Buyers' guide: retro-style drum heads
Generally these heads aim to mimic calfskins, but without the misery and difficulties of dealing with a true organic material. Authentic calfskin heads are easily affected by heat and moisture, for example, whereas modern plastic substitutes don't have that problem.
Calf is warm, middling, extremely dry sounding, almost parchment-like, more fragile, inconsistent and less resonant. The modern heads featured here certainly retain some of the positive characteristics from that list, but are generally more reliable, can be played harder and are usually a little more resonant.
An acquired taste
The dry, dark timbre is achieved by various means, treating and finishing the polyester in different ways. The result is an acquired taste and may come as a shock to the average modern player.
The heads (with the exception of Remo's Renaissance) are so dry they'll test your technique – they're unforgiving, so you do need to articulate with accuracy and ensure you control every single stroke cleanly.
All that jazz
Inevitably, retro-style heads are mainly aimed at the orchestral and jazz players of this world, and are mostly suited to lower volumes and more dynamically varied musical settings.
In spite of this, however, retro heads can be equally effective for other intimate styles, acoustic or folk groups, and all manner of ethnic and Latin styles. Here are our top five picks to get you started…
5 retro-style heads from £14.75
5. Remo Renaissance
The Remo Renaissance coating is permanently bonded to both sides of the Mylar. It's very hard, with a visually effective nicotine-stained appearance and a feel like fine glass paper, similar to the Evans J1 textured finish. Calf-warm but with a distinctively crisp, modern edge.
4. Evans Strata 700/1000 Gauge
Evans does both thin (7mm) and medium (10mm) weight versions of the Strata, aimed at the orchestral and the vintage player. Despite the warm nature of the heads, Strata Staccatos have a 2mm edge ring, which dampens any high overtones that remain and increases focus.
3. Remo Vintage A Head
More than a simple exercise in nostalgia, Remo's Vintage A is suitable for both snare and tom use, producing a warm, resonant sound reminiscent of the calfskin heads they were designed to emulate. They give a typical '60s open, ringing drum sound. Available in 10", 12", 13", 14", and 16".
Read the full review of Remo's Vintage A heads
2. Aquarian American/Modern Vintage
Available in Modern and American versions. The American has larger diameter hoops; sometimes necessary to fit drums dating from before the '70s. Single or twin ply, including bass drum head.
1. Remo Fiberskyn-3
Laminated Mylar and polyspun fibres produce a playing surface that, with its slightly ragged texture, looks like a real animal skin. There's a dry warmth and softer stick response, deeper and tubbier, combined with a focused dark sound. They tune very easily over quite a broad range and don't need any damping.
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter
The free MusicRadar newsletter serves up the week's biggest artist and product news stories alongside exclusive tuition and gear reviews. Sign up here!
Follow MusicRadar on Twitter
Get instant updates and bonus content plus chat with the team. Start here!