Get the Right Timpani Head: We’ll Show You How

There are basically two manufacturers of synthetic timpani head; Remo and Evans. Both companies produce fine products that will fit any timpani out there because they come in all sizes. Determining what size head you need is the most important step and there are a couple of resources that will ensure you buy the right heads for your drums.

If you’re lucky enough that the size label is still attached to your timpani head then you can simply order the exact same model from the company, but often times this isn’t possible. The two main timpani head manufacturers, Remo and Evans have useful charts that tell you what size you need for many different sizes and brands of drums.

If for some reason you don’t see your drum on the chart and you can’t locate the label then you must use a tape measure to see the measurement of the inside of the counter hoop.

Here is a useful guide that will help you if you need to measure your timpani for correct head choice.

Timpani Head Size Guide

When purchasing a replacement head for your 23″ timpano, singular for timpani, logic would indicate you need a 23″ head, right? Timpani, unlike a Snare Drum or Concert Tom, use a different method to determine the size head that is needed for any particular drum. Timpani heads actually extend beyond the edge of the bowl, thus needing a larger diameter head than the actual size of the drum itself.

According to Steve Weiss Music, the crucial piece of information needed to determine the proper head needed is how far the head extends beyond the bowl. Please check the Evans Timpani Head Chart (click for PDF) or the Remo Timpani Head Chart (click for PDF) first to see if your timpani model is included.

If there appears to be little to no space between the lip of the bowl (also known as the bearing edge) and the counter hoop ( or rim), then you have what is commonly referred to as a drum with a regular collar (See diagram 1). These drums are generally made before 1978 and include older Ludwig, Slingerland or Leedy drums. Determining the actual size of the drum itself can be tricky. Before 1978, manufacturers such as Ludwig made drums in many different sizes. (i.e. 20″, 23″, 25″, 26″, 27″, 28″, 29″, 30″) A good rule of thumb for pre-1978 drums is to add 1″ to the drum size to obtain the actual head size that is needed. The exception is for older 23″ drums. These drums need a 24 1/4″ head.
timpani heads regular collar diagram 1

If your drums were made after 1978, manufacturers began to standardize sizes and your method of determining correct head sizes is much easier. You will notice that there appears to be a 1″-2″ space between the lip of the bowl and the counter hoop (See diagram 2). This is what is commonly referred to as an extended collar. This means you will add 2″ on to the size of the drums. After 1978 the manufacturers standardized most of their drum sizes to 20″, 23″, 26″, 29″, and 32″. This means you will buy heads that are 22″, 25″, 28″, 31″, and 34″ respectively. The exceptions to this rule are the top of the line drums such as Adams Philharmonic, Walter Lights or the Yamaha 9000 series drums. While Premier drums are also exceptions to the rule, in general, post 1978 Ludwig, Yamaha, or Adams, the 2″ rule will apply.
timpani heads extended collar diagram 2

In the end, the best way to determine the correct size head you need is to take the head off the drum and measure the outside diameter of the head. Outside diameter means from one side of the metal ring to the other. You will hear all sorts of tricks that allow you to find the head size without taking the head off of the drum. The most common being measure across the top of the drum and subtract 1/2″. Due to the fact that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, we do not recommend this method for purchasing the correct head needed.

Once you have purchased the correct heads for your drums, write the model number and size on each head with a permanent marker (just big enough to see but not so big that parents see it from the back row of the Auditorium) so next time you need timpani heads for that set of drums, the process of ordering will be effortless.

evans timpani head chart

Download the full Evans Timpani Head Chart as a PDF

Remo Timpani Head Chart image

Download the full Remo Timpani Head Chart as a PDF

Technology on your iPhone can help you find the right timpani head

There is a great iPhone app available for free at the App Store called TimpHeads. You simply choose the drum that you want the head for from the listing on the app and it will tell you what size of head will fit. It even provides a few phone numbers of online retailers who will be glad to take your order for Remo and Evans products.

What Timpani head should you pick?

