Heads for Vintage Drums

When buying vintage drums, one of the main points to consider are drum heads. Many people ask if their favourite head preference will fit the drums and although some vintage drums are infamous for being problematic due to undersized and oversized shells (Premier, Gretsch) there’s no need to be put off; there’s  a really good selection by the main three brands to suit your playing style and sound.

Many prefer a coated white head top and bottom on their sets, for both the look and sound, and although Remo Coated Ambassadors are standard for many, the new Level 360 heads by Evans fit most vintage shells I’ve tried. These heads have a steeper collar allowing for a better fit and better bearing edge contact.

Vintage Gretsch drums pre-mid 70’s are famously stubborn with modern heads (as are some Slingerland and Ludwig), with their slightly oversized shells making it impossible for a heads to sit correctly. In this case, Aquarian offer an American vintage range with slightly oversized heads that fit such drums perfectly. Available in both a medium and thin, they are suitable for many styles with sticks or brushes, working well on snares too.

If you’re looking for that warm calf skin sound, then Remo Fibreskyns are great and have become really popular in recent years, especially on bass drums. A medium weight single ply head made with a poly-spun fiber, these heads offer the round tone suited to jazz and sound great with sticks or brushes.

With vintage Premier drums a common enquiry is ‘are my drums pre-international size’?

Hopefully I can clear up that question for you here. Premier made pre-international sized drums in a 20, 10, 12 and 16 (metric sized shells) on all sets pre-1967. All other Premier drum shells should be standard (international) sized, although there are exceptions (notably larger bass drums that were non-standard sized and fitted with calf heads).

Sometime between 1968 and the early 1970’s all Premier shells became international (standard), and you can generally tell by the badge and kit set up. Typically there were a backlog of pre-international shells in the factory which made it into kit set ups, so many kits between ’68 and ’73 have a mixture of international and pre international shells, some with the earlier 60’s badge and lugs, some with the 70’s. It’s not unusual to have a kit with an international size bass drum and pre international 12 and 16 toms and often with a mixture of badges. It’s worth noting that Pre international floor toms are always 10 lug, whilst the international shells were 8 lug. If in doubt, its best to measure the shell’s diameter with the head off:

10″ Diameter,9-5/8″ Actual Dia.
12″ Diameter, 11-7/8″ Actual Dia.
16″ Diameter, 16-5/16″ Actual Dia.
20″ Diameter, 19-5/8″ Actual Dia.

Remo are the only manufacturer of pre-international heads, but now produce quite a range; coated and clear Ambassador, Pinstripe and Fibreskyn are currently available. They will however make anything to order, in any size, so contact your dealer if you fancy something else or have an unusual size bass drum.

Other 1960’s English drums often require pre-international heads – Dallas (Carlton, President), Olympic, John Grey (Autocrat, Broadway) and some snare drums are slightly under or over 14”. Currently there are no heads available off the shelf for these snare drums, but as mentioned Remo will make heads to fit. It’s worth noting that both Boosey & Hawkes (Ajax, Edgeware, Stratford) and Beverley never did pre-international sized drums so standard heads will fit these drums.

We always have remo Pre international heads in stock and on order at Nick Hopkin Drums, as well as stocking Evans Level 360 and Aquarian American vintage. Drop us a line if you want to discuss specifics for your set.

Copyright Nick Hopkin 2015