Calf Skin Experiment

multijd

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I did a traditional jazz (Dixieland?) gig this past week. I have a great 12x22 Slingerland bass drum that has calf heads on both sides. The drum always sounds great. I also have some additional calf heads so on a whim I decided to put calf on all of the drums. I have two nice heads on a Slingerland 16x16, a single headed Gretsch 8x12 and a Leedy Broadway standard that I put calf on the top and bottom. The set was totally outfitted with calf. I tried a similar experiment years ago on my usual gigging kit. It was very difficult especially in the extreme weather changes that Buffalo experiences. Heads would be super tight coming out of the car then get into the humidity in doors and drop into a tubby texture and tuning.

For this gig I was careful to load the drums into the car last minute and then quickly transport to the performance area. The drums sounded fantastic. Even the snare with a bottom calf was responsive, rich and warm. I’m seriously thinking about revisiting this sound on my main gigging kit. I know there will be some trials and tribulations but the richness of the sound may be worth it.

I’m addition to the rich overtones and naturally muted resonance the drums have a softer attack. You can really smack them and they don’t overpower. Of course the brush sounds are amazing.

I just listenened to the Mel Lewis interview about Buddy Rich that was recently posted and he talks about his experiences with calf. I also remember years ago hearing the fantastic Joe LaBarbera, who was the main inspiration for my experiment years ago. Both of these drummers have an incredible sound.

A couple of questions. I know that Kentville makes Kangaroo hide heads. Also Earthtone makes calf with a modern collar. How do these compare with traditional wood hoop calf heads? Are there other companies that sell traditional calf? What are your experiences with calf?
 

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lcondo123

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I've heard Kentville's kangaroo skin heads are more durable than calfskin, and are less impacted by changes in temperature/humidity. I'm trying to save up to get a few of those heads for my vintage Rogers kit.

Stern make great traditional heads, too, you can't go wrong with them. Avoid Earthtone. They're cheap and their quality control is absolutely horrendous. Just check out their reviews on Amazon and you'll want to steer clear of them.
 

Prufrock

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I like the sound of real calf heads, and have them installed on a few drums (sometimes just the bass drum on a kit). They work fine in a static environment, but I haven't tried gigging with them for some of the reasons stated in the OP concerning changes in environment and inconsistent sound.

Years ago, before I was interested in vintage drums, I remember talking to someone who played a traditional bodhran with an un-tunable calf head. He explained that he took a small spray bottle of water with him, along with a hair dryer, and that would allow him to adjust the head up or down depending on what the drum sounded like at a particular gig. I get the water, but most people playing a kit aren't worried about expanding the head. I'm curious to know if anyone who has gigged with calf heads has used a hair dryer, and if there are any tricks, suggestions, or cautions about how it should be used (such as the level of heat used, etc). It seems like a hair dryer could help tighten up a head effectively, but I've never tried it.
 

bellbrass

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I put a whole set of Kentville Kangaroo batter heads on just a few weeks ago. This is my first experience with animal heads. A couple of weeks ago, I put Earthtone calf heads on the bottoms, so now I have true hide heads top and bottom. A few observations so far:
  • The Kentville heads are tucked into metal hoops. This really helps with even tensioning.
  • The tension changes with relative humidity much more so than temperature. I have my drums in the same room as my desk, and I was sitting there one day on my computer, and I could hear the heads tightening as a high pressure system moved in and drove the humidity down outside. I mean, I could hear them cracking as they shrank on the drums.
  • The apparent rebound is a real thing. The heads feel different as the stick comes off of them. It's really cool and organic.
  • The sound: they sound really good...more different than better to my ear. In fact, when I tune my toms high, they sound just like all those old be-bop recordings I listen to all the time. The Kangaroo heads kill some of the overtones, but in a nice way...not at all like using an Evans Hydraulic or an Emperor coated....but more like using a Diplomat and having a thin dampening layer. It makes for a very recordable sound.
  • So far, they are very durable.
 

mtarrani

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I have one kit with Earthtones on both batter and reso sides on all of the drums (including the snare drum.)

For what I do the calf heads are perfect. I play jazz, but also a lot of pop from the late 50s/early-to-mid 60s. And, of course, I am a brush player too, so calf makes sense. Another factor is that I play smaller venues, so the way that skin attenuates the attack and projection is a big help.

Rebound has a learning curve. It's just not as good as on synthetic heads, but with some diligent practice I was able to overcome that because it's more a matter of touch and technique to get the same results on calf.

I live in central Florida, so this time of the year tuning at the venue before a gig is usually all that is required. As the months get more humid, though, you may find yourself tuning between sets. Still totally worth it [to me] for the incredible sound of natural heads versus synthetic.
 

bellbrass

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Mike, it looks like Stern Tanning only offers tom heads tucked on to wooden hoops. Do you see any problems with this? Metal is only an option for 14" (snare) heads.
 

CaptainCrunch

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I have Earthtone batters all around on a Rogers B&B kit, and I haven't had any QC issues. They claim they're chemically treated to be more stable, and they only really seem to need tweaking when the seasons change. I have a Kent 13"/22" that has it's original calf, and they require a little more finessing.

And while Kentville heads are on the pricey side, kangaroo leather is incredibly tough stuff. Lots of high-end motorcycle riding gear uses it.
 

multijd

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I like the sound of real calf heads, and have them installed on a few drums (sometimes just the bass drum on a kit). They work fine in a static environment, but I haven't tried gigging with them for some of the reasons stated in the OP concerning changes in environment and inconsistent sound.

