Snare Drum Lab 101
The snare drum is the most important drum in a drum set. It’s the drum we’re first instructed on and is the drum we hit most often. However, if you don’t have your own personal drum tech to keep your drum sounding great and working perfectly, you might appreciate a little advice and information about how to keep it performing at its best. I teach in a big drum shop and every week drummers dissatisfied with their current drum’s sound walk out with a new snare drum hoping that will solve it. I often wonder how many of these drummers would benefit more from learning how to select the right heads and equipment for the music they play.
Buy It New Heads
It’s a good idea to replace heads periodically depending on how much wear they get. But how do you know when they’ve had enough? Parents of an eight-year-old who plays lightly could wait a couple of years, while a touring drummer who hits like a blacksmith may change them every few shows. Batter heads usually need to be replaced more often than the snare-side head, and as a result many drummers make the mistake of overlooking the condition of their bottom snare head. The snare-side head is usually about half the thickness of the batter head and its thinness helps it vibrate the wires but also makes it more susceptible to damage. Consequently, a hard-shell snare case can pay for itself over the years.
Make sure the bottom head on your snare is designed to be used as a snare-side head. Every month a teenage drummer comes into our shop complaining about his or her tubby snare sound only to have us point out the batter head being used as a resonant head.
Choosing heads depends entirely on your needs and the style of music that you play. If you are a light jazz drummer, a thin, single-ply head may give you the articulation and sound you require while a heavy metal drummer may care as much about durability as sound.
Most drumheads today are made from plastic (Mylar) and are offered with clear, opaque, frosted, or coated surfaces, single- or double-ply styles, reinforcement dots for extra strength, premuffled designs, and combinations of all these types. There are far too many types of drumheads available to give anything but some general tips on how they can affect the sound of your drum.
If you’re looking to change your sound through your head selection, note that it’s usually easier to make a drum sound fuller, darker, and more muffled than to make it brighter and livelier. For this reason crisper metal-shell drums are often more adaptable to tonal adjustment than darker-sounding wood drums.
Remo coated Ambassador batter head
New snare drums usually come outfitted with a medium-weight single-ply coated batter head because these offer a reasonable balance of durability with a bright, crisp sound while their coating allows them to be used with brushes. Remo’s Ambassador head is the industry standard of this type, though Attack’s 1-ply Medium Coated, Aquarian’s Texture Coated, and Evans G1 are all similar heads. Single-ply heads are often about 10mil thick but Evans recently introduced its more durable G Plus head that’s 12mil thick and G14 head that’s 14mil thick while still being single-ply.
Remo’s Diplomat is a single-ply head that’s even thinner at just 7.5mil and offers more brightness and sustain but less durability so it’s primarily chosen by jazz and orchestral snare drummers.
Jazz drummers and those using vintage-era drums might want to check out Aquarian’s American Vintage heads that are slightly oversized to fit certain older shells. Drummers who play a lot of brushes are also likely to be interested in the various models of Fiberskyn 3, Suede, and Skyntone heads that Remo offers as well as Evans J1 Etched heads.
If you’re a drummer who gigs frequently you may want more durability. Single-ply heads with reinforcement dots offer added durability and a bit of muffling without changing the tone too much. I prefer these with the dot placed beneath the head to enable playing with brushes.
Two-ply heads offer a more muffled and darker snare tone but can work well for rock drummers who need even more durability and muffling.
Premuffled heads come in single and double-ply varieties and have a muffling ring around their perimeter on the underside of the head. Sometimes these include reinforcement dots.
If you want an extremely dead ’70s-type sound out of your snare or toms consider Evans Hydraulic heads, which have two plies of film with a thin layer of oil between them. They can easily tame any 18" floor tom or church-bell snare they encounter.
Metal drummers will certainly be interested in the next two heads. Aquarian’s new Triple Threat combines three plies of 7mil drumhead film into one very durable head, and Evans, new Hybrid Coated is a combination of two unique high-tensile fibers that are more commonly seen in drum corps and sports a unique gray woven surface. It’s designed for extremely heavy hitters. I heard one of these used on a Lars Ulrich Tama Signature Bell Brass snare and the head completely changed the sound of the drum, tempering much of its raw, aggressive clang with a much more musical tonality.