Ludwig Super-Sensitive: The Eternal Throwoff
One of the most important features on a snare drum is the throwoff. While some drummers prefer a very simple mechanism (less stuff to break and go wrong), others like to have all the bells and whistles, the more possible adjustments the better. Throwoff designs have come and gone in the drum industry, and it’s hard to find a modern design that has been around for more than a decade, with few exceptions.
One of those exceptions is the current Super-Sensitive strainer from the Ludwig Drum Company. Ludwig (known at the time as Ludwig & Ludwig) was one of the first companies to introduce a truly workable design for a parallel snare mechanism. Although Leedy introduced their “Marvel” parallel strainer in the late teens and early ’20s, it couldn’t hold a candle to Ludwig’s Super mechanism (as it was originally named), which debuted in the 1926 catalog. With individually adjustable strands, offered in gut, coiled wire, and “silk and steel” (an early version of snare wire that resembles old guitar strings), and the positive action of the parallel throwoff, the Super strainer provided a highly adjustable and very precise snare unit that could be fine-tuned for both snare tension and pressure against the head. Add the three snare types and you had a truly innovative product that hadn’t been seen in the drum industry prior to that time.
From 1926 to 1929, the Super-Ludwig was the flagship of the Ludwig line and the most expensive model in the catalog. But in 1929, Ludwig added another option to the mix – the Sensitive mechanism. Although it was a neat idea theoretically, there was a design flaw in the Sensitive mechanism that would eventually cause it to be discontinued. Located underneath the top head inside the drum, the coiled wire snares of the Sensitive mechanism were directly in the line of fire from the deep impact of stick tips hitting the calfskin heads that were the only choice at that time. Given the location of the wires and the stretching ability of calfskin, it was only a matter of time until one or more of the wires would take a direct hit and get stretched to the point where the drum would develop a permanent buzz, necessitating replacement of the top snare wires.
Although Ludwig continued to make the Super and the Super-Sensitive through the late ’30s, the popularity of parallel mechanisms (and the Sensitive mechanism in particular) gradually waned. By the onset of World War II, when metal drums were discontinued and metal parts severely restricted by the War Powers Act, the sensitive mechanism had already disappeared from the line.
After World War II, Ludwig & Ludwig (which had been purchased in 1929 by Conn) was not nearly as profitable as it had been in pre-War years. Since Conn also owned Leedy Manufacturing, the lines of both companies were severely restricted due to post-War budget constraints and the burden of trying to reintroduce and update two complete lines of drums. Conn gave up on the idea after a brief effort and decided to combine the two brands into Leedy & Ludwig in 1951. When their flagship Knob-Tension line flopped, Conn decided to get out of the drum business altogether. In 1955 they sold Leedy to Slingerland and Ludwig to WFL (the company founded by William F. Ludwig, Sr., after he left Ludwig & Ludwig in 1937).