Reamping The Snare

Almost nothing is more satisfying than getting a good snare sound on a recording. Ideally, capturing a good snare sound should be done with proper tuning and good miking technique. But there will be times when the snare sound may be dull or boinky or lacking in breadth, or you may just desire something more from the track. If you want to give a lifeless-sounding or monodimensional snare track a bit more pizzazz, there’s an organic way to go about it. Guitarists have long benefited from “reamping” their sound. But this trick is not reserved for guitarists alone. Fellow engineer George Borden shared this tried-and-true technique with me when I was trying to pump up a snare sound some other way than processing or using SoundReplacer.

First, take the recorded snare track and route the line-level signal to an amplifier and a small speaker (or simply to a powered speaker). Then the fun begins: (1) place the speaker face down on top of the snare drum, which should be securely on its stand; or (2) place the speaker on its back with the cone facing up, and set the snare drum batter side down on top of the speaker (Figs. 1 and 2 below). Make sure that the snares are engaged so that you can capture the crisp buzz of the strainer. Place a small diaphragm condenser mike about 2" from and angled toward the strainer. You could use a dynamic microphone instead, but the condenser will capture a crisper sound.

If there’s too much bleed from adjacent instruments on the snare track, employ a gate to clean up the track. Select the maximum ratio and set the gate to a fast attack. Then adjust the hold and decay times so that the track sounds natural. Record the reamped snare drum to a separate track. You could use this track alone, or you could try blending it with the original track, adjusting the levels to get the right mix. If you’re looking for a more expansive, open sound, you could try placing the mikes further back from the reamped snare, adopting a room-miking approach to capture more ambient room sound. Experiment with the distance between the snare and the mikes until you get the sound you’re looking for.