The Drumhead Selector: How and Why
Wondering how each drumhead’s variables have been determined and ranked, and where all of this information actually comes from?
Want to know a little more about DrumheadAuthority?
This is the page for you.
Why was DrumheadAuthority created?
Hi, I’m Matt – the creator of DrumheadAuthority.com. I’m a drummer myself: I’ve played, taught, and recorded drums for over 15 years in different countries around the world. Why did I create DrumheadAuthority? Because it is a nightmare to navigate through the huge range of drumheads out there in a meaningful way. This is true for beginners, intermediate players, and even drummers with a lot of experience. Drumheads have names like “Ambassador“, “Genera“, “Force Ten“, etc., which tell you nothing about their sound or features. Unless you know a lot of background information, it’s extremely hard to compare drumheads from one brand, let alone across different brands.
So why is this such a big problem?
The answer is simple: Your drumheads (and what you do with them) are the biggest things affecting your drum sound. Will all other things equal, and with an at-least okay drum kit (i.e. round drums, good bearing edges, etc.), it’s the drumheads that count the most. Choose the right heads for your sound or style, and learn how to tune them, and you’re on your way to becoming a drum sound master. A cheap kit can sound great, and a $10,000 kit can sound terrible depending on your heads, tuning, and dampening. As well as simply getting these things right, you’ll get very different sounds depending on the type of drumheads you choose. So, I created DrumheadAuthority to help people get their head around these very important things. The Drumhead Selector was built to help drummers sift through the huge range of heads out there: It’s a quick and easy way to find best drumheads to buy, with all of the important details right in front of you. The information is kept as objective as possible, and I’ll explain exactly what that means further down this page.
Everything here is 100% free, and always will be.
This is a free resource for the great worldwide drumming community out there, so please use it as much as you need. Drummers are an incredibly helpful and supportive group of people, with a shared lifelong passion that brings us all together as one big family. Just take a look at some of the great drumming groups and forums out there to see what I mean. I want to do my part to keep encouraging this, so everything here is available for free to the drumming community. The ads that you see help to keep this site alive… If you buy your drum gear through those links, a small percentage comes to DrumheadAuthority. This money is used to pay the website’s bills, and to hopefully create more useful stuff for you. However, if you have a good and helpful independent drum store nearby, I’d be just as happy if you spent your money there to support them. It’s up to you, so do what you feel is best to keep our community alive. The drumming community is you, me, and everyone else that loves this instrument, and we can all play a small part in keeping it great.
Knowing what to expect.
I believe it’s important to tell people exactly how each drumhead’s variables have been determined, so you know what to expect when using the Drumhead Selector. There’s no “magic” to figuring out a drumhead’s sound, it’s all based on a combination of real-world factors. With some drumming experience, and some knowledge of how these factors affect your sound, you can work this stuff out for yourself as well.
Before I explain all of this, though, I want to point out a couple of things…
What DrumheadAuthority Does Not Do:
DrumheadAuthority does not aggregate online reviews.
In fact, this is specifically avoided. There is no consistency between one person’s online review and the next: some are great, some are terrible, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Checking reviews of products can definitely be useful… Before you buy, you can go to somewhere like Amazon and read what different people have to say. For your own personal research, reviews are often great. For a website like this, though, it’s not nearly enough. What separates DrumheadAuthority here is that everything is done in a consistent way, and to the same standard across all drumheads. Each head is looked at under the same microscope. You’re not comparing two different peoples’ opinions when looking at two different drumheads, and this keeps everything directly comparable. On top of this, you can also see exactly how each variable is determined further down this page, so you know exactly why a head is described a certain way. This is a far more open, consistant, and comparable way to do things, compared to simply scanning online reviews.
DrumheadAuthority does not go into extremely fine detail.
There’s a limit to how closely you can look at something without things getting blurry and far too subjective. An example to highlight this is with medium-weight, single-ply drumheads: Take a look at the Aquarian Classic Clear, Evans G1 Clear, and Remo Ambassador Clear. All of these heads are essentially the same thing: clear, 10mil thick, single ply, and no added dampening. For the most part, they sound almost identical because of this. If you do a blind test, I’m sure most people couldn’t tell them apart. You’ll probably get more sound variation from the tuning (even if you’re trying to tune exactly the same), rather than between the heads themselves. Of course, there will inherently be small differences between each of these heads, since each company uses a slightly different manufacturing process. Maybe I’ll do articles showing controlled comparisons in the future. However, for now, this is where I draw the line. The differences at this level are extremely small, and very difficult to consistently measure and describe. There’s a chance you’ll get more variance in sound when buying two identical heads from the same brand, especially if they’re made at different times. We’re talking tiny differences here. So at this level, you’ll see that each of these drumheads are ranked exactly the same on all of their variables… Because unless you’re getting extremely picky, these heads are basically the exact same thing – they’re just made by different brands. This is where the line is drawn.
