We began our deep dive into drumheads with a survey of the assorted types—and their sounds/applications—that are available for the bass drum (June 2018). This month we’re examining the different makes and models for the snare drum, which is arguably the most distinct-sounding and sonically malleable instrument on the drumset.
When choosing the ideal heads for your particular needs, you should consider the following: How much sensitivity do you require? (For example, do you play a lot of quick, soft patterns and rolls, or are you mainly hammering backbeats?) How much overtone control do you prefer? And is durability a significant concern?
We’ll begin our discussion with the ubiquitous single-ply coated and then work our way through the various pre-muffled, double-ply, and specialty models.
The most popular snare drum batter head is a single-ply coated, like Aquarian’s Texture Coated, Evans’ G1, and Remo’s Ambassador. These are the ideal choice for achieving a natural, open, articulate, and resonant snare sound with a wide tuning range and sonic versatility. Most models are made with one layer of 10-mil film and feature a thin coat of textured paint sprayed on top. (Evans’ new UV1 deviates from the traditional manufacturing methods with a unique ultraviolet-cured coating that’s more chip-resistant.)
Acoustic jazz and symphonic players may opt for an even thinner head, like Aquarian’s 7-mil Hi-Frequency and Remo’s 7.5-mil Diplomat, in order to maximize the drum’s sensitivity and response at very low dynamics. But those heads can dent easily when hit at higher volumes. Harder-hitting players who want an open, resonant single-ply sound with more durability might find the perfect balance with a thicker single-ply option, like the 12-mil Remo Ambassador X, or the 14-mil Evans G14 or Remo Ambassador X14. While those heads won’t be as quick and articulate as the 10-mil standards, they will produce a resonant, full tone with a balanced mix of fundamental pitch and overtone.
Single-Ply With Muffling
Rather than applying gels or tape to a single-ply coated drumhead to achieve a drier and more studio-ready snare sound, you might want to consider trying one of the pre-muffled options. The Evans Genera is a 10-mil head with a thin, floating 2-mil ring on the underside of the perimeter. Remo’s Powerstroke 3 is similar to the Genera, except that the muffling ring is a tad thicker, at 3-mil. (Remo also offers a 14-mil version, the Powerstroke P3X.) Aquarian’s take on this type of drumhead, the Studio-X, has a thin muffling ring glued directly to the underside perimeter for a slightly more controlled sound. All of these models are designed to replicate the deeper and shorter tone you’d achieve by applying a muffling ring or other overtone-controlling device. Heads with a built-in muffling ring will give you a punchy snare sound that’s reminiscent of what legendary drummer Steve Gadd made famous on hundreds of jazz, pop, fusion, R&B, and rock records in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.
A more open-sounding alternative to single-ply drumheads with rings would be those that feature a thin applique in the center of the playing surface, placed either on the top or bottom side of the drumhead. These models include Aquarian’s Texture Coated Power Dot, Evans’ Power Center Reverse Dot, and Remo’s Controlled Sound, and they’re designed to retain more of the bright, open sound of a basic single-ply head but with a more pointed attack and slightly shorter decay. The dot also adds a bit of durability. An extra-durable version is Aquarian’s Hi-Energy, which is a 10-mil head with a thin Power Dot adhered to entire surface and a smaller dot placed at the center.
Dotted single-ply heads are favorites among many of today’s top session drummers, including Chris McHugh, Matt Chamberlain, and Josh Freese. The downside of dotted heads is that they tend to have a little less rebound, especially at the center. Thicker dotted models, such as Remo’s 12-mil CSX, provide additional durability. Evans’ most durable and focused-sounding single-ply head is the EC1 Reverse Dot, which is a thicker 14-mil head with a center dot and outer tone-control rings.
Anatomy of a Drumhead
Each manufacturer has different methods for creating its snare drum heads. But the basic components are consistent, the primary differences being the angle and depth of the collar, the width of the hoop, and the manner in which the film is secured within the hoop.
While 2-ply heads are ideal for achieving big, robust classic rock snare sounds, they’re much more versatile than you might expect. A standard double-ply head, like the Remo Emperor, Aquarian Response 2, and Evans G2, comprises two layers of 7-mil film, but manufacturers have also been experimenting with different combinations of thicknesses to make the heads more responsive and open or more durable and controlled. A basic 2-ply coated head pairs well with lively sounding snares because it will tamp down some of the high-end bite without choking the resonance. Double-ply heads are more durable than single-ply versions while still providing crisp, quick articulation.
