Demystifying Stewart Copeland's "The Snare"

Identifying and purchasing the exact snare drum model Stewart Copeland refers to as "The Snare"--the backbeat behind most of The Police's hit records.

By Darin Soll

For many reasons, The Police are one of my all-time favorite bands, not the least of which is Stewart Copeland's brilliant drumming throughout their catalog.  Non-drummer fans of the band may not realize how much Stewart's world beat influences, and general avoidance of backbeats on 2 and 4, contributed to the band's unique sound.

My wife and I saw The Police on the Phoenix stop of their Reunion Tour in 2007.  I had been looking forward to Stewart's drumming and I wasn't disappointed--except for the dead snare mic during the first few songs in their set.  The brief mic issue really highlighted how important his rimshots are to "Message in a Bottle."

Much has already been written about Stewart's snare drum of "mysterious provenance" that cut through "the dirge from the bass and the ear-piecing sounds of a guitar."  However, there is a lot of confusion about which specific snare drum is "The Snare" that he used on most of The Police's recordings as well as many live performances.

Some of this confusion arises from the fact that Stewart has a long-running endorsement deal with Tama Drums.  While Tama did finally introduce its Stewart Copeland Signature Snare in 2001, "The Snare" was a standard Pearl (gasp!) 5x14 chrome-over-brass snare drum.

The rest of the confusion is created by inconsistencies in Pearl Drums' catalogs.  The same 5x14 10-lug chrome-over-brass snare drum equipped with a "professional die cast" or Gladstone-style throw alternated between two model numbers in Pearl catalogs of the late 1970's and early 1980's:

  • 1977 Pearl Drums catalog: Model 4214, branded as a "Custom Snare Drum" and featuring more rounded center beads, a vent hole centered on the beads, and an adjustable butt plate.  Pearl continued offering snares equipped with parallel-action throws under the "Jupiter" brand.
  • 1978 Pearl Drums catalog: Model B4514, which featured more squared-off center beads, a vent hole positioned below the beads, and a non-adjustable butt plate.  The '78 catalog accidentally associates the "Jupiter" name with the Gladstone-style throw by reversing the throw pics for snare drums "A" and "B" on page 16.
  • 1980 Pearl Drums catalog: Model 4214.  No changes to the drum, once again branded as a "Custom Snare Drum."  The "Jupiter" brand remains reserved for drums with parallel-action throws but headlines page 9 in a way that leads many to incorrectly believe that all chrome-over-brass snares are "Jupiters."
  • 1982 Pearl Drums catalog: Model B-4514.  No changes to the drum.  The "professional die cast" throw is unchanged but is now referred to as the S-015 "Gladstone" type throw.  The "Jupiter" brand is no longer used, but the parallel-action throw lives on with a new S-017 version, which adds an "X" to the end of the model number of any drum so equipped.

The inconsistencies in the '78 and '80 catalogs confused nearly everyone, and as a result, "The Snare" is often misidentified as a Jupiter.  What we do know is that "The Snare" was equipped with Pearl's "professional die cast" or Gladstone-style throw and a non-adjustable butt plate, as shown in this pic of "The Snare" from Stewart's "Sacred Grove" studio:

Stewart Copeland's "The Snare" was a Pearl 5x14 COB
Stewart Copeland's "The Snare" was a Pearl 5x14 COB

The lack of a parallel-action throw confirms that this drum was NOT a Jupiter.  The more squared-off center beads and non-adjustable butt plate indicate that this was a post-1977 drum.

Jeff Seitz, Stewart's drum tech, confirmed in 2019 that two Pearl snares (chrome-over-brass and chrome-over-metal/steel) were acquired after the release of Reggatta de Blanc and first used on the recording of Zenyatta Mondatta.  He also surmised that the first two albums were likely recorded using Tama King Beat 5x14 snares.  Assuming "The Snare" was purchased new, that would make it a late-'79 or early-'80 issue drum--either a model B4514 or a 4214, depending on when the drum was built and when Pearl implemented the model number change between the '78 and '80 catalogs.

The rest of "The Snare's" story is that Jeff replaced the original triple-flange batter hoops on both Pearl snares with diecast hoops because Stewart had dented the original hoops and even cracked one.  Diecast batter hoops provided a sturdier platform for Stewart's trademark rimshots.  The snare side of "The Snare" appears to be fitted with the original Pearl triple-flange hoop.  It is unclear what if anything this mixed-hoop setup contributes to the voice of "The Snare," but it may allow more precise lug-to-lug tuning on the snare side.

Curious as to how Stewart "dented" and "cracked" the original Pearl batter hoops?  Because Pearl  B4514/4214 snares came from the factory with 1.6mm hoops!  Today, you typically see 1.6mm hoops on low-end drums--they are prone to going out-of-round.  If substance was lacking in their triple-flange hoops, Pearl more than made up for it by using very substantial brass shells!  Recording engineers working with The Police preferred the sound of Stewart's COB snare.  Tama incorporated both the heavy 1.5mm thick brass shell and mixed-hoop design into its Stewart Copeland Signature Snare; however, they outfit the snare side with a 2.3mm "Steel Mighty" hoop.

