The snare drum along with the kick drum are the two most predominant sounds on a drum set. Having that perfect sound for your snare can literally define your drumming and give you your signature sound. But how do you select one?
Well first you should determine if you actually do need a new snare. In all actuality there are very few snares that sound bad, aside from ones that have some design flaws or damaged parts. If you have the right heads and know how to tune, you can make nearly any snare sound good for what it is.
Most people’s problem with snare drum tuning is they try to make the snare they have sound like a different snare. For example one may like a deep snare sound, but have a 14×5″ snare. 5″ is not very deep, and it’s not going to sound deep. Loosening the head to where it’s floppy on the drum is just going to sound bad. If you want a deep sound, get a deep shell. You have a little more options for a tight sound even with a deep shell, because it’s easier to tune up than it is down.
Also, be very careful where you get your tuning advice. There’s one absolutely terrible tutorial on YouTube that has millions of views where a guy is unevenly tuning the lugs on his snare to get rid of overtones. First off, you get bad overtones from improperly tuning. Secondly, if you are constantly banging on a drum with 2 or 3 lugs completely loose and the rest tight, you’re going to warp your rim, and then eventually start tearing through heads.
So rather than trying to make your snare sound like something it’s not, learn how to make it sound as good as it can that is appropriate to it’s size, or if you don’t like that sound…. then it’s time to get another snare.
Let’s talk about materials
Quite simply snares can be broken down into 3 types of material.
There are many different types of wood, and several types of metal, but only a couple of synthetic drums. Drum manufacturers and guys that spend hours reading drum forums and reddit would like you to believe there’s huge differences in sound between different types of wood. There’s not. It’s a lie. Sorry. I’ve been playing drums for 30 years, and I can honestly tell you the difference in sound between poplar and maple is next to nil. What really changes the sound is shell thickness, treatment of wood (whether it’s finished inside, or raw) bearing edges (this is the part of the drum that touches the head), snare tension, depth and diameter, and of course heads!
There’s a lot of variables in wood manufacturing, and sounds can very from drum to drum, but in general a wood drum will have a warmer, drier sound than a metal one. Metal on the other hand is far more consistent than wood. Most steel shelled snares have the same thickness and edges are bent, not cut. Most of them are bent in the same way too. Metal will generally give you a brighter tone but deep metal snares can have a nice meat to them that seems to lack in wooden snares.
Finally synthetic snares are ones like Vistalites, or Piglite snares, most often made from acrylic, and then some very rare carbon fiber snares. The acrylic drums tend to have a very sharp attack and if you’re looking for a loud drum that can really penetrate, acrylic drums can have a serious bite. However they tend to sound a little thin.
When it all comes down to it, even with all of what I just said. You can have two of the same exact model snare drum, with the same heads, and tuned the same, and they can still sound different. This is because the tiny variations in manufacturing, head seating, room sounds, and the way one plays all can have an effect on the way they sound.
The first thing I would do is experiment with heads. Try different coated or even some clear heads on your snare, and see what you like best. Also, don’t be afraid to change tuning of your bottom head.
Some things to consider if you do want to purchase a snare:
- deeper shells = lower pitch
- thicker shells = less sustain
- smaller in diameter shells = higher pitch
- wood = drier, but warmer sound (most of the time)
- metal = brighter, but meatier sound (most of the time)
- acrylic = sharp attack, thinner sound
Some things to remember with heads:
- medium thickness = most sustain
- thickest heads = lower pitch, less sustain
- thinnest heads = higher pitch less sustain
- coated heads = drier tones
- clear heads = clearer tones
Finally here’s some snare recommendations:
Pork Pie’s snare drums are absolutely killer. They’re durable, made with amazing consistence, and sound awesome. I used one of these when I played with a post hardcore band, and it really cut though the mix. Pork Pie also makes great wood and acrylic snares.
Tama makes some of the highest quality drums on the market today. Their craftsmanship is nearly flawless and you get some very professional features such as diecast hoops and a pro throw off on their Metalworks series.
If you’re looking for a wooden snare drum, Yamaha’s Stage Custom series is great deal for the money. Yamaha is one of the most widely trusted names in drums.