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© 2008 Paradigm Drums

© 2008 Paradigm Drums

 

As a drum builder, I have become obsessed with figuring out how drum sound works.  This is my attempt to lay out my current understanding of how drum sound works and how the various elements involved affect sound.  I hope that it is useful to you when considering the elements of your own drums.  My goal is to help things be a little more clear, but I realize that it may just have the effect of driving you more crazy than you already are and leading you ever further down the rabbit hole of obsession over the details of instruments.  So be it.   I have not said everything there is to say, but I have tried to cover what I think you need to know to make an utterly obsessed drum purchase.  I have limited myself to discussing wood drums here, but the same principles will apply to metal, acrylic, or fiberglass drums as well.

 

I get pretty long-winded.  Here are some links for skipping ahead (or just scroll down):

 

Pitfalls of Drum Shopping

 

Non-Drum Elements of Sound

 

How Drum Sound Happens

 

Putting the Elements of Sound Together

 

Some Setups That I Like

 

What I think Most People Will Like

 

 

 

Pitfalls of Drum Shopping

 

I’d like to start by addressing a couple of pitfalls that drummers encounter when considering what instruments might be right for them.  First off, there is no such thing as The Best Drum Sound; there is only the best sound for you, or the best sound for you in a given musical situation.  Looking for The Best is an easy way to drive yourself crazy, because there is no right answer.  People have many opinions on this matter, but I hold firmly to my position that they are opinions and nothing more.  Sound is sound.  How is one sound “better” than another sound?  Sounds get considered better because people agree that they like one thing more than another.  But what people like will vary depending on who you ask.  So I say, do yourself a favor and stop asking the question “What is the best drum sound?” and start asking “What is the right drum sound for me?”  This is a question that you might actually be able to answer, although likely only after years of experience and experimentation.  If you don’t have years of experience, try limiting yourself to “What is the right sound for me right now?” rather than “What is the right sound for me forever?”  What you like is likely to change.  I find my own taste in sound still changing even after multiple decades of drum obsession.  More on how to answer these questions later.

The second pitfall I feel the need to address is the idea that more expensive equals better.  If an instrument is more expensive it is either because it is more expensive to produce or because the seller understands that there is greater perceived value in the product, meaning a well-known drum brand can charge more because they have a reputation for being good.  Drums may be more expensive to produce because the raw materials cost more (e.g. different kinds of wood or hardware), there are more materials used in the drums (e.g. thicker shells, thicker hoops), or the processes involved are labor intensive (e.g. a gloss finish vs. satin finish).  In the case of a small company such as mine, the cost of supplies is higher (and profits lower) because I buy in small quantities and cannot get the bulk discounts that a major manufacturer gets.  There is no getting around this.  It is the price you pay for a personal touch.  

Note that none of these elements that increase cost translate directly into a “better” instrument.  It comes back to personal preferences.  If you like the sound of one kind of wood better than another, then the increased cost may be worthwhile for you.  Someone else may not like the sound better, making the less expensive option better for that person.  The differences in price of my drums reflect differences in the cost of materials.  Services that are labor intensive have a cost reflected in the price.  But please, please try to not fall into the trap of thinking that one drum is better than another just because it costs more.  You will be a happier drummer if you try to identify what is right for you rather than using price as a gauge for what is good.  Some of my favorite drums are the least expensive I make.  A drummer has three of my snares and was told by more than one person that the least expensive one was the best sounding snare they had ever heard.  Go figure.  Don’t shop by price.  Find your sound.

 

Non-Drum Elements of Sound

 

Before getting into how the details of the drum itself affect the sound, it might be useful to point out that the things that have the biggest impact on sound are not the drums themselves.  Selection of heads, tuning, the acoustics of room where the drums are played, and who is playing the drums all have huge effects on how the drums will sound.  Also, the less seasoned among us often overlook the differences between acoustic drum sound behind the set, acoustic drum sound from the audience perspective, amplified drums sent through a P.A. controlled by a sound engineer, recorded drums processed in any number of ways by a recording engineer, and the sound of drums played alone vs. drums in the context of a band.  A classic discouraging trap for less experienced players is to try in vain to perfectly emulate the drum sound off their favorite record, not realizing that the sounds coming through the speakers are very different from what they would experience if they sat down behind that exact kit in that exact studio and played.