Okay, enough of the history lesson--why does any of this matter?

Because two legendary drummers, Stewart Copeland of The Police and Neil Peart of Rush, were loyal to very specific non-Tama snare drums while endorsing Tama Drums.  They were loyal to these drums for a reason.  I've already posted about Neil's "Old Faithful" Slingerland snare, which has an amazing crack.  Stewart's Pearl COB snare would also be a worthy addition to a drummer's arsenal.

There are two options for drummers wanting to closely replicate Stewart's sound:

  1. Purchase Tama's Stewart Copeland Signature Snare (SC145)--about US$600 new, or US$350-$450 used.
  2. Find and purchase a vintage Pearl B4514/4214 in good condition--typically US$200-$300--and upgrade the batter hoop.  Use the magnet test to determine whether the shell is brass or steel.

In early 2011, I picked up a Tama SC145 on eBay for $240.  It was my primary snare for a while, but the throw was not properly aligned with the snare bed and it was a beast to dial in.  I eventually parted with it.

After reading again about "The Snare," I checked to see if I could pick up a used Pearl B4514/4214 at a reasonable price.  Udrum offered one on Reverb at the beginning of January, also for $240, and I decided to purchase it.

The drum arrived in good condition, exactly as advertised, with some light scratches on the shell, minor pitting on the tension lugs and throw, and some rust on the hoops and tension rods.  The seller noted that the internal tone control was missing--not an issue since I remove them from drums I play, anyway.  I had already decided I was going to upgrade the the batter hoop, but I opted for a 3.0mm triple-flange model from Drum Factory Direct instead of diecast.  I've found that 3.0mm triple-flange hoops provide ease-of-tuning and rimshot advantages similar to diecast hoops, and diecast hoops are crazy expensive at the moment.

Vintage Pearl B4514/4214 with batter hoop and gasket upgrades--note that butt plate matches "The Snare"
Vintage Pearl B4514/4214 with batter hoop and gasket upgrades--note that butt plate matches "The Snare"

In addition to the batter hoop, I replaced the tension rods--Pearl uses 35mm rods on its 5x14 snares equipped with double-ended lugs.  Wrapping up my parts order were Evans Power Center reverse dot batter and Hazy 300 snare heads, nylon tension rod washers, lug gaskets, and Puresound Blaster 20-wire snare wires.  These upgrades added $100 to the cost of the drum. 

Lug gaskets for WorldMax's DC-010 appeared to be the best fit, so I decided to give them a try.  They protrude a bit from the tops and bottoms of the lugs, but I liked the look so I decided not to trim them back.  I know, I know--I admit that it's all but impossible to prove that gaskets improve a drum's sound, but I like the idea that they help isolate the shell from other metal parts that can resonate, perhaps not so musically.

As always, I disassembled and cleaned all of the components of this drum.  WD-40 helped remove rust and corrosion from the brass lug receivers and tension rod springs.  I used Turtle Wax Chrome Polish and Rust Remover to improve the appearance of the shell, tension lugs, and snare side hoop.

B4512/4214 includes Pearl's S-015 "Professional" Gladstone-style throw-- note extra holes at left from missing internal tone control
B4512/4214 includes Pearl's S-015 "Professional" Gladstone-style throw--
note extra holes at left from missing internal tone control

Puresound Blaster snare wires are always a solid upgrade
Puresound Blaster snare wires are always a solid upgrade

As you can see from the pics, the cleaned, re-assembled, and upgraded drum looks great.  More importantly, it sounds great--the voice of the heavy brass shell is loud and musical.  While the drum has a decent tuning range, it really sings at a higher tuning.  And the rimshots on this drum have me looking forward to getting to The Police in my playlist the next time I'm behind my kit!

Tune-bot tuning:  I tuned the drum up to 3g (196Hz) using Tune-bot.  To achieve this, I first tuned each snare lug to 400Hz and then each batter lug to 296Hz.  I also added this tuning scheme to the snare section of "Tuning drums with Tune-bot."

--Darin

P.S. - Not to add to the Jupiter confusion--but--this video compares three COB snares: (1) a vintage Rogers Dynasonic, (2) a Tama SC145, and (3) a pre-'78 Pearl Jupiter (note the more rounded beads and the parallel action throw).  Yes, the pre-'78 Pearl shell is slightly different, and of course the parallel snare strainer is completely different.  However, it has a very similar voice...similar enough that the video comparison is relevant to this post.

2 comments:

  1. Hola , me gustaria poder compartir las fotos de mi Pearl mod B4514L CATALOGO 1982 , nunca estuve seguro cual era realmente por las confusiones que mencionás en tu blog , saludos

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Upload your pics to Dropbox and then reply here with the Dropbox link and I will take a look!

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