Getting the right sound out of your snare, part 1

The complex dynamics of the snare drum can present challenges, including finding the right sound within a drum's tuning range. Part 1 of 2.

By Darin Soll

My band played a three-set gig at a local Irish pub on Saturday night.  We had rehearsed well, so we played well.  The crowd was into the music, and we all had a great time.

My PDP X7 maple kit is my road kit.  For this gig, I brought along my Paiste 2002 cymbals and my 6.5x14 Slingerland chrome-over-brass snare.  This setup sounded least from my seat...

However, in the various video clips posted on Facebook over the last couple of days, my snare sounds like crap.  At first I thought maybe it was the quality of the audio captured by the mics of the various smartphones involved, but that's not the issue.  While smartphone mics don't do a good job capturing the low end, the snare is not exactly a low-pitched instrument.

Slingerland COB snare drum with
Trick GS007 throw upgrade
But the snare is the most complex instrument, at least in my kit--in addition to the shell and head dynamics all drums possess, the snare drum of course has snare wires snapping against the snare head.  Factor in mic placement, etc., and you have one large sound engineering headache.

So, how do you go about getting a good sound out of your snare?

Well, since I'm having difficulty, this is a work in progress...I'll share what I know, and then hopefully some of you will share what you know to help fill the (large?) gaps in my knowledge.

The first challenge is to determine the snare sound you are after.  What artist and/or track catches your ear as "the" snare sound to emulate?  For me, right now, that track is Seether's "Rise Above This."  I love how the shell adds "throat" and depth every time John Humphrey smacks it.  I don't know if John records his 6.5x14 Ludwig Black Beauty, or what effects have been added during the recording process, but that's how I want my brass-shelled snare to sound.

Words like "throat" and "depth" seem to indicate a deeper shell, but it could simply mean a lower tuning.  Since I like the response of a tighter head, I like to tune my snares up.  So, to get depth, I usually go with a deeper shell.  That's how I ended up with the 6.5x14 Slingerland chrome-over-brass and 8x13 Rocket Shells carbon fiber as my snare drums of choice.

A properly tuned drum will bring out the shell's tone.  When you tune a snare up within the drum's tuning range, the shell's tone will add body to the sound.  Higher tunings can be a bit tricky, however, as metal shells have a tendency to choke (i.e., significantly reduced resonance outside the drum's tuning range) earlier than wood snares at higher tunings.

In the recordings of Saturday night's gigs, my snare drum sound is too much snare and not enough shell for my tastes.  What does that indicate?  Either the heads weren't seated correctly, or I accidentally choked my metal snare by tuning the heads too high for the drum.  The shell was not resonating enough to add depth and balance out the snare snap.  Poor tuning had negative effect on my sound.

Going forward, I need to pay closer attention to my snare's tuning at soundcheck.  Lesson learned!

Post a reply with what you have learned about getting the right sound out of your snare...I would love to hear any tips or advice you can share!



  1. UPDATE: Head choices affect tuning range, and in hindsight, I think it was my batter head choice that caused my snare drum to choke. I used a coated Remo Ambassador X head for this gig, which is a single 12-mil ply instead of the usual 10-mil ply of a standard Ambassador, or 10-mil ply plus 5-mil dot of a Controlled Sound reverse dot.

    Maybe I didn't break in the Ambassador X properly, but after switching back to a Controlled Sound reverse dot batter head, I was able to tune the drum up higher without choking it.

    Sometimes all the variables in tuning drums can be confusing and frustrating, but hey, it's good to know as much as you can about making your kit sound great.

  2. UPDATE #2: See blog post "Getting the right sound out of your snare, part 2" for current perspective on tuning the legendary 14x6.5 Slingerland chrome-over-brass snare!


Powered by Blogger.