Of all parts of a drum set, drum heads have the greatest influence on how your drums sound. A high-end set can sound cheap with low-quality drum heads, and a cheap drum set can sound amazing with amazing heads.
But finding the best drum heads for your purpose can be difficult. I’m not a sound technician, so terms like “pitch”, “sustain” and “reverb” always caused a certain amount of confusion in my head…
Until I dove deep into the realm of drum heads for this article – and found out that actually it’s not as difficult to understand how drum heads work. If only somebody cared to explain it in plain English.
So you’ll get exactly this: an easy-to-understand explanation of how drum heads work – and how you can find the “best” ones.
And since “best” is relative to your purpose, I’ll be showing you the best drum heads for rock or metal, the best ones for jazz and the best for the church. Plus: for each style, I’ll show you snare drum heads, bass drum heads, and packs of tom heads (which will save you money).
Evans or Remo drum heads?
Evans and Remo are the major drum head manufacturers. And deciding whether to go for one or the other is like deciding whether to pick brown or white chocolate. Both are great as such but it all depends on your taste!
If at all audible, the Remo heads generally have slightly more sustain than the Evans: (jump to 2:03 to skip the German introduction and hear the sound test)
In the end, the decision comes down to what “feels” best to you. So just pick one brand now and try the other next time you need new heads.
Heavy hitter? Best drum heads for rock or metal
Before you kill me: no, I don’t think rock and metal are the same. But I think that drummers who feel themselves affiliated to any of those two styles usually want to achieve a damn punch when they hit those drums.
So my two criteria for rock and metal heads are:
- Double ply (two layers) for a short sustain & little overtones / low pitch
- Clear head for a pronounced punch (“attack”)
Best snare drum head for rock or metal
- Remo Emperor X Coated with Reverse Black Dot. The Emperor X is as thick and therefore has as little sustain and overtones as you can get. So the tone will be low-pitched and the coating will make it very powerful.The dot will add some muffling and increase durability. After all, snares are hit most frequently of all drums. Available for 14” and 13” snares.
- Evans EC Coated with Reverse Dot Snare Head.The only difference to the Remo Emperor is that the two layers of this head are thinner in total (10 + 7 mil). But this will only make for a very subtle sound difference. I’d recommend to let the desing guide your decision, as the Evans EC coated looks quite different from the standard.
Best drum heads for rock or metal toms
- Evans G2 Clear. G2 stands for double ply and clear was our second criterion for heavy hitters. Beware that the words “fusion”, “rock” and “clear” in the Amazon description have nothing to do with style, but refer to the sizes of the heads. So:
- Remo Pinstripe Clear Tom Heads. Same in terms of layers, but with one additional feature compared to the Evans: the black line near the edge of the head is an overtone reducing agent, so you’ll get even less overtones / a lower pitch with Pinstripe heads.Available as:
Best rock or metal bass drum head
- Evans EMAD Clear Bass Drum Head. “EMAD” stands for “externally mounted adjustable damping” and means there’s a foam ring sitting on top of the head:You can apply and remove the ring by hand and use the whole thing or half of it to achieve your desired amount of dampening. Available in all possible bass drum sizes (18”, 20”, 22” and 24”)
- Remo Powerstroke P3 Clear. This is actually single ply, but the dampening ring (black line near the edges) acts as a second layer. The ring takes away the overtones and gives you a powerful mid-pitched punch with a bit of sustain. Available in 18”, 20”, 22” and 24”. (Oh, and you’re not getting two heads at once. Don’t know why Remo put a picture of two up on Amazon.)
Best drum heads for jazz
If you’re playing jazz, you’ll probably want a some amount of sustain & a somewhat high pitch. That’s why I recommend single ply (single layered) heads.
You also likely want a gentle response rather than a punch from your drums. So I’m showing you coated heads.
Best snare drum head for jazz
- Remo Ambassador Coated. This is the best selling drum head on Amazon and supposedly also in the world. With it’s long sustain, relatively high pitch and gentle response it’s my go-to head for jazz or latin music. Available in 14” or 13”
- Evans Power Center Reverse Dot Coated. Two differences to the Remo Ambassador: the dot in the middle (hidden away at the bottom side) reduces the sustain of this head a tiny bit. And the Evans Power Center is available in all possible snare drum sizes. (Even for kids drum sets).