Experienced players have had opportunities to play drums and then hear what they sound like to the audience when someone else plays them, to hear drums alone and in various musical settings, and to hear how the sound of acoustic drums change in various mic’d or recorded situations.  If you don’t have that experience, ask for help from someone who does when trying to identify the elements of a particular drum sound.  It takes time to get there.

 

How Drum Sound Happens

 

Sound involves the transmission of energy in the form of vibration.  This happens in several ways in a drum.  When you strike the head with the stick, the head vibrates, making a sound.  The movement of the head compresses the column of air inside the drum, putting outward pressure on the shell and the resonant head.  Vibrations from the head are transmitted directly to the shell through the bearing edge and cause the shell (and in turn the resonant head) to vibrate.  Sound waves travel back and forth between the heads and around the interior of the shell, creating sustain.  All the hardware also vibrates, but the hoops move the most because they are in direct contact with the heads, and they affect how the heads themselves resonate.  

 

Now consider how the various components just mentioned affect the sound.

 

Bearing Edges

 

The edge of the shell where it meets the head can be shaped a variety of ways, and the differences will affect the sound.  The profile of the edge (e.g. rounded, double 45), the placement of the apex of the edge, and the width of the apex can all be adjusted independently in various combinations with varying results.  A double 45 degree edge with a sharp apex allows for very free movement of the head, with minimal muffling caused by contact with the shell.  This allows for ample head tone (sound from the head vs. the shell) and resonance.  A fat, rounded edge allows for more energy to be directly transmitted from the head to the shell due to increased contact and to the angles and shapes of the surfaces making contact.  This produces more shell tone vs. head tone.  Also, the heads will resonate less due to the relatively greater muffling from increased contact with the shell.  In general, sharper edges result in a more “wide open” sound with more sustain, and fatter, rounder edges result in a “warmer” sound, with lots of character and body but less sustain.  

Does this mean than drums with 45 degree edges don’t sound warm, that they sound cold and heartless?  No.  We’re speaking in relative terms here.  “This drum sounds warmer than that drum” is a different statement that “This drum sounds warm and that one doesn’t.”  45 degree edged drums can sound plenty “warm.”  “Warmer” is just a way to try to characterize the difference in sound.  Using words to describe sound is inherently tricky and insufficient.  “Warmer” just gets us in the ballpark.  You have to hear drums to get it.

I offer four basic edge profiles: double 45, fat roundover (w/inner 45), mini roundover (w/inner 45), and single 45 with a micro-rounded apex.  I’m a believer in matching the type of edge to the type of shell and hoops to makes the most of the drum sound.  More on how that works later.

 

Shell Construction

 

The biggest factors of shell construction that affect drum sound are shell thickness, and the density and hardness of the materials.  First, thickness:  A thicker shell has more mass to vibrate than thinner shell of the same wood, so it will take more force to get it moving.  A thicker shell will also hold firmer and flex less from the outward expansion of the column of air from the initial impact on the head.  This puts more pressure on the resonant head than a thinner, more flexible shell would.  These two factors mean that a thicker shell will create more head tone than a thinner shell of the same wood.  Adding thickness to the area of the shell closest to the heads, in the form of reinforcement rings, adds stiffness to the edges, increasing head tone.  A thinner shell that flexes more upon the initial impact creates that thick, thumpy, low end “boomf” sound in the attack.  Some of that sound also can be created through loosely tuned heads, but thinner shells definitely have more of it than thicker shells.  Thinner shells also can be vibrated more easily through contact with the head, creating more shell tone than thicker shells.  All other factors being equal, thicker shells will be higher pitched than thinner shells.  Thicker shells tend to be louder as well.

