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Best Classic Snare Drums

I've been thinking a lot lately about snare drums. Classic snare drums. The Ludwig Acrolite mostly. I was thinking about getting one because I heard in an interview with Steven Wolf (Oz Noy, Tribal Tech, Miley Cyrus) that it was his go-to snare for recording sessions. Upon talking to a friend of mine, he was quick to remind me of the importance of having your own sound.That got me thinking: If I'm trying to sound like one of the top drummers in New York, maybe there are bunch of other guys also trying to sound like one of the top drummers in New York, and I'd just blend in with the rest of the “white noise”. Maybe it's a similar problem all the "Weckl clones" had in the 80's. Or when everyone was trying to sound like Jeff "Tain" Watts in the 90's. Having your own sound is what will get people's attention and make you fun and interesting to play with.
The question is, what exactly makes up your sound? Is it the gear or the the player himself? If you use an Acrolite, or a Supra-Phonic, or any other classic snare drum, can you still get your own sound? Upon doing some investigating,  I'd say yeah, it is possible. It is however, pretty challenging. I found out that ?uestlove and Joe Morello both used the Supra-Phonic snare. I'd say they sound pretty different from each other. And I don't mean their chops or the types of beats that they're playing are different—I talking about the actual sounds these players are pulling out of the same drum. The type of drum you're hitting accounts for about half your sound. The other half is how you hit the drum: Your technique. Your vibe. Your feel. Things that, like any form of artistic expression, take years to develop. I would argue that combining a refined feel with a classic instrument is a great idea-- As long as you rely on yourself for the sound you're producing and just use the instrument as a vehicle. The sound might not be quite as different as using a half-jatoba-half-zebrawood stave shell but, maybe, the fact that you're combining something different (your feel) with something familiar (a classic drum) would give people a dual feeling of excitement and nostalgia. The combination of those two opposing feelings can be something pretty special.

In the end of course, it's about what you're going for. If you're going for a very exotic sound, by all means, use a custom stave shell combining aluminum, jatoba, duckgrass, purple heart and brick. If you want some familiarity in your sound, there are a lot of great vehicles out there. I'd suggest checking out as many classic ones as you can and hear where each of them take you after putting yourself in the driver's seat. Even the players seeking a more exotic sound should check out these historic snares for the sole purpose of making sure that your “new” sound is actually different from any old ones. Knowing what already exists makes it a lot easier to come up with something original! So check out the following snare drums and experiment with putting your own spin on some classic sounds.

Ludwig Supra-Phonic
Along with the Hammond B3 organ and the Fender Stratocaster, The Supra-Phonic 400 series snare was instrumental in shaping the rock n' roll sound of the 60's and 70's. First appearing in catalogs around 1963, this snare was built from a beaded chrome-plated aluminum shell and was offered in 5x14 and 6.5x14 sizes. Ludwig's catalog insisted that its P-83 strainer caused an "instant response over the entire drumhead. Vivid tonal definition. Each beat crisp and clear". Ludwig also came out with the Super-Sensitive which was essentially a Supra-Phonic with an extended snare system allowing you to virtually tune each snare wire individually. In both Rock and Jazz the Supra was one of the most recorded snares. It's bold, sensitive and bright sound can be heard via Joe Morello on the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet recording " Take Five", Bun E. Carlos on Cheap Trick classics of the 70's and 80's, and in Michael Shrieve's psychedelic drum solo during Santana's set at the Woodstock festival. John Bonham used the 6.5x14 configuration on most Zeppelin recordings and Hal Blaine used a Supra for most of his Wrecking Crew sessions. The list of legends who've used the series 400 snare goes on and on. Today this snare continues to prove itself as a true workhorse, as it's still being played by top modern players like ?uestlove and Russ Lawton.
Ludwig Acrolite 
The Acrolite, or the Ludwig No-404- Snare Drum, was first introduced in 1962 as a student drum. Because of it's dry, cracking tone, it quickly became a top choice for the pros. Like the Supra-Phonic, it is constructed from a 5 x 14 "beaded" shell, meaning it has that tube going around the center of the shell. Unlike the Supra Phonic, there are 8 lugs instead of 10 lugs and it's aluminum shell is not chrome-plated. If you tune it low, you'll sound like Ringo on the White Album. After the late 70's these drums were given a powdered finish and heavier hoops, giving the drum an even drier sound. We currently have two Acrolites for sale in the shop. Come grab one because they move! 
Ludwig Black Beauty
This sought-after snare is known for it's round, warm, yet metallic sound. It was first introduced into the market in the 1920's and was originally called the De Luxe Drum, and then in the 1930's appeared in catalogs as the Black Beauty. During this era it was constructed from two sheets of brass and plated in nickel. In the mid to late 30's the drum disappeared from catalogs and didn't reappear until 1977. From this era on it was constructed from a single sheet of brass, plated in nickel and pressed into a beaded shell. They currently come in 5 x 14, 6.5 x 14 and 3.5 x 13 sizes, but the recording studio standard the 6.5 x 14 from the late 70's era. It's beefy, resonant sound is instantly familiar, thanks to all the records it's on (mostly hard rock and metal, i.e., Metallica's "Master of Puppets"). In terms of playability, you don't have to hit too hard because, well, it's a loud drum. And it's large sweet spot makes it that much more effortless to play.

