The snare is the quintessential element of a drum kit. An image of a snare is what the word “drum” usually brings to mind, and on the surface, it looks simple enough. Most people think of a drum as a loud piece of wood you smack with a stick – a glorified barrel, but the technical details run deep in the equipment’s hardware. Every nut and bolt contributes to its sound.
A snare is a unique piece of kit, and just as a programmer might bring along their personal keyboard for long coding days at work, snare drums are so unique that it’s common for drummers to bring along their own snare if they are forced to play on a less familiar kit. The snare’s sound and feel can make or break the whole kit.
With so many unique qualities to choose from, Drum Center of Portsmouth has put together this list of the best snare drums in 2019 to help narrow down the search. So, what goes into making each snare sound unique?
The first piece to consider is the shell. This is the largest part of the drum. The shell is a hollow cylinder that acts as the base onto which all other parts of the drum will be attached.
The shell can be made from a wide variety of materials including various metals and woods as well as carbon fiber and aluminum. The enormous variety of shell materials available each bring their own unique sounds.
Maple shells have a warm sound and enhance the lower frequencies of a drum’s sound. Birchwood is brighter, enhancing both the highs and lows. Steel and copper shells both tend to enhance the highest frequencies, while copper shells will give a darker, warmer, tone than a steel shell.
This is the surface of a snare. Next to the shell, the head will be one of the largest factors affecting the overall sound. The options for drumheads are near limitless.
There are single-ply drumheads that sacrifice durability for a lighter sound, and double-ply heads that reduce overtones and shorten sustain. Coated heads will muffle the sound a bit, while clear heads leave the sound bright and open. There tons of specialty heads as well for dialing in that perfect sound.
Without getting into all the technical details like sustain and overtones, there is a breadth of information in the category of drumheads.
The rims secure the head – the striking surface – onto the shell. The different choices of rims have a large effect on the aesthetic and to a lesser extent will also affect the sound. The right rims can give a snare a longer ring or greater sensitivity.
Lugs & Tension Rods
Lugs are part utility and part aesthetic. These are the vertical bars surrounding the circumference of the drum, that hold the rim down tight, thus putting tension on the head.
These might have little effect on the sound of the drum. The real goal here is to stop this piece of hardware from impeding the sound of the snare. A good set of lugs and tensions rods will have minimal contact with the rest of the drum to avoid bottlenecking the highs and lows.
Snare wires are located on the bottom side of the drum and give the drum it’s characteristic sound. Snare wires are typically a wide, flat band of coiled wires (though there are of course other snare wire designs available), which vibrate against the bottom surface of the drum when it is struck.
All drums are not created alike, and how a drummer plays them is only part of the sound. Drum patterns are like software – they won’t run well at all without the right hardware. Each component of a snare drum has so many options and dozens of subcategories, to customize the snare for executing that perfect sound. It’s worth putting in some due diligence before setting out to put together a snare, whether the physical item or as a program for your DIY drum samples. As any drum programmer will tell you, the rabbit hole is just as deep as building a PC.