FROM DRUM! MAGAZINE’S MARCH 2018 ISSUE | BY RICK VAN HORN
Most drummers consider their snare drum to be the “heart” of their kit. Okay, perhaps that should read “hearts,” since many drummers have more than one snare on a single kit. But whether you have one or a dozen, a snare drum’s importance merits its special care and handling — as well as a fair amount of caution in its use. Here then, is a list of things not to do with your snare drum. Some may be painfully obvious, while others are a bit more esoteric. But they’re all worthy of your attention.
Never play on the snare-side head.
A snare-side head simply cannot endure the impact of drumsticks at any significant volume level. If you can’t resist, then only do so with very light brushes or finger tapping.
Don’t tighten the snare wires so much that they choke the drum.
A “crisp” snare sound is one thing; a “choked” drum sound is quite another. Snare wires that are too tight restrict the bottom head’s ability to vibrate and thus the drum’s ability to resonate. The bottom head and the snare wires must function together, with each component working at its maximum capability, in order get the best overall sound out of the drum. (And this is, of course, after you’ve properly tuned the top head.)
Never store the drum with the throw-off engaged.
There’s no point in keeping the snare wires stretched when they’re not being applied to the snare-side head. Snare-wire sets suffer metal fatigue through normal use, and they will wear out over time. Why accelerate the process? Throw the snares off when you store the drum; put them back on when you play it. Pretty simple.
When changing heads, never lay the drum down with its bearing edges unprotected.
A simple folded towel placed on a table will protect the edges while providing a firm, flat surface to work on. But you should still be careful how you move the drum around, to avoid dropping it on the edges.
Never try to recut your own bearing edges.
Leave this one to a professional, unless you meet one of two criteria: (1) You’re a qualified woodworker with experience using a table router, you have such a router readily available, you have a clear understanding of exactly what the job entails, and/or you have (and understand) written instructions to guide you. Or (2) you’re ready to sacrifice the shell for the sake of experimentation. Learning as you go isn’t necessarily a bad way to develop drum-repairing skills. But it’s an expensive way if you’re trying to learn by working on your performance instrument. If you aspire to become a drum designer, try to obtain some scrap shells to practice on.
Never store the drum in a damp environment.
Or in a too-dry, too-hot, or too-cold one, either. Wood is an organic material, subject to expansion and contraction with changes in temperature and humidity. Metal shells don’t have that problem, but changes in temperature and humidity can result in condensation settling on the shells and fittings, which, in turn, can promote corrosion. Salty, humid air in particular can cause pitting in chrome plating. A basic rule of thumb is that your drums will be comfortable in any environment in which you would be comfortable — and vice versa. This is important even if you store your drum in a bag or case.
Don’t ignore any signs of cracking in the shell.
Cracks can be repaired if they’re dealt with early enough. This is another job that might best be undertaken by a professional, unless you’re that skilled woodworker mentioned previously.
Don’t ignore rattles, buzzes, squeaks, or other foreign sounds.
Any sound other than the one the drum is supposed to produce is a signal that something is wrong. A rattle could be something as simple as one of the bolts holding a lug casing to the shell getting loose, allowing the washer beneath it to move. A buzz might be caused by a single strand of the snare wires being stretched out so that it vibrates at a different rate from all the others.
A squeak could be caused by a problem with how the collar of the drumhead is seated on the drum’s bearing edge. Or you could have a cricket trapped inside the drum. (Don’t laugh — it happened to me on a steady gig where my drums were left onstage for weeks at a time.)
Most of these problems have easy fixes, but some may require professional attention. Either way, you should deal with whatever problem your drum has as early as possible to avoid its becoming worse.
Never rest a drink on your snare drum’s batter head.
“Why not,” you ask. “It’s a plastic head; a drink can’t hurt it.” But if that drink gets spilled, its contents are now all over the drum (and likely your lap, as well).
That’s a nasty clean-up job at best, and there’s also the potential for damage to the outside fittings, the bearing edges, and possibly even the inside of the shell.
Never try to re-cover your drums with anything other than drum wrap.
Well . . . there may be exceptions. Fabric that’s thin enough will not affect the drum’s sound, especially if it’s held on only by the lug casings and not actually glued to the shell. I had a kit covered with tie-dyed sheets in the ’60s, and I saw some covered with denim in the ’70s.
I’ve known some drummers to “refinish” their drum using contact paper, the kind of self-adhesive paper people use to line shelves or perform a quick cosmetic job on old cabinets. Contact paper is cheap and easy to use, and it looks great . . . at first. But it looks awful after the first few scrapes and tears.
And then there’s the kit that former Drum editor Andy Doerschuk told me about. It was covered in carpeting, and it looked and sounded horrible. (I’d say more about that, but I don’t want to pile it on.)
Genuine drum covering material is readily available from a variety of sources, and plenty of instructional information is online to help you do a good job.
Never let your drum travel naked.
Considering that it’s the heart of your drumkit — and that it probably represents a significant investment besides — your snare should always be protected when in transit. That means storing it in a proper drum bag or hard-shell case.
The type of protection you need is determined by the sort of traveling you do. If you always handle your own drums for local gigs, a bag will usually suffice. If, on the other hand, road crew members, venue stage hands, or (shudder) airline baggage handlers will ever touch your drums, a padded hard-shell case is called for.
Never let your drum travel unequipped.
Things go wrong on gigs; among those things are broken or worn-out heads, and broken snare-system attachments (the cables or straps that connect the throw-off mechanism to the snares themselves). It’s a simple but essential matter to keep spare top and bottom drumheads in your snare bag or case, along with spare snare-system cables or straps.
Never let your drum travel alone.
Even if you have spare heads and parts available, what you’re not likely to have is time to install them. Spare heads are primarily for changing before or after a gig. You really can’t stop everything in the middle of a show to swap out a head.
Realistically, the only solution to this situation is to have a spare drum on hand, tuned up and ready to go. That way, if you break something on your main snare, you can simply take it off its stand and replace it with the backup snare. This can be done in just a few seconds between songs, and thus won’t interfere with the momentum of a show.
Of course, this is one of those “if at all possible” suggestions, since not everyone can afford more than one snare drum. But if you’re a working drummer playing frequent shows, a spare drum falls under the category of “essential equipment.” (It’s also part of the “cost of doing business,” which makes it tax deductible. Just sayin’.)