BY ANDY DOERSCHUK

Slap a couple heads on a shell 18″ in diameter or smaller, and what do you get? A tom tom. That’s just fine — you couldn’t play “Sing Sing Sing” without at least one of them. But install a set of tensioned coiled wires on the resonant side of the very same tom, and that otherwise utilitarian drum is converted to a thing of beauty.

In other words, we like our drums a lot, but we freakin’ love our snares. Why? Well, there are practical reasons. Whether you play rock, jazz, fusion, polkas — you name it — the snare drum is a cornerstone of your kit, and perhaps the most expressive drum in the bunch. Given just a snare and a bass drum, most drummers could probably fake it through a gig.

But there are other reasons why we covet cool snares that are a little more nebulous, harder to put your finger on. Though many drummers only rarely use them, we think throw-offs are sexy. We can’t explain why. (Butt plates? Less so.) We also love a good story. Remember Craviotto’s Lake Superior Timeless Timber snare drums, made of lumber dredged up from the Great Lakes? Great story.

Great drums. Ka-ching!

Such things, and other tiny details, help explain why every year nearly every drum company trots out a new collection of snare drums. Each juggles the same limited number of options (shell material, size, hardware, bearing edges, finish) into a surprisingly bottomless series of combinations that brand leaders hope become the object of your desires.

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1. After hinting at the possibility for a while, Stone Custom Exotic Drums (which has offered drop-dead gorgeous OMD shells bent with original Slingerland molds for the past few years) took the plunge and introduced the Super American Exotic snare drum line. They’re starting with koa, bubinga, and rosewood veneers, but we expect to see a lot more coming out of this workshop soon.

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2. Gretsch introduced an ash snare into its new Silver Series. Coated in a Natural Satin finish, which accents the wood’s classic grain patterns, the snares are available in 13″ x 7″ (MSRP: $305.99) and 14″ x 6.5″ (MSRP: $305.99).

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3. I assume you like wood. Perhaps, even, lots of wood. If so, we have the snare for you. Meet the ultra-heavyweight 25-ply maple snare from OCDP. Built for maximum tone and a surprisingly controlled sound, this all-maple 14″ x 7″ brute features dual ports, die-cast black nickel-plated hardware, OCDP offset lugs, two 1″ vented ports, die-cast hoops, 20 steel-strand Snappy snares, and a Silver Sparkle Fade finish. MSRP: $499.99.

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4. On the inside of Sonor’s new One Of A Kind snare drums are maple or beech shells. What’s on the outside makes these two new models stand out. The 14″ x 7″ model wraps a veneer of high-gloss white ebony over 21-ply North American maple, which is fitted with 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops and 18-strand bronze snare wires. In contrast, the 14″ x 6.25″ edition features a high-gloss red tigerwood veneer over a 9-ply German beech shell, and comes with die-cast hoops and 24-strand bronze snare wires. Both drums feature 45-degree bearing edges, Sonor’s Dual Glide System, Sonor heads, and SQ2 lugs, as well as a special hard case and die-cut One Of A Kind badge.

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5. Some drummers long for the volume and brightness birch brings to the show— and who can blame them? This yearYamaha delivers both with its new Stage Custom Birch snare drums. Featuring a 14″ x 5.5″ 100-percent birch shell cut with 45-degree bearing edges, this drum is fitted with ten Absolute-style chrome-plated lugs and 1.6mm triple-flanged steel hoops, and is dolled up in five finishes. Now get this: MSRP? Two hundred smackers! What will that street for?

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6. You’d have to dust off a 1943 Slingerland Rolling Bomber kit to get much more maple-y than the new LTD Classic Wood Hoop snare drums by PDP. Featuring all-maple wood hoops fitted to an all-maple shell using low-profile, chrome-plated steel claw hooks, the drums include a MAG throw-off, dual-turret lugs, copper snare wires, and DW heads by Remo. Offered in 14″ x 6″ (MSRP: $333.99) and 14″ x 7″ sizes ($383.99), this is a price buster in this category.

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7. You’d expect nothing less than a breathtaking collection from Craviotto on the event of its first decade in business. The company released a pair of birthday snares for 2014, including the 10th Anniversary Black Diamond snare drum. Made of a one-piece Craviotto 10th Anniversary Diamond snare drum brass shell, the 14″ x 5.5″ drum features soldered-back bearing edges, 4.0mm thick solid brass hoops, and a Craviotto 3 Point Strainer. Every Black Diamond snare is engraved by hand, and fitted with hardware plated in 24 karat gold. Only 20 pieces are available at $7,500 each.

