By Liam Mulholland Originally published in issue 97 of DRUM!
Who gives a poop about snare wires? Besides wire manufacturers, drum dealers, diligent roadies and geeky gearheads, nobody does. Not even drummers do — that is, not until something goes wrong. Then the crack! crack! turns into whump! whump! Panic and irritation set in. The drum is quickly turned over to reveal, in most cases, that the cord attaching one side of the snare wires to the drum has snapped off, dropping them away from the bottom head.
Occasionally a sound that can be described as a loose snare setting with bedspring noises emanates from the bottom of the drum. This time, the drum is over turned to reveal dangling wires that have come unsoldered from the snare wire endplate. It’s time to use wire cutters (pocketknife, your teeth), BandAids and a chill pill. Usually, the cheaper the drum is, the cheaper the wires are.
Consider this. Most snare wires are commercially mass-produced for snare drums almost as an afterthought. There is a tendency to lump them in with other bits of drum hardware like tension screws, and wing nuts. Is it possible, or even necessary to make snare wires sound better? To answer this question, we decided to take a look at (and listen to) the products of Puresound Percussion.
I am a geeky gearhead in a specific sort of way, so I had a strong draw to Puresound’s snare-wire sets. I picked up a 1950s vintage Slingerland Radio King a few years back that still had what was left of the original snare wires in place. Some of the wires had snapped loose, and the rest were either bent or rusty. In that condition, they didn’t sit flat against the bottom of the drum, rendering the drum unplayable.
Slingerland, in all of its various manifestations, had not produced snare wires for this particular drum in a very long time. I looked for years to find a vintage set, but my search proved fruitless. Fortunately, the Puresound Company produces a set in that configuration (as well as another Radio King variation) and I was finally able to put the dear old thing back together. The drum now absolutely kicks in all of its green-sparkle glory.
However, for vintage folks, the good news doesn’t end with Slingerland repros. The company makes snare sets that enable the resuscitation of venerable old drum kahunas like the WFL/Ludwig Classic and the 1926-1968 Ludwig Super Sensitive models.
“Well that’s cool, but what does that do for my (fill in the blank) drum?” thoughtful drummers everywhere will want to know. Puresound makes snare wires in 12- and 16-strand combinations for all snare drum sizes 10" through 15" in diameter.
Puresound wires are constructed of heat-treated steel alloy, and are hand-soldered to a copper endplate. The result is a snare-wire set that is slightly more rigid than typical sets. This provides a little less “give” and fortunately fewer tendencies to tangle, but it requires a bit more attention when mounting the set. If the snares are not mounted symmetrically across the head, but are more skewed on one or another side, there is greater likelihood for a strand to pop out of its weld. However, it is this added rigidity (producing just the right amount of vibration) that promises the potential for greater sound. And how would we describe that sound?
On the advice of a friend of mine (who happens to be a Puresound dealer), I gathered two 14" x 5" wood-shell snare drums that were identical models made by the same manufacturer, and tuned them the same using a tuning gauge. I kept the factory-issued snare wires on one and placed a set of Puresound 16-strands on the other, and started to play. I noticed the difference right away.
The Puresound drum had a fuller, almost deeper sound. It was very crisp and articulate, but what really surprised me was the cut in the amount of extemporaneous white noise. The other drum — although still sounding crispy and tight — seemed to have more “noise” associated with it.
Just to check, I reversed the snare sets (so that the Puresound snares were on the drum that was previously outfitted with the factory-provided snares). Again, the sound seemed more alive and less noisy on the drum that had the Puresound snare wires.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the difference was so subtle that it would seem significant only to drum nerds. So I brought in a layperson’s set of ears (thanks, Molly, you can have the earplugs back now) and the finding was concurred.
Next I tried the snares on some 13" drums. Unfortunately, I didn’t have 13" twins to do a back-to-back demo, but subjectively, the drums did indeed sound better. Even now the 13" wires reside on my 5 1/2" and 3" drums, and there they shall remain (until the company demands their wires back).
The snares seemed to make the least amount of difference on my 12" drum, even though the sound definitely improved when I used a 12-strand variety. The company recommends the 12-strand set for snare drums that have a shallow depth. A smaller drum has fewer overtones, which requires fewer snare wires. Fewer snares create less unwanted noise. To that end, Puresound makes a 10-strand model specifically for 10" drums. As far as the 15" set was concerned, well, do you know anyone who uses a 15" snare drum?
I still haven’t mentioned my favorite model — the Equalizer, which is available in all sizes except 10". It includes 12 strands that are divided to create a narrow gap right down the middle of the set. The purpose is to refrain from putting snare wire directly over the center of the drum where all the harmonics of the drum converge. The effect is essentially the same amount of snare coverage, only it produces a drier, less buzzy sound. This worked the best in loud, ambient volume situations where most of the emphasis was on playing backbeats. The best part was that it seemed to greatly reduce the amount of sympathetic snare vibration when I played high-pitched toms.
I give two thumbs up to Puresound snare wires. If you are a vintage fan, these are an essential and valuable find that borders on necessity. But these snare wires aren’t just for vintage drum collectors. I recommend them for anybody who wants to optimize his or her snare sound, particularly in 13" or 14" sizes. If installed correctly, the sonic difference is definitely there. Even if you don’t happen to agree, a backup snare set is not a bad thing for an active drummer to own.