Part 7: Toms, Drumheads Tuning – Batter side

I have, for simplicity, categorized the drumheads into 5 different categories. Certainly within each category there are differences in the timbre of the head used. Most are subtle to very subtle tonal differences within each category, and usually can be used interchangeably. For example, a REMO Ambassador coated will sound very similar to an Evan’s G1 or Aquarian Satin Texture coated.

However, there are differences in the wear factor of the coatings. It is widely accepted that the coating on the Aquarian heads does last longer than those of the others, but keep an open mind because manufacturers are improving their lines all the time.

Coated heads are considered “warm” or “mellow” sounding meaning generally void of the real bright overtone associated with the “clear” version of equal brand and specification. Clear heads are considered “bright” or “clear” sounding meaning they bring out as much of the high-pitched tones of the stick attack and resonance of the drum. In between these two coated and clear heads in tone quality is the “ebony” series of heads and is often described as being a “thicker” or “darker” sound than that of a clear head of equal specification.

Ebony colored heads, while usually chosen due to aesthetics, has the virtue of being both warm in the overtone area, yet bright in the stick attack. Coated is probably required if doing brushwork. Hazy heads are generally both “bright” and have a stronger “midrange presence” to the sound. In all cases thicker heads will be mellower and more sensitive than that of the exact same thinner counterpart. For example, a REMO Diplomat Clear will be brighter and more sensitive than a REMO Ambassador Clear, the Ambassador being thicker than the Diplomat and both being single ply.

Catagory 1. Single ply, unmuffled medium weight such as REMO Ambassador, Renaissance and FiberSkyn FA, Aquarian Satin Texture Coated, Classic Clear and the Evans G1 series, to name a few.

Catagory 2. Single ply muffled or Heavy Weight such as the REMO Emperor, PowerStroke, FiberSkyn F1 and the Aquarian Studio-X series. The sound here goes more mellow compared to single ply with overtones becoming less prevalent on the initial attack and less or minimal sustain.

Catagory 3. This category is sort of a mixed bag, which I was tempted to separate. But everyone has his or her idea of what “muffled” means, and these are all muffled to some degree. Two-ply muffled or wear resistant heads like REMO Pinstripe, Aquarian Response or Performance II or Double Thins and the classic Evans G2, or anything with a “Power dot” on it, these produce a very short initial attack coupled with a very short sustain.

Characteristics can be quite different in this category due to the application of control rings or the lack thereof around the outer circumference. For example a REMO “CS” or Control Sound head can have a thick sounding attack and be wear resistant, but still contain high-pitched overtones due to the applied dot but no other control rings. Whereas an Aquarian Signature series Carmine Appice Tom Tom and Bass Drumheads feature an extremely thin Power Dot on top and a Studio-X muffling ring underneath, which have both a thick sound and stifle high-pitched overtones.

Both are suitable for heavy hitters who need wear resistance but the resulting sound is quite different. Another example would be the Aquarian line. In order of most resonant to least would be the Double Thins, Response 2 followed by the Performance II’s, all are muffled, all can be had with a wear dot. The difference in weight alters the muffling characteristics.

Catagory 4. Heavily muffled with an oil barrier such as the Evans hydraulic. These heads are the most inherently “boxy” or “dull” of any. Almost void of much inherent sustain on their own. However, with higher tuning, can exhibit some form of sustain and resonance, depending upon the type of bearing edge you may have on the drum?

Catagory 5. Single ply, unmuffled and thin in weight. The REMO Diplomat pretty much locks up this category for tom batter heads. These are usually only suitable for a light touch or Jazz type situation where feel and sensitivity are of the utmost importance.

Toms, Drumheads – Resonant side

Note, you can obviously use any head but it is usually preferred to use a single ply head.

1. Thin resonant heads: Heads like REMO Diplomat batter, FiberSkyn 3 FT/FD, Aquarian High Frequency and Evan’s Genera Resonant or Glass Resonant heads.

