Shopping Guide for heads and skins
In the Brazilian world of percussion, you can find a great variety of heads. They are an important part of every instrument as they influence the sound in general, they can emphasise characteristics such as frequency response, the intensity of bass, high and mid frequencies, effects like overtones and vibration behavior. You will differ mainly between the batter and the resonance head, but within them will also find different types of heads like milky, clear, double-layered, coated, many of them in different thicknesses. Each instrument has its natural sound characteristics which are related to the material of the shell, the thickness of the shell and the size of the instrument.
At one point every head will have outpaced its seven lives. To make things easier for you when it comes to pick a new head for your drum, we have put together some useful information.
Purchasing replacement heads:
If you are buying a replacement head for your instrument, we advise that you get a head from the same brand as your instrument as they should fit without any trouble. If you buy a head from a different brand, you might find that the fit slightly differs or even doesn't go on the shell well or at all. Please understand that we cannot offer warranty in this case.
Batter head – resonance head
Batter- and resonance head have different functions. The batter head is made for absorbing the energy of your beat and transfer it to sound. The batter head is especially important for the quality of the attack, but also for the nature of rebound and durability.
The resonance head does as its name tells – it creates resonance, supports and amplifies the frequencies which are produced on the batter head and – depending on how it is tuned and on the type of shell you are using it on – it influences the complete sound spectrum and herewith the character of the whole drum.
Nylon heads are the all-rounders amongst all heads. They are actually made from polyester, but are popularly known as nylon. You can find them in basically all Brazilian styles, and with a few exceptions on most of the Brazilian percussion instruments. They exist in different thicknesses which has impact on durability and sound.
The classical nylon heads come in thin, medium or thick versions. A thinner nylon head reacts easier, it produces a clear tone, vibrates stronger and has overtones. Thin heads are not quite as durable and are more susceptible to receiving a bump.
Thicker nylon heads have a greater proportion of low frequencies meaning less reverberation, less overtones etc. due to the fact that more mass is being caused to vibrate. In return, thick nylon heads are more durable.
Multilayered nylon heads generally have a warm, dry sound and are especially popular for the low pitched surdo voices.
Nylon heads also exist with different kinds of coatings, for example vintage heads with fiberglass coating.
You can even have your logo printed on regular nylon heads. Nylon heads are weatherproof and generally pretty easy to handle. Their sound varies from light and overtone-filled to warm and bass-loaded. When tuned well, they have a defined attack which makes the sound nice and tight. The tone, of course, is produced in collaboration with the material of the instrument shell. Nylon heads are commonly used on tamborins, caixas and snares, repiniques, bacurinhas, charutos, timbals, surdos, repiques de mão and others.
Korino or nappa heads
Korino heads are multilayered, combined types of plastic which produce a bassy, warm and soft sound. Opinions here tend to differ sharply as the weak attack which korino heads produce, leads to undefined tone. If used on too many surdos in a bateria, the sound can quickly loose quality and fade to being blurry. From a musical point of a view, using only very few korino heads makes sense, the bassy effect will then not extensively influence the attack.
Korino heads should be protected against heavy weather conditions and you should dry them off after a downpour. Also, they are sensitive to hard mallets so please always make sure to use well-padded and soft beaters. Hard beaters make dents in the korino layer which will seperate it from the nylon layer. The vibration is disturbed and the effect of the head will break. Korino heads are typically used in the Afro Samba styles and in Samba Reggae. They have a pleasant soft-touch when playing. Korino heads are also great for tuning small surdos and hand drums like rebolo and tan tan down very low.
Inverted korino heads
A nappa head with a good and still farely new concept! Just like the conventional korino heads, they consist in several layers of artificial materials, only that the order is the other way round: the nappa is on the inside of the double-layered head whilst the nylon is on the upper side which will be played on. The sound this head produces is warm and voluminous, whereas the attack remains accentuated and clear. Until not long ago, the price for the saturated sound of a korino head was high as much defined attack was lost. The inverted korino head has both – big warm bass and attack!
