The perfect blend

Drums can be made of all sorts of material. The most common one is wood which, in itself comes in different varieties. But it can also be made of metal. Snare drums in particular, can be manufactured in steel or brass, for example. A drum set can also be made in unusual material, like the famous Ludwig Vistalite, the one John Bonham was playing which was made in Acrylic, a strong clear plastic, completely see through. They even put some strings of lights in that one. It glowed in the dark, so to speak. Fun!

And, of course, all these different materials have their own properties that affect the sound.

Beech is brighter than maple, the latter being a very medium kind of tone, not too bright but not too dark. Mahogany has a deeper fundamental note. Metal helps to cut through the music. You have to give thoughts to what you chose.

Up to a certain point: because the player also determines the sound. The way she holds her stick, how hard or delicate the touch is, how energetic, how relaxed. To take John Bonham again, his drums were tuned very high, but the way he played them made them sound lower and boomy, not boingy.

But there is yet another component that is crucial to what comes out: the drum head.

Drum heads comes in all sorts of thickness and construction. The famous Remo White coated Ambassador has a thin layer of powder glued to the head. It was conceived to replace the animal skins that drummer used all the way up to 1940’s. They wanted a surface granular enough to produce a good sound when swept with a brush.

When rock came along, they invented a simple sheet of clear plastic with a black round dot on top. That was to withstand the assault of the drummers pounding behind the heavy rock bands of the time.

Then, the studio era gave birth to the pin stripe heads. Those are composed of 2 thin sheets of plastic with some oil in between.

And ever since then, there has been  many many more variations to serve different purposes.

The head is what is in contact with the skin. Some say that it is more determinant in the sound of a drum than the material in the shells. Maybe.

But here is where I am going. If you get a new drum set and you don’t know what to use, try it first with the White Coated Ambassador. Usually it comes from the factory outfitted with those or a close cousin.

Then, as you play and tune, see the range you can get out of it. Then try the Pin Stripe. Then the black dot ones. You can go through a few more. Every time, though, get a thorough use out of them, take your time to really understand the relationship between your playing, your drums and your drum head. Little by little you will get towards the Holy Grail: the perfect blend between all three of them that will become your signature sound.