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Drum Heads: New or Old?
Old 14th January 2012
  #1
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Rappy's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Drum Heads: New or Old?

I am curious about other peoples' preference for recording drums with brand new heads or ones that are broken in. I know the conventional wisdom is to use new heads; maybe stretch them out a little first. If the drummer hits really hard, some people even go through several new heads during a session or over the course of an album. I've heard great drum sounds that were recorded with band new heads, for sure.

What made me question this was something Eric Valentine mentioned in one of his guest moderator threads. He said he had an old snare drum that he bought used (with a Pearl Export kit, I think) and he loved the sound of the drum with the head that it came with. He never changed it (or the tuning, for that matter) and recorded many albums with it until Dave Grohl busted it. The drum never sounded the same after he replaced that head and he stopped using it. I don't doubt the story, but the concept of a "magical" sounding head that is well broken in just seems foreign to me. Does anyone else have this experience? Can you explain the logic behind it? It seems to me an older head would simply have fewer overtones and hold a tuning less well than a new head. What could be the advantages? Maybe it is a combination of a dead/open sound that you can't replicate by dampening a newer head?

Curious to hear some thoughts.

Thanks,

Rappy
Old 14th January 2012
  #2
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mjdrums's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
New vs Old Heads

Hey Rappy, I've definitely noticed that old heads sound darker in a different way than heads made to sound darker from the get-go... So that makes sense why someone might prefer older heads. I'll change heads before recording only if the head is starting to change sound, as I like the head when it sounds new.
Old 14th January 2012
  #3
Gear Guru
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
but the concept of a "magical" sounding head that is well broken in just seems foreign to me.
me too

Quote:
Does anyone else have this experience?
not me

I have been playing drums most of my life, personally I always preferred new heads

Quote:
Can you explain the logic behind it?
I think logic has nothing to do with it. I know what I like, but I also know you don't need a reason to like what you like.

It's drums. Almost anything goes. People tape maxipads or tea towels on the drum. They make heads with a layer of mineral oil between the plies. In a world where people have banged on a cardboard box for a "kick" and sampled a gunshot for a "snare", the variation between old heads and new heads seems almost quaint.
Old 14th January 2012
  #4
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DirkB's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
For kick drums I can live with an older head, but for snares and certainly toms, the head needs to be new enough to have the needed top end and sustain.

Regards,
Dirk
Old 14th January 2012
  #5
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Buss-me's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
I've got an old 60's Ludwig Standard 5x14, which has a very old coated Ambassador, labeled Manny's Music. It's what was on it when I got the drum. All worn out in the center, pitted, filthy...... and I will never change it. Sounds pretty poor to play on, but under the mics it's f'n gold!! . Granted it only gets one kind of sound......that dark muted bean bag 70's thing, but it does that better then any of my newer "nice" snares.
I don't let anyone mess with it. Caught a guy once trying to tune it up and freaked out a bit!
I'll keep that head on until it's unplayable......then, ???....leave it on the shelf

All depends on the situation......what's appropriate. I would NOT say that every situation demands new heads.
Old 14th January 2012 | Show parent
  #6
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1 Review written
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by DirkB ➑️
For kick drums I can live with an older head, but for snares and certainly toms, the head needs to be new enough to have the needed top end and sustain.
This assumes you need the top and and sustain! Not always the case.

For most modern rock I generally prefer new or newish heads. But, if you are going for a darker and/or less resonant sound, older heads can be just the thing. A lot of jazz drummers prefer the sound of an older head as they don't want their snare to "crack" but instead are seeking more subtle, generally darker, tones.
Old 14th January 2012
  #7
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Cody's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
I remember in high school there was an old Ludwig Acrolite that got that perfect pillowy bean bag sound. It had the original Ambassador head, dirty and broken in from years of soft-handed drummers learning rudiments. I would do anything to get that drum! No tone to speak of, but such a sublime "splat" from the snares. So, +1 on the ol' Luddy's with broken in heads.
Old 14th January 2012
  #8
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evangelista's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
I keep nicely broken-in heads on the studio kit. I like that sound in my room as a "go to".