2. Medium weigh heads: Heads such as REMO Ambassador, Ambassador Ebony and FiberSkyn FA, Aquarian Classic Clear or Satin Texture Coated and the Evans G1 series. These will have less sustain than the thinner counterparts such as the REMO Diplomat or Evans Glass or Genera Resonant. Knowing the inherent sound of each head and how to combine the heads and tune makes the batter head all that much more adequate when trying to achieve a sound.

Toms, General Head Guidelines

1. To get the volume and as much sustain back as possible when using muffled, two-ply or hydraulic heads, use thin heads on the resonant side.

2. For a warmer sound use texture coated versions of the above and warmer still, move into the single ply medium weight heads such as the Ambassador, Evan’s or Aquarian Coated heads.

3. Use a muffled head on the resonant side to kill sustain and overtones yet retain the stick response and attack of a single ply head on the batter.

4. The sound of the ebony series of heads is between clear and coated. It is usually described as “darker”, which to my ear means not quite as prevalent in high pitched overtones as a clear head, but more prevalent in overtones than texture coated.

5. The more coating without muffling the warmer the sound will get.

See the section “Toms, Some selections and characteristic sounds”.

Toms, Some selections and characteristic sounds

1. Medium weight, single ply such as REMO Ambassador, Aquarian or EVANS G1 coated top/same on bottom. Very resonant, high ring can be very prominent, very good sustain, excellent stick response. Clear on top even more open. This is what a large portion of jazz, country and light rock guy’s use. Tuning can control ring easily. Popular recording choice. Coated provides a nice sibilance to the stick attack while clear provides predominate midrange attack.

2. REMO PowerStroke 3, FiberSkyn FA or Emperor, Aquarian Studio X; Coated or Clear on top with REMO Diplomat Batter Clear or EVANS Genera Resonant Clear bottom. Very resonant, almost void of high ring but very good sustain excellent stick response. A classic light jazz studio sound without mics. For a little warmer sound, use a medium weight coated head on the bottom or Ebony series. Used with some lower end bass heavy mic’s in close mic situations, the sound can be almost too round due to “proximity effect (see “Microphone Use, In Brief – How they can effect the sound:” below).

3. Emperor, FiberSkyn F1 or Aquarian Double Thin on top with a medium weight single ply on the bottom. Good combination that sort of bridges the gap between medium hitters and hard hitters without much of a sacrifice in sound and stick response. Warm sound yet can be resonant with some high pitch character.

4. Pinstripe, Aquarian Performance II or EVANS G2 top and a thin single ply like REMO Diplomat or EVANS Genera Resonant Clear bottom. Less resonant than above, much more stick attack sound, some light to no high ring but very good sustain and attack with good stick response. For a fatter/wetter sound, try keeping the bottom head at or slightly below it’s lowest fundamental note. This combination or the one below is a very good selection for fat sounding drums. Again, for a little warmer sound, use a medium weight coated head on the bottom such as an Ambassador or equivalent. Another good recording choice for a more isolated sound.

5. REMO Ambassador, Aquarian or EVANS G1 coated top and a 2-ply head on the bottom such as EVANS G2. Longer fundamental note than the above combination and almost completely void of high ring with short sustain and excellent stick response.

6. Evan’s G2 or any other 2-ply muffled head on top and bottom, close to the dead sound of late 60’s early 70’s, a very short tone and not real great stick response. Tuned high in pitch, overtones can come back with a vengeance.

7. Hydraulic heads top/bottom, like throwing a towel over the drum, “boxy” sounding, thud. Using a highly resonant head such as the Evan’s Glass or Genera Resonant adds back some life. Some report this works good in high pitched tuning situations although I have no personal experience with drums tuned this way. I have however, used them in the low tuning ranges and the sound is as I have described.

Toms, Tuning Procedure

Follow that listed above under “Tuning and Seating the Heads, All Drums”. Specifically you should proceed in this order:

1. Learning How, Resonant Side Tuning – The beginning:

2. Batter Side Tuning:

3. Time to Zone:

4. Then follow-up with Results – What They Mean: