Drum sound : it’s all in your head!

Written by Daniel Lamontagne

MONTREAL – Bubinga! Maple! Birch! Poplar! Mahogany! Walnut! You’re an aspiring drummer and you need a drumkit. Which one to choose?

« Because of their ultra-high density, Bubinga shells provide rich, fat low end as well as deep, dark tones » (https://www.tama.com).

« Maple. The perfect blend of tone, attack, and body. Ideal for general purpose applications. Equal tonal amounts of hi-end attack, mid-range body, and low-end punch » (https://www.pearldrum.com).

« With 100% birch shells, these kits sound bright with great attack straight out of the box and are perfect for any scenario – from the practice room, to the recording studio, to the stage » (http://www.premier-percussion.com ).

« The key to Legacy’s classic tone begins with a cross-laminated American Poplar center ply to lend focus to the warm rich low-end “woody” tones of inner/outer Mahogany plies » (https://www.ludwig-drums.com).

« Walnut’s distinctive warm, fat sound has long been subject of rumor among drum tone aficionados, and new STAR WALNUT are doubtlessly about to rekindle that discussion » (https://www.tama.com).

Don’t get caught in this marketing BS. High-end wood species will definitively affect the look of the drums, much less the sound. What will really affect tone, attack and sustain are the HEADS. When you play drum, you hit the batter head, and it’s the vibration of both batter and resonant heads that produces the sound.

This is a good thing. With the wide range of drumheads (single or double-plies, clear or coated, with or without muffling rings or dots) available from Remo, Evans, Aquarian and others, the possibilities are endless. You’re not totally satisfied by how your drumkit sounds? Try different drumheads!


Let’s go back 40 years ago. My first drumkit. An used MIJ (made in Japan) kit with no badge (most likely Luan shell with reinforcing rings). Worn-out heads with cotton strips (from old T-shirts) for muffling. Your typical cheap cardboard sound! As soon as I had enough money, I replaced these heads with Remo drumheads (Ambassador Coated as batter and Ambassador Clear as resonant). OMG! Fantastic sound with a lot of low-ends and sustain.

Two decades later, my second drumkit. A TAMA Starclassic Performer, with Basswood between Birch inner and outer plies. It came with Evans G1 Clear drumheads. Not enough low-ends and sustain for my taste. I bought Evans G2 Coated and used the original G1 Clear as resonant heads. This was a huge improvement and I played this combination for years. But I was nostalgic of my old drumkit. This old junk sounded better (for my taste) than my brand new high-end TAMA kit! Let’s try some new heads then! Remo Emperor Coated as batter and Diplomat Smooth White as resonant (I hate when one sees inside the toms from the audience point of view). Eureka! I have found my sound! Just the right balance of attack and sustain, and with a warm tone.

Tama Starclassic Performer

A few years ago, I bought a third kit. A small Premier APK Heritage Club Ace 20, with 100% Birch shells. The 20-inch bass drum (10 inches deep) fits perfectly in the trunk of my small Coupe. You know what, I bought this kit without ever hitting any of the toms. I couldn’t care less about the sound of the cheap original heads. I soon as I got it, I replaced all the drumheads with what I had on my TAMA kit : Emperor Coated and Diplomat Smooth White on toms, and a combination of Evans EMAD Clear batter/Ambassador Coated resonant on the bass drum.

Love the sound of this drumkit!

Premier Heritage

So here’s my advice when shopping for a drumkit : focus on overall construction, quality of the hardware, look and price.

Don’t worry if you don’t like the sound of the kit with its original drumheads, you will be able to change it to your taste, simply by changing heads!


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