July 5, 2013

Getting the right sound out of your snare, part 2

By Darin Soll

Back in March, I wrote about the challenge of getting a good sound out of your snare drum.  Since then, I've had time to experiment with a new snare drum (my 8x13 Rocket Shells C-900 carbon fiber snare), different heads, and a variety of tunings.  In the process, I've made some discoveries that have moved me MUCH closer to the goal line than I was four months ago.  I'll share my discoveries in this post in the hope that it helps others, particularly my German audience that seems to share my interest in the "drum tech" side of things...

The first "discovery" is really one I already knew...snare drums sound better with one-ply heads in the Ambassador/G1 thickness.  To my ear, Remo Controlled Sound and Evans Power Center reverse dot heads are the best choice for the batter side of snare drums, and I still recommend that you avoid edge control heads...let the edges sing a bit on your snare!

But more importantly--I realized that I have been tuning my snare drums too low for the type of music I play (pop/rock).  Tune-bot recommends tuning 14-inch snare drums in a pitch range from 3E to 3A#.  When I first started using my Tune-bot, I worked my way up to 3F on my 6.5x14 chrome-over-brass Slingerland snare, and thought it sounded pretty good.  I figured the lower end of the recommended pitches for snare drums would be more appropriate for 70s rock, and the lug frequencies at 3F were similar to what I had arrived at by ear prior to using Tune-bot.  Getting a decent sound at 3F seemed to "confirm" my ear, so I didn't venture any further up the scale.

But then, as I mentioned in my March post, my band played a gig, and in various recordings of the event, my snare sounded "choked."  I originally blamed the thicker Ambassador X head.  I was wrong.  It wasn't the head, it was the tuning.

Over the past few months, I experimented with higher tunings on my new 8x13 Rocket Shells C-900 snare and discovered that 3F# sounded pretty good, even with 70s rock.  I then tried 3G, and as my ear adjusted to it, I realized that 3G sounded even better.  At the middle of Tune-bot's recommended range, 3G did not turn my C-900 into a piccolo snare as I thought it might, even though my batter head tensions were cranked up quite a bit higher than Tune-bot's suggested lug frequencies.  I continued upward through 3G# to 3A, and decided to leave the C-900 at 3A as a higher-pitched side snare option for my drum kit.  At 3A, my new Rocket Shells snare drum's lug frequencies are 364Hz on the batter side, and 400Hz on the resonant side.  This does not conform to Tune-bot's recommendation to tune snare drum resonant lug frequencies a perfect fifth (1.5 times), perfect fourth (1.33 times), or major third (1.26 times) higher than batter lug frequencies, but it does heed their warning to not exceed 400Hz at the lugs with thinner snare heads.  3A is a higher tuning and it creates a great crack for modern pop music.

70s vintage Slingerland 6.5x14 chrome-over-brass snare drum 
The real breakthrough, though, came when I tuned my 6.5x14 chrome-over-brass Slingerland snare to 3G.  Wow.  I thought that 3F was close to the fundamental pitch of the shell until I tried 3G and the deep brass shell really began to sing!  On this particular drum, I tuned the batter lugs to 300Hz, and the resonant lugs to 400Hz, a perfect fourth higher.  The drum sounds fantastic now and it has rekindled my enthusiasm for the classic Slingerland brass snare, which I first played in my school jazz band in 1979.

Another nice benefit of these higher tunings is improved batter head response--it's much easier to perform double-stroke rolls on a snare drum tuned to 3G.

I'm guessing there were drummers out there scratching their heads when I mentioned 3F snare drum tunings before, wondering what I was doing down there "in the dirt."  We live and learn!

Feel free to reply with what you have learned over the years to get the best sound out of your snare drum.

Happy drumming!

--Darin