Years ago, before I was interested in vintage drums, I remember talking to someone who played a traditional bodhran with an un-tunable calf head. He explained that he took a small spray bottle of water with him, along with a hair dryer, and that would allow him to adjust the head up or down depending on what the drum sounded like at a particular gig. I get the water, but most people playing a kit aren't worried about expanding the head. I'm curious to know if anyone who has gigged with calf heads has used a hair dryer, and if there are any tricks, suggestions, or cautions about how it should be used (such as the level of heat used, etc). It seems like a hair dryer could help tighten up a head effectively, but I've never tried it.
With orchestral skin headed tambourines and some frame drums peopl use electric heating pads. That,s probably more convenient and certainly less noisy than a hair dryer.
 

Ptrick

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Anyone ever tried the light bulbs in the drum? I’ve only seen pictures on old kits.
 

bellbrass

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Anyone ever tried the light bulbs in the drum? I’ve only seen pictures on old kits.
The first "real" drum kit I ever had, an early 60's Ludwig Black Diamond Pearl, had a burn hole through the wrap on one tom where a previous owner had a light bulb next to it to heat the top head.
 

Prufrock

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With orchestral skin headed tambourines and some frame drums peopl use electric heating pads. That,s probably more convenient and certainly less noisy than a hair dryer.

A heating pad certainly makes sense in terms of convenience and noise. A hair dryer might work more quickly, though, due to the air along with the heat. To be fair, I never saw the person who told me about the hair dryer trick use it on stage, although I did see him spritz his bodhran head with water once or twice and rub the water into the head.
 

Prufrock

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Anyone ever tried the light bulbs in the drum? I’ve only seen pictures on old kits.

I forgot about the light bulbs! They certainly look cool. It seems like they were mostly on bass drums, but if they were to help keep the skins tighter, wouldn't they have been needed in the toms, too? Was that ever common?
 

zenstat

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I've heard Kentville's kangaroo skin heads are more durable than calfskin, and are less impacted by changes in temperature/humidity. I'm trying to save up to get a few of those heads for my vintage Rogers kit.

Stern make great traditional heads, too, you can't go wrong with them. Avoid Earthtone. They're cheap and their quality control is absolutely horrendous. Just check out their reviews on Amazon and you'll want to steer clear of them.
I've had the same Earthtone heads on my 18" Ludwig Jazzette bass since November 2003. But that's anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence doesn't allow us to make inferences about longevity and durability with any scientific rigor. There are too many uncontrolled variables including the experience of any one user with other heads, variation in weather, level of tensioning, style of playing, etc. Then there is the whole question of whether Amazon reviews (or any social media) gives a representative sample of people's experiences.

The advantage which is mentioned for Stern heads is that they are tucked onto hoops, thus they can be retucked if needed. This includes occasionally reusing a larger diameter head which has torn near the edge to be reused on a smaller diameter drum. The same would be true for any heads which are tucked rather than supplied with a pre formed collar and fixed into a hoop. I've got 4 heads sitting in my drum room salvaged from larger torn ones which are waiting for me to reused them. Since I'm lazy about reusing them I can see that the cost advantage Stern talk about (retucking and reuse for a smaller diameter) isn't a happening thing for me at the moment. Maybe some day...

I've heard that the Kentville heads have more bounce because they are kangaroo.


But I haven't tested any in person and I don't know of any lab testing independent of the manufacturer. And that's the issue with testimonials and "I've heard".

Disclaimer: I'm not saying kangaroo heads are less durable or more durable than other animal species. I'm not saying that kangaroo heads are less impacted by changes in temperature/humidity than other animal species. I'm saying I don't know on the evidence provided. Anybody have proper evidence?
 

multijd

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I have Earthtone batters all around on a Rogers B&B kit, and I haven't had any QC issues. They claim they're chemically treated to be more stable, and they only really seem to need tweaking when the seasons change. I have a Kent 13"/22" that has it's original calf, and they require a little more finessing.

And while Kentville heads are on the pricey side, kangaroo leather is incredibly tough stuff. Lots of high-end motorcycle riding gear uses it.
They all seem to be expensive but that is good to know that they are durable. Thanks.
 

multijd

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I've had the same Earthtone heads on my 18" Ludwig Jazzette bass since November 2003. But that's anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence doesn't allow us to make inferences about longevity and durability with any scientific rigor. There are too many uncontrolled variables including the experience of any one user with other heads, variation in weather, level of tensioning, style of playing, etc. Then there is the whole question of whether Amazon reviews (or any social media) gives a representative sample of people's experiences.

The advantage which is mentioned for Stern heads is that they are tucked onto hoops, thus they can be retucked if needed. This includes occasionally reusing a larger diameter head which has torn near the edge to be reused on a smaller diameter drum. The same would be true for any heads which are tucked rather than supplied with a pre formed collar and fixed into a hoop. I've got 4 heads sitting in my drum room salvaged from larger torn ones which are waiting for me to reused them. Since I'm lazy about reusing them I can see that the cost advantage Stern talk about (retucking and reuse for a smaller diameter) isn't a happening thing for me at the moment. Maybe some day...

I've heard that the Kentville heads have more bounce because they are kangaroo.


But I haven't tested any in person and I don't know of any lab testing independent of the manufacturer. And that's the issue with testimonials and "I've heard".

Disclaimer: I'm not saying kangaroo heads are less durable or more durable than other animal species. I'm not saying that kangaroo heads are less impacted by changes in temperature/humidity than other animal species. I'm saying I don't know on the evidence provided. Anybody have proper evidence?
Steve,
As always your analytical mind really brings these questions into a focused reality. I wonder how we might test durability as I can imagine that different playing styles and climate conditions would be uncontrolled. Also I wonder if the drums themselves, rounded as opposed to sharper bearing edges and different types of hoops would affect the putcome also.

I dont think any of my regular gigging drums were originally outfitted with calf although my round badge gretsch (60’s) probably has a similar profile to drums that were calf equipped at the factory.
John
 


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