You’ve probably heard drummers mention their snare beds, but has anyone ever explained what they are and why you need one? You’ll find a snare bed on practically every snare drum. These gently curved depressions are cut opposite each other into the bottom bearing edge of the drum, parallel to the throw-off and butt plate. Even metal snare drums have bearing edges; newer ones have very gradual rolled-in snare beds, while the older ones have short, pressed-in beds. They all ensure that the snares lie flat against the drumhead by pulling them into the head rather than letting them lay against it.
Older snare beds cut away a drastic amount of the bearing edge. The 1950 Radio King snare bed was about 3" long, while Gretsch was closer to 5". The snare bed found on today’s snares is a much more gradual cut, closer to 10" in total length.
Snare beds were modified to keep pace with the evolution of the drumhead. A modern plastic head isn’t able to reach down into severe snare beds, which causes it to wrinkle on each side of the bed, making the drum harder to tune. Deep beds on older drums were intended for use with calfskin heads, which were tucked around wood hoops that could more easily follow the contour of the bearing edge, although there was still some wrinkling and sagging of the head near the bed. Since the plastic heads and metal hoops on today’s drums are less pliable, a more gradual bed allows better contact of the head with the bearing edge.
A bad snare bed can create a lot of tuning problems and constant buzzing, which can cause you to over-tighten the snare wires to compensate for sympathetic vibration. If you think you have a faulty snare bed, here is a quick temporary fix. Lightly loosen the tension rods on each side of the snare wire – but don’t overdo it. Remember, snare drums are supposed to buzz to a certain degree.
It’s a good idea to get to the bottom of your snare bed problems. Take a close look by flipping over the drum. With the snare wires running away from you, focus on the farthest edge. Inspect the contour of the edge where the snare wires rest. It should be centered and free of nicks or gouges. If you have difficulty seeing it, remove the snare-side head and put the drum on a table. Place the edge of the drum close to the edge of the table. If you position the drum with the throw-off perpendicular to you, you’ll easily be able to see the snare bed.
Keep in mind that some drums with extended snare wires may not have a snare bed. This is because the drum features a mechanism that allows the wires to move up and down from the head rather than being tightened across it.
I recently found a quote from a 1936 Ludwig catalog. One of the “exclusive features” was “a snare bed that is accurately centered and graded to ensure the lie of snares (this is important.)” It was important then, and is still important now.