There are several indicators that determine when a drumhead should be replaced. Now keep in mind, I’m talking a “purist” and “practical” point of view here. Outside of the obvious, when there’s a hole in the head, most heads will always produce a sound. The question is, what sound? So in some cases, you’ll have to be the judge of when, enough-is-enough. But here are some simple guidelines:
1. When the coating begins to wear off. If you have used the head to the point the coating wears, it’s very likely that you are tuning to a very high-pitch, are a very heavy hitter or the head has just been on the drum a long time. As a result, point 2 (below) now comes into play.
2. When the head is removed from the drum, it exhibits a dished-out or dented appearance. This is the indicator that the head has been stretched beyond its limits, tuned to the point where not much elasticity is left, or it’s just been abused. Without a doubt, it’s time to replace that head.
3. When attempting a low-pitched tuning (assuming you have properly seated the heads as described in the section “Learning How, Resonant Side Tuning – The Beginning”) the drum will not give the desired pitch due to a distorted sound or buzz. This is an indicator that the head has begun to stretch and as such, is no longer capable of remaining in constant contact with the shell.
On 2-ply heads, this can occur sooner due to the upper ply stretching at a different rate than the bottom ply. The head may not be completely spent, but you may have to use a higher tuning from this point forward or as an alternative, you might try reseating the head while using the hair dryer as explained in the procedures.
4. When you have changed venues such as now playing either a smaller, larger, less or more reverberant venue. A sound or tuning, which works for a small venue will not work as well for a large venue. You have to consider what component of your sound will carry through to the audience. For example head selection for microphones will likely be different than without. A highly resonant kit may be your sound tech’s worst nightmare.
While the drummer can be inspired by this tone, a large venue or recording may result in a very muddy sound due to the overtones and lingering decay of the drum mixed with all the other instruments or acoustics. In large venues under close micing techniques, its typical for drummers to use 2-ply heads because the sound is more muffled or controlled. You get a shorter burst of energy, which by virtue of the hall or venue, reverberates or becomes delayed to the audience. Much the same as large venues require a more selective or simplistic placement of notes and fills because the audience does not hear the detail.
5. When you just want to experiment.