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Majetone Calf Drumheads

If you'd told me ten years ago that in 2015 I'd be playing calf heads on a snare and loving it, I'd have laughed at you. Lets face it – calf heads; they break easily, sound dead, are terribly erratic depending on the weather and are... well... just SO old school...

Well, the me ten years ago was just plain wrong...

I first got turned on to these heads by a friend who is a very accomplished drummer/producer. He just could not get enough of the sound they produced, especially under the microphone. He'd mentioned them, but I dismissed it as a 'fad' he was going through. Then, slowly, I started listening to different things and wondering if the snare sound I was hearing in my head was connected with calf. So I got one.

The heads are beautifully (if functionally) made by a drummer called James Yates, with the skin tucked onto a steam bent maple flesh hoop. As skin is a natural substance, the profile might not match the edge profile of your intended drum. If so you may need to dampen the crease of the head to soften the material so the head forms to match the unique profile of your drum.

I mounted the test head on a 1974 Rogers Dynasonic to see what happened. I took it to a few gigs and tried it inside, outside, hot and cold to determine just how fragile they are in function and performance and how it sounded.

The first thing I noticed is that the feel is very different from that of a Mylar head. Calf feels a little more elastic. The stick seems to sink a little further into the head and has a very different rebound. It feels much more controlled, but you feel much more in control of it – I could play more 'into' the head rather than 'off' it.

The other thing I noticed is that the pitch/tension relationship is different to that of a Mylar head. What I mean by this is if you have two drums next to each other, tuned to the same tension, then the one with the calf head on will have a lower perceived pitch than the one with the Mylar head on. The tone of the drum just seems to have more spread, wetness and fatness to it.

The first gig I used this head on was outside. I'd normally use a snare with a standard coated single ply head and it would have sounded thin and lacking in body. However with the calf head on the drum retained its fatness and warmth. The guitarist even commented on how great it sounded in such difficult acoustics (in a fake Greco-Roman temple in a private garden of all places – don't ask).

It felt great and produced the sort of sound that we've all heard on loads of old records. It was crisp, yet fat and somehow much more softer sounding than the standard Mylar head. Playing brushes was a delight - all the warmth without the harsh crispiness of a modern coating.

Don''t get me wrong, these are not heads for all drummers and what they gain in warmth they lose in overall volume. If you stick a reinforcing patch on your bass drumhead to protect it from the wooden beater pummelling it gets, then these probably are not for you. I wouldn''t have a problem doing a pop gig on these but I wouldn''t want to play too hard for too long, plus, I''m not sure its the correct sound for most pop gigs. Mylar definitely has much more ''zing''.

But, if you are a more acoustic player where increasing dynamics doesn''t mean changing to a 2B then you might like to try these.

And what about all the inherent problems we''ve all been told that calf heads have? Well, so far, I haven''t noticed anything untoward – I haven''t broken a head, I haven''t noticed any weather related problems, in fact I''ve only got good things to say. Yes, they aren''t cheap, but if looked after they should last a life time (the ones in my old school cupboard were at least 40 years old and they put up with me hammering on them with a pair of 5B''s). As for the expected pitch change it struck me that if the drum was well tuned before (it was), then as the head would contract uniformly, it wouldn''t sound strange, just the same character but slightly higher.

So far I''ve only tried these on snares but I''ve decided I''m going to try them on toms and bass on a little bop kit I own. I wouldn''t personally put them on the resonant sides of toms as the Mylar heads do have a good, consistent note for pitch, but for tom and bass drum batters, try and stop me!

James has really only been making 14” heads so far but he''s now venturing into different sizes and snare side heads as well (from goat apparently – much thinner but still with the strength required).

If you are curious about the sound, have a look at the video below done by James. To me it gives an accurate example of ''the calf sound''

For more information go to http://www.majetoneindustries.com

Simon Edgoose
July 2015

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