In the olden days animal hides were used for the banjo head. Many players still prefer skin heads, however, synthetic ones do have something to offer for many players. Different types of banjo heads sound different. Some are bright while some are mellow. Not every head sounds the same on every banjo. Much like finding the perfect strings for an instrument, finding the perfect match between banjo and banjo head may take some experimentation.
Natural animal hide or skin is the most authentic head for a banjo. The banjo came from Africa with an animal hide head. Animal hide has a great sound with a terrific thump factor. Using a hide banjo head does come with some marginal drawbacks. Humidity tends to loosen an animal hide banjo head. In the course of a day, it is likely that you will have to re-tune your banjo a bit. The inside of the banjo head may be varnished to counter act some of the effects of humidity.
Synthetic hide heads, sometimes known by the trade name “fiber-skyn”, are my current favorite banjo head. They offer a good bit of the warmth that makes a hide head so appealing without the sensitivity to humidity. They also look like hide on the outside which.
Renaissance heads are alright too, although a little too bright for my own playing. They have a translucent look to them and are pretty loud. I have liked them very much on certain banjos.
Weather King Heads are the original plastic banjo head. You’ve probably seen them on resonator banjos. Plain white, super bright, some come frosted, some come plain. Often the choice for bluegrass playing, these things could once be seen and heard on the banjo of many an old-timer.