What qualifies as thick?  Keller shells tend to make a good reference point, since they are widely known to the drumming public.  For toms: Keller 6-ply shells are quite thin.  Keller also makes 5-ply shells, which are insanely thin (too thin, I think).  Keller 8 ply shells are middle of the road.   Anything thicker than a Keller 8-ply qualifies as thick for a tom shell in my book.  (Note that different companies use different thickness plies, so you must compare actual measurements, not ply numbers, to know how thick shells are from one manufacturer to the next.)  For snare drums, Keller 6-ply is very thin.  8-ply is thin.  10-ply is middle of the road.  Anything thicker than that is thick in my book.  (And man, some people make ‘em thick.  Personally I think anything thicker than a Keller 15-ply is overkill.  Some people are into it, I know.)   For bass drums, 6-ply is very thin (we’re talking all thump, no tone here people, well almost), 8-ply is thin, 10-ply is beginning to get thick.  Anything over 10, definitely thick.

On to shell density: A shell made from less dense wood will be easier to vibrate, but will move those vibrations less efficiently than a more dense wood.  Also, a less dense wood will flex easier from the expansion of the column of air in the drum.  These factors mean that a shell made from less dense wood will readily give more shell tone than a shell of the same thickness made of more dense wood.  Poplar is a common wood used in shell construction that is less dense than the more predominant maple.  Typically it is used as a center ply or plies in between plies of maple or mahogany.

Shell hardness: The hardness of a given wood affects the sound in a similar way to density.  Harder woods vibrate more readily and flex less.  Harder shells will be louder, too.

Density and hardness don’t always go hand in hand.  For example, birch is denser than maple, but maple is harder than birch.  This means that both woods have characteristics that might make one vibrate a little more than the other or flex more than the other.  So how does that effect the sound?  First off, both woods make great sounding drums with versatile characteristics.  But there is a difference in sound.  People tend to say that birch drums are “punchier” than maple.  Perhaps when they say that they mean a little less sustain and a little more meat in the attack?  Something like that.  Describing sound with words is hard, and the difference between maple and birch is fairly subtle.  

The many varieties of wood all have difference characteristics in terms of density, hardness, amount of oil in the wood, etc.  These factors give the different woods different sounds, different vibes.  Hardness is probably the easiest factor to rely on when trying to estimate what a given wood might sound like in a drum.  As a general rule, harder wood will make a drum louder, more strident, and higher pitched.  Acrylic shells make drums that are bright and have a round, moderate tone.  (Again, these things are tough to put into words.)

Beyond the material, the method of construction will have some effect on sound as well.  Standard drum shells are made of multiple thin plies laminated together.  The number of plies and the thickness of the plies effects the total thickness of the shell, and hence the tone.  Thicker plies (but not a thicker shell) results in a lower fundamental tone to the shell, although this difference is likely to be relatively small.  Makers of stave and steambent shells tend to tout the fact that there is more wood vs. glue in their shells as a feature that makes their drums sound better.  This is a difficult claim to evaluate, since stave and steambent shells are generally much thicker than ply shells, which is necessary to produce a stable shell with these types of construction.  For this reason, I tend to favor ply shells for most purposes because they can be made in the (or at least my) ideal thicknesses for drum shells.  For snare drums, many people like the sound of thick shells, so stave and steambent shells provide some cool options, and there is no doubt that they will sound different (better?) than comparably thick ply shells.  

There is no denying the romance of a kit built out of steambent shells, but keep in mind these are thick shells and will have the characteristics of thick-shelled drums in addition to any characteristics unique to steambent drums (e.g. a “woody” tone).  Consider that probably every one of your favorite recordings was made on ply-constructed drums.  Is the idea of plywood drums as cool as the idea of steambent or stave drums?  No.  Do plywood drums sound better to most drummers and producers?  Yes.  Is a set of steambent or stave drums the best set for you?  Maybe.  Just make sure to buy based on the sound you’re after, not the idea that the construction of the shells makes them “better” and you’ll be a happier drummer.

