I’ve used three different kinds of heads with success so far:
rawhide, on Tubes and Paired; goatskin on Squat and snarl; and
heavyweight black leather on Blowdrum, Big Drum, and Thump.
With so much metal in the sound anyway, I wanted to avoid getting too
much conga / djembe / dumbek ringing. I tried old leather jackets to
begin with and I liked the dullness of the sound, but they didn’t last
very long (one performance). The heavy leather (the grade used for
toolbelt nail pouches and chaps) on thump and blowdrum has stood up
very well. The rawhide is hard to work and sounds very bright. The
hair-on goatskin is sharp and ringless.
Hand bending the rings makes it hard to be as precise as I might like,
so I use two rings below each rim instead of one. This makes mounting
the heads a little more grief intensive, particularly with thick
rawhide, but it works –they hold tune and stay even.
If I were going to make a lot of drums I’d want an industrial strength
ring-roller. I'm hoping some chinese company'll make a knock off of one
and sell it through harbor freight for $89.99.