There is much hype about how shell construction affects the tone of a drum. We will cover the issue of the diameter, or the depth of the shell in another topic, but they do have similar effects on tone.
But the characteristics of tone as far as a drum shell goes, basically boils down to two things.
1) Shell Density
Every material has a different density. If you make the thickness of every drum shell material exactly the same, the tone of the material will change depending on how hard, or how porous it is. Soft materials like soft to medium density wood and plastic vibrate at a much lower speed, and lend them self well to lower tuned drums, whereas harder materials such as hard wood and metal vibrate at a higher speed, and are better suited for higher tuning.
2) Shell Thickness
If we lined up 10 drums all made from maple,
5ply 6ply 8ply 10ply 12ply 15ply 20ply 30ply 40ply 50ply
The thinner shell will resonate at a lower frequency, and the thicker shell will resonate at a higher frequency.
Mixing of the two.
It is entirely possible to produce a soft wood shell, 1 inch thick, making it as rigid as a very thin metal shell. The shell will always take on the characteristic of the material it is made from, but the low density of the shell will affect the overall tone so that even though the drum can tune very high, you will still retain the fat low tones of the soft material. Think 1 inch thick mahogany
Alternatively, a thin metal shell can have can both be bright, with excellent cut through the sound mix, with fat bottom end.
It is important to know what tone you are going for.
A thin soft material shell will vibrate at a very low frequency, so if you are going for a low fat thud, a thin soft material is just right for your tone. However a soft thin material drum shell will not vibrate at the same rate as a high tuned drum head, and combining the two will produce a very choked sound.
A medium thickness, medium density shell like a 10 ply maple shell is the industry standard for a reason because it performs well in most playing situations, as well as maple being a easily replenish-able resource, also makes it an inexpensive and yet high quality choice for drums.
High density and high thickness drum shells offer the ultimate in crack, projection and high tuning range you crave for your rock, gospel and pop gigs.