 

Hoops

 

Hoops often get overlooked as an element of drum sound, but they have a substantial impact on it.  Hoops are in direct contact with the heads, so they affect how the heads resonate.  Similar principles apply to hoops as to shell construction in terms of how they change the sound.   Thicker hoops have more mass, so they require more energy to vibrate.  So, thicker hoops tend to dampen the vibration of heads, reducing resonance.  Is more resonance always better?  Not necessarily.  Most people favor the sound of 2.3mm hoops over 1.6mm hoops on most drums.  The thicker hoops cut a touch of high end twangy frequencies that most people don’t miss.  Those who tend to enjoy a little twang and often use higher tunings might enjoy the lighter, more open sound of thinner hoops.  

Die-cast hoops have still more mass than 2.3mm hoops, so they tend to dry out the sound a bit.  However, die-cast hoops are harder than standard flanged hoops, which tends to balance their thickness somewhat by supporting more resonance than a softer hoop of the same weight would.  Drums with die-cast hoops do sound drier (less resonant) but die-cast hoops also give the drums a punch, projection, and clarity, as well as a stiff and responsive feel that many people appreciate, especially on snare drums.

Single flange hoops tend to produce a very open sound with some softness in its character.  Brass hoops are heavy and sound thick and meaty.  Wood hoops are softer and thick, and in my opinion give drums a dull sound.

 

Lugs

 

I’m not one who puts a lot of credence into nodal point theories or minimal contact lugs as a way to improve drum sound.  I just don’t think it makes a ton of difference compared to other factors.  However, the number of lugs on a given drum will make a noticeable difference.  

People are used to using 10-lugs on a snare to support higher tunings.  I find it makes the drum feel a little stiffer under the sticks and makes it a bit more articulate and solid sounding.  An 8-lug snare will typically play a little mellower, more open, fatter.  Changing the number of lugs on toms will change their sound as well, but hoops for different amounts of lugs on toms tend to be harder to come by, so that doesn’t happen too often.  Bass drums, however, can be made with any number of lugs, and using fewer can give a more wide open sound.

 

Suspension Mounts

 

Suspension mounts for toms increase resonance.  Whether more resonance equals better is a matter of opinion.  If you are planning on using pinstripe heads or other heads with built in muffling, why bother increasing the resonance of the drum in the first place?  Many young players fall into the trap of insisting on suspension mounts because they are “better” and increase the resonance of the drum, then turn around and muffle the heck out of their drums to emulate the sound on their favorite recording.  If you are going for a thick, meaty, fugga-dugga sound, suspension mounts are probably unnecessary.  Resonance can be preserved other ways, such as through the use of thinner hoops and thinner arms on mounting hardware.  Thinner floor tom legs will also boost resonance.

 

Interior Finish

The finish on the interior of the shell effects how sound waves travel inside the drum.  A harder finish creates more reflection for a brighter sound.  A softer finish creates less reflection for a mellower sound.  A smoother surface is more likely to create standing waves that may result in “ping” sounds or high pitched overtones.  A rougher surface disperses sound waves in different directions and tends to reduce overtones.  On my drums I favor a moderately hard, rough interior finish, for a lively but dry interior.  This type of finish supports active head tone without unpleasant overtones.

 

Putting the Elements of Sound Together

 

So far I have discussed each of the elements of sound independently.  As you can imagine, things become somewhat more complicated when you start putting the various elements together.  Different combinations of shells, edges, and hoops (to say nothing of heads) can result in a wide variety of sounds.  Many people on a quest for The Best Drum Sound may be tempted to try to find the perfect balance between this characteristic and that to create a Perfectly Balanced Drum.  Keep in mind that going for the middle ground does not necessarily yield the best results.  Certain shells will show off their signature characteristics with particular edges and hoops while others shine with different kinds of edges and hoops.  I think drums sound the best when you heighten their unique characteristics, rather than trying to get them to sound like every drum in the world all at once.

What combinations work?  Here are some rules of thumb that sound good to my ears:  

 

Toms

 

Thicker and harder shells tend to sound best with sharper edges.  (For toms I tend to think of a double 45 or a mini-round as viable sharper edges.  Those are edges that will let the head resonate but have just a bit of contact to cut just a touch of flop in the head for a smoother sound.  Single 45s are too much on toms, in my opinion.)  Consider that a thick shell will be tougher to vibrate, so the bulk of the sound is in the head tone.  For this reason, I think it is best to maximize the head tone and make the most of a stiff shell by using sharp edges that will not muffle the heads.  

