This year Remo released two products designed especially for vintage-drum owners and fans of a classic, lightly muffled kick sound. These are the slightly oversized Weatherking Classic Fit (available in Ambassador Clear and Coated, Ambassador Hazy, and Diplomat Fiberskyn weights) and the uniquely designed Powerstroke P3 Felt Tone, which features a built-in floating felt stripe. (Felt Tones are available in Hazy and Fiberskyn versions.) Let’s check them out!
Prior to the invention in the mid-twentieth century of the modern drumhead, which features thin plastic film stretched over a metal hoop, drummers often made their own custom drumheads using calfskin and flexible wooden flesh hoops. There wasn’t a need for drum manufacturers to be hyper-particular about the dimensions of the shells, so drums made during the first half of the 1900s are often slightly oversized or imperfectly shaped.
The imperfect nature of old shells makes fitting modern drumheads on them tricky at times; the flesh hoop can rub and stick against the shell, or the collar might not sit squarely on the bearing edge. Similar issues can occur on newer drums finished in thick wraps and with drums that have warped a bit over time.
Remo’s Classic Fit heads are designed to mitigate these problems by extending the width of the Mylar without increasing the overall diameter of the drumhead, so that it still sits perfectly under the counter hoop of the rim. This extra distance is achieved via a narrower flesh hoop and a smaller bend in the film between the collar and hoop. (Remo refers to this bend as a “step.”)
We tested Ambassador Coated and Clear and Diplomat Fiberskyn Classic Fit heads on ’70s Slingerland 3-ply 12″ and 14″ toms with round-over edges and a thick black wrap finish, and on a 5×14 ’50s chrome-over-brass snare that had warped out of shape from years of abuse and neglect. The counter hoops of the old Ambassadors that were already on the drums were rubbing against the outside of the shells, which historically made them temperamental to tune.
The old heads had to be muscled off the drums, but all of the Classic Fit heads (Ambassador Clear and Coated, Hazy Snare Side, and Diplomat Fiberskyn) installed with very little resistance. The heads didn’t rotate freely all the way around the bearing edges—there were a couple spots where the flesh hoops snagged the shells—but I was able to find several positions that were friction-free.
Once outfitted with the Classic Fit heads on top and bottom, these old drums opened up like they never had before. I could tune them super-low to get studio-ready fat, punchy sounds, or I could crank them all the way up for brighter bebop tones. At any tuning the pitch was pure, the sustain was rich and unrestricted, and the decay was even and balanced. I could also make tuning adjustments quickly and easily without having to coax the flesh hoops up or down with each change. The Classic Fit drumheads earned “must-have” status for anyone working with imperfectly sized drums.
Drummers have been muffling their bass drums with felt strips for decades; John Bonham’s cannon-like kick drum tone with Led Zeppelin is partly a result of his use of solid drumheads on front and back that were muffled with 2.5″ felt strips placed on the underside of each head. The problem with that approach to muffling is that it compromises the consistency of tuning from lug to lug because the felt strips fold over the bearing edge, which causes the drumheads to sit unevenly.
Remo’s answer to the tuning issues caused by traditional felt-strip muffling was to adapt and utilize the technology of its popular Powerstroke 3 drumhead, which features a thin outer ring of film around the entire circumference, so it could float across the head a felt strip that stops prior to the bearing edge to allow for unencumbered seating and tuning. The P3 ring used on the Felt Tone heads, which are available in Hazy and Fiberskyn models, is thinner than it is on a regular Powerstroke 3. The additional layer of Mylar also extends behind the entire length of the felt strip. The felt is glued to the Mylar strip but not to the drumhead itself, which allows the felt to momentarily float off the head after each stroke. This floating action is what gives the Felt Tone heads more resonance than other pre-muffled varieties, while eliminating the high overtones and minimizing extraneous rumble.
We tested the Hazy and Fiberskyn Felt Tones on vintage 18″ and 24″ bass drums. The Hazy was used for the batter, and the Fiberskyn was used for the resonant. On the 18″ drum, we wanted to test how the heads responded to tighter bebop tunings. Some pre-muffled heads choke or lose attack when tuned high. The Felt Tones were right at home at that tension. Their resonance was controlled, but the tone was deep and full, the pitch was pure, and the attack was dense and punchy. You can hit the Felt Tone hard without the sustain ringing excessively, and you can articulate patterns in whisper-quiet contexts as well. The Felt Tones also extended the low-end potential of the 18″ kick when tensioned as loosely as possible.
The Felt Tones also breathed new life into a testy old 14×24 mahogany bass drum that hadn’t yet lived up to its full sonic potential when outfitted with other drumheads. Basic single-ply heads caused this drum to sound thin and anemic, while thicker heads resulted in a lifeless, dull “thwack.” The Felt Tones, however, turned this drum into the thunderous cannon that it was always meant to be. With the Hazy batter and Fiberskyn front tuned about as low as they could go, the drum had a meaty punch and a focused sustain that rumbled unencumbered for a brief moment and then shut down evenly. The Felt Tones had no papery highs or feedback-inducing low-mid overtones—just fat, useable low end and a clean top end that gave each note the perfect amount of snap and clarity. Perfection personified.