Inspiration / 25 July 2018

Drummers: Get to Know your Tonewoods

Tonewoods – familiar with that word? It’s almost become a buzzword in the guitarist community and a subject of endless discussion and debate. The one thing everyone would agree upon is the impact wood has on tone. Drums are no different.

Understanding how different woods affect sound plays a big part in determining your own voice as a drummer, and makes your next visit to a drum store less intimidating.


The inside of a Tama SLP Vintage Poplar Maple Snare. 6mm, 2Maple inner plies + 2Poplar plies + 1Maple ply + 1Figured Maple outer ply.

Before we dive into the tonewoods, it’s worth noting that most drum shells are constructed with thin plies of woods held together with fillers and glue. These are sometimes made with a combination of woods, bringing together the different qualities each wood possesses. The innermost ply plays the biggest part in the tone, whilst the outermost layer has the least. Solid ply drum shells have better resonance, projection and sustain, but are more difficult and expensive to make. But that doesn’t make a plywood drum shell any less credible – ply shells are by far and away the most recorded and played type of shell.

Birch

Birch is a common tonewood used in modern drum shells today because of the wood’s abundance. It possesses strong high frequencies and a sharp attack. Great for those who like their kits loud and full.

Maple

Versatility is the name of the game here, which makes maple another popular choice for drum shells. Maple is known for its warm lows and even highs and mids, hence its all-purpose tag.

Mahogany

If you’re looking for the drum sounds of yesteryear, mahogany was responsible for the treasured tone you hear in countless old records. The softer nature of mahogany gives a strong low end response and a rich, warm tone.

Poplar

You’ll usually find poplar on affordable drum kits. It’s not far off from the tone of birch or mahogany and they’re sometimes used as filler between inner and outer plies of more expensive woods.

Bubinga

One of the newer woods to appear in drum shells, bubinga is an incredibly dense wood that produces dark, full and rich sustain, similar to maple. Because of its aggressive character, it’s a popular choice amongst metal drummers.

Spruce

No, this isn’t the list of tonewoods for acoustic guitars. Spruce is a rare and uncommon tonewood to use for drums. The result is a fat and resonant sound with a solid midrange making it a surprisingly versatile choice.

Head down to Swee Lee’s drum shop at the Peninsula Shopping Complex to check out the wide range of drums available. Of course, if you’d like to talk tonewoods, we’d be more than happy to!

If you’re looking to learn the fundamentals of the drums, or looking to build on your existing knowledge with advanced techniques, contact the Swee Lee Music Academy to find out more about our awesome drum lessons.


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