If the music wants new heads, the drummer can bring his kit or pay to have the studio kit re-skinned.
Old 14th January 2012
  #9
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rappy ➑️
It seems to me an older head would simply have fewer overtones and hold a tuning less well than a new head.
Rappy
I feel like new heads drop in tuning much quicker than an old head thats already set in for a while. Either way I definitely prefer new heads on everything. Kicks have more click and slap, toms sustain much smoother and have better attack, snares ring out more evenly and are brighter and more lively. That's just my preference for drum tones though. If you are looking for deader sounding drums, old heads might be just the ticket.
Old 16th January 2012
  #10
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Rappy's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Thank you for the replies. Good stuff.

-Rappy
Old 16th January 2012
  #11
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🎧 10 years
My used heads go into the live gig box.
Old 16th January 2012
  #12
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Showcase's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
On the snare only... I prefer somewhat used heads, especially with hard hitting rimshot drummers! You get the bottom, and the top... with new heads you get a little more unwanted midrange sound and noise from the snare IMO!
Old 16th January 2012
  #13
Gear Guru
 
Kenny Gioia's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rappy ➑️

What made me question this was something Eric Valentine mentioned in one of his guest moderator threads. He said he had an old snare drum that he bought used (with a Pearl Export kit, I think) and he loved the sound of the drum with the head that it came with. He never changed it (or the tuning, for that matter) and recorded many albums with it until Dave Grohl busted it. The drum never sounded the same after he replaced that head and he stopped using it.

Thanks,

Rappy
I think the key to this story is that "he stopped using it."

If using used heads had any benefit or was a possible solution I would think he would have used them on this drum going forward.
Old 16th January 2012
  #14
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Rappy's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Kenny has a good point. If it was simply an old head that Eric Valentine wanted, he could have found another used head or broken in a new one. There was something special about that particular head with that drum and the combination they produced. Only he can tell us what he heard or what he was thinking, but I have a couple of theories.

1) It could have been the factory head that came with the drum. Most picky drummers or engineers will tell you to replace the factory heads because they get stretched during shipping, changes in temperature, people banging on them in the store, etc. However, it is possible that the manufacturer designed and voiced the drum with a particular head in mind and that the drum will never sing quite the same way with a different head. I could see this theory working more for a snare than any other drum (for various reasons). Aside: I have a Huss and Daulton handmade acoustic guitar. It has a bone bridge saddle that is carved in their workshop using a strobe tuner to get the intonation perfect. One reason I bought the guitar was because I had never heard intonation so perfect before on an acoustic. It had the factory strings on when I demoed it and decided to purchase it. I brought it home and loved the sound. After a few weeks, the strings got old and I changed them. The intonation wasn't the same. The guitar didn't sound as good. I tired 3 different sets and brands of strings. Finally, I emailed the company and asked what brand and guage of strings the guitar came with. They told me (a mail order brand I'd never heard of) and I ordered a dozen sets. Strung it back up and it sounded good as new again. Could it be the same with a snare drum head?

2) It could have been psychological. The same way some athletes are superstitious about not washing a jersey when they are on a winning streak, maybe Eric loved the snare because he had recorded several gold records with it. Didn't want to break the streak. Sometimes superstitions can become self-fulfilling prophecies. If Eric and the drummer believed it was a magical snare, then maybe it was.

3) Maybe he stopped using it because he never tuned the replacement head exactly the same as the old head (noting the tension with a drum dial before the old head broke would have helped get closer to replicating it) or he simply didn't take the time to break in a new head. He has a lot of other snares (as seen in the Pensado's Place video) and he may have simply wanted to try something different so he moved on and didn't look back. It may have been possible to get the snare to sound the same with a new head (once broken in) but his feeling about the drum had changed and he didn't hear it the same way.

Maybe Eric will chime in if he reads this...

-Rappy
Old 16th January 2012 | Show parent
  #15
Gear Guru
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rappy ➑️
Kenny has a good point. If it was simply an old head that Eric Valentine wanted, he could have found another used head or broken in a new one. There was something special about that particular head with that drum and the combination they produced.
if this is the case, it would take a staggering amount of research to figure out what "went into" producing a head with those particular characteristics. Did it sit in an attic for six months? A cellar for a year? Was it played with soft rudiments by dozens of drum students or bashed on 2 and 4 by an ape-like rocker? Maybe all of the above?

To paraphase Tolstoy, "New heads are all alike; every old head is old in its own way."

considering the popularity of stone-washed jeans and "road worn" guitars, can pre-beaten heads be far behind?


