Drum heads absorb the brunt of all the enthusiasm you put into playing your drums. Check that, cymbals do too but they are up to it and you’ll be breaking your sticks before you do any damage to a cymbal. Like anything, over time drum heads become compromised and are no longer able to produce the resonance that is required of them. Knowing when they’ve reached that point and knowing how to properly replace them is essential knowledge for any drummer that cares about his or her sound.
There are a number of indications that a drum head has come to the end of its working life. The most elementally true of them is made aware to you audibly. If the drum head has more than a few miles on it and it’s no longer tonally responsive after the proper tuning, it’s time to replace the head. There is no substitute for this test as being the one you should pay heed to most emphatically. If the drum doesn’t sound right, it is time to replace the batter head (the top one), the resonant head (the bottom one) or both.
There are visual indications that a drum head is done as well. They include :
- An uneven surface across any part of the drum head. “Bubbling”, as it is often referred to, comes from the drum head taking a real beating from the tips of your drumsticks. This condition occurs more often and more quickly with “heavy hitter” players who are playing hard rock or heavy metal, but any head over time will come to show obvious signs of being physically compromised.
- Pitting or denting of the head. Unfortunately all it takes is one overly-powerful strike from a drum stick or pedal beater to ruin a head. If you’ve put a dent in one of your drum heads, it really becomes your call whether or not you feel the need to replace the head and much of this comes from the approach you take to your drums. If you’re a recreational weekend drummer, maybe it is not so big a deal. If you’re a working professional, even a head with one pit or dent will be on its way to the trash.
- A head that is unable to retain its tuning tension. If a drum head goes out of tune far too easily and frequently and repeatedly becomes “soft” across its surface, it’s done. All drum heads over time will become compromised at the edge where the head joins its metal rim. With cheaper drum heads this occurs more rapidly, while you’ll get more life and mileage out of more expensive and better quality heads.A torn or perforated drum head – need we explain?
Batters VS Resonants
Naturally, the batter head of any drum in your set will require replacing more frequently than the resonant head. Batters absorb the force of your strokes and while they are thicker and more durable than resonant heads, they inevitably go much quicker. It is quite common to replace the batter head 3 or more times on a drum before the resonant head requires replacement.
The above mentioned indicators apply almost exclusively to batter heads. If you were to strike a resonant head in the same manner you do a batter, you’d almost certainly either pit the head irreparably or break right through it altogether. Weighing whether or not it is time to replace a resonant head occurs when you are not happy with the resonance and sustain of the drum’s sound and you have determined the batter head is structurally sound and properly tuned. If you’re certain of those two points, it may be time to replace the resonant head.
Changing the Drum Head
Once you’ve purchased the replacement head of your choice, you’ll need to remove the expired one on your drum. The process doesn’t warrant much discussion here. Remove the lug nuts retaining the rim of the drum, remove the rim and then proceed to pull away the existing head.
Every time you remove and replace a drum head, take the chance to inspect the bearing edge of the drum. The bearing edge can be identified as the absolute cylindrical edge of the drum on which the head rim sits. It will be natural wood and you should inspect it closely to make sure it is both entirely clean and, more importantly, free of defects. If you are unsure about the integrity of the bearing edge, take it in to the drum pro at your local music shop or have your drum teacher or a similar in-the-know person take a look at it.
Once you’ve determined the edge is up to spec, you can go ahead and place the head onto the drum, resting on the bearing edge. If you’re aesthetically inclined (and most drummers are) then you’ll want to see to it the logo of the head manufacturer is lined up at 12 0’clock, right at the top of the drum shell. Replace the rim and then tighten each lug nut TO MAXIMUM TENSION. Ensuring the rim is tightened to maximum tension is very important before you move to the next step, which is…
Seating the Drum Head
Seating a drum head involves breaking the glue seal which connects the head to the metal rim. It is an essential technique that should be applied to EVERY drum in your set, but ONLY FOR BATTER HEADS. DO NOT ever apply this technique to a resonant head as it will irreparably damage the much-more fragile head surface.
To seat a drum head properly, follow these instructions:
- Make sure the lug nuts are at maximum torque on the drum head – the head must have full tension across it in order for the seating to be properly executed.
- Once this is achieved, place the drum on the floor with the batter head facing up.
- Take your strong hand and place it DIRECTLY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DRUM HEAD.
- Using your weight for momentum, press down on the drum head quickly and forcefully.
If done correctly, you will hear a distinct “crack” sound come from the edge of the drum head beneath the rim. The glue seal is now broken as desired and you can now proceed to effectively tune the drum. If you don’t hear the crack, try again and this time put some more gusto into it. Repeat as necessary until you get the crack you want to hear.
Once the head is seated you should loosen the lug nuts completely and then proceed to tune the drum.