In reality I think a drummer’s collection of “working” snares could be complete with about six different drums. I can do almost any job in a session or tour with these essential snares.
1. 14” x 6” brass shell snare – like Yamaha’s Classic Brass or a Pearl Free-floating brass shell or a Ludwig Black Beauty.
2. 14” x 5” maple shell snare – Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute.
3. 14” x 5” aluminum shell snare – like a Ludwig Acrolite or similar model.
4. 13”(or 14”) x 3” brass piccolo snare
5. 12” x 6” maple piccolo snare
6. 14” x 6 ½” chrome over brass Paul Leim Signature Snare by Yamaha, similar to Slingerland’s chrome over brass or Pearl’s old Jupiter Snare.
I actually have about fifteen snares. Not too many really, considering I can think of drummers I know that have thirty or more. Each drum has its own character and tone. That is the reason we drummers are compelled to keep buying them. Some drums I get at a shop after checking out dozens in the show room. Other drums I’ll find at yard sales. Still others I’ll get just because I’ve heard them used by other players and I want to add that sound to my collection.
It’s true that the design of a drum creates its own unique tonal character. The size of the shell; the material used; the thickness; the rims; the hardware; the snares; the heads; and the cut or shape of the edges will all affect the sound you hear. As players we usually don’t consider why something sounds the way it does, we just like or dislike what we hear. “It’s a feel thing.” And that’s perfectly OK! Trust your ears. I always advise drummers to play what inspires them.
You may feel that you have no idea where to begin. Maybe you just want one drum to do everything. In all fairness, that is a tall order for one snare. If I had to choose only one drum for a tour or recording I would probably go with the 14” x 6” brass shelled snare like the Yamaha snare, Pearl Free-floater, or Ludwig Black Beauty I mentioned earlier. I use all of these drums with standard steel hoops, not die-cast. And the producers, artists, and bands always like what they hear. No kidding! All of the sessions I did in the last two weeks I mostly used one of those snares. Paul Baloche’s entire “Offering” recording was a Ludwig Black Beauty with a Peavey 1000 maple piccolo snare to the left of my hi-hat. On the latest tour I’m using the Yamaha brass shelled drum. Again, on different songs I’ll try different things. But I usually begin with the brass drum.
The sound of a brass snare is awesome. Brass is a heavier metal so it projects some warmth that steel does not. Because it is metal it has a brighter tone to it than wood. Also by changing the tuning and muffling of the drum you can make it sound really fat and low, or crank it up and make it really “pingy”! It’s probably the most versatile drum in my collection.
Now I know there are drummers reading this who might disagree with me. That’s OK! Again, I encourage you to play what inspires you. I’m just trying to narrow down all of the options into one workable snare drum. And so far the brass drum has always come out the winner. While working on a project I may use a different snare for each song. That really does happen. But when there’s no time to change I’ll always set up the big brass snare.
As a secondary snare I usually use a 14” (or 13”) x 3” brass piccolo snare to the left of my hi-hat. That again is a starting point. According to the music I might switch things around. I’ll put the piccolo in the primary position and the bigger drum to the left. It’s always a creative musical choice.
Head choices for this set up are as follows. I’ll use an Evans Reverse Dot Coated head on the bigger drum and a Coated G1 on the piccolo. The standard Snare Side Evans Resonant is on the bottom of both drums. If I want the piccolo even brighter sounding I’ll put a thinner head on top. Again, if you like different manufacturers use what inspires you. I’ll tune the bigger drum pretty tight, but not like the piccolo. With the snares turned off tap the center of the drum. The note you should hear should be around a “G”. If you want it a little brighter tune up to an “A”. I’ll tune the piccolo much higher. I crank it up to a high “C”. I even tune my snares in perfect 4ths or 3rds; never closer than a minor 3rd. It’s always a creative choice.
Actually some of the signature drums being made now are really amazing. Paul Leim’s Yamaha snares are incredible. Pearl’s Steve Forrone snare; Tama’s Kenny Aronoff snare; and Yamaha’s Manu Katche snare are also great drums. It’s no surprise I like all of these drums. They’re designed after the Ludwig Black Beauty brass snare with some variations. Paul’s drum has the chrome over brass element. Manu’s snare as well as Paul’s come with die cast hoops. These hoops give a snare more “crack”. All of these drums have that same classic brass character. The others are almost exact copies of the Black Beauty.
For you Steve Gadd fans, after years of development Yamaha finally came up with a snare that Steve loved. His classic Ludwig “Supra-phonic” sound has been duplicated by Yamaha. For years Yamaha made the rest of his kit, but Steve always used the Ludwig snare as his primary drum. Their design team really nailed it with this drum. They even make it in six varieties of different sizes and wood shell models too. Of course if you want that sound you could just get the Ludwig Supra-phonic like he always used.
The world of snare drums is constantly growing. In every issue of Modern Drummer you’ll find new designs and even independent builders coming up with fresh concepts in drum building. The Craviotto Drum Company is just one that makes fantastic snare drums. Chester Thompson allowed me to check out his maple snare that they made. It had amazing “crack” and tone, and a very distinct character of its own. A drum I would like to add to my collection one day. This seems to happen a lot when I hear new drums. Musicians are like musical chefs always adding spices to their cabinet. I have to admit I have quite an appetite.
I want to remind you to be creative. Find an old beat up snare at a yard sale and rebuild it. I have an old Ludwig snare that my father-in-law found for five dollars. New heads and wire snares made the drum come to life. An old wood Slingerland student model drum I got from a drum shop sounds fat and “trashy”. I use it according to the musical moment that calls for that sound. At a close out sale at Sam Ash I found a cheap little piccolo snare for twenty five bucks that just sounds awesome. You can hear that drum on several cuts of the new Quad Venti recording “Global Settings”. www.quadventi.com
No matter how many drums you own, get to know what each one will do. I’ll spend time playing each snare to get use to its unique sound. I’ll tune and adjust them in different ways to discover a variety of colors in each snare. That way when I’m in a session or on tour I am able to actually hear the sound in my mind without going through my whole collection to find the right “spice” for what I’m cooking up. It is great to experiment as long as you’re not wasting other people’s time.
The snare is probably the most distinct drum voice we hear in music today. So having a good understanding of the options available is very important. Start with a few essential drums as we’ve discussed. As time and money allow keep adding to your own personal collection. Listen, read, and investigate so you will be able to serve up quite a tasty treat for your fellow musicians. A good chef knows what flavor he wants to add to a recipe to make it unique and wonderful. It won’t be long before you know how to add just the right snare “spices” to your own musical menu.