Birth Of The Buzz: How To Build A Snare Drum

Every drummer has at some point turned a snare drum upside down and peered through the transparent bottom head, wondering why anyone would consider it to be such a big deal. Indeed, the design looks remarkably simple — little more than a round shell with various bits of hardware bolted onto it. But looks can be deceiving. In fact, centuries of trial-and-error and textbooks brimming with physics equations have gone into the precise geometry that makes a snare drum do its proverbial thing.

We decided to show you what it takes to get that scrumptious buzz that has launched a million grooves. And to help us sort through it, we turned to Bill Detamore, head honcho at Pork Pie, the determined SoCal custom drum company known for its beautiful paint jobs and downright eccentric ideas. Truth is, we don’t expect you to run out, source the parts, buy the tooling, and build your own snare drum (although you can certainly try). We just want to show you what a deceptively complex instrument a snare drum is, after all. So here are Bill’s step-by-step instructions, in his own words:

The first step is to pull and cut a raw shell to size. We then measure both the wrap and the shell, and cut the wrap to the correct size. Both the wrap and shell need to be sanded a bit before the actual gluing takes place to ensure a coarse surface that will give the glue something to hold onto. We then glue both pieces and roll them together, creating a much stronger connection.

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With the gluing done, we then seal the seams, which is one of the most important steps in wrapping. It’s a technique that every company does a little differently. We believe that when you seal a seam, you need to make it as strong and long lasting as possible, so we use a special chemical that melts the two ends of wrap together so that they never come apart.

We then trim the excess wrap with a little handheld router. This is a quick step in the process.

Now we cut the edges. Using two different router blades we cut the edges four different times to create an outer 45-degree cut and an inner counter-cut that marries the edge of the shell to the contour of the head. Our objective is to create an edge that efficiently transfers vibration from the head to the shell.

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It’s time to prepare the drum to be marked and drilled by applying tape to strategic sections of shell. The tape allows us to mark lines and drill points where various pieces of hardware will be fitted, and also helps us drill cleanly through the shell with a minimum of splintering. This process is delicate. If the shell is marked incorrectly in any way the outcome can be disastrous.

This contraption is the cutter that shapes our snare beds. After we cut the bed with this machine we use a file to finish the contour of the bed. The final result is an almost imperceptible indentation that pulls the snare wires into the resonant head, maximizing the snare effect.

After the beds are finished, we once again direct our attention toward the edges, sanding them by hand with two different grades of sandpaper to make them as smooth as they can be.

Once the edges are finished, we sand the inside of the shell and give the wrap a quick cleaning on our buffing wheel.

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We are now ready to put the finishing touches on this beauty, including Bill Detamore’s signature (which he signs on every drum). Then finally the heads and hoops are installed, and it’s time to play!