Quote:
The same way some athletes are superstitious about not washing a jersey when they are on a winning streak, maybe Eric loved the snare because he had recorded several gold records with it.
many a championship was lost because some idiot washed my lucky socks
Old 16th January 2012
  #16
Gear Maniac
 
Faderix's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
In my experience it depends on what skin you use. I always felt that most coated skins need to be burnt in, just a bit to get the best sound. Also, Aquarian seams to sound more the same for a longer time while Remo loses the top end quite fast. The older skin it is, the more "klonk" sound you'll get.
Old 16th January 2012 | Show parent
  #17
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Rappy's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq ➑️
if this is the case, it would take a staggering amount of research to figure out what "went into" producing a head with those particular characteristics. Did it sit in an attic for six months? A cellar for a year? Was it played with soft rudiments by dozens of drum students or bashed on 2 and 4 by an ape-like rocker? Maybe all of the above?
It would be impossible to account for the infinite number of variables, I agree.
Old 16th January 2012 | Show parent
  #18
Gear Addict
 
Rappy's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Faderix ➑️
In my experience it depends on what skin you use. I always felt that most coated skins need to be burnt in, just a bit to get the best sound. Also, Aquarian seams to sound more the same for a longer time while Remo loses the top end quite fast. The older skin it is, the more "klonk" sound you'll get.
Good to know. Thanks.
Old 16th January 2012
  #19
Gear Addict
 
Rappy's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Another possibility: Dave Grohl did more to the drum than simply bust the head. Maybe he hit it so hard that he subtly bent the rim or messed up the strainers or something. Even if he did so minutely, it could have altered the sound of the drum forever. If so, it is possible the magic of that drum had little to do with the head because there is no control test in which Eric compared the sound of the drum with the original head to a replacement head before Grohl got his hands on it. Eric only knew that the drum sounded different afterwards, but he isn't sure what caused the change exactly.

-Rappy
Old 16th January 2012
  #20
Gear Guru
 
Kenny Gioia's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
All good points Rappy.

Once you get upset about the broken head, it can be hard to figure out if you ever get it to sound the same again.

Although, he does have those other records to compare it to.
Old 16th January 2012
  #21
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
I never have "worn" heads on any of my kits. If I know well enough in advance that I have an in studio session and my heads are over a month old, I'll change them. I like to have at least a week to break the new ones in. I have a more lackadaisical attitude towards my bass drum heads though. Depending on their use, I'll normally change the batter heads on my snare drums about every month, my tom heads about every two month and my bass drums batter head every four to six months.

Dennis
Old 11th April 2016
  #22
Gear Maniac
 
Gebo's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
It really depends on what type of drum it is and what type of music it is. I record mostly punk, hardcore, and garage/power pop type bands - and I prefer new heads for bands that are fast and/or heavy, and something with less sustain on the other end.

I've definitely had run ins with a few magic drum heads in my day. We had an old Tama snare with what appeared
To be a factory head at my old space and it got used on almost every session because it just sounded great with zero effort. The head finally **** the bed and it really wasn't ever the same. Maybe the years of compression with every hit stretches both heads into some sort of perfect blend of wear and pitting that killed whatever gnarly overtones there would have been.

It only makes sense that if there are some drum/head combos that get worse when physically altered that there would also be some that get better, right?
Old 11th April 2016
  #23
Gear Addict
 
Jazzcrisis's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
I also have a Ludwig Acrolite with a very old head on it. Definitely doesn't sound like any of the new stuff.
Old 11th April 2016
  #24
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
New heads will almost always be beneficial in live situations, but in the studio, I have to side with the "well-weathered, worn-in head." Of course, this applies only if the heads are still in good condition, i.e. no pitting or dents, and the head still has good tone. Just because a head has stick marks on it or has discoloration in the center doesn't mean the head is bad. On the other hand, if you have a drummer who is incapable of playing the drums correctly and puts pits and dents in your heads, that's a problem.

Old heads have the advantage of forming to your drums bearing edge, which is where your sound comes from. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. New heads often don't form to the bearing edge right away, and take a bit of playing, tuning/tightening, playing, tuning/tightening, repeat. etc...To get the sound right.

Also, this is all very subjective: depends entirely on the music you're recording and the vibe you're going for. Also, a good drummer on a good kit will make it sound good no matter what heads are on it.

At the end of the day: no one listening to a record WILL EVER say, "Man, this song would sound so much better if that drummer had new heads." They don't know, and they don't care. Just make it sound good.
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