What DrumheadAuthority Does:
Okay, so we’ve covered what is not done on this website, and how much detail you’ll get. Now here’s what you can expect:
DrumheadAuthority gives you a level playing field when comparing drumheads. Each head is looked at from the same perspective, and ranked on the same variables. This allows you to compare things in very good detail across the big three brands in drumheads, and to search through these heads based on their sound, features, and many other variables. This is something you can’t do anywhere else, especially across manufacturers and at this level of detail. Grey areas and microscopic details are avoided (like in the example above), and things are kept as objective as possible.
If you feel like you don’t understand some of the words used to describe the drumheads, then the information below will be very helpful. You can also take a look at the Drum Sound FAQ, where all of the important stuff is explained. Once you understand these things, you’ll have much better control over your drum sound. You’ll also have an excellent understanding of how to choose the best drumheads for you.
So how is the drumhead selector’s information determined?
You’ll see that the Drumhead Selector has options (like “attack”, “durability”, etc.), and these variables are also listed in the Additional Information tab on each drumhead’s page. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to use a huge range of drumheads for a long time, and I’ve built up a good idea of how different drumheads sound. I’ve had a lot of experience drumming, testing out a lot of different heads, tuning, and also showing others how to do all of this stuff. But this in itself is not enough, since things can sometimes be described differently from one person to the next. So, each variable is also based on the drumhead’s physical properties (thickness, coating, ply, dampening, etc.). These properties directly impact the drumhead’s sound, and all of the other variables: If you learn them, you can get an excellent idea of how a head will sound, without needing to actually hear it. As well as all of the above, the Drumhead Selector has been tested by a lot of real drummers of different experience levels, to be sure that everything is as accurate as possible and matches what people expect. So, a lot of different methods are used, with a strong focus on objectivity, testing, research, and shared experience. This hopefully keeps the information as accurate as possible.
Below you’ll find an overview of each variable, what it means, and exactly how it is determined when rating the heads on this site. Note that when you’re choosing variables on the Drumhead Selector, you can choose as few or as many as you like, depending on how specific you want to be.
The attack is the first thing you hear when you hit a drumhead, before the ringing of the sustain and overtones. The attack is the initial crack, punch, or sharp thud. Thicker, clear drumheads will usually produce a bigger attack, although the attack can drop off if the drumhead is too thick or has too much dampening. The coating on a drumhead will also reduce the attack. So the “attack” variable on this website is created from a combination of the above factors: thickness, coating, and dampening. Note, also, that the range for attack is either “low”, “medium”, or “high” (some variables have a lot more options). This is because it is harder to measure attack objectively in great detail, unless you have extremely controlled recordings and can directly compare the sound waves. Hence, just three categories here. With these three categories, though, you have enough to get a good idea of how attacking a drumhead will be. Attack is a useful thing to understand, because it influences how clearly your drums will be heard… This is important at high volumes, low volumes, or when you want to blend in smoothly with other instruments (compared to having the drums cut through harshly).
Hopefully this one is self-explanatory: For which drum are you buying your drumheads? Some heads are made for a variety of drum types, so you’ll probably notice the same heads popping up in different drum type categories. Others are more specialised (especially snare and bass drum heads).
Durability is how much use and abuse a drumhead can handle. This is one of the easiest variables to determine: Durability is directly related to drumhead thickness, it’s that simple. Thicker drumheads are more durable, and things like center dots also increase durability. Because this is very easy to objectively measure, you’ll see that there are a wide range of durability options available (from “low” to “extreme”). Note that more durability usually means less responsiveness, so keep this in mind when selecting a drumhead. While the manufacturing process can also influence durability, this is more of a grey area and is therefore avoided. All of the drumheads listed on this site are professional-level and top quality, and so the durability is very closely comparable across different brands.
The ply is how many layers of film are used to make the drumhead (one, two, or three layers). This is very easy to determine, since all manufacturers list the ply of their drumheads. If you cut up a two or three ply drumhead, you’ll see it’s built with two or three thinner layers of film. Dragging your finger across a clear drumhead is another trick to determine if it’s 2-ply: you’ll usually see a rainbow-like pattern made by the two plies touching.
