Becoming a good Jazz drummer is not an easy task. Jazz is a delicate dynamic dance and your accompanying musicians will expect a lot from you as the drummer.
As the drummer, you have the all-important job of keeping your finger on the pulse of the music and keeping the rhythm flowing. While you’re busy playing, the last thing you want to worry about is your drum kit sounding awful.
Before hitting the stage or going in for a rehearsal, you should consider changing your head to sound your best. Let’s take a look at some possible drum head options that are optimal for Jazz drummers.
Best Drum Heads for Jazz (Bass, Snare & Toms)
1. Evans EQ4 Calftone Bass Drumhead
Evans has created something special that honors the history and tradition of drumming. The Evans EQ4 Calftone head has the look and similar sound quality as the centuries-old calfskin head, without actually being taken from a calf.
This is a single 12 mil ply head with an additional top synthetic layer that resembles the calfskin. So it is slightly thicker than 12 mil due to the addition of the top layer, though I’m not sure by how much.
As with all Evans EQ4 heads, this too has the internal muffling ring built right into the head. The ring does a great job of muffling unwanted overtones.
This single-ply head is exceptional for drummers with a softer touch. You’ll find this head to be responsive and energetic when feathering the bass drum. When I used a soft beater, it produced just enough punch with a lower-end sustain.
If you’re playing music other than Jazz and use the same kit, you may end up changing your heads out. This head is made for a specific style and feel. I wouldn’t see it working well for all genres as it does lack some of the attacks you get from multi-ply heads.
However, if you want a traditional look and feel, this is it.
2. Remo Diplomat Fiberskyn Drumhead
If you’re a jazz drummer who often utilizes brushes and or rods in addition to your sticks, this Remo Diplomat Fiberskyn head might be a great choice for you.
The Fiberskyn Diplomat is a two-ply head made with a 7.5 mil layer and a 3 mil layer. This combination makes for a brighter tonal quality. They’re very expressive and musical.
Drummers using brushes on this head will be delighted. Especially if you’re someone who tried using brushes on coated heads that are a bit more temperamental with harder to control dynamics. The Fiberskyn head is a solution to any trouble controlling the dynamic range.
Surprisingly, I was even able to play these by using the roughness of my hands for some fun!
With these heads in particular, you will want to be conscious of how hard you hit them. These heads are not made to be played with force, they are a little more delicate. Playing them too hard could cause denting, bubbling, and stretching, all of which could ruin your playtime.
A lighter pair of sticks with a soft touch will provide you with the best results. You’ll be sounding great without having to worry about being too loud.
3. Remo Ambassador Coated 4-piece Tom Pack
Remo’s Ambassador series heads don’t need much of an introduction. Remo Ambassadors are a popular choice for drummers of multiple disciplines and because of their coated texture, they are often a choice for Jazz drummers.
Within the 4 pack, you’ll get 10”, 12”, 14”, and 16” toms. Each of these heads are constructed of single-ply 10 mil mylar.
The coated Ambassadors produce a lively tonal quality with an emphasis on the dry overtones. The sound profile of these heads is a little bit old-school too. I could see these working well with not just Jazz but, someone who plays music from the 60s and 70s era of rock music.
The texture of the heads allows them to work well with brushes. Metal brushes seem to work the best here as I found the nylon brushes to be a bit too soft at times.
An issue drummers who bounce back and forth between sticks and brushes may run into is the coating getting worn away. If you hit a spot consistently, it will eventually remove the coating from the head, giving you a bald spot. This can give your performance some sonic inconsistency when switching from sticks to brushes.
4. Aquarian Texture Coated Drumhead
If you’ve never played an Aquarian head before, I would recommend starting with this one.
This particular head is fantastic on a snare drum as it is an exuberant, responsive drum head that feels like it loves to be played. So, if you're looking for the best snare head for jazz, you won't be disappointed with this Aquarian.
Some coated heads tend to sound like hitting a piece of paper on a pillow when tuned down but this one is different. It seems that the single 10 mil ply allows the head to be more responsive even when loosened.
You can have some real fun with this one tuning it up or down low while leaving your snare wire tight against the resonant head. Under both low and high tunings it’s an expressive head.
I could see how a small number of drummers may find this head to be a little too much for what they’re playing, especially Jazz drummers whose gigs demand subtlety.
While this head is undeniably versatile, still if you are a drummer who is only focused on a certain disciple like Jazz, this may not be the best possible choice.
If you happen to be playing multiple genres of music within a cover band, then I’d give this a second look. The tunability of this head will come in handy!
5. Evans G1 Coated 3-piece Tom Pack
Evans G1 Coated heads are 10 mil single-ply heads. In this pack, you’ll get heads for a 10”, 12”, and 14” drum.
