Every drummer can find that perfect sound that fits his/her style and personality. When they do, most become rabid defenders of their own drum kit's material, design and style. Acrylic kits tend to have a brighter, louder sound, whereas maple kits have a deeper and richer tone. Each represents a broader spectrum of drum sets--maple is one in a broad range of available wooden shells, and acrylic is one of several artificially constructed drum shell materials.
Acrylic drums are known for their loud, bright, brassy sound. Some drummers favor acrylic kits even at the professional level, while others look down their noses at "cheap" acrylic sets. Though it's true that many low-end and beginner's kits are made from acrylic, the sound and visual style of an acrylic kit has its place. Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, Three Dog Night, and Led Zeppelin have all done world tours with acrylic drums. The experts at Spaun Drums say acrylic drums have "a darker, more focused note with a quicker decay. Think of it as a 'naturally EQ'd' sound with less of the very high and very low frequencies. FOH [front of house] engineers love them for this reason."
Maple shells are generally considered higher-end drums and are generally more expensive. Along with mahogany and birch, maple shells are used in the majority of semi-professional and professional drum kits, according to the experts at DrumJunction.com. Maple falls in the middle, between rich, dark, soft mahogany and bright, loud, hard birch--which shares many qualities with the sounds achieved using acrylic kits.
Your drum's construction, as well as the material of which it's made, will affect its sound. When buying an acrylic drum, look for a geometrically cut and welded seam as opposed to a glued plastic seam for continuous, even vibration all around the drum's shell. When buying a maple drum, you'll have several construction options, including plywood, stave, segment, steambent and solid. A true solid shell is cut from a single piece of maple and will have the best resonance but will also be the most expensive. The term "solid" is often misused to refer to other construction methods, so be sure that you're shelling out the money for an honest-to-goodness solid shell and not a cheap knockoff.
The material that makes up your drum shell is only one factor in the sound you'll achieve. In particular, the drum head you choose will have a major effect on your sound. You can choose from one-ply, two-ply, coated and non-coated types of heads, among other options. Each type of head can further tailor the sound of your kit to your personal tastes. A one-ply head, for example, has a brighter sound and maximum sustain, according to the experienced drummers at Rock Drumming Underground. This head tends to get out of the way and let the tone of your shell shine through. If you want a warmer, richer sound, a two-ply head may be the way to go. Spend a little time experimenting and you'll find the mix of materials that brings out the sound for your needs, whether you're a hepcat in the studio or rockin' out in front of a crowd.
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