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8. Bill Detamore has an unusual way of branding drums at Pork Pie. We’re all familiar with names like the Little Squealer, Piglite, and the company’s ever-popular Clown Puke finish option, and now Pork Pie has added the Pork Rub model to its snare drum selection. The 14″ x 6.5″ drum features a brass shell adorned with the company’s unique Pork Rub finish, which creates a subtle patina that allows the warm tone of the brass to come through. MSRP: $700.

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9. The still-new Sakae brand has been steaming ahead at full speed, tirelessly introducing new lines and models at a breakneck pace. What’s more, the stuff looks really good, which isn’t exactly surprising since Sakae built OMD drums for Yamaha for many years before striking out on its own. Now Sakae has launched the Premium Metal Snare Drum Series for 2014, which includes seamless aluminum, steel, and black brass models. Each is available in 14″ x 5.5″ and 14″ x 6.5″ sizes, and come fitted with all-new, specially designed aluminum lugs and the company’s Righty Halo hoops, which include an outward-flanged rim. MSRP starts at $639.topnewsnares-10

10. Mapex launched the new Armory Series this year featuring five new snare drum models. However, you might not yet know that the range includes two hybrids of note: The 14″ x 6.5″ Exterminator features a birch/walnut shell while the 14″ x 5.5″ Peacemaker has a maple/walnut shell. Both drums feature the company’s new SONIClear bearing edge, which makes tuning a snap, and retail for $399.

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11. There’s little doubt about what Tama expects you to do with its new S.L.P. Limited Edition Backbeat Bubinga Birch snare drum. While it has all the hallmarks of a collectible showpiece, this baby is meant to be played. With a shell that combines the dark tonality of four interior bubinga plies with the crack and projection of four outer birch plies, the Backbeat is targeted at rock, metal, and R&B drummers who need to emphasize the 2 and 4. Finished in a Matte Tan Oak veneer, the 14″ x 7″ drum includes 2.3mm flanged steel Mighty Hoops, brass tube lugs, and 20-strand high-carbon steel Snappy Snares. MSRP: $499.98.

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12. From a distance it might appear as if the new TayeSpecialty Walnut/Mahogany Hybrid snare radiates with a dense sparkle finish. But look closer and you see how its Champagne Mist lacquer is transparent enough to allow a hint of the grain to show through. With a shell comprised of two outer plies of walnut, six core plies of mahogany, and two more inner plies of walnut, the 14″ x 7″ drum includes 6-ply North American sugar maple reinforcement rings to keep the drum true, and is fitted with vintage-style tube lugs, 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops, and the company’s Side Latch throw-off. MSRP: $749.

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13. Case in point — we’ve never seen anything quite like the new limited-edition Collector’s Series Icon snare drums from DW. Fashioned with meticulous workmanship, the three drums honor Neil Peart of Rush, Roger Taylor of Queen, and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd. While the drum sizes and shell configurations are the preferred choice of each artist, the finish is painstakingly laser-cut, then inlayed by hand from a variety of exotic wood veneers. Peart’s drum is decorated with the Time Machine motif, Taylor’s sports Queen’s ornate, Freddie Mercury-designed crest, while Mason’s features Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon prism and waveform image — all executed in exacting detail. MSRP: $2,307.

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14. Gretsch upped the ante with its striking new Gold Series ZigZag snare drum. Its individual vertical staves feature hand-laid, alternating layers of maple and walnut in a satin finish. The rhomboid shape of each piece creates an interlocking “zigzag” pattern that will not soon be forgotten. This 14″ x 6.5″ drum carries an MSRP of $1,379.99.

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15. If bending plywood is a skill, then bending solid shells is an art, which explains why only so many new models hit the market every year. The Japanese drum company Canopusintroduced a trio of jazzy 14″ x 5.5″ solid-shell snare drums for 2014, made of oak (in a Smoke Oak Oil finish), beech (Deep Amber Lacquer finish), and elm (Blue Gray Lacquer). All come fitted with solid chrome-plated tube lugs, 8-hole die-cast hoops, and vintage snare wires. MSRP: $1,342 (elm, beech), $1,208 (oak).

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16. The folks at Noble & Cooley set out to build the ultimate ballad snare drum , so they turned to beech, which is famous for its low, thick, bottom-end tone. The result is the new SS Classic Beech, the fifth in the company’s collection of single-ply snare drums made from New England woods. The drum features solid beech reinforcement hoops, ten brass lugs, flanged hoops, and is available in 14″ x 3.87″, 14″ x 5″, and 14″ x 7″ sizes. MSRP ranges from $1,450 to $1,555.

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17. Please join us in singing: “Happy birthday dear Tama, happy birthday to you!” In-deed, 2014 marks Tama’s 40th anniversary, which inspired the company to roll out its Greatest Hits Snare Collection featuring some of the most iconic models from the past four decades. You can expect to see picture-perfect replicas of such groundbreaking 1970s models as the original all-birch Superstar, Super Maple, and Super Mahogany.

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