Sound Advice: Snare Drum Lab 101
Throw-offs, or snare strainers, are the mechanisms that raise and lower the snare wires beneath the drum. They usually feature a lever and a fine-tuning knob to more precisely adjust the wire tension. The lever usually comes in a side throw (to one side or the other) or flip-down (away from the shell) designs, and of these I prefer the side throw since it doesn’t get in the way of your legs. Some very high-end end models feature aesthetically pleasing designs and indents in the fine-tuning knob to resist detensioning (i.e., Rocket Shells’ Ngage), the ability to swivel for righties or lefties, and a quick-release mechanism (Dunnett throw-off), or intermediate levered steps for additional throw-off tensions (Trick GS007M). Even basic throw-offs can offer many years of solid service. If your throw-off becomes damaged, replacing it is easy, but make sure the new model will fit into the existing holes on your drum and once replaced will still fit into your case.
Your local professional drum shop or DIY sites like precisiondrum.com, drummaker.com, and drumfoundry.com can get you the replacement parts you need.
The characteristic sound of a snare drum is provided from the wires that press against the bottom head. Many drummers never think of replacing them until they notice them dangling beneath the drum. Most drum companies offer identical replacement wires for their drums but if you want to really tweak your sound check out Puresound wires. The company offers a wide range of products that can help you alleviate common problems or help tweak and personalize your snare sound. Does your drum lack articulation? Check out the Twisted series, which features double strands of snares twisted together, or the Super 30 series with, you guessed it, 30 strands of wire. Does your snare buzz whenever you hit your middle or high tom? The Equalizer series lacks the middle strands of wire resulting in less sympathetic vibration and a drier tone.
Snare wires are held in place by tape, wire, string, or ribbon, and all function well, but carry a spare. You can buy a spool of fabric ribbon cheaply at a fabric store that will supply you with a lifetime’s worth for just a few bucks.
Lastly, additional snare drums will give you more tonal options than a single drum can provide, especially if you select both wood and metal-shell drums and select drums of different sizes.
Quick-Reference Guide: Snare The Right Sound For Your Style
To get the classic funk sound, tune your drum tightly. A ten-lug drum will make this easier. A singly-ply head will work well, however, if you hit like Chad Smith, a reinforcement dot will add a much-needed durability boost. Try a metal shell for additional clarity and a shell diameter of 13" or 14" with a shallower depth from 3.5"–5.5". Keep the wire tension tight and apply light muffling for clarity. If you need it, die-cast hoops will add midrange to your sound and control the clang of your rimshots.
To get that ’70s-type sound try a deeper 6.5"–8" wood shell with a medium or lower range tuning. Triple-flanged hoops and double-ply heads will add warmth to your tone. Set the wires at a medium or slightly looser tension and don’t be afraid to add a little (or a lot) of muffling to the head.
Here a 6.5" metal shell will prove ideal for a louder drummer who also needs clarity while blasting. A durable head like a reverse dot or double-ply is a good starting point and tighter tunings and snare wire tension will help your stick bounce quickly. Die-cast hoops will help give you a fatter tone.
A textured or coated head is a must for brush playing and single-ply heads are the most common choice, unless you play louder styles like big band where a reinforced head may be necessary. Wood shells give more warmth and standard depths of 5"–5.5" will give the articulation you’ll need and help you control the volume. Medium or slightly higher tunings and a moderate snare tension will usually work well. Triple-flanged hoops will give a more open and warm tone.
Today’s country is just like any other louder rock gig. Double-ply and dot heads are commonplace and die-cast hoops will help your rim-clicks come to life. A medium or slightly tighter tuning and snare tension should suit your style well. Brass snare shells 5.5"–6.5" deep are common as they offer both clarity and warmth.
Tune high, way high. Ten-lug 14" steel-shelled snare drums have ruled, though 13"-diameter drums will work just as well and require less head tension. A die-cast hoop will help amplify your rim-clicks. Don’t be shy — go with a single-ply head and no muffling for extra clang in your rimshots!
Like metal, punk drummers need lots of durability so a reinforced double-ply head will put up with your thrashing. Tune high to cut through the amps and try a 6.5"-deep shell for volume. Die-cast hoops will help endure your constant rimshots.