What’s so Wrong with the Remo Pinstripe?

Absolutely nothing. Except that some say it’s not fashionable.

Pinstrip head atop Yamaha tom aside Bailie Nicol Jarvie

If you’re choosing drumheads, read this important message. If you’re a veteran player, set in your ways, it’s business as usual I’m sure. The deal is that both of you are subject to the one constant in drum-related purchases:

Drum gear is all about fashion.

Fashion is good, don’t get me wrong. But it weighs heavily on me that trends in drumheads, particularly batter heads but also bottom/front/resonant heads seem more important than the way heads feel when you strike them and how the sound blossoms forth in a manner that’s pleasing.

What’s this got to do with Pinstripes?

Well, let’s put it this way. In sophisticated circles, drummers will tell you that Remo Pinstripe batter heads, the 2-ply clear or coated Remo heads featuring a glued portion an inch-or-so at the edge, are too muffled, thuddy, and unresponsive.

Decades ago when Pinstripes hit the scene I was there. Pinstripes were embraced quicker than you could say Neil Peart and easily as popular in the long run. Although currently it’s not hip to use Pinstripes, there was a time when they were the way to go—and not just in pop/folk/rock music.

Today, if you were to say you prefer Remo Pinstripe clear heads for contemporary jazz, as exemplified by the likes of Bill Stewart, Jeff Watts, Brian Blade, Ian Froman, and Jack DeJohnette, other drummers would look down on you.

Well it just goes to show, doesn’t it? My very first article for Modern Drummer, which appeared in 1978, was an interview with Jack DeJohnette. I remember being really proud seeing my piece in print, and was grateful for the letter from MD founder and editor Ron Spagnardi stating, “Bruce, I’m so glad you diverged from the usual interview formula we supply to new writers”.

Guess which heads Jack was using at the time? Clear Remo Pinstripes, oh yeah. And did he sound good! In the break between shows, we sat in figure-8 relative to my cassette recorder and I stumbled and blurted out questions I dearly needed to ask, throwing aside my script. One of these concerned the wonderful tom sound I’d just heard. Jack explained that these new heads, Pinstripes, were perfect because they muffled the circumference, and thus the weird overtones, allowing a more focused tone to emerge. He told me he preferred tuning them really tightly stating, “it’s a jazz tuning, that’s all”.

Beware the Jazz Police

Today if a jazz drummer were to be caught using Pinstripes he’d be dismissed. Pinstripes may be okay for aging rockers, meaning those who prefer fat, thudding, slow reacting batter heads—or for those who need prophylactic assistance lest they project harshly—but not for savvy, sensitive, and expressive drummers who need to express nuances. Instead, today it’s a reversal. It’s back to your basic 1960s 1-ply coated batter, once disparaged (especially by the purist calf head fanatics). What goes around comes back to bit us.

Some  of the same players once swore by Pinstripes, Emperors, and various heads emerging through the decades, now are adamant about these “artist palette” thin, coated white heads. Right, to the list of offenders maybe we ought to add Evans EC2 and Aquarian Studio heads (I think they were called: the ones with what Rick Van Horn depicted as featuring a “white tagboard strip” glued to the bottom side, somewhat cynically. I thought they were great sounding heads), Evans Hydraulics, Remo Powerstrokes, and on and on. All I can say is that Jack DeJohnette, that night in Montreal circa 1977, playing with New Directions was happy as a clam with his Pinstripes.

Ask Gordon Wood

Who is Gordon Wood? Exactly the question I asked and the guy lives barely one hour from my residence…but on the Quebec side of the border. Canada is two solitudes, English and French and rare does the twain meet (be nice of somebody could define “twain” definitively).

Most English musicians don’t know French ones from Adam. Nor was I remotely aware that Gordon Wood is fast becoming the top session drummer in Quebec, even as that job has disappeared with the demise of proper inner city recording studios thanks to affordable consumer digital gear (ahem, I just purchased Adobe Audition). On assignment from Ralph Angelillo, editor of Drums Etc, a magazine from which I resigned as editor-in-chief to avoid taking political heat but write for on a freelance basis, I interviewed Gordon Wood and, long story short, we got on like a house on fire.

So we got talking about taboo subjects, when I broached the topic of my gig this coming Saturday, wherein the artist, with whom I’d recently cut an album, wanted “loose, groaning, fat-sounding, organic drumheads”. I awkwardly mentioned to Gordon, “You know, this may sound old-school but last night I put Pinstripes on two of the toms I’m gonna use Saturday and they sounded pretty amazing”.

Gordon agreed fully and we discussed the merits of Pinstripes, unfettered by the folly of fashion and the drum police. We were simply seeking deep tone. Gordon recently had played a backline drumset, Pins top and bottom, and he told me that when he struck the floor tom and heard a robust boooom there was no arguing that this was a throaty, traditional big drum sound. When I asked him about any dearth of stick attack, no was the response.

That’s what we ought to do. We’re fortunate to enjoy such a rich choice of batter heads. Why not select ones we truly love and not ones that are au courant.

There’s something further I need to say, directly with regard to Pinstripes and another, formerly fashionable, head called the Black Dot. I’ve brought this up before but maybe you haven’t heard and I’m in the process of properly indexing the many articles on this website: Tony Williams used heads you wouldn’t believe, all through the Miles Davis period and beyond. He would ask Remo to construct 2-ply batters with dots atop; also, he’d use 2-ply Emperors, back in-the-day sometimes stamped “heavy”, and he didn’t suffer any loss of tone.

My Ambassador problems are long standing. Maybe it’s me—it must be due to the weight of testimony against what I’m saying—but I’m not fond of a certain boing I hear, and of a brittle feel, from a new Remo Ambassador. Maybe I oughta let them break in, ditto with Evans G1. For that matter, I’d much rather play the ultra-thin Diplomat (the thinnest batter head available from Remo) or the Evans J1 (analogous to the Diplomat by virtue of the etching process, which “scrapes away” at the film) than the regular mid-weight batter any day of the week. This is not fashion. I can tune any head the way it ought to sound at its optimum. So can you. Thing is, I appreciate the feel of a drumhead as much as the tone and, thus, I’m not going to submit to fashion—in this case retro heads returned to haunt me. Back in the 1970s I’d often employ Emperors, tuned on the upper-mid side. At the gig, I’m trotting out Pinstripes. Maybe next gig it’ll be…who knows?

That mention of the Remo Black Dot, or the Evans vented reverse-dot. The concept didn’t seem to bother African tribesman, who rubbed tar atop their heads as a matter of course. You don’t hear reports of them rejecting the tainted tone or appearance of drums so-treated. Reminds me, given winter is upon us, of a beautiful white field of snow defaced by a single mound of dog turd. But then I digress.

Let’s go for tone and get frisky with our head choices. Tbw