This is how sensitive a drumhead is to lighter playing. If you play a lot of ghost notes or delicate touches, you’ll probably want a more responsive drumhead. Responsiveness is directly related to a head’s thickness, ply, and added dampening, and so this is how “responsiveness” is determined on this website. Drumheads are most responsive when they are thinner, single-ply, and when they have less (or no) dampening. The responsiveness of a head is ranked along a spectrum from “low” to “very high”, based on these things.
The sound (or tone) of a drumhead ranges from bright to warm. Here, bright means more high-pitch frequencies, and warm is more midrange and low-pitch. Thickness, coating, and dampening all directly affect a head’s sound. Coating removes higher frequencies, making a drumhead sound slightly warmer. Some types of coating do this more than others (for example, the Aquarian Vintage range is quite warm). Built-in dampening also removes higher frequencies (an example here is the Evans EMAD’s dampening rings). Thicker drumheads also sound warmer, as they give more focus to the midrange and lower frequencies. Therefore thickness, coating, and dampening are all taken into account when ranking drumheads from bright to warm. Note that tuning and dampening accessories (like Moongel) can also affect how bright or warm a head sounds, but these things are not taken into account.
This is another self-explanatory variable. Does the head come with things like control rings, center dots, a felt strip, etc.? Drumheads can have multiple special features, so you might choose multiple options here to get extremely specific. Most special features are designed to reduce sustain and/or overtones, or to add durability. See the Drum Sound FAQ for exactly how each special feature will influence your drumhead and drum sound.
This variable relates to whether a drumhead is clear, coated, etched, synthetic fiber, or has some other special surface. Surface type is important if you use brushes, and different surfaces will also change a drumhead’s overall sound. Again, see the Drum Sound FAQ for details on each surface type, and how it can influence the sound and feel of a drumhead.
Overtones are the various ringing frequencies you hear when you hit a drum. Note here that overtones are different to the fundamental note (which is the main note you’ve tuned the drum to). Depending on how well you tune, overtones can sound great, or really terrible. Some drumheads are more prone to overtones than others, and built-in dampening (like control rings or inlay rings) will reduce the intensity of the overtones. For example, a Remo Emperor and Powerstroke P4 are almost identical, however the P4 has an inlay ring which reduces the overtones. A drumhead’s thickness and ply are two other factors that also come into play. As a general rule, thinner and single ply drumheads usually give the most overtones. All of the above factors are used when rating a drumhead’s overtones on this website.
The sustain is how long a drum rings out, and the sustain is a combination of overtones and the fundamental note. Drumhead thickness, ply, and added dampening all affect the length of the sustain. Therefore, these factors are what determines the sustain ratings for the drumheads on this website. Note that you can have more or less overtones in your sustain, depending on the type of dampening and how you tune. A more focused sustain is one that has less overtones, and more emphasis on the fundamental note. Note that overtones and sustain are listed as separate variables: they’re different things.
This is another very straightforward variable: how thick is the drumhead (in mil), when you add the thickness of all plies. This doesn’t take into account special features like center dots, but it does take into account things like synthetic fiber coatings.
I’ve laid all of this information out because it’s important to know what you can expect from this website, and how different factors influence your drum sound. This site is designed to provide as much information as possible, without going into really grey subjective areas. Everything here is researched extremely thoroughly, and is all based on a lot of testing, experience, and comparisons against what the manufacturers themselves report. All of the drumhead variables are given with an “all other things being equal” perspective: If you use the same drum and the same tuning when comparing different drumheads, you’ll get very similar conclusions to how each head is listed on this website.
If you’re a drummer, then try out the Drumhead Selector yourself and push it to its limits… If it gives you bad results, or if you disagree with how anything is described, I want to know about it. Conversely, if you think it works great, then get in touch as well.
Thanks for using this site, and thanks to everyone out there who has given feedback, shared things on social media, or told their friends about DrumheadAuthority. I’ve learned a lot from the drumming community over the years, so I’m really glad to be able to give something useful back.
For some other useful drum resources, take a look at these pages:
The Drum Sound FAQ – Understand all of the important stuff.
Drum Tuning Basics – Start here if you’re having trouble tuning.
Drum Tuning Tips – Bonus tips to improve your tuning and drum sound.
Drum Articles – A bunch of in-depth articles including tips, guides, and some really important stuff.