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Shell Construction - Why Wood

Why are drum shells made of wood?


Got me? No really, there isn't a special reason, other than wood sounds nice. As in other musical instruments, wood just has the kind of characteristics that lend it to producing a pleasant tone. Other materials are used for making musical instruments; metal, bamboo, plastic. But for certain instruments, wood is just the material of choice. I mean, we've had a several hundred years to figure it out, right?

Although there are some companies making drums out of plastic and metal, we will focus on wood. It can be argued what material sounds the best, but since the vast majority of drums are made of wood, we will focus on that.

I will say that, in general, the harder the wood, the better it sounds. The harder and more dense a material, the more evenly it will vibrate. When it vibrates evenly and as a whole, it helps to create even tones when struck or during coupled vibration, as with a drumhead. There are all kinds of exotic hardwoods in the world and many of them are harder than what is generally used. But in order for a wood to be considered economically feasible for mass production, it must be inexpensive, workable, and attractive. To be inexpensive, a wood must be in great quantity in the world. To be workable, a wood must have a long, straight, tight grain, with few knots. It must also be dense enough to be hard and strong, but not so dense that it can not be bent into a circle. To be attractive, it must have the same characteristics as for being workable, as well as a pore structure that is pleasing to the eye and takes stain well.

Some woods that fit these categories are Maple, Birch, Beech, Poplar, Ash, and Mahogany (or Lauan). There are different species of each of these, grown in different areas of the world. Each will have differing characteristics, but still close enough to be thrown in with their respective names. i.e.: We won't be differentiating between Canadian Rock maple and any other kind of maple, or between Scandinavian birch and any other birch.

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