The exception to this is low-density, softer shells.  Vintage style shells with poplar middle plies tend to be quite thick, but because of the soft, low-density poplar they flex on attack more and are easier to get a satisfying sound out of through head-shell contact.  Notice how great those vintage kits sound with their big, wide bearing edges?  You tend to find those fat edges on shells with lower density woods. A fat rounded edge works great on that type of shell, although sharper edges will work as well.  Thin shells will support whatever type of edge and sound great.

             Now add hoops to the mix.  My favorite of those fat sounding vintage kits have thinner 1.6mm hoops on them.  They seem to work well with the thick edges, allowing a bit more resonance and head tone, reducing the muffling effect of the fat edges.  2.3mm can work on this kind of setup as well, if you’re going for a very thick and dry, fugga-dugga sound.  Thin hoops can work well on a kit with sharper edges as well, lightening up the playing feel and allowing in a bit more of the high overtones.  For sharp-edged drums most people, though, tend to favor the 2.3mm hoops that have become standard.  They roll off the very high overtones, leaving a smooth sounding resonant tone.  Personally, the only situation where I like die-cast hoops on toms is with very thin shells.  The die-cast hoops dry out the head tone some, but thin shells are so responsive that you still get plenty of tone out of the drum.  The combination of die-cast hoops and thin shells can work with any edge profile.  Thin shells will sound good with any edge and any hoops, really.

 

Snare Drums

Thicker and harder shells sound best to my ears with sharp edges and die-cast hoops.  I’m becoming increasingly convinced that single 45s, maybe with a tiny little roundover, are the only way to fly on thick snare shells (and maybe slightly larger roundovers too).  Because the shell is thick and harder to vibrate, single 45s open it up the head tone and allow the stiffness of the shell to create its signature intense power without sounding dull.  Allowing full motion of the heads seems to add a bit of meatiness to the drums as well, counteracting a touch of the stiffness off the shell and the hoops and balancing out the sound some.  Sharp edges increase articulation as well, which works well with a stiff, loud snare sound.  Die-cast hoops prevent the single 45s from becoming too ringy, and they heighten the articulation and power.

The exception, once again, is low-density vintage style shells, which are thick but tend to perform better with fat edges.  Same reasons as for toms—it works to bring out the best characteristics of the shell.  They sound great with 1.6mm or 2.3mm hoops.

Like toms, thin shelled snares will sound good with whatever edges and whatever hoops, and will work with 8 or 10 lugs.  They have their thing, and it’s hard to make it sound bad, even when you adjust the sound this way or that.  

Middle of the road shells sound great with 2.3mm hoops and any edges.  They also work with sharp edges and die-cast hoops.  In my mind, die-cast hoops go best with sharp edges on a snare drum.  The magic combo of high articulation from the sharp edges and added stiffness from the hoops just works.

As far as snare beds go, I favor a wide and shallow snare bed for a lush, full, and sensitive snare response.  

 

Bass Drums

 

I don’t see any reason to put anything but a big fat roundover edge on a bass drum, regardless of the shell or the style of music you play.  Bass drum heads are so large that the amount of muffling created by a roundover edge still leaves way more resonance and tone that pretty much anyone wants from a bass drum.  Even someone playing bop who wants a wide open bass drum sound will have a lot of tone to work with in a drum with rounded edges.  Pretty much every player will add some kind of muffling to a bass drum, either inside, under the head, against the head, or as part of the head, so why bother using edges that increase resonance beyond what is already too much?  I say go for maximum energy transfer and bring out that shell tone.  Boom.  Of course, there are a variety of edge profiles that could qualify as a big fat roundover, so there is room for adjustment even within this paradigm.

