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Best Classic Snare Drums

Posted September 21, 2015

I've been thinking a lot lately about snare drums. Classic snare drums. The Ludwig Acrolite mostly. I was thinking about getting one after finding out that Steven Wolf (Oz Noy, Tribal Tech, Miley Cyrus) uses this drum on recording sessions. I was told a friend that I wanted one but he was quick to remind me of the importance of having "my own sound". He was right. 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 would just blend in with the white noise. Maybe it's a similar problem all of 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, though, what exactly makes up one's own sound? Is it the gear or the the player? 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. ?uestlove and Joe Morello have both mainly played on the Supra-Phonic snare. And despite this fact, their sounds are completely different from each other. And I don't mean their chops or the types of rhythms they play—I' m talking about the actual sound they're pulling out of the same drum. The type of drum you're hitting accounts for half of your sound. The other half is how you hit the drum: Your technique, your vibe, and 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. Just as long as you rely on yourself for the sound you're producing and simply use the drum as a vehicle for that sound. The sound might not be quite as different as using a half-jatoba-half-zebrawood stave shell but, maybe, the fact that you'd combine something different (your feel) with something familiar (the classic drum), you'd give people a dual feeling of excitement and nostalgia. That combination can be very special.

In the end of course, it's about what you're going for. If you're looking to attain 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 to get 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 Strat, 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 is the 6.5 x 14 from the late 70's era. It's beefy, resonant sound is instantly familiar. This, of course, is 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 some 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 them out.

Rogers Dynasonic

Although 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. Frankly, they don't sound much better/different better than the metal ones a fraction of the price.  Although these drums were used by Buddy Rich and Louis Bellson in Big Bands, they sound great for Rock and Pop too. If your looking for something a little bit different, and more crisp and full bodied than most other snares, you should check out the Dynasonic.

-Alan Silverman

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