Picking the size of the head is one thing, but then you need to decide between different models of head. There are two main classifications of synthetic head; treated and untreated. The treated heads like the Remo Renaissance and the Evans Strata series are meant to simulate the texture of real calf skin and to have similar acoustic properties of real skin heads. The sound that they produce is considered to be darker in quality with fewer overtones than the untreated and preferred by many timpanists who are looking for a warm tone with less ring. The untreated heads tend to produce a brighter tone, and are very clear sounding and they are preferred by timpani players who are looking for a very bright sound with more overtones. The treated heads are a little more expensive so if you’re on a tight budget you might want to take that into consideration, too.

I personally like the Remo Renaissance timpani heads best of all. The Renaissance treatment has a nice feel to it both to the touch and with my mallets and I’ve always had good results when it comes to mounting and tuning the heads. The Evans coated or treated heads called Strata sound very good and feel great, but my experience with them is that they have durability issues.

I shared my thoughts with the Remo corporation about their different timpani heads and I was pleased to receive this response;
Remo Renaissance® timpani heads are not “coated” in the traditional sense. Rather, Renaissance® is a patented treatment which involves disturbing the surface of the polyester film and then impregnating the resulting surface imperfections with a proprietary epoxy resin. The Renaissance® “treatment” is employed to minimize overtones, thus, more closely resembling the fundamental focus of animal skin. The disruption of the film surface tension also affects the mallet response when the head is struck. The sound differences, achieved through treating the head with the Renaissance® process, are clearly evident when viewing the 3D Wave Frequency Analysis of the respective films.

There are significant physical differences between Clear and Hazy film, which are each unique chemical polymers. Clear film sustains longer and projects farther than Hazy film, while Hazy film is slightly stronger and has a brighter fundamental with a more focused tone.
The three types of Remo insert rings also affect the sustain, definition and projection of the timpani.
When combined with the Renaissance® treatment, each type of film produces distinct tonal qualities which are often best perceived from a distance, rather than from the player’s perspective directly above and behind the instrument. This explains why leading timpani manufacturers choose different combinations of Remo timpani heads for their respective instruments. Yamaha chooses Remo Clear Renaissance® with aluminum insert rings. Adams chooses Hazy Renaissance® with aluminum insert rings, and Ludwig offer Hazy Renaissance® with high steel insert rings as an option of their timpani. These choices were determined in recording studios and concert halls based exclusively on their sound, not their aesthetics.

I have always liked the Remo Renaissance heads, but never really understood the intended differences between all of the products that they offer. I appreciated hearing from Bruce Jacoby, Education Manager, Remo Inc. who provided this valuable information which I will utilize when shopping for new heads for my drums.

What about calf skin?

There is another choice when it comes to timpani head choice and that is authentic calf skin. Of course many years ago synthetic timpani heads didn’t exist so you had to use genuine calf. The problem with calf is that the skin is very temperamental and susceptible to changes in the humidity and temperature. Unless your drums are to remain in one climate controlled place all the time the problems that you will face make the use of calf skins impractical. Also, your drums must have a fine tuning mechanism and be of a Dresden design with locking pedals. Balanced action timpani that do not have pedal locks really can’t be used with calf skin or goat skin heads very well if at all. There are many major symphony orchestra timpanists who have gone back to using calf on their drums, but their timpani are always in the same place and they are Dresden type drums with locking pedals. The other factor is that calf skin timpani heads are very expensive. They are about 10 times the cost of synthetic heads and they don’t last as long. So, if you have the financial means to spend $3000-4000 on timpani heads and you can leave your drums in one place pretty much all the time then calf is the way to go, but for most players calf heads are just too impractical and expensive.

Some Players use Goat Skins

Goat skin timpani heads are popular among certain European timpanists, and while their use is representative of a storied tradition the use of goat for timpani playing is limited among players.

What’s the most common Timpani Head choice out there?

