum skins for the bottom of the drum.
As mentioned before, the bottom drum skins are known as the resonant heads. This is the side of the drum that you don’t strike with the sticks. The skin resonates when the batter head is struck.
Because this side of the drum is never struck most drummers never consider changing the bottom skins unless they get accidentally broken. Other drummers don’t think it matters what type of skin is on the resonant side.
To some extent, it may be true that the resonant head will make little or no difference to the overall sound of the drums. This might be more true of cheaper entry-level drum kits. If you have a higher-spec drum kit the choice of resonant head will make more of a difference to the overall tone. The decision about whether to experiment with changing the resonant heads boils down to the quality of the drums themselves. For some kits it won’t make a great deal of difference. So before automatically splashing out on buying a whole new set of resonant heads, ask your drum teacher for advice about whether it would actually be necessary or if it is likely to make any noticeable difference.
If you are changing the bottom skins, follow the advice above as per the batter heads to find the most appropriate type of drum skin for your musical tastes.
How to put on new skins and tune the drums
To put on a new drum skin, undo the lugs and remove the old skin.
At this point it is a good idea to give the hoop and the bearing edge of the drum a good clean with a dry cloth. This removes any built-up dust, fluff, wood chippings and sawdust that have come off and got trapped.
Also do a quick general maintenance check whilst you have the skin off the drum. Check there are no loose bolts or any bits of debris that might have got inside your drum.
If necessary, use a small amount of petroleum jelly on the lugs to keep the screw threads in good condition. It is also a good time to replace any rusty or damaged lugs.
We’ve covered the process of tuning the drums in a previous article. Check out How to Tune Drums for a step-by-step guide to tuning.