Until the 1920s, most wood drums were made from a single plank, usually steam-bent into a circle and held in the round by internal reinforcing rings. Plywood was hailed as a godsend in the ‘30s - easier to work with, more stable and stronger.
Nowadays, single-ply shells are once again considered the ultimate by many. They do not have multiple layers of glue and cross-grains of timber to dampen the natural resonance of the wood, so you get the full timbre. A solid-shell drum pings and has a truer tone, its own special flavour.
The ultimate drum
Alternatives to ply include staves, like barrels, or stacked-up concentric segments, like sliced pineapple in a tin. Perhaps the ultimate drum is a solid shell carved out of a single massive block.
Although there’s still the fear that a stave shell might collapse and that single-ply shells may go out of round, such disasters are rare with the quality products produced these days.
Inevitably, non-ply Specialist drums are largely handmade and, therefore, expensive. The upside is that there is no limitation on the type of wood used - every exotic species you can think of has been tried at some time.