Bass Drum Heads: Hole or No Hole?
Since we get so many questions about it, it’s about time we tackle an age-old debate in drum-land with a dedicated blog about bass drum holes. The question is: should your resonant head have one and why (not)? Allow me to explain!

Factory Heads

While most bass drum heads leave the factory featuring nothing but a brand logo, some models do come with a factory-cut hole. Inspired by what they’ve seen, some drummers actually decide to cut out a hole themselves – sometimes without even knowing why, and sometimes because they’ve overheard a sound engineer complaining about closed drumheads.

How Kick Drums Work

Let’s look at the facts. When the beater of your pedal slams into the batter head of your kick, the air inside starts moving which is what makes both drumheads as well as the shell resonate, which creates sound. The heads and the beater head largely determine the timbre while the shell takes care of the depth and volume. The moving air bounces off the resonant head and crashes back into the batter head, and that’s what dictates the rebound of the beater, in other words the playing feel.

Hole or No Hole – The Difference

Drumheads that come without a hole will resonate more strongly than drumheads with a hole, which is simply because there’s more skin. This makes your kick ‘sing’ a little more, especially when you aren’t using any damping pads, inlay rings or other drum-muting contraptions. The second you cut a hole in your resonant head, you’re basically lowering the resonance by allowing air to escape from inside the shell. In turn, you’ll also lower the rebound of your beater. In terms of sound, you’ll get a little more punch out of your kick, but that’s rarely a good enough reason for taking a knife or scissors to your bass drum resonant head.

Playing Mic’d Up

Playing live gigs with a miked-up drum kit sometimes means dealing with sound techs who believe they know exactly how your drums ought to be set up. While you’re building up your kit, they’ll come up and stick a microphone through the port hole of your bass drum ‒ or worse, simply lay it inside. The second they see your kick doesn’t have any hole, panic ensues, as most amateur sound techs aren’t used to seeing holeless skins. I’ve personally been asked many times if it’s okay if they cut a hole in my resonant head. Well, no! I mean, if I wanted to play with a kick port, I would’ve fitted a drumhead that has a hole in it. The sound tech’s job is to amplify the sound of my kit as I’ve built it – not to modify it in any way they see fit. Never let this be a reason to carve out a hole. Any bass drum can be mic’d up just fine without it, even if it takes a little more effort or a couple of small equalisation tweaks.

Bass Drum Heads: Hole or No Hole?

Find Out What Works Best for You

If you want to know the difference, my advice would be to try both set-ups, so with and without a hole. You can either pick up a resonant head that comes pre-cut with a hole in it, or you can make a hole yourself by running a knife around a round object. When taking the DIY route, the best way is to use a special drumhead hole cutter. Also, don’t cut too big a hole. You don’t want to allow too much air to escape so always factor in the size of your kick. If you have a 20-inch model, don’t go for a hole that’s any bigger than five inches in diameter. Make sure the hole sits off-centre too. In most cases, the bottom-right corner and roughly an inch-and-a-half to two inches from the edge should be fine. Finally, it’s recommended that you reinforce your self-cut hole with a purpose-made ring. Kick drum port rings prevent the hole from tearing which, trust me, will happen sooner or later if you don’t fit one of these rings. Tip: if you save the piece you’ve cut out, you can always use it to slightly dampen a snare or floor tom.

The Conclusion

To sum it all up: no, your kick drum does not need a hole. If it did, every resonant head would leave the factory with a pre-cut hole. In the end, it’s all about the sound and feel you favour, and while it might make your sound techs happy, that’s never a good reason for cutting up your drum skins. If you’re curious what a vented resonant head sounds like, do a little experimenting at home or try one out during rehearsals.

What’s your opinion? Hole or no hole? Feel free to leave a comment below!

See Also

» Drumhead Port Rings
» Bass Drumheads
» Drum Tools
» Kick Drum Microphones
» All Drums & Accessories

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» Drumheads: How to Get Perfect Tone
» Recording Drums: A Specialised Skill
» How to tune your drum kit

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