BY BRAD SCHLUETER | From the August 2015 issue of Drum! magazine

Besides being legendary drummers, what else do Stewart Copeland, Stanton Moore, Travis Barker, Alex Van Halen, Lars Ulrich, and John Bonham have in common? They all have an immediately identifiable signature snare sound. While it’s unrealistic to think you can develop a snare sound as recognizable as those on our distinguished list, it’s still important to find the right snare for you. So, here are 10 things to keep in mind the next time you go shopping for a new snare drum.

1. MONEY ISN’T EVERYTHING

An expensive snare doesn’t inevitably sound better than a lower priced one. Much like cars or shoes, pricey drums often have upscale features that have little effect on a drum’s tone or overall usability. You can end up paying extra for features that don’t affect the sound, like a high-tech throw-off, a beautiful but expensive finish, the additional labor needed to work with challenging shell materials, or even just a brand’s ritzy reputation.

2. ONE SNARE = ONE SNARE SOUND

If you own only one snare, such as the one that came with your kit, and you plan to play different types of gigs, it makes sense to broaden the sounds at your disposal. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to find a drum that sounds different from the one you already own. So, if your snare is wood, check out metal snares. If yours is metal, go for wood. Keep in mind that metal shells can have more brightness, articulation, and clarity than wood shells. Wood snares often have more fullness, punch, and warmth.

3. THE PRICE OF FAME

You could be disappointed if you buy the same model snare drum used by your favorite drummer and expect it to sound like it does on recordings. It’s highly possible that you hit the drums differently, or worse: The studio sound engineer replaced your hero’s snare sound with a sample, and/or sweetened it with EQ and gates. If you’re still not convinced, jump forward to point #6.


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4. SIZE IS IMPORTANT

The dimensions of a snare can have as great an influence on its sound as shell material and bearing edges. Smaller drums naturally vibrate faster and emit higher pitches, while larger drums offer deeper pitches because their heads vibrate more slowly. Know which sound you want before you go shopping.

5. FIND THE RIGHT EDGE

A sharp bearing edge results in more sensitivity, greater high frequencies, and more ring, while a rounder bearing edge transfers more energy into the shell and dampens the head, resulting in fatter tones with less decay. The best of both worlds is to have at least one snare with a sharp edge and another with a round one.

6. USE YOUR EARS

There are a lot of advantages to buying gear online, but your snare sound is such a personal calling card that you might rob yourself by buying one you haven’t personally played. There’s no better way to compare snare sounds than by trying a number of them side-by-side in your favorite drum shop.

7. STAY IN TOUCH

If you sit high on the throne, you can comfortably play a drum with any size depth, thanks to the telescoping tubes in your snare stand. But if you like to sit low, you probably don’t want to get an 8″-deep snare, unless you’re willing to change your technique.

8. TRY TO MAKE IT WORK

If the snare drum on the showroom floor isn’t tuned the way you prefer, ask for a drum key to see if you can get it to where you like it. If that still doesn’t tell the whole story, ask if you can buy your preferred brand and model of batter head and replace the one supplied with the drum to see if that makes a difference. Worst-case scenario: You might go home without a new snare drum, but at least you’ll have a new head.

9. JUST IN CASE

Unless you intentionally buy a beater snare to manhandle, it’s a good idea to get a correctly sized drum case (or at least a soft bag) to protect the integrity of your shell. By spending a few extra bucks today, you can save hundreds later. Plus, many drum shops are more willing to haggle for extra discounts if you intend to buy more than one item.

10. SHOP FOR PRICE

Buying a snare drum is just like buying a television set or refrigerator—it’s smart to shop around. So once you’ve determined the kind of snare you want to buy, find the stores that sell that particular model, and compare prices.