Expert Review: Evans Level 360 Tom Heads — Part 1 (Part 3 of the series)
A first look at Evans' diverse tom head offerings
Evans was started just like many other drum companies, by a drummer who thought he could improve the drumming experience. Marion “Chick” Evans had grown tired of humidity affecting his calf skin drum heads, so he took a piece of plastic film (Mylar) and constructed the first commercially viable (coined phrase) “All-Weather” drumhead. He realized he had a revolutionary product for drummers, and started the Evans Drumhead Company. According to the company, “After Chick developed his landmark drumhead in 1956, he traveled to music stores around the country, shocking music dealers by mounting the head on a drum, showing the surprising similarity of sound to calfskin, then proceeded to pour water on it, stand on it, and then play it again. The calfskin heads of the day could never take such abuse; the water alone would render them useless.”
During the early years, Chick produced these heads by hand. He eventually realized he needed a partner who knew how to build the machinery to mass- produce these heads so he partnered with Bob Beals, who had an engineering background. Beals significantly improved Evans heads over the years with his innovative designs introducing the first two-ply head, the first clear (or “glass”) heads, the Hydraulic oil-filled head, and the first heads with internal rings, dry-venting, and offset ports (the EQ bass line and Genera line). When “Chick” retired, Bob Beals purchased Evans Drumhead Company.
I was fortunate to have known and become friends with Bob during my tenure with several different drum companies. He was passionate about drummers and drumhead technology as well as a very kind and friendly soul who would always engage in a smiling conversation about drum heads.
In 1995, Bob Beals retired and sold Evans Drumheads to J. D’Addario & Company, Inc. Jim D’Addario took the same passion he had for guitar strings and applied that passion to drum heads. D’Addario has taken Evans from a 3% market share to a 40+% market share in a few short years.
When I was asked to review their Evans Level 360 heads, I had no idea that I was in for a bounty of heads that would make reviewing tom heads a fun, yet challenging, task.
To understand what sets these heads apart, it's important to understand what a bearing edge is, and how drumheads have been historically produced.
Bearing Edge: The bearing edge is the part of a drum shell that makes contact with the drumhead. Typically, these bearing edges have a cut edge that can vary depending on manufacturer from 30 to 45 to even 60 degrees in slope, and the high edge is on the outside of the shell.
Drum Head Construction: Historically, drumheads are produced in a process by which Mylar (or polyester) is stretched and heat-stamped as it is mounted into an aluminum counter-hoop. The counter-hoop is the aluminum ring on the drumhead against which the drum hoop applies downward pressure against when it's being tightened. In normal drumhead construction, there's a slope of the Mylar coming out of the counter-hoop slanted inward/upward to the point where the Mylar intersects the bearing edge.
Level 360 is different from those aforementioned constructed heads in that, instead of the Mylar slanting inward and upward, it slopes almost vertically.
If you set the average drumhead on a drum, you’ll note that it has a wobble, because the bearing edge meets the head on the Mylar's inward and upward slope instead of resting on the flat horizontal Mylar drumhead plane. We rely on tightening the hoop of the drum against the counter-hoop for the tension needed to pull it tightly against the Mylar's horizontal underside. I also noticed that when I placed any other head on the drum, there was enough slack that, by pressing my finger on the head above the bearing edge, it creates a dimple. This doesn’t happen with the Level 360 head. You can actually feel the bearing edge immediately through the head.
With the Level 360, the bearing edge instantly sits flush on the horizontal Mylar of the drumhead.
This instant contact of the bearing edge against the horizontal Mylar plane really makes a noticeable difference. For example, the tuning is much, much easier. The drum head sits completely level initially, so the turns of the drum key normally reserved for bringing the head down to the bearing edge immediately benefit the tuning. This also results in a wider tone range.
When I was asked about reviewing the Evans Level 360 lineup of tom heads, I didn’t have a clue about how many different heads were offered. When these huge boxes showed up, I was somewhat overwhelmed. Think of it as having too many choices on the menu.
But then, I thought … how many people get an opportunity to sit down with every tom head a company offers and do a comparison study to determine what they like best? Besides, who needs weekends anyway?
- G14 Clear
The G14 Clear head is a single-ply 14mil film that isn’t crystal clear, but somewhat opaque. The head has a nice tone if thumped right out of the box (not mounted — this indicates a head that can produce a great tone once mounted). This head to have a dark, throaty sound with a lot of sustain, and a rather warm tone, and the ability to hold up well to stick abuse.
- G12 Clear
The G12 Clear head is a single-ply 12mil film. Again, this head is not crystal clear either. The head had a "frappy" tone when thumped right out of the box (not mounted). When mounted as a batter (top head), it produced a punchy attach but open decay. This is a very resonant head; the tone fell right in the middle of the tonal spectrum. This head held up well, but I did note a few stick dimples form with reasonably hard hitting.
- G2 Clear
The G2 Clear is a two-ply head with each ply being 7mil (14mil total) and the film is crystal clear. Many mistake these two-ply heads for having an “oil” in between the film because the two plies produce an iridescent sheen, but this is simply the two films reacting to one another. This head produced a solid tone when thumped right out of the box (not mounted) but the dual ply kept the overtones under control. I love this head and the sound it produced on my toms — a guttural growl, with a nice tone rolloff. The head held up extremely well under stick abuse.
- G1 Clear
The G1 Clear is a single-ply 10mil head. This head is not crystal clear but rather hazy, and produced a "frappy" sound when thumped right out of the box. Mounting as a batter head produced too many overtones for me. I used this head on the bottom and really liked the result (for the playing situation in which the head was going to be used). As a batter head, this single thin ply head holds up well but will dimple with heavy playing.
- EC2 Clear SST
The EC2 Clear is a two-ply and like the G2 it is two 7mil plies. The defining difference in this head is it features an Edge Control™ ring around the head's outer perimeter. This head is also crystal-clear, and is a very good-looking thanks to the two stripes around the outer edge. For the upcoming gig, this was my head choice, due to its aggressive, defined attack and a medium but controlled decay. The tone was middle of the road. Due to the Level 360 technology, I was able to get great low-end tone out of my floor toms with slightly more than finger tightening the head. The EC2 also stands up against heavy hitting. Out of all the heads, this was a personal favorite.
As drummers, we can sometimes get locked into one brand or another; when this happens, change can be hard to accept. But with these Evans Level 360 heads, you’ll realize just how many options are available for drummers and for the sounds we are trying to create with our drums.
There are six more tom heads in the Evans Level 360 tom head series and we'll break those down in the next installment of the Level 360 series.
Video - Evans:
Video - Harmony Central:
To purchase this and other D’Addario Evans Products from Musicians Friend:
Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.