Best drum heads for jazz toms
- Evans G1 Coated. G1 means single ply and this head has a particularly thick layer (10mil). That means, it has got overtones and a high pitch, but not excessively so. Available in all possible tom sizes.
- Remo Ambassador Coated. Properties are the same, so there’s only the customary chocolate-or-vanilla sound difference between Evans and Remo (above). Yet, on Amazon these tom heads are only available in 10”, 12”, 14” (fusion pack).
Best bass drum head for jazz
- Evans EMAD Coated. If you’re after reducing some of the overtones, this head’s “externally mounted adjustable damping” ring will serve you better than the Remo. Otherwise it’s chocolate or vanilla again. Available in all usual bass drum sizes.
- Remo Ambassdor Coated. Just like the Evans this head will give you a high pitch and a gentle response. Different from it, there will be more sustain because there’s no ring here. My favorite for the jazz bass drum! Available in 22”, 20” or 18”.
Best drum heads for church
In most modern worship settings, you’ll want to have a sound in between of rock and jazz. First: less sustain than in jazz, because church architecture usually provides enough of that already. So we’re going double ply (double layered) heads.
Second: not as much punch as in rock, because (usually) you don’t want to blow people from their seats. So we’re going coated.
Best snare drum heads for church
You might notice that these heads are actually single ply. But they both have a muffling dot that makes up for the additional overtones.
- Remo Controlled Sound Coated with Reverse Dot The dot produces a muffling effect which is valuable for church and also enhances the head’s durability. “Reverse” means that the dot is on the back of the head so it doesn’t get in the way once you play with brushes (in which case you swish over the surface). Available in 14” or 13”.
- Evans Power Center Coated with Reverse Dot. Essentially the same characteristics, but this head is available all possible snare drum sizes (for kids drum sets too).
Best tom heads for church
- Evans G2 Coated. A little sustain and overtones and a gentle response on top. That’s as good as your church toms can get. Available in all tom sizes.
- Remo Emperor Coated. Same properties as the Evans. But note that Remo’s labels on Amazon are confusing as all tompacks are called “Remo Emperor Coated Drumhead Pack”. I’ve got things sorted out for you: here is
Best bass drum head for church
- Evans EMAD Coated. Although this is single ply, the “externally mounted adjustable damping” ring will reduce some of the additional overtones and sustain this layering would have.The ring is applied on the surface of the head and you can use it full-size or in half. Anyway, this head will give you a mid-pitched tone with a gentle response and some sustain. Available in all bass drum sizes.
- Remo Powerstroke P3 Coated. Just like the Evans this is single ply too and also has a damping ring which reduces the higher overtones (black line at the edge). Contrary to the Evans, the damping ring is applied on the inside and you can’t take a portion off of it. Available in 18”, 20”, 22” and 24”.
The 2 crucial properties of drum heads & their effect
If you’re wondering why the hell why I’ve been using strange words such as “sustain”, “pitch” and “attack”, you’re about to find out. Because actually it’s quite simple to figure out how a drum head will sound from just its description:
It only depends on two properties that influence how a drum head vibrates (and thus generates sound). These are:
- thickness. In drum head jargon this refers to whether the head has one layer (“single ply”) or two (“double ply”)
- additional mass on surface. If there is some, the head is coated. If there isn’t it’s clear.
What thickness will influence:
- Two layers of a head (“double ply”) will vibrate “against each other” and thus cancel each other out pretty quickly. The result: Short sustain (time spent vibrating).
- Two layers will also be thicker than one, and thickness means the head vibrates at a lower frequency. The result: Low pitch / little overtones.
- A single layer (“single ply”) will do the opposite and give you a longer sustain + higher pitch / more overtones.
What coated / clear influences:
- A coated head has more mass on the surface than a clear on. This adds a dampening effect. In subjective terms this means: coated heads have a less pronounced attack. There isn’t that much of a hit or slap.
- Clear heads, by contrast, have no dampening and thus a considerable attack, punch, hit or whatever else you want to call it.
The difference is subtle, but this video shows it very well at 1:03:
So there you have my best drum heads for rock, metal, jazz and the church. Now I’m interested to find out what your recommendations are! Or do you have a question left? In any case: let me know in the comments. I’ll respond to every one of them!
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