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

JimmySticks

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It sounds so much cooler to say you own a prehistoric, 50 year aged, East Tibetan smoked hardwood/softwood/knotwood, bourbon soaked, wine enfuzed, lagoon sunk, hand tenderized, marinated, moisturized balsa/plywood/luan /northern tulip shell, than say...a maple.

But in the end, you're all going to use moon gels to dampen the resonance you paid dearly for.

It all makes little difference to the paying audience.
 

Tornado

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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

Well, NEED'S got nothing to do with it. :)

But it is nice to have different options for different kinds of music, rooms, volumes, etc.

I think live is where you really hear it, especially the difference in volume and projection. The difference between say a Mahogany kit and Yamaha Oak Customs is massive in the room.
 

hsosdrum

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1) Heads
2) Tie — Type of bearing edges/Tuning
4) Shell material & thickness
5) Type of rims
6) Type of stand or mounting system

Drum companies talk about shells because that's what they make. The reality is that a fiberglass drum and a wood ply drum of the same size fitted with identical heads and tuned identically will sound virtually identical. Change the heads on one of the drums to a different type and the drums will sound very different even when tuned the same. We performed this experiment at Valley Drum Shop back in the late 1980s with a Blaemire 9x13 tom and a Gretsch 9x13 tom. The heads matter way more than the shells.
 
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ThomasL

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It sounds so much cooler to say you own a prehistoric, 50 year aged, East Tibetan smoked hardwood/softwood/knotwood, bourbon soaked, wine enfuzed, lagoon sunk, hand tenderized, marinated, moisturized balsa/plywood/luan /northern tulip shell, than say...a maple.

But in the end, you're all going to use moon gels to dampen the resonance you paid dearly for.

It all makes little difference to the paying audience.
You gear is 75% about inspiring you to play the best you can, 20% for the rest of the band, and 5% for the audience (that one drummer who paid attention to the drum sound).
 

Seb77

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That's the great thing about musical instruments, you can get affordable ones that do basically the same as expensive ones. Guitar, piano, drums etc. The sonic differences can seem small in comparison to the price difference.
With audio, small differences in different areas add up. You decide how important each component is. When you are starting out, playing and tuning skills makes much more of a difference than getting another drum. Once you have that down, you might notice the drums you have lack something. With shells the "problem" is that the basic character will always be there, and at some point you might have tried different heads, tuning, hoops, and the drums still leave something to be desired. Might be time to move on to different shells then.
 

fusseltier

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poplar, maple, mahogany, walnut, birch, etc, all have different characteristics and some are better for specific shell sizes, like the pearl reference does, and then some use several different types of wood in their plys.
warmth, depth, resonance etc.
 

Monday317

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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?
Shell thickness and depth are your main factor. Shell material matters at the throne, but any audience won’t hear it. Unless you record close miked, you lose a lot of timbre through an A/V system as well.

Like jazz, if it sounds good (to you) it is good.
 

JazzDrumGuy

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It's just the shell material, the shell makeup, the bearing edges, heads, tuning, stick, and the player!
 

Old Drummer

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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.
Interesting that you mention Imperial Star. I briefly owned a set that I thought sounded really good. Ever since I've wondered why they're looked down on. They're probably a good example of drums made well from low grade material.
 

pwc1141

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As has been suggested above, shell thickness and depth are all. A deep block/stave/solid wood shell has a lot more focus in my opinion and with shell vibrations at a minimum, air gets directed down to snare head and thus snare wires more efficiently for better response. Well .... that's what I understand is happening.
 

shilohjim

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With thinner shells the wood might make a difference. But with shells over 6mm, I don't think there is any difference at all. I own two identical Pearl Session kits-one maple, one birch, in the same sizes. With the same heads, they sound exactly the same.
 
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HoorayGuy

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I sure as hell can't tell a difference. lol Especially the way most young rockers tune their drums so low. Your drums are gonna be mic'd most the time anyway. Just make them sound however you want.?
 

squidart

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I think this does cover most of it. Another factor I've not seen discussed (but probably has been) is vented vs non-vented shells. Older Gretsch and Slingerland non-vented shells certainly feel different when playing but I wonder how much that contributes to the staccato "bark" associated with that era of manufacture. Does it play into shell resonance or just head response?
 

hawker

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I have no doubt that some of us can hear a difference with our own drums. And I think in an audience full of drummers some could hear some differences (not sure how that experiment would work on a real gig?). But in a stadium, concert hall or small club...none of your regular audience can hear any difference. I've played in bands with all new drums and/or all new cymbals and shoot....even most of them didn't know until I told them.

I think the heads and tuning mean waaay more than shell composition. Of course White Marine Pearl always sounds best in a Big Band. :)
 

Jhouse86

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Interesting that you mention Imperial Star. I briefly owned a set that I thought sounded really good. Ever since I've wondered why they're looked down on. They're probably a good example of drums made well from low grade material.
I agree 100%. They're fantastic drums, not only for the price point. Imperial star's punch way above their weight class in regards of quality for $$.
 

drummer

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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.
Unfortunately they took on the character of the Liberty Bell and cracked.
 


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