When it comes to tuning drums to get a good sound, batter heads typically get all the spotlight. Resonant heads often get forgotten, as they’re the heads on the bottom of all the drums that go unseen.
The problem is that resonant heads are incredibly important, and many drummers miss the fact that tuning the resonant heads well will cause them to get the best drum sounds that they’ve ever had.
We’re going to do a complete breakdown of resonant drumheads. We’ll explain what they are, go through the different kinds that you can get, and we’ll look through various tuning methods and how they can affect drum tone.
Resonant Drum Heads Explained
Resonant drumheads are the drumheads that go on the bottom of drum shells. They’re the drumheads that you never strike with drumsticks, so they’re typically a bit thinner than batter heads, as they don’t need to be as durable.
The main purpose of resonant heads is to control how your drums sound after you hit them. Batter heads will determine the sound of the initial stick impact, while resonant heads will determine the resonating tones that come afterward.
In short, they control how long your drums sing for and how high or low those singing tones are.
Different Types of Resonant Drum Heads
Resonant heads that go on snare drums are always the thinnest ones found on a drum set. These are the heads that interact with the snare wires, so they need to be very responsive. The thicker the head is, the less responsive it will be to those wires.
Resonant drumheads for snare drums are always referred to as snare side heads. So, make sure to look for that name when looking to purchase a reso head for your snare drum.
If you get a resonant head that is intended for toms, the chances are high that it will be too thick to get a good snare drum sound.
Resonant heads for toms are typically single-ply heads that can also be used as batter heads. Some brands make dedicated resonant heads, but they’re not as common as dual-purpose heads.
When you buy a new drum set, it will come with stock resonant heads that are inexpensive ones supplied by whatever drum brand the kit is from. Those heads aren’t usable as batter heads.
However, resonant heads that you buy from Remo, Evans, or Aquarian are quite versatile. A good example of dual-purpose drumheads is the Evans G1s. They work brilliantly as batter and resonant heads.
You get two kinds of resonant heads for bass drums. Some are solid heads that are a lot thinner than the batter heads you get for bass drums. Others have a port hole built into them so that you can place a kick drum mic inside the bass drum shell.
Resonant bass drumheads with port holes are far more useful, as they also allow you to add and remove muffling from the shell without removing any drumhead.
Drummers often cut their own port holes out of solid resonant bass drum heads for this reason.
Unfortunately, most drum kits don’t come with a stock head with a port hole. So, you need to buy one of those if you don’t want to do a bit of DIY work by cutting one out yourself.
How Resonant Drum Heads Affect Tuning
Here are all the tuning options you have with resonant heads. They all yield various results with how your drums sound and these are all similar across snare drums, toms, and bass drums.
No Resonant Head
If a drum doesn’t have a resonant head, it will sound completely flat. You’ll strike the batter head and get a tone, but then the tone won’t sing at all.
This is often a technique used in recording studios when the producer wants the toms to sound dead. It’s also what a lot of drummers did in the 60s and 70s.
The issue with having no resonant head on drums is that it leaves their bearing edges exposed, and that can damage the shells if you leave them like that for too long.
Also, you can’t use this technique with snare drums, as the wires need a head to hit to produce a snare sound.
If you leave the tension rods fairly loose around the bottom head of every drum, you won’t get a lot of resonance. A lot of drummers like to do this instead of muffling the drums at the top.
You still get all the tone from your initial strikes, but the drums won’t sing much. You just need to make sure that all the tension rods are evenly tightened. Otherwise, you’ll get flat sounds that dip in tone after you hit the drums.
Having medium tension between all the tension rods will cause a drum to have a fair amount of resonance. The drum will sing quite nicely, expressing the fullness of tone.
This is often the most ideal way to tune your resonant heads, as it makes the drums sound good, but the resonance isn’t too overbearing.
You’ll get the most resonance when you tighten the resonant heads a lot. This is how jazz drummers tune their drums, as they want them to sing as much as possible.
If you want large drum tones that are punchy, you may not like how much resonance tight tunings will give you.
How Often Should You Change Your Resonant Drum Heads?
Resonant drumheads have much longer lifespans than batter heads. You don’t hit them with sticks, so most drummers end up using the same resonant heads for years without ever having to change them.
If you’re a casual drummer, we’d suggest changing your resonant drumheads if you’re looking for a new sound from your drum kit.
If you’re happy with the sound you have, you don’t even need to upgrade the stock resonant heads that came with your set. We’d just suggest getting a resonant bass drumhead with a port hole if you don’t have one.
If you’re a professional drummer that needs to always have the best sounds possible from your kit, then it may work in your favor to change your resonant heads at least once a year.
Some high-end drummers change their resonant heads once a month, and they change their batter heads before every show. That’s a bit extreme for drummers that aren’t being given free heads by big companies.
Final Thoughts on Resonant Drum Heads
Resonant heads are just as important as batter heads in creating amazing drum sounds. You need to have a good understanding of them if you want to be able to tune your drum kit well.
When buying resonant drumheads, remember that they should always be thinner than the batter heads that you have on top of all your drum shells.
Also, remember that resonant heads mostly control the tone of the drums, while batter heads control how the drums feel to play.