Differences Between Types of Wood Used in Drums

The type of wood used in a drum will change the instrument's sound. Softer woods create smoother tones than harder woods. Depending on the type of sound desired, the manufacturer will pick a particular wood. Many of the softer, more pliable woods, such as spruce, require special care to avoid breakage during use. Wood acts as a conduit to transfer vibrations from the drum head to the acoustic chamber inside the drum.


When choosing wood for a drum, the maker must first determine which type of wood will work best for his purposes. Some of the factors that go into this choice include: the availability of the wood, its appearance and its ability to be molded and shaped. Wood that breaks easily is not a good choice because drums have to be curved and molded to fit a round shape. Woods that have low levels of moisture will crack easily, and woods that are too pliable will bend under the pressure of drumming. Picking the right wood is as much an art as it is a science.


The texture of a particular type of wood will make a huge difference in the type of sound produced. Soft woods provide a softer, thudding sound that doesn't project well and has limited resonance. Harder woods will create a more well-defined sound that can project farther than with a soft wood. The purpose of the drum must be taken into account when deciding what type of wood to use. For instance, harder woods are necessary for bass drums, which need to resonate; softer woods are ideal for small ensemble drums that don't need to project as far.


The three most common types of wood used are mahogany, maple and birch. Mahogany is the softest and works well for drums that have a low bass pitch, such as the bass drum. Maple is a little harder. It works well when a medium-textured wood is required. Congas and bongos are often made out of maple. Birch is the hardest wood commonly used and provides a penetrating sound that is perfect for snare drums and drummers that need to cut through entire concert halls. Additional woods such as rosewood, spruce, pine and oak are also used, and each has its own specific tone.


Large drums, such as the bass drum, war drum and bass tom, naturally produce lower pitches while smaller drums will create higher pitches. The type of wood used will emphasize the natural characteristics of the drum. Using a thicker wood will mean less vibration, creating a shallower and quicker attack. Using a thinner wood will let the drum resonate longer, but it will not be as loud as the thicker woods. Smaller drums include the snare drum, high toms and bongos. The conga, djembe and tenor toms are medium drums. Small drums include hand drums. The manufacturer determines the wood's thickness.


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