An Introduction to Snare Drums
If you ask a drummer to condense his kit down to a single instrument - chances are, he'll grab the snare drum. For most players, the snare represents the beating heart of the drum kit, set apart by its versatility and distinctive "snap." Indeed, snare drums have been used for hundreds of years, long before the modern drum kit was even invented. Modern snare drums are descended from the tabor drum, used since Medieval times alongside the one-handed fife, or flute. The history of the snare drum is also intimately connected to military music, and the mustering of troops (especially before radio was invented). Today, snare drum is a percussive staple in genres around the world - jazz, rock, country, pop - not to mention marching band!
Anatomy of a Snare Drum
Snare drums are cylindrical in shape: typically about six or seven inches deep, with a diameter ranging from ten to sixteen inches. However, designated marching snare drums can be twelve inches deep, while piccolo snare drums can be as shallow as three inches. Snare drum shells are constructed from metal, wood, fiberglass, or acrylic materials. These materials have a direct impact on each drum's sound; for instance, maple wood is known for its warm sound, while metal snare drums are high-pitched. Like toms, snare drums have two heads - a top batter head, and a bottom resonant head. Snare drum heads were traditionally made from calfskin, but ever since the 50's, manufacturers have used a kind of plastic called Mylar. Most snare drums sit on a small stand, and you'll see them played with drumsticks, mallets, or brushes.
But what really sets a snare drum apart from all other drums is the strap of coiled, metal wires stretched across its bottom head. These wires are called "snares," and they give the drum its characteristic snapping sound - a sharp, staccato "crack." These wires pass over the bottom drum head, through the snare hoop, into what's called a snare strainer. Drummers adjust this strainer to modify the tension of the coiled wires. If a drummer removes - or fully loosens - these metal snares, the instrument loses its sharp "crack" sound. A snare without this under-strap is essentially just a shallow tom - with a dull, thudding tone.
It's not uncommon for professional drummers to have several snare drums, even if they only have one kit. Because snare drums come in such a nuanced variety of sound, build, and looks, drummers will mix and match depending on the venue, song, or style of music. For example, a stripped-down jazz gig might call for a different snare sound than a basement punk show. While you can buy full, ready-to-play drum kits, it's very common to see shell packs, which only include toms and a kick. This gives drummers the freedom to use any number of different snare drums. Sweetwater understands the value of choice - especially when it comes to snare drums - which is why we carry over 100 different models.
The Gretsch S-6514-TH Taylor Hawkins Signature is an excellent first snare drum - with a steel shell, black nickel finish, and Remo drum heads. If you're in the market for a wooden snare, check out the DW Performance Series Snare series - with maple shells, lacquered finish, and resonant, punchy sound. Longtime collectors might be interested in DW's Neil Peart Icon R40 Snare, made from 1,500-year-old oak, and finished with laser-etched inlays. Sweetwater also carries piccolo snares, like the steel-shell Pearl S1330B. With all the options available, don't hesitate to call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer to help you decide which one (or ones) is right for you.
Sweetwater's Sales Engineers are regarded as the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the music industry, with extensive music backgrounds and intense training on the latest products and technologies. They are available to offer you personalized product advice any time you need it.