The snare drum. Our best drum friend. Sits there, in front of us being all awesome every time we hit it. Metal, wood, acrylic, no matter what the material, we easily get very attached to our snare drum sound. It’s one thing we spend time trying to cultivate.
But every once in a while we get a customer who has come to the point where they want their drum to sound a little different or their bored of the sound their drum makes.
Let’s look at 3 ways we can give your drum a new lease of life!
Drums, for all intents and purposes, are simply chambers that move air. They don’t make the sound. That’s done by the combination of heads and bearing edges.
Heads can make a world of difference to how your drum sounds. The difference between a Coated Ambassador, a Genera Dry and an Emperor X is vast and so is the sound difference.
Single ply heads typically make a drum open and bright sounding. Usually the drum will ring out at the top end if it’s tuned tightly. If this is a sound that you’ve played for a while – a tight, highly tuned single ply head, then changing to a heavier head will really bring out different qualities in the shell.
A double ply head with a dampening ring will remove the majority of the overtones at the top end and therefore you’ll get way more of the body of the sound. The pitch of the drum will drop and it’ll be able to take heavier hitting and hopefully be more durable!
Thicker heads will also greatly change how a drum sounds when tuned low. They will typically be drier and much lower in pitch than if a single ply head was on the drum.
Obviously this a very generic overview and with the number of different heads on the market, there are a vast range of sounds you can go for. Single ply heads with dots underneath/on top will give you the sensitivity of a single ply head, but with a little more low end due to the thickness in the middle of the head being greater.
Try out different things and see what works. It’s also worth remembering that live and recording are very different so if you have a recording session at some point, you’ll want to think carefully about how bright your drums sound, as that will no doubt either be captured by the mics or be problematic for the engineer.
This sounds a bit like witchcraft but I promise it’s not. Hoops can fundamentally change how your drum both sounds and plays.
Switching from say, triple flanged to die cast, will add more weight onto the shell, therefore changing the way the drum tunes. I find that die cast hoops need a lot less work to change the pitch of a drum than triple flanged do. A quarter turn on a die cast hoop can really change the sound way more than on a triple flanged.
To me, die cast hoops tend to focus a drum a lot more and give it (in my experience) more crack and a whole load more volume when you rim shot. I have a Yamaha 14 x 5.5 Bamboo drum that sounds totally different when I put die cast hoops on.
S Hoops are a great combination choice if you can’t decide which you prefer. They give the stability of tuning that a die cast will give you due to the added steel which improves rigidity, however tension wise, they behave quite like a triple flanged. Their edges also turn inwardly which decreases stress on the wrists, especially when rim shotting.
A recent change in snare wires for myself led to a fairly obvious lightbulb moment that hadn’t occurred to me before. The wires of a snare drum are the most stressed part of the drum. They are under tension nearly all the time. Even in the case. If you are like me, you NEVER loosen them when you put your drum away. So they can lie under tension for the length of time it takes me to remove it from the case, and not even be played. (Months in some cases).
So as you can imagine, this will tend to dull the wires down and probably fairly quickly (much like guitar strings).
I have a 13×6.5in brass shell, which has die cast hoops and a Powerstroke X (14 mil single ply with a 2 mil underlay to dampen the overtones). Recently I switched my wires over to a Puresound Custom Pro 20 strand wire. It’s a steel wire which is remarkably articulate and just the right amount of dry for me. It’s instantly revived the drum to be much more lively and responsive and has added a little extra projection – which is never a bad thing.
I have also recently switched out some wires on another drum to a Puresound Equalizer 16 strand wire. This wire has the middle 4 wires removed in order to eliminate as much snare buzz as possible whilst still retaining a strong snare sound (it works in conjunction with the snare’s natural acoustics or something). Again it’s totally revived an old drum to sound fresh, articulate and it responds under my hands like never before.
So there you have it. A few different ways that you can spice up your snare drum sound, without going too crazy. Try them out, experiment with different head/wire choices or hoop choices. Stuart Copeland famously had different hoops top and bottom of his drum (die cast top, triple flanged bottom). See what works for you. You never know what lease of life it’ll breathe into your drum and your playing.