For enhanced low-end and midrange punch, Remo developed the dual-7.5-mil Vintage Emperor, and Evans has the comparable ST (Super Tough) and black-finished Onyx. (Evans also offers the ST Dry, which features small holes around the edge for additional overtone control.) For its super punchy and extra-durable Force Ten 2-ply head, Aquarian paired two layers of 10-mil film.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Remo’s 2-ply Vintage Ambassador is designed to retain the quick response of a single-ply head. It features 7.5-mil over 3-mil films. Aquarian’s thinner 2-ply head, the Super-2, has 7-mil and 5-mil plies. Either of those would be ideal for single-ply players who desire a little more durability and depth.
Double-Ply With Muffling
Double-ply heads are also available with built-in muffling to provide controlled, microphone-ready sounds without additional dampening. The Evans HD (Heavy Duty) has 5-mil and 7.5-mil plies and a 2-mil floating muffling ring under the perimeter. The HD Dry has small holes around the edge to shorten the decay a bit further. A thicker and more durable option is the Evans EC, which is a 7-mil/10-mil combo plus a specially designed muffling ring. The EC Reverse Dot adds a 5-mil dot at the center for increased attack. A slightly thinner option is Remo’s Powerstroke 77, which has two 7-mil plies, a 7-mil underside muffling ring, and a 5-mil center dot on top.
Aquarian’s dual-7-mil Hi-Velocity features a large underside dot for added strength and definition, and the Hi-Impact head has two 10-mil plies and a large Power Dot. Comparable super-durable models from Evans and Remo are the Heavyweight and the Emperor X. Both of those heads feature two 10-mil plies and a 5-mil dot. Evans also reworked the nearly indestructible design of its marching snare heads for the Hybrid, which has two layers of woven fabric and produces a super-sharp, dense sound that’s ideal for players requiring utmost articulation and minimal tone.
Dark, tubby, ’70s-type snare sounds are easily achieved with Remo’s Coated Pinstripe, which has two 7-mil plies and a specially designed “overtone reducing agent” applied between the layers, and Evans’ Hydraulic, which has 7.5-mil and 6.5-mil plies with a thin layer of oil between them.
Warm, rich, animal-hide snare tones can be achieved via the real thing or several synthetic options. Remo’s Fiberskyn Diplomat is a favorite among classical and classic jazz players; it has a 7.5-mil base laminated to a layer of 3-mil fiber. The Fiberskyn Ambassador has a thicker 10-mil base, which translates into enhanced midrange and low-end tones. Evans’ Calftone is thinner than the Remo models, featuring a 7-mil base blended with a fiber top surface. Less extreme calfskin-inspired options include Aquarian’s Vintage series, which comprises single- and double-ply heads with a thick beige coating, Remo’s Renaissance series, which has a translucent textured surface, and Evans’ Strata 1000, which is a 10-mil head with a thin, hazy coating that resembles natural hide.
Although not as impactful to a snare’s overall sound as the batter, your snare-side head can affect how quickly and accurately the wires respond to your strokes. The thinnest resonant heads, including Evans’ 200 and Remo’s Diplomat Hazy, are made with 2-mil film and produce bright, fast articulation. For quiet, delicate playing, these are the ideal choice. But they could blow out if used in louder situations.
Medium-weight snare-side heads (Aquarian Classic Clear, Remo Ambassador Hazy, and Evans 300) are made with 3-mil film and are the best option for general, everyday use. Aquarian also has the Hi-Performance 3-mil head, which comes with protective material positioned where the snare clips contact the film to prevent tearing. Thicker 5-mil options, like Remo’s Emperor Hazy and Evans’ 500, are more resistant to breaking at high volumes while still providing crisp, sizzling response.
If you want the snare response of your drum to be drier, darker, and warmer, Remo has the Black Suede Ambassador, which features 5-mil Ebony film with a textured surface, and the Renaissance Ambassador, which features 3-mil film and has a textured, translucent surface. Either of those models would be a great choice if you want to give a bright-sounding drum a throatier, darker, vintage-style response.