Hide heads / skins
Animal skins are somewhat special. The name already indicates that you are using a natural material. Each skin is a unique piece made from an animal, they all have slightly different patterns, different colours and thicknesses. We have an eye on the quality of our natural products, still a certain individual character is part of having a hide head, and that’s good thing!
Hide heads sound great and defined, their big sizes have wonderful bass tones, on wooden shells they develop incredible energies (Maracatú). Animal heads are typical especially in Rio style batucadas where they are played with hard beaters with very little padding. On smaller instruments like timbals, pandeiros or tan tans hands are used for playing. A tamborim in Samba de Mesa often also has a goat skin head and is played with a thin wooden stick instead of a plastic beater. Hide heads come on aluminium rims, on wood rims or for self-assembly without rim, just the raw skin.
Animal heads require weather protection. Many sambistas from wet or humid climate zones use a thin layer of plastic foil which they mount on top of the skin underneath the tension hoop. Hide heads also need to be relaxed after playing them, this is important because they adapt to the air humidity. To avoid that they tear or deform, the tension needs to be taken off the skins. Where there are animal heads involved, you will always see much tuning. If you play longer gigs, it makes sense to check on the tuning of your hide head instruments in between. Hide heads on wood rims often deform while they are still not mounted on the shell. The wood rim looks somewhat crooked, which is absolutely normal and usually caused by the changing humidity in Europe. If you damp the skin when mounting it, the deformation will quickly disappear as soon as it sits on the shell. Don’t put tension on the skin yet, let it dry first – without any means of enforcing or speeding up the drying process. Just leave your drum to air-dry, out of the sun, no hairdryer or other heating devices should be used.Good sound needs some time!
It is not obligatory to moisten the skin, usually you will just be able to push the head onto your drum shell. It sounds of much work, and to admit – natural skins are not as low-maintenance as nylon heads. But their sound will reward you, it is beautiful, unique and of course authentically Brazilian!
Resonance heads are single-layered, often quite delicate and thin heads which have their place opposite of the batter head. It creates resonances and supports and amplifies the frequencies coming from the batter head. It also influences the whole sound spectrum and the character of the drum by the way it is tuned and combines with the drum shell.
A few Brazilian drums like the surdo, the Rio style caixa or the repinique can have the same heads on both sides - batter head and the resonance head would both be batter heads. Principally there is nothing wrong about using a thinner head as resonance head, even with those instruments.
The combination of P3 / super nylon (thick) batter heads and a P2 / nylon (medium) as resonance head is pretty typical in Samba. Snare drums mainly have the super thin resonance heads, whilst in Samba Reggae you will often see 2 equally thicker batter heads used on both sides.
The combination of 2 thick heads as batter- and resonance head is not recommendable as the tone can’t vibrate sufficiently and will sound sickly.
Coated heads are the typical drum set heads which are also used in Samba. Nylon is coated with a thin layer of rough synthetic material which contributes weight on the vibrating head and causes a higher level of low frequencies. Like this you can avoid annoying overtones on your snare drum.
We also have some tamborins with coated heads which are often played as part of a percussion set with brushes or other special sticks. The desired effect here is the same – producing a very defined tone.
This head type is especially popular amongst drummers and sambistas who like fat sounds with a slow attack and a fast decay. The short, almost non-existent sustain is the result of a double layer of heads filled with a special type of oil, a composition which doesn't vibrate as easy as single layered heads and therefore provides a high amount of dampening behaviour. Due to their thickness and sound characteristics, heads with two plies naturally function only as batter heads. Between the two plies there is a special oil which influences the sound characteristics of the head even stronger and reduces the sustain to an absolute minimum or even eliminates it completely. Double ply heads are also extremely durable.
A hydraulic head might be interesting for you if you like the following sound characteristics:
- warm, deep, punchy and short sounds
- sustain: very little to none
- overtones reduced to a minimum
- quick decay (the dropout of the tone from its maximum to 0)
- with surdo heads: nice and warm but not too resounding bass tones, short, fat and warm
- slow attack, doesn't sound too sharp
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