Finding The Professor's voice: Neil Peart's Slingerland snare

Identifying and purchasing a snare drum similar to Neil Peart's "Old Faithful"--the sweet backbeat on Rush albums from 1977 to 1993.

By Darin Soll

About a year ago, I sat down and listened to Rush's "Signals" album from start to finish.  There is something special about the tone "The Professor," Neil Peart, extracted from his Slingerland maple snare drum on that album.  Wait a minute, you ask--a Slingerland snare?  Yes, it's true that Neil was endorsing Tama during that period.  However, he was partial to the tone of a used Slingerland snare he began using in 1977 on the 2112 tour.  This drum was his primary snare until he switched to DW Drums for the Test for Echo album.

Since then, I have been keeping an eye out for a 1960s or 1970s Slingerland 5.5x14 maple snare in good condition, thinking it would be great to pick up a Slingerland Radio King with its highly sought after single-ply solid maple shell...

Pics of Neil Peart's Old Faithful snare from around the web, showing color changes over the years
Pics of Neil Peart's Old Faithful snare from around
the web, showing color changes over the years
But recently I learned that Neil's "Old Faithful" snare was actually a Slingerland Artist model.  The Artist was available with the same solid maple shell as the Radio King until the early 1970s, and then it shipped with the 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell also found in Slingerland's Hollywood Ace and Deluxe Student models.  While the debate rages as to whether Neil's Artist had a solid shell or a 3-ply shell, this  Slingerland fan argues that "Old Faithful" was a 3-ply, 8-lug drum.  Neil himself seems to confirm this in an April 1984 Modern Drummer interview, excerpted here in Andrew Olson's excellent blog on Neil and his drum kits through the years.  In the interview, Neil shares that he was very cautious about modifying Old Faithful, but from this montage of various pics of the drum, you can see that its shell and hardware colors changed over the years.

Armed with this research, I decided that any 3-ply Slingerland snare would be a worthy addition to my snare drum arsenal. I have never been a fan of the 5-ply shells Slingerland offered later in the 1970s, so I avoided those drums.
 
1964 Slingerland Deluxe Student maple snare drum with upgraded heads and snares
50 years new!  1964 Slingerland Deluxe Student maple
snare drum with upgraded heads and snares
Two weeks ago, I stumbled upon a Deluxe Student model at my local Sam Ash store.  This fine example of Slingerland's Sparkling Red Pearl finish caught my attention when I saw the black and brass Niles badge.  According to the date stamp inside the shell, this drum was manufactured in February 1964, and it was in excellent condition, particularly for a 50-year-old drum.  It appeared to be all original, including the chrome-over-brass hoops, 12-wire snares, tone control, throw, and Slingerland concert heads.  The finish was in amazing shape and there was no separation in the shell plies or re-rings.  Sam Ash priced the drum at US$250, and while that is a bit high for this particular model, I had never seen an early 60s, all-original example in such good condition.  I decided to pick it up.

Wood snare drums from 1964 Slingerland catalog
Wood snare drums from 1964 Slingerland catalog,
courtesy of VintageDrumGuide.com
Slingerland manufactured this iteration of the Deluxe Student model snare drum from 1963-1976.  As you can see at the bottom of the 1964 catalog page shown here, the Deluxe Student model featured the 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings, chrome-over-brass stick saver hoops, tone control, the basic but functional "Rapid" throw, and six Sound King lugs.

The Hollywood Ace model pictured directly above it is identical except for its eight lugs, 16-wire snares, and a 7-inch deep shell option.  Slingerland charged 1964 Hollywood Ace buyers a whopping $15.50 premium for the two additional lugs, 8-hole hoops instead of 6-hole, and four additional snare wires!  Slingerland's classic Radio King model is shown above the Hollywood Ace.  The only other wood snare in the 1964 catalog, the Artist model, not pictured, shipped that year with a solid maple shell, 20-wire snares, and the Zoomatic throw.  The Artist was actually $2 more expensive than the Radio King in the same 5.5x14 size.  For an additional $5, you could order an Artist snare with ten lugs instead of eight, an option that was not available on the Radio King.  I was a bit surprised to find that the Artist, not the Radio King, was Slingerland's top-of-the-line wood snare drum during this time period.

Deluxe Student snare is stamped "Feb 64"
Who says you have to slow down after 50?
Speaking of lugs...since my new drum is a Deluxe Student model, it has only six lugs to tension each brass hoop.  Knowing that brass is a bit softer than steel, I immediately wondered whether fewer lugs and softer hoops would affect tuning.  In other words, should I have held out for a Hollywood Ace, Artist, or Radio King with at least eight lugs?

But before we get to tuning, let's talk upgrades.  Since I'm not starting a drum museum (yet), this will be a player's drum.  So--I removed the original heads and snares and stored them for future restoration.  Evans G1 coated batter and Hazy 300 snare side heads are good choices for any snare, especially vintage snares, and they dropped right on the vintage shell--a good indicator that the shell is still round.  I also replaced the original 12-wire snares with 16-wire Puresound Custom snares.

"Old Faithful" in what is likely its final form, courtesy of andrewolson.com
"Old Faithful" in what is likely its final
form, courtesy of andrewolson.com
Tuning the 6-lug snare with Tune-bot was slightly more of a challenge than with 8- or 10-lug drums.  It does appear that the wide spacing between the lugs results in a bit of flex in the brass hoops, so Tune-bot lug frequency readings showed a bit more variance if I tapped more than than an inch to either side of a lug.  I also noticed that tension changes at one lug had more significant impact on tension at the other lugs.  However, as long as I brought the tension up evenly across the drum, it was only slightly more touchy from a tuning perspective.

The drum seems very happy at a 3g# tuning.  At 3g and higher, the maple shell really adds its voice to the drum's overall tone.  I have spent several hours with this drum, and it's a delight to play.  In a future blog post, I will compare this drum head-to-head with my PDP Platinum 5x14 solid maple snare.  Now for my Tune-bot tunings...


Darin's Slingerland 5.5x14 maple snare drum Tune-bot tunings

Fundamental drum note: Tune each reso lug to: Tune each batter lug to: Reso:batter frequency ratio:
3g, 196Hz 400Hz 292Hz 1.37
3g#, 207Hz 400Hz 312Hz 1.28
Drum:  Slingerland Deluxe Student 5.5x14, 3-ply maple-poplar-maple shell with re-rings
Heads:  Evans Level 360 G1 coated batter, Evans Level 360 Hazy 300 snare


As always, be sure to check out my "Tuning drums with Tune-bot" post, especially my Top Ten Tips for Tune-bot Tuning.  These tips provide general guidance that will help you avoid common drum tuning issues and get the most out of your Tune-bot.

Once again, a vintage drum really impresses me with its tone and playability.  If you haven't played a vintage Slingerland maple snare, I highly recommend it.

--Darin

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