One of the most important parts that make up a drummer’s sound is the snare drum. In fact, the snare drum may arguably even be the MOST essential part of a drum kit– the character that defines the entire kit and will be noticed first by many listeners. Plus, if you play on a house kit or backlined kit, you can usually bring your own snare.
With the snare drum being so important, it means you should take extra care in selecting the right one to get the most out of your snare drum sound. After all, it can be the highlight of your entire kit! We’ll look at a few suggestions to consider in this process.
Choosing The Best Sized Snare Drum
The first characteristic of snare drums many consider is the size of the drum. While many classic drums have 5” x 14” or 5.5” x 14” as a standard size, many modern pop and alternative rock drummers are going with deeper snare drums, even up to 8” x 14.” This provides a thicker sound with more low-end punch and less of an in-your-face “crack” sound. While you can achieve this warm, thick sound on some smaller vintage drums as well, the sure-fire way to achieve it more easily is by selecting a larger snare.
For other styles of music such as hard rock or metal, drummers may prefer a shallower snare drum which does provide more of a “snap” or “crack” sound to cut through the mix. Drummers playing in other genres like jazz or country may want to choose a middle of the road snare drum with the most flexibility like the WFLIII Mahogany Snare in 5” x 14” all the way up to 6.5” x 14.”
Choosing The Right Shell Material
Probably the biggest element besides size that affects the sound of a snare drum is the material the shell is made of. One of the flagship drums created by WFLIII’s very own Bill Ludwig III is made from metal. The WFLIII 1909 Aluminum 6.5” x 14” Snare Drum has the nuance of wood when playing softly, but projects with a nice deep “smack” sound when you play more aggressively, meaning it is very flexible for almost any tuning or genre. This snare, in particular, has been compared to classic drums like the 1970’s Black Beauty, Acrolites, and Supraphonics, with a modern twist.
There are also, of course, many amazing and unique wood snare drum options. Drums made of maple, like the WFLIII Maple Snare Drum, offer sharp attack, warm tones, and melodic sustain. WFLIII uses a unique combination of woods for their 3-ply maple shells with maple on the outside, poplar in the middle, and maple on the inside. This configuration is a favorite among the most knowledgeable and selective drummers. Another great and musical option is the 5-ply WFLIII Mahogany Snare, which offers much in the way of warmth, vibrance, and musical tone with its thin plies of mahogany.
The Difference in 5-Ply or 3-Ply Shells Vs. 20 or 30 Ply Shells
Drum shells with fewer plies (thinner) tend to have a warmer tone that is deeper, richer, and has a longer sustain, with slightly less overall volume. Heirloom quality vintage drums tend to have fewer plies, while it’s commonplace to see 20-ply or 30-ply drums in newer or less expensive drum products. These drums may be louder and have a higher pitch with not as much perceived fullness.
Another thing to note about drums with fewer plies is that there’s more wood and less adhesive material holding the plies together, resulting in better tone from drums with fewer plies. WFLIII keeps it classy with fewer plies for truly pristine sounding drums– perfect for a pleasant tone in close quarters with no amplification, and studio-quality sound for the whole audience when mic’d up.
What Drum Heads Are Best?
Unlike many drums, WFLIII custom drums come with quality specialized WFLIII Remo Ambassador heads right out of the box. This is great to get you started.
But if you have the desire to further tweak your tone, one of the quickest and easiest ways to make your snare drum your own is by changing out the heads. Though it’s one of the easiest ways to customize your drum, it has one of the biggest impacts on your sound.
Whether you’re looking for a classic sound or a more modern sound, you may go through several types of heads before you find your favorite. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that thinner, single-ply heads will let the energy from the drum ring out more, resulting in a brighter and more open sound. Thicker heads such as 2-ply or 3-ply heads will provide more control for the overtones that ring out after the hit, resulting in a tighter and warmer sound.
Usually, the type of batter head (top head) has more of an effect on a drum’s tone than the bottom (resonant) head. Many drummers change out the top head and don’t bother changing the bottom head, and that holds true for the rest of the drum kit as well.
What About The Actual Snares?
The characteristic part of the snare drum that obviously separates it from any other drum in the kit is the snare wires and strainer/throw-off. Higher-quality snare wires will result in a more pleasant sound, though still pronounced and offering plenty of “splat.” WFLIII snares come with premium German-made 20 strand snare wires for the most versatility for any style of music and drumming. Some drummers choose to upgrade to an even higher count of snare wires such as 30 or 42 strands. With the relatively low cost of these items, it’s easy to experiment and find the option that works best for your taste.
The snare strainers/throw-offs are important as well, so WFLIII snare drums come standard with quality classic S-1 strainers, or the option of the Trick GS 007 strainer for the ultimate flexibility with three different positions to instantly change tensions.
Once you own your perfect snare drum and have found your favorite heads to use, now you have to figure out how to tune your drum to get the sound you’re looking for. This is another thing that is largely up to the drummer’s preference, but here are a few tips to help you as you experiment with the best tuning options:
- When putting on a head for the first time, go back and forth to different sides of the drum as you tighten the lugs to more evenly tension the head, as opposed to going all the way around in a circle.
- Use your finger to lightly press on the heads and make sure they are not loose or “flappy” on any section. If they are, you’ll need to bring them just a bit tighter.
- Go around the drum, hitting lightly with a drumstick close to each lug, and make sure the pitch is even all the way around. You can also use handy tuning tools with pitch measurement, tension presets, and more.
- At the most ideal tension, your head should feel tight when lightly pressing, but give just a tiny bit when you press harder with your finger. If not, you may have it too tight.
- It’s important to get the right tension on your batter (top) head for playability, so you have to stay in a certain range to maintain a good feel.
- You can start by tuning the top head to where it feels best to play (especially for snare work like rolls and grace notes), and then use the bottom head to adjust the pitch of the drum higher or lower.
- If you still want the drum to sound deeper/lower and you’ve loosened the bottom head to where you can’t go any looser, then you can reduce the tension of the top head some more as well. Just keep it in a range that allows you to play as expressively as you need to.
- If your snare has too much of an unpleasant, sharp “tat” sound or an odd “buzz” sound, you may need to loosen the snare strainer some. If the snares have a really long resounding rattle sound after each hit, you can tighten the tensioner.
- The ideal tension for the snare strainer is usually tight enough that all the snare wires are lightly touching the resonant (bottom) head, but there is play in them when you lightly move them with your finger.
- To achieve a really deep and warm snare sound, many drummers tune the heads down as low as they possibly can while still maintaining playing tension, especially the bottom head.
- To get a quicker, more snappy, and in some ways more aggressive sound, many drummers will crank up their snare drum heads tighter.
- If you’re hearing unpleasant overtones ringing out for too long after your hits, and you can’t tune up or down to overcome them, you may consider a product to dampen the heads just a bit, like the Big Fat Snare Drum Drum Topper or Moon Gels. If you don’t want to buy something, you can always cut a ring out of an old drum head to lay on your batter head!