How to choose drum heads

Proper maintenance and change of the drum head is the key to maintaining your drum kit. Learn how to choose drum heads with this informative piece.

Before the 50’s drumheads were made mostly from calfskin heads. While calfskin produces a unique sounds on eh drums, it was very tough to install. Unfortunately, calfskin drumheads had a major disadvantage. The drumheads would contract and expand depending on the weather therefore producing completely different sounds. Today, drumheads are carefully manufactured using plastics like polyester, Mylar and other readily available materials. Your choice of drum heads is as important as purchasing the entire drum kit.

What to consider when choosing drum heads

The size of the drum shell

When drum sets were first introduce into the market, there was no standardisation, meaning that different brands had their own drum sizes. Today, drum manufacturers from well known drums follow standardised dimensions when creating drums.

Standard drum kits have a 13 inch tom, 16 inch floor tom, 14 inch snare drum and 26 inch ass drum. You can choose to go higher or lower on the scale depending on the type of music you want to play. For instance, jazz drummers probably need smaller drum kits.

Regardless of the size of the drum, you should always check the inner diameter of the shell. This is to ensure you are getting the drum heads with the right size make sure to check the underside (resonant) of the drum head as well as the batter. While the diameter of the drum shell is important, it should not be their only determining factor when you are choosing drum heads.

How the drum head interacts with the shell

Whether you are looking into purchasing a new set of drum shells or replacing heads on your old ones, you should always pay attention on the materials. The drum shell materials greatly determine how your drums sound.

Before you change the heads on your drum shells, you should study both to know which material will work well with the other. When shopping for brand new drum shells, follow the guidleines elow

Poplar wood – they are perfect for drum shells on beginner of starter drum kits

Maple – they produce strong sounds at low, middle and upper ranges. They are also very versatile and can be used for most drum heads and music genres

Mahogany – In the past, mahogany used to be the gold standard for drum head. Today, this material is much pricier making these types of drums rare.

Birch – this is a wood that can feature both high and low range sounds. They can be very loud with good sound projection

Metal – metal drums offer higher frequencies than wood and plastic. They include steel, aluminium and bronze. Steel is great for reggae music and the shells accentuate the tone of high sound frequencies and produce loud rim shots. Aluminium is affordable, produce crisp sounds but they are not as sustainable as steel. Finally, bronze produces a warm, dark, low tone and is less common than the other two.

The thickness of the drum head

Drum thickness is measured using mi. Thicker drums are represented by higher numbers. Drum thickness may range between 5 and 14 mil and more depending on the brand.

Thinner drum heads allow for sound energy to travel from the head to the shell and then back easily. This explains why the thinner drums heads are known to bring out more of the original resonant sound from wood rums when compared to the thicker ones.


Drum heads are also made with different number of layers.

1 ply drums have a single layer. They have righter sounds, longer sustain, more overtones and lesser attack when compared to drum heads with 2 or 3 ply. But because they are thin, they tend to wear out much quicker. They form pits/dents quicker which can warp the sound and tune.

2 ply drums on the other hand produce warmer tones, have a shorter attack, less overtones and shorter sustain. The same goes for 3 ply drums. However, the beats don’t last as long as they would on a single ply drum

Some drum head designed are separated by air or some sort of liquid between the layers to create differenced in the tone when you hit the drum.

Coated vs uncoated drum shells

Some coats on the drum heads can affect the sound produced when it is hit. The coating is better than clear drum skin when you want to play with a brush. Coated drums re also known to produce a more muffled sound.

Other types of drum heads include

Pre-muffled – these are drum heads made with varying degrees of in-built muffling. Their main purpose is to eliminate unwanted overtones while focusing on the main tone of the drum.

Specialty heads – almost all brands have their own lines of specialty heads. They are designed for specific music purposes. They are made to focus on the tonality of the music.

Resonant – resonant drum heads can e as thick as 7 -10 mil. They are designed to react to moving air column when the batter head is struck to produce a deeper tone. There are also thin ones that are designed to produce brighter tones.

How to choose drum heads

As a beginner, it can be quiet difficult to choose a drum head, especially because there is an endless selection in the market.

However, not all drummers play the same. Drums are designed to fit certain genres of music. You know best about your music style and genre, which makes it much easier to choose drum heads.

Ultimately, it all comes down to what tones you like more. The next deciding factor is the budget. Some drums are quite expensive, and not everyone can afford them. Sticking to your budget while still getting your choice of drums should e a priority when you are getting drums.

Final word

The drum head influences the overall sound on your drum. This is why professionals recommend you change them once they start to show wear and tear. This article should help you pick out the right drum heads whether you a replacing them or purchasing a new kit.


How tight should the drum head be?

Drum heads perform the best when they are uniformly tight. When purchasing a set of drums, it is important you ensure that the tuning around it is even. A weak drum head has potential to break while you play.

How do I tell if I need new drum heads?

Knowing how to maintain your drums is important. Older heads means the music quality won’t be as great. When your drums start sounding different ad producing drier betas, you should consider changing up your drums.

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