Drum heads need frequent maintenance. Each material has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Manufacturers have a wide selection of items from which to choose replacements. In general, buy natural and tuck them yourselves or get them pre-formed, but if you are pressed for time and money, feel free to use any head that fits!
Natural heads have a richness of sound and authentic look that accents the performance of the drum. Maintenance on natural heads is no more than occasional inspection and care to avoid wet weather. A drawback to natural heads is the price. Natural heads go for over a hundred dollars. These are first class heads, professionally tucked by an expert. If you are careful, they will last for years.
If your natural head gets wet, loosen the ears of the drum and place it in a dry and well ventilated area to dry slowly. Do not play the drum while it’s wet as soaked skin tears like paper. You may tear the skin by drying it quickly, and drying it too slowly can cause mold and mildew to weaken the skin. Too fast is usually a matter of minutes, and too slow is several days. Any length of time from a few hours to a day is usually safe. Occasional inspection of natural heads is required to verify that no hairs or rips threaten to cause fractures. As a natural head reaches the end of its functional life, you should prepare a replacement by either tucking a new one in a new flesh hoop or purchasing a new one pre-manufactured. Be sure to examine the old flesh hoop and determine if the hoop is sufficiently straight for possible recycling.
Plastic heads have the distinct advantage of being water proof. The texture and tone of your drum doesn’t change in a thunderstorm. Plastic heads are almost always less expensive than calf or goat skin, and are easily obtained. Hauley Music sells several types of plastic heads @ a price range from $20 to $30 based on size and model. Any Remo batter head should work just fine. The largest problem with plastic heads is the sound. You may have a hard time tuning the ring out of a plastic head.
You can mix or match heads top and bottom (calfskin and plastic), but may experience unbalanced stretching and frequent fine tuning since the skin head (on top) stretches and the other doesn’t.