In a recent Facebook poll 186 timpanists expressed their preferences concerning what timpani heads they preferred to play upon. It’s important to note that among those polled were players with a variety of backgrounds from all over North America, Europe and Asia. There were timpanists with major symphony orchestras, freelance players and students who participated in the poll and of the 186 responders to the poll 135 of them use synthetic timpani heads made by either Remo or Evans with 44 players using calf skin heads and 7 players using goat skins for their timpani.

Of the synthetic heads available on the market the Remo Renaissance products were the most popular with preferences for the Hazy Renaissance heads (72 players) over the Clear Renaissance skins (24 players use these). Evans timpani heads weren’t as popular with only 16 respondents using them. There are a few more models and brands that need to be mentioned and of the 186 timpanists who responded to the poll 7 timpanists use either Remo Custom, Remo Custom Hazy as well as Remo Custom and Remo Clear. One timpanist from Asia uses timpani heads from Asapura.

We Took a Facebook Poll:

What Timpani Heads Do Percussionists Like the Most?

Remo Renaissance Hazy 72
Calf 44
Remo Renaissance Clear 24
Evans Orchestral 16
Evans Strata 10
Goat 7
Remo Custom Hazy 4
Ludwig Clear 5
Remo Custom Clear 1
Remo Clear 1
Remo Hazy 1

Poll taken between September 28 and November 4, 2014 on Timpani Shop Talk which is a private Facebook group with 2405 total members.

It’s clear that the large majority of players use synthetic heads for their drums and it’s important to understand that of the 44 players who use calf skin timpani heads most of those timpanists are with major symphony orchestras who purchase the timpani heads for the player.

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Comments

  1. Francois Aubin says:

    Hello Andrew,

    Wow, what a great job you do on sharing all this precious information about percussion! I just discovered your site and I’m impressed with the accuracy and quality of information that you share so generously!

    I’m changing from Evans Strata timpani heads to Remo Renaissance and needed some info about the difference between the clear and hazy Renaissance film. I found the info! Thanks!

    If I may add a little comment about requirements for calf heads, I would mention that it’s also important that the timpani have a fine tuner handle to adjust to the constant variation of the pitch.

    Thank’s again Andrew and keep on the Great job you’re doing!

    Francois

    • Francois,
      Thanks for your comments! And thanks for pointing out the fact that calf and goat heads require timpani with fine tuners as well as locking or Dresden pedals. That’s an important thing that I forgot to mention, but I’ve already made the edit to the post.
      I’m glad you found the info that you were looking for.
      Andrew

  2. Hi Andrew,
    did you find any information on film thicknesses of the various heads? I searched over and over and could not find anything. Are the heads graded – smaller diameters thinner and larger ones thicker? Are there thinner models than others?
    Thanks for the infos
    Titus

    • Titus
      I haven’t heard or read anything about thickness differences and in my experience I would say that there isn’t any difference between the larger and small drums as far as thickness of the men rain is concerned. Probably not a bad idea though.
      Thanks for writing
      Andrew

  3. Andrew,

    I am about to replace the heads for my Adams Professional Smooth Copper Timpani (circa 2009). I am going to buy Remo Renaissance Hazy heads, but I’m not sure about the difference between the aluminum and low profile steel inserts. I’ve gotten two different answers. Can you provide some insight?

    • Hi Tony,
      Unfortunately, it is unclear to me what the exact differences are concerning sound between the aluminum and steel insert rings on the Remo Renaissance product line.
      The Remo representative offered this;
      When combined with the Renaissance® treatment, each type of film produces distinct tonal qualities which are often best perceived from a distance, rather than from the player’s perspective directly above and behind the instrument. This explains why leading timpani manufacturers choose different combinations of Remo timpani heads for their respective instruments. Yamaha chooses Remo Clear Renaissance® with aluminum insert rings. Adams chooses Hazy Renaissance® with aluminum insert rings, and Ludwig offer Hazy Renaissance® with high steel insert rings as an option of their timpani. These choices were determined in recording studios and concert halls based exclusively on their sound, not their aesthetics.

      So, according to this, Adams determined that the aluminum insert rings with Renaissance Hazy sounded best on their instruments because of the sustain properties when compared to their other choices.

