With so many drumhead selections out there it can be a bit overwhelming choosing the right ones for your drums and you might be wondering which one is the best choice for you – clear or coated drumheads?
In addition to being clear or coated, drumheads can also be made from a single or double ply – and on top of that you can mix and match the drumheads across your kit and for each individual drum which creates even more options to choose from!
In this guide we’ll break down the pros and cons of clear vs coated heads and provide guidelines on which type is best suited for you.
Coated drumheads are basically clear drumheads with a textured coating applied to them by the manufacturer. This means that coated drumheads will always be slightly thicker than their clear counterparts and together with their added texture this results in the following:
Note that although a coated drumhead sounds more muted it will still sound different to a clear drumhead with a bit of muffling (e.g. some tape on it). This is because the coating is applied evenly across the whole of the drumhead whereas muffling is only be applied to the edge of the head.
You will often find that in the same drumhead range companies offer both the clear and coated versions. The clear drumhead will be identical to the coated head will of course be smooth and also slightly thinner (since no texturized coating is applied).
This difference changes the way the head vibrates, which in turn affects the following:
In addition to the finish of the drumhead the thickness will also determine the sound you can achieve. Generally heads will come in single ply (usually around 10mm) or double ply (usually 2 layers of 7mm, so 14mm overall).
The difference in thickness will affect the following:
Your drumhead selection will also depend on which drum we’re discussing, you might choose different heads for your snare, toms and bass drum – although it’s also perfectly OK to have the same type for all your drums.
For louder styles such as Rock or Metal, a good choice for the snare would be a double ply clear top head as these will have less sustain and more attack, and will ensure your backbeat can cut through the other instruments and still be heard clearly. Using thicker heads (double-ply) will also make your drumheads last for longer as you’ll be hitting them harder than you would for softer styles.
If you play softer styles thinner heads (single-ply) can be a good choice. You can go either clear or coated depending on your musical preference. The only time you would definitely need a coated head is if you plan to play with brushes (which is what we recommend in our guide to selecting a Jazz snare).
For toms you’ll almost always want to go with clear heads, unless you want a slightly more muted sound in which case you can opt for coated heads.
Coated heads for example can sound great in a Jazz setting where you might not want your toms to “overpower” other instruments.
Once again, if you’re playing heavier styles then go for a double ply head so that your drumheads last longer and have a stronger attack.
For kick drums you’ll generally want a double ply head, and you can go with either a clear or a coated head depending on your musical preference.
Since bass drums are lower in pitch (due to their size) the stronger attack provided by a clear head and the brighter tone can provide a good balance.
On the other hand if you are looking for a warmer but less brighter tone then a coated head will be a great choice as well.
For the resonant side of the drum (the bottom side of the drum that you don’t hit) the head selection will affect the sound and sustain the same way as your batter head choice will.
Coated heads will make the drum sound warmer while clear heads will sound brighter. Most drummers tend to go with a clear head for the resonant side however as coated heads will have less sustain and sound more muted.
It’s common to use single ply for the bottom heads, however double ply heads are a good choice if you want lower tones and less sustain.
If you’re buying drumheads for the first time then I recommend going with resonant clear heads for all your drums, and for a softer style like Jazz go with single ply at least on the snare and toms – once you have more experience and a clear idea of what sound you like you can experiment.
The great thing about drums is that there is no right or wrong. If you’re playing on drums using a different combination than described in this guide but you love the sound and it’s working for the music you’re playing then keep doing what you’re doing!
Drums and music in general are a unique expression of yourself, and having a unique sound is not a bad thing.
It’s not that common to use coated heads for toms however if you need a more muted sound it could work well for you. For example some drummers might muffle their toms using something like tape or moongels and a coated head can be a good substitute instead.
As mentioned in the article you might want to use coated heads on the toms when you’re playing softer styles and don’t want the toms to overpower the other instruments in the band.
Yes you can use a coated head for your bass drum – when it comes to the bass drum it’s down to your personal preference – see our breakdown of pros and cons at the top of the article.
Yes, however unless you’re going for a very specific sound most drummers choose a clear resonant head. Coated drumheads on the resonant side can create a more “dead” sound due to their reduced sustain.
No, you don’t need to use the same type of drumhead on the batter and resonant side of the drum – most drummers that use a coated drumhead on the batter side will still use a clear head on the resonant side.
No, you don’t need to use the same drumheads across all the drums. It’s quite common for example to have a coated drumhead on your snare drum and clear heads on your toms.
Not only that but you can mix and match drumheads from different companies if you prefer their sound on a specific drum.
Daniel started drumming as a teenager after realizing just how fun air drumming is. He was blown away by the power of the drums at his first drum lesson and hasn’t looked back since.
He has almost 20 years experience drumming and was heavily into Metal when he first started playing but has since transitioned to Jazz, Funk and Progressive Rock.
AboutDrumming.com is run by a group of drum teachers, drumming professionals and hobbyists. We love all things drums, and when not drumming we spend our time adding more awesome content to this website!
Affiliate Disclosure: When relevant AboutDrumming.com uses affiliate links (at no additional cost to you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.