Snare drums date back to the 1300s, when drummers played a double-headed drum with a single snare strand, known as a tabor. For centuries, most snares had wood shells. In the mid-1800s, manufacturers began making snares with brass shells. These metal shell alternatives were capable of producing the crisp, higher-pitched sound drummers still crave today.
At one time, drummers used their feet mainly for walking to the gig. By 1888, crude bass drum pedals began to appear, but with no spring to retract the beater, rhythmic options were limited. (Thomas Lang would have been very frustrated.) In 1909, Theobald and William F. Ludwig changed drumming forever by introducing a pedal with a spring.
It seems shocking today, but snares did not always have throw-offs. Julius A. Meyer created a snare throw-off mechanism in 1913 so he could quickly switch between tom and snare sounds for a particular orchestral piece. By the 1920s, throw-offs were an industry standard on most snare drums.
As an alternative to solid planks of wood, Gretsch began manufacturing drums in 1920 from shells that built up separate wood plies with seams and grains that did not line up. Into the 1960s, other companies like Ludwig used a different process of bending already finished plywood to make shells. Today, many drum manufacturers, including Ludwig, make their own staggered-ply shells.
One of the great drum innovators and inventors was George Way. Among his many inventions, the Swivel Nut allowed easier alignment of tension rods from hoop to lugs. Beginning in 1923, Mr. Way’s employer at the time, Leedy, offered a production-model drum with “self adjusting rods” based on these swivel nuts.
The 1920s saw the evolution of pedal-based stands that clasped two cymbals together from the low boy (height 12"), to the sock cymbal (height 20"). In 1924, drummer Skip Retherford sent his idea of extending the low-boy to Zildjian but got no response. Papa Jo Jones is sometimes credited with its invention, while others cite Massachusetts–based drum hardware manufacturer Walberg & Auge, whose owner Barney Walberg fabricated a prototype in 1926.
Ludwig manufactured a black nickel-plated brass snare called the “Deluxe” in the 1920s. Ludwig rival Slingerland was actually the first company to market a similar looking drum called a “Black Beauty.” By 1931, Ludwig began calling its Deluxe-style snare a “Black Beauty.” Ludwig still makes versions of this iconic snare today.
The drum set evolved into its modern standard when swing was king in the 1930s. Legendary drummer Gene Krupa joined Benny Goodman’s band in 1934. During that time, he helped fix the arrangement of the modern drum set with sizes still used today: a 24" or 26" bass drum, 14" snare drum, 13" x 9" tom and 16" floor tom.