I have heard that thinner bass drum hoops can have the same effect on drum sound that thinner tom or snare hoops have, but I have yet to experiment with this personally.  Someone order a bass drum with 10-ply hoops so I can check this out.  Rumor has it you’ll get a drum with pleasantly wide open and unruly sound.   Maybe go with fewer lugs and really maximize it.

 

Some Setups That I Like

 

This page is full of my personal opinions already, but I thought I’d go ahead and talk about some sets that I like and why I like them.  Again, these are just opinions, not gospel.

 

A great all-around kit

 

Middle of the road thickness maple shells for toms and snare (e.g Keller 8-ply), slightly thick maple bass drum shell (e.g. Keller 10-ply).  Fat roundover edges on snare and bass drum.  Mini-rounds on toms.  2.3mm hoops all around.  8 lugs on snare and bass drum.

 

If I had to live with just one kit forever, for every gig, it would probably be this kind of setup.  Mid-thickness tom shells produce full resonant tone and are just thick enough to balance some stiffness for head tone with a bit of flex for that thump in the attack.  The relatively sharp edges help the drums sing while maintaining body and character.  The 2.3mm hoops round out the sound, so the drums sound full without too much high end overtones.  The thinner snare shell with a roundover edge and 2.3mm hoops creates a thick sound that still has some air in it, which I tend to prefer in most situations.  I like tone in my bass drum.  A slightly thicker bass drum shell produces a ton of tone and power, without sounding stiff.

Thinner tom and bass drum shells along with thicker snare shells tend to be more popular than the kind of setup I have just described.  I have to admit there is something very satisfying about playing thin toms and bass drums and getting that thump in the attack and the easy low-end response.  Thick, articulate, bright sounding snare drums cut through the mix and support any sort of show-offiness you might feel like displaying at a given gig.  They’re fun.  But. . .  

I have found that the relatively thicker tom and bass drum shells put more tone through mics and through the sound of a band.  The tone on thinner shells is very audible when the drums are played alone, but it tends to disappear as volume increases, leaving mostly attack coming through.  I’m a tone guy.  I like tone.  Some people just want to hear that thump, and that’s great.  But me, I like to hear the drums singing in the mix, and I find the setup I’ve described above does the best job of that.  I like tone in my bass drum too.  Even though I use some muffling, I like to hear tone in the body of the sound, hence the slightly thicker shell.  As I’ve gotten older and gained more experience, I’ve become less a fan of snare sounds that cut through.  As I have become more attentive to elements of production, meaning the sound of a recording or band as a whole, I have come to appreciate a fat snare sound that sits in the middle of the mix rather than cuts through.  One man’s opinion.

 

A fugga-dugga kit

 

Luckily I don’t have to limit myself to one kit forever and ever, so I can think about other kinds of sets for specific purposes.  This is in the zone of a 60s Ludwig kit.  (By the way, if you don’t know what I mean by fugga-dugga, go watch some videos of Steve Gadd solos and John Bonham solos and try to vocalize those licks on the toms.  Fugga-dugga fugga-dugga fugga-dugga.  It’s just means a big fat sound.  Gadd’s sound is actually too dry for my taste, I’m more thinking Bonham here.)  So, here’s what I’d do:

 

Vintage style maple/poplar blend (low density) shells (e.g. Keller Vintage Maple) on all drums.  1.6mm hoops on toms and snare.  Big fat edges on everything.  8 lugs on snare and bass drum.  10-ply bass drum hoops.

 

Fugga to the dugga.  Just think about that sweet vintage Ludwig kit you saw and you’re in the ballpark.  I prefer the thinner hoops and fewer lugs on this kind of setup to get a little more air in the sound.  1.6mm hoops let out some high end resonance and lighten up the feel just a bit.  Keller’s Vintage Mahogany shells are great too and would work for this set.  They would just be a little drier–less head tone, more fugga.

For more of a Slingerland vibe you could go with 2.3mm hoops or sticksaver hoops for the full Slingy effect.  Alternatively, to go for a Roger’s vibe, this kit could be outfitted with double 45 bearing edges and 1.6mm hoops for a more singing tone than big round thump and more sustain in higher range tunings.