Getting these heads tuned didn’t take long at all. The 14” head you can put on a snare or tom, in this case, I used a snare.
The 14” G1 coated head absolutely sings when tuned up tightly! It has plenty of resonance with a mix of lower tones thanks to the coating on the drum heads. I bet pairing this head with a metal snare shell would be great!
These heads function well on the toms as well, both rack and floor. Again, even when tuned a bit tighter.
Lower tunings of these heads didn’t really work for me. These seem to do better at a tighter tension as they are expressive heads.
I could actually see these working well as a resonant head as well for floor toms specifically. Unfortunately, I didn’t try with these but, the idea came to me as I have with similar makes of drum heads in the past.
These heads are a great buy for the price. They’d compliment the stylings of a jazz drummer nicely. Looking for something new? Try these.
Is It All In My “Head”?
Good pun, right?
Of course it’d be silly to assume that by changing out a drum head this alone makes you sound great. While heads play a large part in your sound, the quality of sound or tonal profile you may be looking for can not be found simply by replacing a drum head.
For the sake of argument though, let's suggest that the right drum head is the final piece of the puzzle keeping you from sounding your best. What else should you know?
Knowing how to properly tune a head is hugely important. Do consider the fact that some heads are singly-ply, two-ply, and even triple-ply. They’re made from different materials also with varying thicknesses and textures.
The materials used, overlapping of multiple ply, densities of materials, coatings, built-in mufflings, and other factors are all to be considered when finding the right drum head for your style.
Also you must understand that drum heads have a break in period. The sound could change slightly for the better or maybe for worse.
You can shorten the break in period by placing the drum head on the shelf and securing it with the hoop and lugs. Then stretch it out. You stretch it out by placing your fist into the middle and pushing down into the head for a few seconds at a time.
Taking a moment to tune your heads slowly, striking them at different increments of tension will help you to find the best sound. Keep in mind some size heads are harder to tune than others and may require a bit more attention.
Mix It up a Bit
It is possible that a head from Aquarian may be exactly what you’re looking for, for your snare but that same line of heads may not create the sound you want for your toms, or kick.
So maybe you grab the Evans EQ4 kick drum head and pair it with the Remo Fiberskyn head for your snare. While some drum snobs may find this practice sacrilegious, I say nay!
Trying a variety of heads on different-sized drums will yield numerous sounds! Some tones you may not expect but, end up liking.
I’d even recommend swapping the resonant heads out for different thicker or thin ones for a change. I’ve done this on my own kit and found it to be very useful when chasing a particular tone.
Try some different heads with tuning variations out and mix things up a bit! You never know what you’ll discover.
My Final Take
Now, admittedly I am not a jazz drummer. Though I can say that I did try my best to search for qualities in these drum heads that I believe jazz drummers would like.
The art of jazz drumming is a demanding one. It requires discipline, focus, and an understanding of how music should ebb and flow. Jazz drummers want their equipment to work as well and as hard as they do.
The makers of the products listed above understand this and it is evident they have taken care to understand what drummers of the jazz genre require to stay groovin'.
The Remo Ambassador heads are arguably the quintessential all-around drum heads. An absolutely sound choice no matter what music you play. Though I wouldn’t say in the case of Jazz drummers that these should be designated the number one choice above all simply because of their legacy.
I found Remo’s Ambassador Fiberskyn heads to be the most interesting here. Out of all the heads discussed, these sound like the “jazziest” heads here. Their warm resonance with subtle bright undertones are oh-so-nice!
The additions from Aquarian and Evans should be considered contenders and should not be overlooked.
The Evans G1 heads’ value for function is absolutely there. The bright open sounding heads worked well with sticks, rods, or brushes. Too heavy of a stick may produce too much noise but, someone with the right touch can make these work very well for them.
The Evans EQ4 Calftone bass drum head is a great sounding kick drum for those who seek that classic jazzy-swing sound. I can only imagine that the toms and snare head sound just as nice and warm.
If you’re a player who needs versatility out of their drum heads, the Remo FiberSkyn and Evans Calftone drum heads would not be for you.
These fibery and skin tone style of heads seem to have a very particular focus and when they are played in the proper context they are each magnificent. For versatility you should get something coated and single ply from Aquarian, Remo or Evans.
Now, if you’re a smooth playing-jazz-drumming aficionado then I know what heads you should look into. Remo Fiberskyn or Evans Calftone are the heads for you!
Their classic sound will instantly delight your musical sensibilities. Putting either of these heads on an old Rogers or Slingerland kit would be an absolute delight! I would even venture to say legendary players like Buddy Rich would’ve really enjoyed trying these out.
I hope you’ve found this article to be informative and enjoyable. Happy playing all!