      The Remo rep went on to say the head, insert ring combination is entirely up to the player’s preference. I have Yamaha 6000 drums and have used both the aluminum and the steel versions and I’ve used clear and hazy, but honestly I cannot discern much of a difference other than aesthetic. I think that some players choose the steel insert rings because they imagine that the steel is an upgraded choice to the aluminum, but having used both I really don’t hear the difference.
      I do like the Remo products much better than the Evan’s Strata series, though.
      I’m sorry that I can’t answer your question any better than this, but thanks again for writing.

  4. Hi Andrew,

    Very interesting info, especially the characterization of the different types of heads. I haven’t seen such specific information elsewhere.

    Having followed your guide to getting the right heads for a pair of old Ludwig Universals I recently bought, I was brought up short when the new head for the 28″ drum wouldn’t fit into the counterhoop. I had checked the sizes three different ways before ordering them (measuring the old head, checking the Remo chart, and adding 1″ to the bowl size) — and the new head for the 25″ drum fit fine. I’m guessing this means there’s a problem with the counterhoop of the 28” drum?

    How would I check the counterhoop to see if it is out of round or warped. And if it is, is that something that can be repaired, or does it mean replacing the counterhoop? If it needs replacing, where would I look for a part like that, since Ludwig doesn’t make 28″ drums anymore? And how would I check to see if the bowl is also out of round? And if it is, is it even worth repairing such a low-grade drum for such a major problem?

    Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

    Thanks.
    Robert

    • Robert,
      Sorry that you’re having trouble, but you’re not alone. Many people (including myself) have ordered the wrong head before. I’m surprised that measuring the old head didn’t work for you though. If the old head that fits and the new head are the same size then it should work.
      Roundness of the bowl and the counter hoop is important and you can simply measure the diameter at three or four different spots to determine how round things are. The bowl needs to be really round but I think the counter hoop can have up to a 1/4 inch acceptable tolerance.
      If the bowl is out of round it is not to difficult to fix. Simply lay the bowl on its side (do this on a carpeted surface) and press gently on the wide part of the bowl. Copper is soft and will bend relatively easily so be careful. The counter hoops are more difficult to bend because they are made from steel, but like I said if they are within a 1/4 or so of round you should be okay.
      If these are pre 1978 Ludwig drums or drum without an extended collar you need a head one inch larger than the diameter of the bowl. So a 28″ drum needs a 2900 head from Remo. What is the measurement of the counter hoop when you measure the inside of the outside edge? That’s your head dimension. Again if the old 2900 head fit and the new one doesn’t then you probably have a bent counter hoop, but you may be able to force the head into it by bending the counter hoop a little bit.
      Hope this helps and thanks for writing.
      Andrew

  5. This is a nice article and generally accurate. However, as an instrument tech for 30 years now and specifically a drummer/percussionist there seems to be a real issue with 23″ Ludwig Timpano and 24 1/4″ heads. I am wondering of the Remo and Evans head chart is error being repeated. Let me explain. I have had two of these drums (different schools) recently on two consecutive days with two different 24 1/4″ Remo renaissance heads. I have a feeling that Remo (don’t know about Evans) and their measurements are in error or machines out of calibration. I have had two Ludwig pre 78 Regular collar drums that will not allow the Remo 2404 head to fit in the counter hoop. I can get all but about 10 to 12″ of the head circumference into the counter hoop. Drums are round. (12 points measured) Hoops also measure round. (12 points measured) Heads seem to also be round, but just a shade over sized! I would say maybe 1/8″ over sized, but I would like to ask or suggest that a Remo 24″ or a 2400 head would be the one to go with. Honestly I have not had a lot if any schools previously installing this fine head on these kind of drums, but it would be nice if we could. The 32, 29, 26 all fit fine. Not so with the 23″. What do you think? Jim

    • That’s a good question.
      Take the counter hoop off and measure the inside diameter; that will be the head measurement you need. I would hesitate trying to guess which one you need just by your description, but measuring will ensure the best results. Do you have the old head? You can measure that of course.
      Good luck.

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