Tone Wood and Drum Shell Selection Guide


What details contribute to the final sound of a drum? 

There are numerous factors to consider when producing a drum with a particular sound or feel in mind. This subject is highly debated throughout the drumming community. There are so many different views, opinions and research out there. Most importantly of all, bare this in mind; "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see?

There are a few main factors that affect the overall sound that most of us drummers can probably agree on... 

  • Drum shell material
  • Bearing edges 
  • Drum head selection 

As a custom drum builder, I have spent hours researching and experimenting with a variety different factors that constitute to the overall sound and feel of a drum. These factors include the following;

  • Drum shell material
  • Bearing edges
  • Drum head selection
  • Drum shell thickness and diameter
  • Hoop design and material
  • Lug style 
  • Type of finish used

With snare drums being the centre point of our kits, the following information is mainly based around snare drums but can generally translate over to toms. 

Tone wood selection

The great thing about wood is the huge variety in terms of both sound and aesthetics. As a general rule of thumb (taking away all other factors), here are some examples and a brief description of what you can expect tonally and aesthetically;

  • Ash - Generally a very warm sounding tone wood. Boosts low end with warm mids. A white/yellow colour with a bold, dark and pronounced grain. With its deep pronounced grain, it makes for a fantastic tone wood for staining!
  • Beech - Quite a pronounced tone with strong highs and mids, with a good low-end punch. Fairly focused and sensitive. A pale creamy colour.
  • Black Walnut - Quite big sounding with equal amounts of highs, mids, and lows. Overall, a good all rounder.  A beautiful dark brown and lush timber. just a beautiful looking and sounding tone wood.
  • Bubinga - A very dense and heavy timber that results in an aggressive, focused and punchy sound. Good dark attack with a great projection. A rich dark reddish brown colour with lovely dark figured grain. 
  • Cherry - Warm and expressive with a good low end punch. Great tonal range and projects well. A pinkish/reddish brown colour. 
  • Mahogany - A fundamentally low tone with boosted mids. Good attack and sustain. Vibrant and resonant. A deep reddish brown colour. 
  • Oak - Dense, bright yet punchy tone. Slightly warm lows, quick decay. A light brown colour. 
  • Padauk - A lovely bright and punchy tone wood for drums, actually my personal favourite. Boosted highs, warm lows and punchy mids. A rich reddish/orange colour. 
  • Purple Heart - Great amount of attack and projection. Cutting highs and power lows. A deep purple colour, ageing to a more of a brown under heavy UV exposure. 
  • Wenge - Deep, low and rich tones but with a great high range attack. A very heavy and dense wood that surprisingly delivers lower and darker tones than expected. Fairly sensitive. A very dark and stripy colour with very interesting side grain. 
  • Zebrano - Sensitive, loud and bright. Alternating black and brown stripes. 

Bearing Edges

Another detail that is important but the outcome also relies heavily on the shell material, construction and the drum head selection is the style of the bearing edges. The general rule of thumb with bearing edges is; 

The more shell to head contact, the more "shell tone" will shine through overall (shell dependant) and the less shell to head contact and the sharper the bearing edge, the higher the overall tone, more pronounced overtones and more drum head tone. 

Drum Shell Construction

There are so many statements out there that say "it doesn't matter what wood you use and doesn't matter about the type of shell construction, it only matters about the bearing edges and the drum head selection".....

Well I will tell you now, yes bearing edges and heads are important but the idea that the bearing edges and heads are the only thing that matter is completely FALSE. BOTH the material and the type of shell construction play a HUGE part in the overall sound of a drum.

At Primas Custom Drums, we choose the two best drum shell construction types; Stave and Segmented. Why?? Let me tell you.. These two types of shell construction offer the stability, tonal qualities, versatility and accuracy that ply shells cannot compete with.

Both stave and segmented shells are cut using flat boards and carefully glued and then accurately machined round. This for a start, makes for a more stable configuration. Each segment or stave is not under any pressure and remain stable, unlike ply drums. 

Where does the tone come from?? From the wood. More wood = more wood tone. Unlike multi-ply drums, which are heavily made from glue, stave and segmented drums use just a fraction of the amount of glue that multi-ply drum shells are made from. This allows the natural tones of the wood to shine through, also allowing the wood the resonate more freely.

Another fantastic thing about stave and segmented drums is the versatility and the endless customisation. The options are endless!! You really can produce something truly unique. 

What to expect from Stave drum shells

Buckets of attack if you want it!! If you like loud, punchy and cutting drums, this shell type is for you. Stave drums by nature tend to have a fantastic attack, quick decay and overall, a short to reasonable sustain. Our stave drum shells are stable, accurate and beautifully finished. By selecting the right tone wood, bearing edges, shell thickness, hardware and finish we can really tailor beautiful drums to your own sound, feel and style. 

What to expect from segmented drum shells? 

In comparison to stave drum shells, segmented drum shells tend to have a more subtle attack with a longer decay and sustain. This is due to the orientation of the wood and the multiple layers. The way in which they resonate is different to that of stave drums. The use of multiple layers results in endless possibilities of tonal options and they just look, sound and feel incredible! 

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