Friday, May 25, 2012

Getting Ahead Part 2

Before continuing the heads discussed in my previous post I want to recommend that you read my approach to tuning in conjunction with the discussion of heads. There is a close relationship between tuning and head choice, and since I am focusing on a relatively narrow set of head models, you may find information of more value in that piece.

While I love Remo Coated Ambassadors, I also have a love affair with their Fiberskyn series (as well as the 14" Skyntone snare drum heads.)

Remo started out making the Skyntone for snare drums, and I was an early adopter. My take on it is that it works beautifully with both sticks and brushes. It is thin to the point where you need to be concerned if you play mainly with sticks and are a heavy hitter. While the tone I get from these heads is superb to my ears, it's possible that they will need frequent replacement. Thus far I have had no problems with them, but I am an extremely light hitter and I play mostly between PP and F. The texture is similar to genuine calfskin, including simulated pore holes.

I have this head model on five of my snare drums, including a circa 1920s Ludwig Pioneer, a few custom made single-ply snare drums, and a Rogers Powertone COB. The head transformed each of these drums into a low-volume jazz instrument that sounds superb with brushes and very light playing. If you are a rock drummer you may find that this head will not suit your needs. Remo has since started making them in tom sizes, including 10", 12", 13", 15", and 16" sizes. Those, plus the 14"Skyntone snare drum heads, will allow you to completely out most drum kits - except for the bass drum. Frankly, I am sticking with the Fiberskyns for the time being because I am very pleased with them, and I am still a little uncertain about the durability of the Skyntones (although the ones on my snare drums have held up very well.)

Ludwig 100th Anniversary Snare Drum
Outfitted with a new 14" Skyntone snare drum head

My next most used configuration uses Remo Fiberskyn heads. I'll start with the 14" Fiberskyn FD. This is a Diplomat weight head that I prefer. This head, paired with a Diplomat snare side head on the bottom of my snare drums is a perfect combination for my playing style. However, I do not limit this head to my snare drum - I also use it as the batter side on my toms, paired usually with a Remo Renaissance Diplomat on the resonant side.

What I particularly love about this head is its ability to fit into acoustic mixes as well as in some rooms that are challenging. Most of the time those challenging rooms make other heads sound too lively, whereas the Fiberskyn seems to tame down the acoustics (with some tuning tweaks and on occasion cursing, of course). As for brush playing, there is sufficient texture to achieve legato notes on ballads, and for the staccato notes, the head sounds superb. Here is a tip: try the Vic Firth Steve Gadd model bushes on this head (and the 14"Skyntone snare drum heads as well). Ironically, that brush was designed for heads like the coated Ambassador, but works best this this and the Skyntone.

This is an excellent head choice for some situations, and works particularly well when paired with the resonant heads I mentioned. If you want even more attenuation and warmth, while retaining some resonance, the Fiberskyn FA head may be a better choice.

My kit with Fiberskyn heads

A word about the reso heads on the toms. I use Remo Renaissance Diplomat heads on the kit shown. Here is a shot that shows the resonant side of the rack tom:

The 12" Renaissance Diplomat shown works perfectly as a resonant head on toms with Fiberskyn FA (Ambassador) or FD (Diplomat) weight heads on top. In fact, they give noticeably more resonance than pairing Fiberskyns top and bottom. In addition, they work beautifully paired with a coated Ambassador on top. In that case, they provide a little more resonance and a slightly brighter sound.

Used as batter heads on toms they are a bit too bright and thin sounding, but warmer than clear heads. Paired top and bottom, they are still too thin for my tastes, but I have to admit that they have a nice tuning range and feel. The same goes for the 14" or any other size of this head.

The bass drum heads I use are interesting in that I stumbled upon the combination by accident. The batter head is a Remo Powerstroke 3 Fiberskyn. When I purchased this it was a compromise. I normally will not use pre-muffled heads, but could not get an Ambassador weight unmuffled head at the time because they were back ordered.

I opted for a Diplomat weight to offset the muffling, which is nothing more than a plastic ring on the backside of the head. To further offset the muffling, I opted to not use my tried and true approach: Gibraltar SC-BF Bass Drum Felt Strips. My last ploy was to use a non-Powerstroke 3 Fiberskyn Diplomat for the resonant side (without felt strips.)

The combination worked perfectly. Frankly it exceeded my expectations and when I was able to obtain the Ambassador weight, unmuffled heads I wanted in the first place they did not come close to matching the warmth and depth this head and the companion reso provide. Sometimes one does get lucky.

My concern that the Diplomat weight would not hold under live playing was assuaged by the fact that I actually used this kit as backline in a jam and the head held up fine. So much for stories of coating loss and short lifespan.

Needless to say, the serendipitous events that led me to purchasing this head against my better judgement (at the time) worked in my favor. If I outfit another of my kits with Fiberskyns, this is the combination I will use.

My next topic will be a follow-up on brushes. Until then, enjoy.

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