Say, what are counterhoops on drums, anyway? The word may not sound familiar, but this is a piece of every drum in your kit and an important one at that. Counterhoops are the rings that hold the heads onto your drums. They’re often just known as “hoops” or even more commonly as “rims.”
Didn’t know that? No worries, I’ve decided to take you through what you need to know about counterhoops. There are different kinds of hoops based on shapes, materials, and construction processes. Each type can bring a distinct quality to your drum’s sound, so it’s useful to know which is which.
And while some styles are all but extinct, you can still find them on vintage drums if you’re looking for a specific character.
Terminology: Rims, Hoops, and Counterhoops
First off, let’s clear up the name thing. Rims are for cars. Sure, when you do a rimshot, you hit the outermost edge of your drum; it’s true. But I guess the word “rim” just isn’t clear enough. You can hit the rim of a cymbal or a drum, or even the rim of your stool if you want.
“Hoop” is a better word for those rings that go around drums and clamp the heads on. I guess you could even hula-hoop with a bass drum hoop, but let’s say it’s probably best not to.
What makes counterhoops different?
Counterhoops are a specific type of hoop that is flanged in towards the center of the drum. This was a style created by Slingerland back in the 1950s. The “counter” part of counterhoop was the third flange which was a sort of revolution in hoops at the time.
A straight metal hoop chewed sticks like a beaver, so Slingerland added a third flange that turned the hoop inwards. They called this the counterhoop or the “Sticksaver” design.
Later, most manufacturers turned the third flange the other way, back out from the drum. But many people still called these triple-flanged hoops “counterhoops.”
Wait, What’s a Flange?
Well, that’s a great question, and it will bring us to the different types of hoop design. When we talk about metal hoops, a flange is where the ring of metal is bent in a new direction. That’s all.
Before a piece of metal is curved around onto itself to form a hoop, it’s just a straight, flat piece of metal. Bend that metal, and you’re putting in a flange that will run all the way around it when it’s formed into a hoop.
With metal hoops, there are straight (no flanges) hoops, single-flanged hoops, double-flanged hoops, and triple-flanged hoops, sometimes also called counterhoops.
Different Drum Hoop Designs
Drum manufacturers have experimented with lots of different drum hoop designs over the years. Some are easier and cheaper to produce, some are easier to play on, and some just objectively sound better.
Straight hoops are the O.G. of drum hoops. Whether they’re made of metal or wood, these were all originally held on using claw hooks that wrap over the top of the rim. However, these can get in the way when you’re trying to hit a rim shot or just in regular playing.
Also, because it’s impossible to bend wood as you can metal, wooden hoops like this 14-inch Gibraltar are pretty much, by definition, straight hoops.
A newer design came out sometime in the 1930s – the single-flanged hoop. This took the stock metal and bent it to make a 90-degree angle that ran all the way around the hoop. The benefit was you now had a lip that you could drill into, creating holes for tensioning/tuning lugs that could replace those pesky claw hooks.
Good start, but not the end…
The problem with single-flanged hoops is that they leave the head exposed to abuse and wear. Remember, back in the 1930s, everyone was playing on real skins and not durable synthetic heads like we have today.
The double-flanged hoop offered a solution to protect the heads. This hoop takes the stock metal and bends it 90 degrees out (like the single-flange) and then again at 90 degrees down. That gives you two flanges when you form it into a hoop.
However, the holes for the lug nuts are left flat. So, there are sections of the double-flanged hoop that are still single-flanged.
Pretty good going, but there was still a major problem…
Like straight hoops, single- and double-flanged hoops still had a top edge of thin metal that pointed straight up. Yep, ready to chop your sticks like an ax.
Something had to be done, and in the late 1930s, companies like Slingerland and Ludwig folded the stock metal one more time to create a more gentle lip on the top of the hoop. That was the third flange in the triple-flange hoop design that we still use to this day.
Triple-flanged hoops like this Gibraltar 16” protect your sticks from turning to woodchips when you play cross-sticking or rimshots. And protect your hands from getting chopped as well.
