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Beginner’s guide to snare drums.
If you are thinking of buying a new snare drum, potentially one to replace an old duffer of a drum, as a spare, or even to have two snares set up on your kit, where do you start? Here are a few tips on finding the right sound for you. After all, the snare is probably the most important drum in your kit.
Snare drums essentially come as two variations: wood shell or metal shell, but there are many variants on each. Wood shells are generally warmer and have more crack to the sound, whereas metal shells have a more bright, brash sound, with a high level of ‘pop’ to the sound. Most manufacturers now are experimenting with all kinds of materials, giving the drummer more choice than ever before.
The two most common woods used in drum construction are Maple and Birch. Maple is by far the most common, giving a broad, round tone, with plenty of crack. Birch is often much brighter, but again giving a high-end crack with plenty of body, especially at higher tuning tensions. Other woods that are becoming frequently more used include Walnut (Mapex Black Panther, giving a very deep tone, very warm in nature), and to a lesser extent, Oak (Yamaha Oak Custom drums) and Bubinga (an exotic wood used in specialist drums). Some manufacturers produce hybrid versions of these woods, too. An excellent example of this is Premier’s Modern Classic Gen-X snare, which has both Maple and Birch in the shell.
The main metal shell drums come in either steel (quite loud and brash, very poppy) or brass (very loud again, but a bit of a warmer, more rounded tone). There are more versions of other shells becoming available, such as aluminium (similar to brass in warmth, but with a little more control and focus) and copper (maybe the most versatile, combining the attack of a metal shell with the warmth of wood). One of the best metal-shelled drums to come onto the market in recent times is the Ahead snare, which offers a couple of different sizes, with a brass shell coated in black chrome: an awesome sounding drum which many people have likened to the amazing Ludwig Black Beauty snares of the 70's!
It is also worth considering how many lugs your potential new purchase has. The more you spend, often there are more lugs on the drum. Many 14” drums for example, have 8 lugs, some as many as 10. More lugs give you greater tuning sensitivity, allowing more fine-tuning of your sound.
By far the most common is to go for a 14” diameter with something between 5” and 6.5” depth. Many drummers playing quite modern music choose piccolo snares, which have a more shallow shell, giving a very tight sound suited to funk, pop and various forms of rock music. Deeper shell drums, such as 7” or 8”, are a shade louder, and also give a little more depth of tone, with the extra bit of room the air has when moving inside the drum.
Other diameter drums can also be very useful in various styles. 13” diameter drums are becoming increasingly popular, and can provide a very sweet sound. Soprano or “popcorn” snares, usually in something like a 12x7” size, are a great addition as a first or second snare, giving tight accents and surprising response for the size, and 10” effect piccolo snares, which many drummers (myself included) use as a second snare mounted to the left of the hi hat, in addition to a more “regular” size drum as a main snare. These small drums can also be deceptively loud!
Wires and strainers.
Crucial points of the drum are also the snare wires and the mechanism on which they are attached. You can use wires with more strands to get a “fatter” sound with more buzz, or a standard wire will let the drum sing more, with an open sound. Some people change the wires on their drum to tailor their sound, and Puresound, who specialise only in snare wires, have created wires that can totally transform any snare drum.
The strainer is the second most important part of the drum, after the shell, and can affect the drum’s sound considerably. It is important that the strainer should have a good, smooth action, allowing good tensioning options, while being strong enough not to let the snares loosen while playing. Many drums also now feature tensioning at the butt end, as well, where the wires attach at the other end. This is designed with even more precision and snare sensitivity in mind.
Ultimately, you may have a sound already in mind when buying a drum, but if not, you may find your ideal snare after some careful searching. Remember also that your tuning will also affect the sound, so consider how versatile the drum is at different tuning ranges. Good luck!
Recommended snares (many of the recommended snares come in various sizes).
Metal shell on a budget:
Mapex Pro Series steel shell models, Mapex Black Panther steel shell models, Pearl Sensitone Steel Models, Worldmax Steel and Brass shell models, Tama Metalworks Steel shell models.
Metal shell splashing out:
Ahead brass shell with black chrome, Mapex Black Panther Phosphor Bronze, Pearl Sensitone with various shells, Pearl Ultracast Aluminium snares with black lacquer finish, Pearl Joey Jordison, Tico Torres and Chad Smith Signature models, various Yamaha Signature models, particularly Steve Gadd and Mike Bordin models.
Wood shell sensibly priced:
Sonor 3007 models, Mapex Pro Series maple models, Tama Artwood maple models.
Wood shell dream snares:
Premier Modern Classic Gen-X and Maple models, Mapex Black Panther Walnut and Maple models, Tama Starclassic and Warlord Snares, Yamaha Musashi Oak Shell models, various Yamaha Signature Models, particularly Akira Jimbo models.