 

A Gretsch style kit

 

Thin maple shells (e.g. Keller 6-ply) for toms, thin maple shell (e.g. Keller 8-ply) for snare, and thickish maple shell (e.g. Keller 10-ply) for bass drum (although thinner would work well too).  Double 45s on toms and snare.  Roundovers on bass drum.  Die-cast hoops all around.  10 lugs on snare.  8 lugs on bass drum.

 

I wish I’d never sold that roundbadge Gretsch kit I used to have.  Of course, I’d probably never play it since I make my own drums now, but it was a cool set.  The rig above is my homage to that old set.  I know, I know—the purists among you will cry out that roundbadge Gretsch drums had weird one-way roundovers for tom edges and single 30’s on snare and bass drum (if I remember correctly).  Yes, but consider how many roundbadge sets were defiled by having their bearing edges recut and continued to sound great, possibly even (gasp) better, with new edges.  Those original Gretsch edges are just too dry for my taste.  But the whole thin shell with die-cast hoops thing is a winner in my book.  And the thin snare with die-cast hoops?  Also Gretschy,  with double 45s for extra articulation along with those hoops.  Sweet!

 

A set just because it’s cool

 

Single-ply steam-bent mahogany shells.  Mini-rounds on toms, single 45s with micro-rounds on snare, fat roundover on bass drum.  2.3mm hoops on toms.  Die-cast hoops on snare.  10 lugs on snare.  

 

I think ply drums sound better than steam-bent or stave drums for just about everything.  But there is no denying that a steam-bent drumset is super cool.  I like mahagony for a thick shell like this because it is a little bit more open-grained wood without being overly soft, giving it a relatively light feel for thick-shelled drums.  The mini-round edges and 2.3mm hoops give the toms an open sound that takes advantage of the head tone produced by the thick shells but add a touch of warmth and roundness to the tone.  The single 45s and die-cast hoops make for a bright and articulate snare, completing an overall snappy setup.

 

A great all-around snare

 

Middle of the road maple shell (e.g. Keller 10-ply) with fat roundover edges, 2.3mm hoops, 10 lugs.  

 

A snare for all occasions.  Would also sound great with double 45s or mini rounds combined with die-cast hoops.  This is a great all-purpose snare, but my personal favorite remains the 8-ply I mentioned along with the all-purpose kit.

 

Studio snares

 

Steambent walnut with micro-rounded single 45s and either 2.3mm hoops or die-cast.

 

Walnut makes a beautifully balanced steambent snare drum–meaty, articulate, and sounds great across a wide tuning range.

 

Steambent walnut makes a great studio snare and is just a damn cool drum.  Even so, my first choice might be either a thin-shelled maple ply drum (e.g. Keller 8-ply) or a metal drum.

 

Metal Snare Drums

 

A couple setups for amazing sounding metal snare drums:

 

6.5x14 chrome over brass shell with chrome over brass hoops.  Big sound.  Brass is fat and meaty for metal.  The chrome brightens it up some.  Chrome over brass hoops heighten the thickness of the sound.  A fantastically balanced big snare sound

 

5.5x14 chrome over brass with die cast hoops.  Again, this is  a meaty but bright sounding shell.  The die-cast hoops keep it from becoming too ringy and add some stiffness and articulation.  An absolute winner in the the studio and a definite candidate for best all-around snare drum.

 

What I think most people will like

 

Thin maple shells for toms (e.g. Keller 6-ply), thin maple shell for bass drum (e.g. Keller 8-ply), thick hardwood shell for snare (e.g. steam-bent maple, stave shell, Keller 10 or 15 ply).  Double 45s or mini-rounds on toms.  Single 45s with micro-rounds on snare.  Fat roundovers on bass drum.  2.3mm hoops on toms.  Die-cast hoops on snare.  10 lugs on snare, 8-10 lugs on bass drum, depending on size.

 

This is my estimation of what most drummers think when they imagine The Best Drum Sound.  Fat, ringy toms.  Loud, articulate snare.  Thumpy, fat bass drum.  A winner!