BY JON COHEN
If you like to wax poetic about drum gear, the new Renaissance heads from Remo will give you plenty to talk about. They feature an exclusive new coating, touted by Remo as “increasing the head’s durability while providing a superior playing surface for sticks, brushes, multi-rods, and mallets.” They also claim the heads will give a “more full-bodied sound to all types of snare drums, tom-toms, bass drums, and timpani.”
I had heard about the Renaissance heads from drummers who had seen them at trade shows and were duly impressed. I generally use about three kits for the different types of gigs I do, so I requested an assortment of sizes for this review. I tried the heads in a few settings and musical situations to see how they measured up to what I normally use.
I have a weekly gig at a Boston area club where I use vintage drums with calfskin heads to accompany the older style electrified blues music the band plays. I love the round warm tones and rubbery stick response that calfskin heads offer, especially when using brushes or mallets, but the heads can be difficult to deal with. A high amount of humidity in the air can wreak havoc on a calf head by causing it to go slack and lose its tension. This can happen in the middle of a gig, as a crowded room fills up with sweaty, beer imbibing patrons, and believe me, it’s no picnic trying to tweak the drums into tune every three minutes. Conversely, if you walk into an air conditioned or dry room from a more humid environment, the heads can tighten quickly and choke the drum. (Plus, if you play in a band with a vegan, it’s kind of hard to explain why you need to use veal to get a good drum sound.) It took me a long time to get used to the “cow,” but I found that the skin heads sounded more authentic than most plastic ones for the type of music I was playing with this band.
I threw a Renaissance Ambassador head on my snare drum and 13″ tom-tom and an Emperor on the 22″ bass drum. The snare drum sounded great right off the bat. Not quite as warm as the calfskin, but pretty darn close. The surprise was that the head gave the drum a really meaty tone, muting the high fundamentals just a smidgen, but keeping all the sensitivity and response of a regular coated head. Brush work on the snare drum was a pleasure. The coating is not as rough as a white coated head, so wire brushes glide with greater ease over the surface and don’t sound as brittle or sharp. Although, as I mentioned, there was a slight cut in the higher tones, the mids and the lows were really pleasing. I used this same head on a couple of snare drums of different depths, and the coating held up very nicely. The Diplomat – the thinnest of the Renaissance line – worked well with a wood shell WFL snare, giving a focused crisp attack to the drum. A friend of mine used a Renaissance Emperor on a custom brass shell snare drum and was surprised at how good it sounded.
The vintage Ludwig & Ludwig tom-tom sounded even better than the snare. While I was used to the calfskin on this particular tom, there was no loss of tonal quality at all with the Renaissance head. The rebound was about the same as the calf, but the drum projected better and with more clarity. One night I kept calfskin on the bottom, which sounded really warm and pleasingly thumpy. Another night I used a clear Ambassador for the bottom head and enjoyed a more focused sound. I used soft mallets on a couple of tunes for a kind of jungle beat effect, and that really sold me on the Renaissance head. When I tried the heavier-plied Emperor on the tom, it lost a bit of sensitivity, but still maintained a great resonance. Remo has made attempts at replicating calfskin before, but I definitely prefer the Renaissance to the FiberSkyn 3 because it is much more versatile and responsive.
The Renaissance Ambassador head on the 22″ kick drum took me a little while to tune properly. When it was slack, it had a wet sound that didn’t project well and was rather toneless. The tighter I tensioned it, the rounder the tone became, but I still found it rather thin. As I learned later, my preference on the bass drum runs towards the Emperor weight, probably because of its thicker sound.
A couple weeks later, I went into the studio to record four tracks for a country band I work with occasionally. I used the Renaissance heads on all the drums, except for the floor tom – a 16″ x 16″ 1940s Radio King – which had a Pinstripe on it at the producer’s request. While getting drum sounds the first day, the producer, engineer, and I experimented with different heads on my 20″ Eames kick drum, finally settling on a Pinstripe for a couple of songs and the Renaissance Emperor for two others. There was a small mike hole in the front black Ambassador head, and we used torn newspaper inside the drum for slight muffling. The producer didn’t like the Renaissance Ambassador on the batter side of the kick. In his words it was, “too thwappy.”
The snare drum – a 14″ x 5″ Galaxy Custom birch shell drum with brass rims and a Renaissance Ambassador – was a big success with the producer, who never even mentioned the word “muffling.” The heads do an excellent job of controlling the more troublesome overtones without muting the nice mids and lows or sacrificing sensitivity and snare response. I noticed a very slight loss of projection compared to the coated Aquarian or Ambassador heads I normally use on the snare, but there was an increase in richness that more than made up for it.
The Renaissance head on the Eames rack tom was exceptional and recorded beautifully. In the studio I usually default to Pinstripes on the toms, but I’m sold on the sound of the Renaissance heads – they offer more tone and clarity, but still have a warm quality that minimizes the need for studio muffling. In fact, I’d be happy to use the Renaissance heads for almost any project short of heavy metal, because they bring out the full resonance of the drums. I used them in rehearsal with my rock band and they were great until the volume was really high. The louder the music got, the more I had to work to get beef, especially out of the snare.
With white coated heads, especially on snare drums, the coating often wears away where the stick makes the most contact. There was no sign of this with any of the Renaissance heads. They’re translucent and have a tan, patinaed look that resembles a slunk head, the snare-side heads once made from the thin skin of unborn calves. They’re attractive, but I’m not sure they’ll be a hit with younger drummers, because they do have a sort of antique look. I found the heads to be versatile and well constructed. The coating was resilient and durable and overall the heads were a real pleasure to play.
Remo is pitching the Renaissance coating as one of the most important advances since the development of the plastic head. The membrane is basically the same Mylar used on Remo’s other lines. A Remo spokesman told me that the potential for the material was unlimited and hinted at the possibility of a Powerstroke Renaissance head, among other things. Now if they could only shine my cymbals.
Model: Remo Renaissance Drumheads.
Thicknesses: Diplomat (thin), Ambassador (medium), and Emperor (heavy).
Sizes & Prices: Snare Batter Heads: 10″, $20.75; 12″, $23; 13″, 23.50; 14″, $24.50; 15″, $26. Snare Side Heads: 10″, $16; 12″, $17.50; 13″, $19; 14″, $19.75; 15″, $20.50 (snare side heads are also available in 16″ and 17″ sizes by special order). Tom Heads: 6″, $18.50; 8″, $19; 10″, $20.75; 12″, $23; 13″, $23.50; 14″, $24.50; 15″, $26; 16″, $27.25; 18″, $33; 20″, $37.50. Bass Drum Heads: 18″, $47.50; 20″, $49; 22, $51.75″; 24″, $54.50; 26″, $62; 28″, $66.50; 30″, $70.75; 32″, $78.50; 36″, $97.50; 40″, $115.