It was a natural progression from triple-flanged hoops to die-cast hoops that started in the 1940s. Once the double- and triple-flanged designs had been perfected, why not take this design and make it stronger, thicker, and more durable?
That’s what die-casting allowed manufacturers to do…
Molten metal (usually zinc, steel, aluminum, or brass alloys) is poured into a mold and left to harden. This creates a single, seamless hoop in comparison to bent, rolled, and welded flanged hoops.
Die-cast hoops like this Ludwig snare hoop are generally stronger, heavier, thicker, and also more expensive than flanged hoops.
What’s the Sound Difference Between Flanged and Die-cast Hoops?
When we compare triple-flanged counterhoops and die-cast hoops, it’s all about the extra weight. Die-cast hoops can be as much as double the weight of good flanged hoops. And this has a big effect on your drum sound.
On the same drum with the same heads, die-cast hoops will give you a drier, more focused, aggressive sound and more volume overall. Triple-flanged hoops give you more ring and more overtones. Rimshots on a die-cast hoop are going to be very full and cutting.
So, if you’re looking for a loud, aggressive, modern, or heavy sound, you might want to consider die-cast hoops. If you play a lighter, brighter style like blues or jazz, where you want more voice to your drums, stick with flanged hoops.
What You Need to Know About Counterhoops – Materials
These days, you’ve pretty much got two options for drum hoop and counterhoop materials – metal or wood.
The metals that are most commonly used include steel, aluminum, zinc alloy, and brass. Steel is the cheapest, and it was originally avoided because of the possibility of rust. But, these days, pretty much any steel hoop you’ll find will be chrome plated for extra durability and rust resistance.
- Aluminum hoops – These have little tone and are the lightest of the bunch. They also don’t cost much, like this pair of top and bottom hoops from Gazechimp.
- Zinc alloy hoops – They can vary widely and are generally not very rigid, and can warp easily. Furthermore, they have little tone to add to your drums. But they sure come cheap like this Gazechimp pair.
- Steel hoops – These have a characteristic ring that you can hear if you play on their rims. This can add overtones to your drums and give them more ring if you want such things. They’re also more rigid and durable than zinc or aluminum and will give more protection to your shells’ edges. But, they cost about double, as you can see with this snare side hoop from Tama.
- Brass hoops – This metal is responsive and bright and lens a lot more overtone to the sound of your drums. Again, if you are looking for that. Brass also looks pretty and generally costs the most, as this batter side snare hoop from Ludwig.
Wood hoops are found almost universally on bass drums, where they add to the warmth and color of those big boys. They can come in any type of wood, but poplar is most common, followed by denser maple, like this 22-inch bass hoop from Gibraltar.
On a snare, a wood hoop can make huge changes to the sound of your drum. You’ll find you get a much warmer, rounder sound out of your snare with much less sustain than with metal hoops.
Choosing the Right Hoops
Whether you decide on flanged, die-cast, or straight wood hoops, there are still a couple of things you need to keep in mind when you choose your hoops.
First off, the number of lugs around a drum can vary between manufacturers. For example, the Pearl Utility snare is a 14” snare with only eight lugs, while this 14” maple beauty from PDP uses ten lugs. So, when you buy counterhoops for your drums, make sure you know both your sizes and the number of lug holes you need.
You also have to pay attention to the side you’re buying hoops for. Batter head hoops can be a bit thicker and heavier to give the drum a more cutting sound, while bottom (or snare-side) hoops are lighter for more resonance. Make sure you check which side of the drum it’s for before you buy any hoop.
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What You Need to Know About Counterhoops, Hoops, and Rims – Conclusion
Whether you call them counterhoops, hoops, or (I guess) rims, I hope you’ve picked up a thing or two from this explanation. If you’re looking for a specific sound for your drums, and, most importantly, your snare, then the choice of hoops can make a big difference.
From straight to flanged to die-cast, and with all sorts of wood and metal alloys, hoop engineering has come a long way. You now have a huge range of options to help you create the sound of your dreams. So, choose wisely and have fun.
Until next time, may the beat go on.