Classic steel snare drum for $100

Purchasing and upgrading a used Pearl Export steel-shelled snare drum to obtain a solid classic rock backbeat on a budget.

By Darin Soll

Many drummers own more than one snare drum. In a previous blog post, I discussed how different types of snare drums can provide different voices to your backbeat.

I admit that I enjoy experimenting with drums of different sizes, depths, shell materials, and tunings. When I'm in full geek mode, I'll try them out with different heads and snares as well. My current collection includes snare drums with maple-ply, birch-ply, brass, carbon fiber, and aluminum shells, as well as a steel-shelled piccolo. However, I haven't owned a steel snare drum in a standard size since I played a JCPenney blue sparkle five-piece kit back in the late 70s and early 80s. When Gretsch released a steel-shelled Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters) signature snare drum earlier this year, I decided that it was time to give steel another look.

I began my search by listening to snare drum videos on YouTube. Listening to YouTube videos with quality audio and a good set of headphones provides a decent starting point. One video that caught my ear features ten classic snare drums, including the Pearl Export chrome over steel.

Pearl released the original Export series of entry-level drumsets in 1982, with significant changes in 1987, 1990, and 1994 (see Export Series History pdf). While Export bass drum and tom shells were formed from a variety of woods over the years, the mahogany/birch shells have a significant following.  The history of the Export steel-shelled snares is a bit murkier. Export kits shipped with steel-shelled 6.5x14 snares from 1982-2000 under six different model numbers.  I believe the double-beaded 6.5x14 steel shell is model EX-614D, available with Export kits from 1986-1996.

Fortunately, because the Pearl Export remains the best selling line of drumsets of all time, used Export snares are fairly easy to find. After watching eBay and Craigslist for a few weeks, I found a model EX-614D in good condition locally on Craigslist for $40. "Good condition" for a 25-year-old steel drum generally means a round and true shell, no dents, minor scratching and pitting, some rust, and nearly all original parts present and working. The drum I picked up needed a thorough cleaning, some rust removal on the tension rods, new heads and snares, a minor repair to the throwoff lever, and replacement of one stripped tension rod.  An additional $62 for new Evans G1 Power Center Reverse Dot and Hazy 300 heads, Puresound Custom 16-strand snares, as well as an upgrade to 2.3mm WorldMax hoops brought the total drum cost to $102.

Refurbished Pearl Export snare drum
6.5x14, 8-lug, chrome-over-steel shell
As you can see, while not perfect, the drum cleaned up pretty well. It also tuned up very easily, and I was able to quickly reproduce the sound of the Pearl snare in the YouTube video, using Tune-bot to tune the drum to 3f# (380Hz at each reso lug, 280Hz at each batter lug). True to the character of steel shells, this drum rings a bit more than my brass snares. To my ear, though, the ring simply accents its deep-shell punch.

Check out Tuning drums with Tune-bot to see this drum's Tune-bot tuning along with tunings for several other snares.

At $102, the Pearl Export is the least expensive standard-sized snare drum in my collection.  With its wide availability, low cost, and classic tone, the Pearl Export is an excellent choice for a budget-minded rock drummer looking to upgrade or expand his sound.


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