Drum-Heads

A drum head is the film that covers the drum shell, and its function is to produce the sound. The drums of a modern drum kit usually have two drum-heads, one on top and the other on the bottom. The drum head at the top is called the batter head, and its function is to be hit by a stick and vibrate to make the sound.

The head at the bottom is called the resonant head, and its function is to produce secondary vibrations caused by the vibrations of the batter head, or in other words resonate to the sound produced by the batter head.

As the primary source of sound, the batter head affects both the quality of sound, i.e. timbre, and the pitch. The resonant head has little effect on the drum’s pitch but affects the timbre and sound qualities such as reverberation and ringing.

Origin of the Synthetic Drum Head

Throughout history, and as recently as the 1960s, drum-heads were made of animal skins. During World War II, Du-Pont developed Mylar, a polyester film and a type of plastic, used for military purposes. Mylar made it’s way into drum-heads in the 1950s, and the first drum head made of Mylar is thought to have been made by Jim Irwing for drummer Sonny Greer in 1953.

In the mid 1950s several companies competed to come up with the first commercially feasible synthetic drum-heads. Leading drum manufacturers Ludwig and Premier were both hard at work on the synthetic drum head problem, but it was Remo Belli and chemist Sam Muchnick who made the first breakthrough, and introduced the Remo Weather King head at a Chicago trade show in June of 1957. Remo began manufacturing its drum-heads later that year, and moved on to become the world’s leading drum head manufacturer. When first introduced as a mass produced products, synthetic drum-heads were not free of problems. One difficulty was keeping the head from slipping from its supporting hoop, and another was finding a good formulation of Mylar resilient enough to withstand repetitive stick blows. But by the 1960s, synthetic drum heads became good enough to be widely accepted among drummers.

Synthetic plastic drum-heads have completely replaced the traditional skins for use in modern drum sets. Compared to animal skins, synthetic drum-heads are cheaper, stronger, waterproof, more reliable, produce a more consistent sound, and can be mass produced.

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