There are 4 main categories of batter (hitting side) drum heads, all of which:
- texture coated (great for brushes)
- Controlled sound (clear or coated)
The most common choices are coated, for instance, perhaps the most famous drumhead of them all, the Remo coated Ambassador, is a common choice for snare drums. A beginner can’t go wrong with this head, as it opens up a wide range of tunings, is suitable for any drum, can be used with sticks or brushes and is durable for all but the heavier hitters. However, I cannot recommend this or any other coated Remo head to heavy hitters. Whilst I find the main body of the Ambassador head to be very durable indeed, I never dent it, I find the coating to be substandard. I’ve tried the heaviest Remo coated head, the x-Emporor, and find that the coating begins to flake immediately with heavy hitting. This is the reason that I have moved away from traditional coated heads.
The three major brands Remo, Evans and Aquarian all produce texture coated heads. Texture coated heads differ from coated heads in that the surface of the head is an part of the fabric of the main body. This means the surface is far more durable than a traditional coated head. As a result, texture coated heads are a great choice for people who hit a little harder but still use brushes. However, the added durability comes at a cost to the overall tone, and texture coated heads generally feel and sound and feel a bit muted compared to their coated counterparts. Having recently tried the Remo Ambassador weight Fiberskyn 3, I would recommend the lighter weighted Diplomat, as I found that the head didn’t resonate very well at higher tunings. I would recommend against a Fiberskyn head for heavy hitters as found that the surface began to lump up after a few sessions. The head was great for brushes though!
Controlled sound (CS) heads have been a consistently popular choice for pop and rock drummers since the 1970s; In fact, Tony Williams used clear CS heads on all the drums on his kit! These heads are particularly popular because they provide extra durability on a thinner head, thereby providing the best of the thick (durability and consistent playing surface) with the best of the thin (bight clear tones with a wide tuning range). Another nice feature of CS heads is the dual playing surface they provide, giving a strong and defined surface for harder louder playing and a softer more subtle surface for gentle work such as press rolls. Since I rarely need brushes at the moment, I’ve equipped my main Singerland snare with a Remo clear CS w/clear dot. This choice gives me the most natural and purest tone to the drum whilst also providing durability and a thumping backbeat. The only thing to watch out for with this head is that since the main body is Ambassador weight without a coating, it will dent easily. Thus, if one is a heavy hitter, ensure you’re accurate with your hard hits and pound the dot and not the out surface!
The snare side head, in my opinion has a very different effect on the tone of the drum to the batter side. The obvious difference between the snare and batter sides is thickness. With batter sides coming in at around (Ambassador) 10-mil and snare side heads at around (Ambassador) 3-mil, the two heads are completely different. In fact, snare sides are so thin, they contribute very little to the fundamental pitch of the drum. However, they have a great impact on the tone and feel of the snare response. In all honesty, you can’t really go wrong with the trusty Ambassador snare side although I have recently transitioned to a thinner Diplomat snare side on my main snare as outlined in the post on Snare drum setup below.