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We get a lot of questions about the topic of drum tuning and drum heads and thought a basic article about the topic would be beneficial to our members and readers. This short history of heads will give you an idea of what type of heads to get if you are trying to match a certain style of drumming.

The sound of drums has changed drastically over the years and a lot of the changes can be attributed to the advancement of technology and the trends in music during specific eras.

Early on the "Drum Set" was called the "Outfit". It is has also been called the "Traps Set", "Drum Kit", and shortened to just "Kit". In the early to mid 1900's prior to that there was no Outfit's cataloged. Our first catalog image of an Outfit was pictured in the 1918 Ludwig catalog. Prior to that you could see snare drums and bass drums but not a complete Outfit for purchase. (If you have an earlier example prior to 1918, please send it to us)

1918 Ludwig Catalog Page

During this time period the drums all had calf skin heads which were difficult to tune and keep tuned. They were temperamental and changes in humidity affected the heads. To compensate for changes drummers would put light bulbs in the drums to try and keep the heads at a constant temperature and keep the heads tight.

Drums from this era had a specific sound which would have been more of a muddled sound and not crisp, think of Gene Krupa working that floor tom and really beating out the sound. Such a raw sound that really got people dancing!

This sound carried through the 20's, 30's and 40's and then in the mid 50's mylar heads were introduced. Evans and Remo each of which claim to be the original inventor of mylar drum heads developed successful companies making heads. Below in Photo A you will see the 1958 Gretsch catalog introducing the new heads and listing all of its benefits.

 
     

 

1948 WFL Catalog Page
Big name drummers playing WFL drums!


1958 Gretsch Catalog Introducing New heads. Gretsch Perma-Tone Heads
Photo A

Mylar heads held tuning and were not affected by temperature like calf skin heads. Also, they could be tuned differently and the sound of the drummer started to get cleaner with higher tuning. Think of drummers like Buddy Rich and Joe Morello crafting great solos on the toms.

Then the 60's started rolling in and drummers were looking for a deeper flatter sound. This is when drummers were stuffing pillows and towels in bass drums and using tape on the toms and snare drums.

In the 70's and 80's drum sets were getting bigger and heads were changing to pinstripe and other heads that had muffling directly in the head. Pinstripe, oil and 2-ply heads created the deeper flatter sounds that they were looking for around that time.

1975 Ludwig Catalog Page
Larger drums and bigger drum sets..

 

And now drummers are going back to the open sounding drums with basic single ply heads. No muffling and allowing the drums to ring and resonate. It is all about suspension tom systems, shell isolation and crisp cut bearing edges.

So, now that we briefly covered the drums and heads, what sound are you trying to achieve? What style of music are you playing or trying to sound like? Knowing this will determine the heads and tuning you want to try and match.

In the next article we will go into more detail about how to tune a drum and the best tuning for the sound you want to achieve.

David

 




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