How much does the shell material and construction contribute to a drum's sound?

Old Drummer

Very well Known Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2019
Messages
849
Reaction score
790
Drums are made out of a lot of different woods in different combinations and thicknesses, plus are sometimes made out of materials other than wood (acrylic, aluminum, etc.). If we assume decently made drums without pronounced flaws, what percentage of a drum's sound do you think can be attributed to the shell?

For this question, I'd like to exclude the player, the room, and the sound engineer as factors contributing to a drum's sound. Obviously, the drummer makes a huge difference in how a drum sounds, as also do the acoustics of the room where it's played and anymore how the drum is run through a sound system. Let's therefore exclude these factors in order to focus on the drum itself. Let's also assume that the drum is played with sticks so we don't get sidetracked by considering brushes or other alternatives.

Left, I think, are the heads, tuning, shells, rims, mounting system, angle of bearing edges, and probably a few other things I'm overlooking.

Although I don't want to answer my own question, I strongly suspect that heads and tuning contribute at least 90% to the sound of a drum. If true, this leaves only about 10% of a drum's sound to be apportioned among all the other factors, including the shell material and construction. It's hard for me to believe that the shell makes much of a difference.

Yet, I believe that I can sometimes hear a difference between shells. My ears are nowhere near keen enough to hear the difference, say, between a Jasper and a Keller shell, which one forum member claims to be able to hear, but I think I can generally hear the difference between a wood and metal snare as well as between mahogany and maple toms. Don't test me on either, and I'm sure I could be fooled, but in an apples-to-apples side-by-side comparison, I'm pretty sure that I'd do better than chance picking the shell type. Though, the fact that I could be fooled and would need a side-by-side comparison makes me think that the shells aren't very important.

What do the rest of you think? Manufacturers and others emphasize the importance of shells a lot. How important are they really?
 
Joined
Aug 31, 2021
Messages
15
Reaction score
11
Location
Portland, OR
The old three-ply shells *seem* warmer and more resonant to my ears than modern (and presumably more rigid) six- or seven-ply shells. Who knows if that’s just my imagination though?

Old recordings of people playing those drums certainly sound good, though.
 

Tornado

DFO Master
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Sep 6, 2017
Messages
3,840
Reaction score
4,595
Location
Dallas
Shell material (wood species) and construction (edges, thickness, etc.) are two independent factors. I think construction factors outweigh shell material. I think hardware like what kind of hoops (cast, triple flanged, etc) outweigh shell material. But obviously it does make a difference. Harder shells project better. I think a lot of that gets lost in recordings because you have complete control of the volume. Live and sitting behind the kit, i think you hear more. The other factor is quality of materials and build. Quality makes a difference and makes getting a good sound easier. So yes, I think that shell material gets way over hyped, but it isn't unimportant.
 

bellbrass

DFO Star
Gold Supporting Member
Joined
Aug 11, 2005
Messages
7,742
Reaction score
1,887
Location
Bluegrass of Kentucky
I think the shell material and construction are everything in a drum's sound. However, head selection & tuning also factor heavily.
 

Jhouse86

Active Member
Joined
Dec 29, 2020
Messages
29
Reaction score
50
Location
Canada
I agree with Tornado. I think the construction would be the main focus on the sound a drum. Put any head or any hardware you want on a poorly constructed shell of any material it will ruin your day. I think the builder/ company's methods makes the biggest difference in sound. Yamaha stage customs, sonor aq1/force, tama imperial star just to name a few, are great examples of "cheaper" materials used, with tremendous quality control and assurance, resulting in incredible sounding drums. If you want to test this theory, give me a day alone at the DW factory, I'll show you how to turn a high quality piece of wood of any kind and top off the line hardware into a horrible sounding drum. But, give John Good a piece of plywood from home depot and it'll probably be featured on Thomas Langs drum kit by the end of the week.
 

BennyK

DFO Star
Platinum Supporting Member
Joined
Aug 6, 2008
Messages
16,150
Reaction score
3,586
roto toms with the right heads can sound pretty good , so I'll say that the consistency of edges and roundness are generally decisive . The shell dimension and construction will shape , contain,project or enhance , either adding or subtracting from it .
 
Last edited:

Matched Gripper

DFO Veteran
Joined
May 28, 2019
Messages
2,761
Reaction score
2,515
Drums are made out of a lot of different woods in different combinations and thicknesses, plus are sometimes made out of materials other than wood (acrylic, aluminum, etc.). If we assume decently made drums without pronounced flaws, what percentage of a drum's sound do you think can be attributed to the shell?

For this question, I'd like to exclude the player, the room, and the sound engineer as factors contributing to a drum's sound. Obviously, the drummer makes a huge difference in how a drum sounds, as also do the acoustics of the room where it's played and anymore how the drum is run through a sound system. Let's therefore exclude these factors in order to focus on the drum itself. Let's also assume that the drum is played with sticks so we don't get sidetracked by considering brushes or other alternatives.

Left, I think, are the heads, tuning, shells, rims, mounting system, angle of bearing edges, and probably a few other things I'm overlooking.

Although I don't want to answer my own question, I strongly suspect that heads and tuning contribute at least 90% to the sound of a drum. If true, this leaves only about 10% of a drum's sound to be apportioned among all the other factors, including the shell material and construction. It's hard for me to believe that the shell makes much of a difference.

Yet, I believe that I can sometimes hear a difference between shells. My ears are nowhere near keen enough to hear the difference, say, between a Jasper and a Keller shell, which one forum member claims to be able to hear, but I think I can generally hear the difference between a wood and metal snare as well as between mahogany and maple toms. Don't test me on either, and I'm sure I could be fooled, but in an apples-to-apples side-by-side comparison, I'm pretty sure that I'd do better than chance picking the shell type. Though, the fact that I could be fooled and would need a side-by-side comparison makes me think that the shells aren't very important.

What do the rest of you think? Manufacturers and others emphasize the importance of shells a lot. How important are they really?
IMO, the shell material has less effect on the sound of a drum than the design of the shell and edges, and drumhead selection.
 

Dave HCV

Very well Known Member
Joined
Feb 2, 2011
Messages
1,203
Reaction score
366
Location
Houston
I listened to this video with two different speaker setups (the speakers internal to my MacBook Pro and an external set) and could not perceive any differences. Perhaps someone with younger ears could tell the difference, but I conclude from this video that any differences there are among wood species are trivial compared to other effects. Likely that extreme differences in shells, such as the difference between any species of wood and carbon fiber, would provide a noticeable effect.

My personal experience using different types of heads on my Ludwig Classic Maple toms over the years shows that head selection is unquestionably significant.
 

Swissward Flamtacles

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 19, 2020
Messages
188
Reaction score
212
I listened to this video with two different speaker setups (the speakers internal to my MacBook Pro and an external set) and could not perceive any differences.
Yeah, the first time I saw that, I just used the laptop speakers and didn't hear a whole lot of difference. Headphones did reveal some differences between the shells, but you might get as much of a difference by just swapping an Ambassador for a G1. Anyway, I'm kind of glad, that the difference isn't life-altering. Imagine really NEEDING a different set for different styles and venues. :D
 

jptrickster

DFO Star
Gold Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 8, 2006
Messages
10,670
Reaction score
4,748
Location
Fairfield County
Legendary drum builder/innovator/inventor Joe Thompson designed the hollow drawn brass B&B lugs to simulate a mini sound chambers to be bell like, as it were, adding to the overall sound characteristics of the 50's early 60's Rogers drums. Dig that.
 


Top