Sound Advice: Snare Drum Lab 101
Low-Tech DIY Muffling
Drummers still use items like napkins, masking tape, or even panty liners on a drumhead for muffling. Yes — panty liners!
The most common material used to muffle snare drums is duct or gaffer’s tape. Most professional drummers carry a roll with them and it now comes in many colors. I keep a small roll of black duct tape on my stick bag strap.
Usually, a strip of tape is applied to the edge of a head. Some drummers will fashion a low-tech drum “gate” out of the material and use 3"–4" of duct tape adhering two-thirds of it to itself and stick the remaining area with exposed adhesive to either the rim or the edge of the head, allowing the rest to lift and fall with each hit. The downside of tape is the sticky residue it can leave behind, though gaffer’s tape tends to remove pretty cleanly.
Foam insulating tape, double-sided foam mounting tape, and even felt furniture pads are sometimes used to muffle drumheads. Marching bands still use foam insulating tape (the type used around doors) since it’s cheap, readily available, and can be placed on the inside of the drumhead. I use a small amount of two-sided foam mounting tape on one of my workhorse snare drums. Why? It’s out of the way when I play brushes and doesn’t have to be removed when packing up.
The hoops on your drum can have a noticeable affect on your sound.
Today most drum hoops are triple-flanged steel hoops and these are known for offering more sustain and warmth than some other types of hoops. However, all triple-flanged hoops are not the same. Entry-level snare drums usually have thinner hoops that make rim-clicks more challenging to produce and under high tension these hoops can deform and go out of round. If you’d like to improve an entry-level drum, buying a thicker 2.3mm hoop will give a louder rim-click and should hold its shape for the life of the drum.
Die-cast hoops are even thicker than triple-flanged hoops and offer a loud and very cutting rim-click sound. They tend to reduce the high-end frequencies and sustain resulting in a more controlled snare sound which is often desirable.
Wood hoops are a very old style of hoop that became popular again in the ’90s when Ayotte Drums reintroduced them. These tend to offer a bit more warmth than die-cast hoops while still offering a great rim-click sound, however, they can be damaged if you’re prone to heavy and constant rimshots.
You can modify and alter the characteristics of your drum by changing your current drum hoops. For example, if your drum has too much sustain and a weak rim-click, a die-cast hoop may be the perfect remedy. A dead dull drum that has a die-cast hoop can be livened up with a triple-flanged hoop.
The bearing edges are the top and bottom edges of your drum shells that the drumhead contacts. The shape of your bearing edge affects your drum’s sustain and sensitivity.
Batter-side bearing edge
If you have a metal-shell drum there isn’t much you can do since the bearing edge is thin and is difficult to work. However, if you have a wood-shell drum you can have your bearing edges recut. If the snare that came with your kit has never been as sensitive and responsive as you’d like, recutting the bearing edge to a sharper edge can help. Similarly, a drum with too many overtones might benefit from a rounder vintage-style edge that has greater contact with the head. To have the edges recut you’ll probably need to have it done professionally.
However, another recent option is the replacement bearing edges offered by Nu’Edg (nuedg.com). Theses edges can be dropped in place and don’t require you to recut your edges, giving you the option of changing the bearing edges to provide several different sounds from the same drum by simply removing the heads and setting a different one in place.