The history of drumheads stretches far and wide – much like a drumhead itself.
Drumheads date back to at least 6000 B.C., when stretched animal hide was used as a membrane to create different tones and sounds, and continued to be used all the way up through colonial times. Fast forward to 1957, when Remo Belli and Sam Muchnick jointly developed a Mylar polymer head, and changed the feel and sound of drumming forever.
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While today’s drumheads are generally made of Mylar or Kevlar, no matter what bass you start out with, a good drumhead can vastly and instantaneously improve its sound.
Arafat Kazi, Boston-based drummer for The Attempted Band, suggests that “you’ll want something that tunes well, and gets rid of unwanted overtones while maintaining the fundamental pitch of the drum, and has a wide tuning range. Durability, of course, is a big thing too, depending on how hard you play.”
We’ve selected three excellent drumheads to get you started here: The Aquarian Super Kick II, Evans EMAD, and Remo’s Clear Pinstripes. All sound great, can take a beating, and each have their own following among musicians based on the sound desired and personal playing preference.
Denver-based drummer Ari Rubenstein prefers the Evans EMAD. “My bass drum is 20 inches and made of oak,” he says. “Oak drums are loud and lack some warmth in favor of attack. EMAD heads are made for definition, and emphasize the attack while eliminating unnecessary and unwanted ring and overtones from my drum.”
He continues, “It adds a little bit of warmth and control. I get a nice, pillowy ‘whump’ while still getting some body from my bass.”
“Personally, I love (Remo) Pinstripes,” says Kazi. “In my humble opinion, it’s the gold standard of double layer heads. The double layer makes for a thicker head [with] fewer overtones, more tone control; it’s overall better for low tunings. I’ve always found it to be round and punchy, if not as responsive as a single-ply head. If you’re looking for versatility and durability,” he recommends, “it’s impossible to go wrong with Remo’s Pinstripes.”
No matter what you choose, these three are all winners. It all comes down to what’s going to fit your sound, songs and playing style.
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1. Aquarian Drumheads
Aquarian holds its own in this category against the other industry giants. Not only that, but it holds your tuning steadfastly, without sacrificing low-end sound. However that’s only one of the beloved attributes of Aquarian’s clear Super Kick II.
The Aquarian converts your current boomy-sounding bass to a more focused, punchy and thumping low tone. Think: big, dry, and deep, with little to no ring or overtones. Its built-in floating felt muffle-reduction ring does an incredible job to provide a full low-end sound, with no extra muffling needed.
If you’re a drummer who varies wildly in styles, such as a studio session musician, or in multiple bands with different genres, the Aquarian is definitely worth a test run. Not only does it sound great and hold up to hard playing, but can feel just as fitting in rock to country to hiphop.
PROS: Perfect for practicing, playing live (sounds especially great mic’d) and recording.
CONS: Some drummers who like more sustain say the muffling works a little too well.
2. Evans EMAD
Evans’ externally-mounted adjustable damping system (EMAD) gets a tight, clean, smooth and responsive sound every time. It’s easily mountable and tunable, allowing each drummer to control the amount of attack and focus depending on which of the foam dampening rings they choose. It’s also super sturdy and durable, with well-crafted hoop/edge assembly.
The pack here includes one 22” EMAD batter bass drumhead with a single ply of 10mil film, and one 22” REMAD resonant drumhead featuring an offset 4″ microphone port in a single ply of 10mil film. It also comes with Evan’s Level 360 collar, which means that the drumheads fit properly and can be tuned more easily, as well as offer a wider range of sound.
The one-inch foam does an excellent job at dampening (you can finally put that pillow back on your bed), and gives a clear and powerful punch to your kick – even more so with a mic. This lets you get the full tone and resonance out of your bass drum without having the sound feel dead, and is useful in pop and rock style contexts.
The EMADs are a great choice for playing live, and the people in the back will definitely feel your bass. The reinforced port hole in front allows room for a small towel for even further dampening if you want (Ringo Starr preferred using a tea cosy in his kit), but the EMADs offer such a range of control that you most likely won’t need to use anything extra.
PROS: Accessible, interchangeable, and the perfect amount of thickness to be resonant without the ringing. Makes a huge difference in bass performance, especially on maple and oak drums. You may find yourself wondering if you’re playing the same kit as before you installed them.
CONS: For genres like pop, rock, country and funk, this is a solid choice. However, some jazz drummers prefer to let their drums ring out and could do without all the dampening.
3. REMO Pinstripes
This set of Remo Clear Pinstripe heads are made with two 7mm Mylar plies of clear film layered together, with a “treatment” sandwiched between the two at the outer circumference of the head. The resulting sound features a fast decay, fat low pitch, short sustain and limited overtones – perfect for recreating the big beats of Seventies classic rock, pop and R&B.
The pinstripe series is one of the world’s most popular drumheads, a favorite for drummers whose setup has a close-mic situation, both in studios and arenas (such as The Police’s Stewart Copeland and Pearl Jam’s Matt Cameron, to name a few).
For those who want a rich, deep and powerful sound with moderate attack and response characteristics, combined with midrange tones with low-end, and increased durability – the Pinstripes are a solid choice.
PROS: Those looking to emulate the larger-than-life monster beats of the classic rock greats will have fun with these for years.
CONS: Way too dead-sounding for jazz, which usually requires their percussive sounds to ring out more. Some users also report difficulty with getting the tuning exactly how they want it, and suggest the use of a drum dial or n drum tuner for best results.