Slingerland Radio King
Original Radio King snare drums, produced from 1935 to 1957, were constructed from a single ply steam-bent maple with solid maple reinforcement hoops. This was unique for the era seeing as most snare drums at the time were built out of several plies of mahogany. The snare came in 5.5x14, 7x14 and 8x14 sizes. Because of it's warm, woody, and loud sound it was popular among big band drummers like Gene Krupa. These drums are highly collectible. We have a few Radio Kings here at the shop. You can check them out on the site or if you're feeling adventurous come down to the shop and test em' out.

Rogers Dynasonic
lthough not as commonly used as the other snares in this article, the Dynasonic deserves just as much recognition as the others because it has just as much character. Its chrome over brass shell was produced in 5x14, 5.5x14 and 6.5x14 sizes.  Based on the materials used to create the Black Beauty and Supra-Phonic compared to this shell, you can probably get an idea what the Dynasonic sounds like: beefy, full-bodied, solid.  This drum features a unique cradle to support the snare wires. This cradle makes it possible for the longitudinal tension of the snare wires to be adjusted separately from the vertical force holding the snares against the resonator head. This allows the snares to be tensioned as tightly you want without having to pull the snares against the head so hard that they'd choked the vibration of the head. In addition to the more common chrome-over-brass models, Rogers also manufactured around 3000 wooden Dynas. Since they are so rare, they go for thousands of dollars and, frankly, don't sound much different or better than wooden drums a fraction of the price. I own a 6.5x14 chrome over brass Dyna and am very pleased with the sound. Buddy Rich and Louis Bellson used these in Big Bands, but sound great for Rock and Pop too. If your looking for something a little different, but as crisp and full bodied as you can ask for, you should definitely check out the Dynasonic.


As you can see, even among the above handful of snares drums, there is a lot of variety. All of the different qualities of these snares can be overwhelming and make it difficult to choose the perfect one for you. So before you “pull the trigger” on one, try asking yourself the following basic questions: Will this snare fit the type(s) of music I'm going to be playing? Will it mesh well with my feel? Do I want something unmistakably “classic” like the Supra, or something a little more obscure like the Dynasonic? This investigative process, and the question relating to “feel” in particular, is why places like CHBO drums still exist. No matter how good you're imagination is, it's virtually impossible to imagine exactly how you're feel would sound on a certain snare drum just from "checking out" a youtube video. The smartest thing you can do is to make a visit to a physical drum shop (I hear CHBO drums is a good one!) and experiment by actually playing on different drums. Get scientific. Figure out exactly how the chemistry between you and the different snare drums can interact best for you to express you're own sound.


-Alan Silverman


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