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By Mike Fitch, Musician's Friend Senior Staff Writer
Improving your drums' sound is often as simple as replacing your old, worn out drum heads. Even if you have just purchased a new drum set, the preinstalled heads are often of inferior quality, and a set of high-quality heads will ensure that your drums sound their best.
The heads that go on the top of your drums, the side that you hit, are called batter heads, and the bottom heads are called resonant heads. Drum heads come in single- or two-ply construction. Generally, jazz, light rock, and acoustic players prefer the increased resonance and sustain of one-ply heads, while heavy hitters playing louder rock, funk, or R&B usually prefer the focused sound and durability of heavier double-ply heads.
The drum head's thickness is also important: thinner, single-ply (ply means layer) heads have a sensitive response, with bright, resonant sound and complex overtones. Thicker single-ply heads are more durable and have a higher tuning range with less sustain and more attack than thinner heads. Two-ply heads have a less pronounced attack and quicker decay. Some examples of single-ply heads are Remo Ambassador, Evans G Plus, and Aquarian Studio-X. A few examples of double-ply heads include Evans EC2, Remo Pinstripes, and Aquarian Response 2. Evans' unique two-ply hydraulic drum heads have oil sandwiched between the plies for an extremely dry sound with quick attack and short sustain.
Some batter heads have a black or clear dot affixed to either the top or bottom of the head to muffle excess ring for a more focused, drier sound—an improvement upon the old-school technique of applying a piece of duct tape to dampen the head. Drummers who use brushes will want to stick with heads using dots on the head's underside to avoid snagging the brushes on the dot.
Many drum heads are offered in clear or with a white or black coating that gives a subtle muffling effect. Some heads, such as Remo Pinstripes, have internal sound rings embedded around their outer perimeter to control excess ring for deep, wet tone with minimal resonance. Often, jazz drummers put clear heads on the toms and a classic white-coated head on the snare drum, as the texture of a coated snare head sounds better with brushes. The bottom head on the snare drum is known as the snare-side head, a transparent, extrathin head that maximizes response to the snare wires.
Kick drum heads often include some kind of internal dampening system on the batter head to provide a more controlled sound. The resonant head on the front of the kick drum often includes a port hole that allows you to put a pillow inside to attenuate the sound even more. It's advisable to apply an adhesive kick drum head patch where the pedal beater makes contact with the head, protecting the head from damage and excess wear.