Improve your snare sound without having to spend hundreds on a new drum… Upgrade your snare drum!
If you’ve got a cheaper (or older) snare drum, there are a few things you can do to tighten up the sound without needing to spend too much. Besides getting a new drumhead or adding dampening, see below for some of the options available to modify and improve your snare drum sound.
Cheap snare wires can rattle and buzz excessively, especially if they’re made with low-grade material or are not straight. Old snare wires can be loose, dull, or broken. Changing your snare wires will help control snare buzz, and can also improve a snare drum’s sound. There are a lot of different options here: The number of wires, wire thickness, wire placement, and wire material will all play a role in your sound.
20-strand snare wires are most common. Less strands will mean less snare “snap” and less snare buzz, so think about the amount of snare wire snap you want (compared to how much drum sound you want to hear). Thinner and lighter snare wires will be more sensitive for delicate touches (and also quieter), but if you’re playing very loud music you may want to consider heavier or thicker wires. Snare wires are also available with the middle strands missing – this gives a dryer sound, and will also reduce the amount of resonant snare buzz when other drums are hit… Try these if you want to reduce sympathetic snare buzz (the snare buzzing you hear when you hit other drums).
A snare throwoff (also sometimes called a strainer) holds the snare wires in places and gives you control over their tension. Upgrading a cheap throwoff will give you much more control over your snare wire tension, and allow for smoother and more even transitions.
Tight tension gives a focused quick snap (and will also choke the resonance of the resonant snare head), while medium and lower tensions allow for a nice fat or deeper punch, with more buzz. Snare drums usually have one or two sweet spots on the throwoff where the snares give a thicker, fatter response, and this sweet spot usually changes with your tuning. Having a good quality throwoff will allow you to achieve the sound you want, and keep things consistent. Most drum throwoff upgrades are designed to fit almost all snare drums, but double-check that your new throwoff’s screw placement matches your old one.
If your tuning rods get stuck, are hard to turn, or are rusty, you’ll have a harder time getting consistent and even tuning. This is especially true if you like to finger-tighten your lugs before tuning. Before buying new parts, try using a lubricant to solve the problem. Use spray on grease, or a small amount of oil or vaseline to coat each tuning rod. If the problem persists (or if you want a cosmetic upgrade), you can buy new lugs and tuning rods. You’ll usually find the exact measurements and screw placements of lugs before buying them (check, for example, on the Amazon product page) – compare these to your own drum to make sure they will fit.
Generally, the less contact each lug makes with the drum shell, the more the shell will be able to resonate. Smaller and lighter lugs will allow for the most resonance, while thick and heavy lugs will reduce the drum shell’s natural vibrations (choking the sound a little). Depending on your drum, and the sound you want from it, either of these options may be the best one.
Another quick and cheap upgrade is nylon or plastic tension rod sleeves (or washers) – these will remove metal-on-metal contact. This makes your tuning smoother, and stops your tuning rods from slowly coming loose when you play.
There are three main types of drum hoops: die-cast, triple flanged, and wood hoops. Each of these drum hoops gives a slightly different feel and sound: Compared to triple flanged hoops, die-cast hoops are much more solid, and will reduce ringing and overtones when the drum is hit. Die-cast hoops are more suited to loud environments where big rim shots are used, while triple flanged hoops allow for lighter and more sensitive strokes to stand out and will give a more open sound. Wooden hoops are more delicate and can be damaged with heavier playing, but they are popular because they reduce some of the brighter tones compared to die-cast or triple flanged hoops (and also look great). If you love a deep, warm snare drum tone, wooden hoops are definitely worth checking out.
Before buying new hoops, double-check whether you’re getting a batter or resonant snare side hoop. Resonant snare side hoops usually have a cut-out for the snare wire straps, although on toms or bass drums this is not an issue (both sides are the same). Also check the number of holes you’ll need for tuning rods to pass through.
Extra Snare Drum Sound Improvement Tips
As well as the above options, here are a few other methods for making sure your snare sound is in top shape:
- Drum tuning matters, both with your snare drum and the other drums around it. If your snare wires are buzzing too much when you hit your other drums, it’s likely that one of the other drumheads is tuned to a very similar pitch as one of the snare heads. Change the tuning, and you’ll instantly reduce your buzz.
- Your resonant head has a big effect on your snare drum sound… Luckily, we’ve got a huge overview of resonant snare side drumheads covering everything you need to know.
- If you haven’t cleaned out your snare drum in a while, take both drumheads off and get rid of the woodchips, dust, and other junk that can accumulate around the hoop.
- A little dampening in the right place can really improve your drum sound. Take a look at these great drum dampening products.
- For a deep and fat snare drum sound, take a look at our article on fat snare drum tuning methods.
- If your bearing edges are a little damaged, you can rub some candle wax on the problem area to smooth it out (don’t use too much). If the bearing edges are really badly damaged, you might need to get them re-cut by a professional (or maybe think about getting a new drum).
Got any other tips for improving snare drum sound? Get in touch!