How tight should I make mesh heads on my electronic drum set? This is a really common question mostly asked by concerned novice drummers who are fearful of damaging their gear. This fear is very justified, since over-tightening and under-tightening can both be detrimental in different ways. That being said, there is a wide range of safe mesh tensions that will work.
If you are wondering how tight to make your mesh heads, this post can help. I will explain the dangers of overly tight or overly loose heads and how to find the sweet spot that is perfect for you and your playing style. Remember, although mesh heads are designed to emulate acoustic drum heads in some ways, they are still a different product and must be treated with knowledge and respect.
How Tight Should I Make Mesh Heads Without Breaking Them?
It is possible to over-tighten your heads and break them. Mesh is incredibly flexible and will stretch to a significant degree. However, it you continue to tighten the head too far, you may pull the mesh fabric out of the actual hoop and destroy the head. In all my years of running my drum shop, Bangkok Drum, I have only seen this once and it was done by a child who was playing on daddy’s drum kit. It is really hard to over tighten a mesh head so far as to break it, but it is possible, so be careful! The risk of this happening dramatically increases if you buy cheap mesh heads,!
Furthermore, some electronic drums have separately attached lugs instead of integrated lug screw holes in the base-plate of the pad, for example. Separate lugs on electronic drums are not typically designed for extreme tensioning either. It is possible that placing extreme tension on the head can cause the lug to break off the pad, which is worse than breaking the head itself. Once again, be careful!
Finally, super tight heads may not trigger perfectly. They might miss hits or less commonly, may double trigger some hits. This is especially true in cases where the trigger cone is not set to its optimal height in relation to the head or when the cone begins to show signs of age.
How Loose Should I Make Mesh Heads?
Ok, so super tight is not good. How about very loose? Well, this is just as bad. A very loose head will not respond well to play. It will not feel natural and will not trigger properly either. A floppy head will miss many hits, particular fast hits and soft hits. This will dramatically degrade your playing accuracy.
Overly loose heads on pads with foam trigger cones will also put the cone in extreme danger of damage from direct hits. The mesh head is designed to move a small amount during a normal hit under optimal tension. This movement translates into the cone and provides amazing trigger accuracy. When the head is too loose, the cone actually takes the impact of the hit and will crush, split and degrade quickly.
I encounter many drummers who consider themselves “acoustic purists” and talk about how they love their mesh heads so loose, for a more “acoustic feel”. These people KNOW that overly loose heads will damage their gear, yet they proceed anyway. This is not a matter of NOT knowing, but instead a matter of stubbornness and ego. I usually meet these people when they bring me several pads that require repair and I see instantly that they caused the damage through their own ignorance…
So, How Much Mesh Head Tension is Correct?
Ok, so let’s talk what is right, instead of what’s wrong… LOL. Basically, the head should be firm and have tone, but should not be cranked so far as to make it like a table top or kitchen counter. This guidance provides a huge range of effective tuning! It is really up to you to find your own sweet spot. There is no narrow range that is optimal for every drummer. Just do not make your heads floppy and toneless (or even very low tone) and do not make them super taut and extremely high toned. Anywhere in the middle will be fine in most cases.
I like my heads tighter than many drummers, since I tend to play fast music and like the extra bounce I get. I also respect my gear and do not want to break it. By keeping my heads at a relatively high tension, I never damage my cones or cause uneven wear on the head. I do not make them uncomfortably tight. I just tune my snare a bit below where I would place my acoustic snare and my toms a bit less than that. I do maintain more tension on the smaller toms than the floor toms, simply for a realistic feel, but do not keep my floor toms loose ever.
In Thailand, an expensive drum set is almost the financial equivalent of buying a house for a Thai person. Literally. If you are lucky enough to live in a developed country where a nice drum set is easily acquired, then count your blessings! I have to make my gear last and last, so I treat it like a loved one and preserve it as much as I can. I respect my art and my instrument. I recommend you do too, even if money is not such a limiting factor for you.
I hope that this post helps you to understand how much tension to add to your mesh heads. If you do it right, your heads, and therefore your drums, will last for a very, very long time.