The snare drum may well be the most important part of a drummer’s kit and should be one of the first things to be upgraded when you want to take your kit to the next level. There are, however, many different materials that a snare drum can be made out of — and they all have different sound qualities, and could all serve different purposes in your kit.
Here’s everything you need to know about snare drum shell materials and the effect that they can have on the sound of your drum.
Wood Snare Drums
Maple is the easily the most common wood used in snare drums, and for good reason. Maple generally has a warm sound because of the fact that it has an even distribution of mid and high frequencies and boosted low frequencies. Normally, maple snare drums are clear sounding, and have a wide tuning range — making maple snare drums very diverse. All major drum companies make decent maple snare drums, but a good example is the Pearl Masters series maple snare drum, which runs for around $300-$400 depending on the size.
Birch is a very hard wood and because of that, it’s brighter than maple. Birch drums have elevated highs and lows, giving this wood a little more projection as well as tone. Generally, birch is a very crisp-sounding wood when used in a snare drum and should be used in applications where extra cut and presence is required. A popular birch snare drum is the Mapex MPX Birch which can be bought for as little as $160.
Beech is also a relatively hard wood, but is warmer than birch. Because of that, Beech can be considered kind of like a hybrid between maple and birch, with the warmth and fatness of maple and the cut of birch. Beech has boosted lows and even mids and highs. Beech snare drums are not as common as maple and birch, but there are still a few models out there.
Oak is very strong, and projects well. The sound of oak is fairly round, and very present. Oak has boosted lows, mids and highs, although the mids and lows are boosted to a lesser extent than the highs. There aren’t as many oak snare drums as maple, but they are still available.
Mahogany used to be the industry standard for snare drums, but that has changed and maple has taken its place. Mahogany offers a pretty warm sound with boosted lows and to a lesser extent, boosted mids, giving mahogany drums more punch than other types. Mahogany snare drums offer a very classic sound. An example of a nice mahogany snare drum is the Pearl Omar Hakim Signature Snare which can be bought for around $500.
Poplar is fast growing, meaning it can be quickly grown in large quantities, making it a fairly cheap wood. This means that it’s often found on entry-level snare drums. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily make it bad-sounding. The sound of poplar is similar to that of Birch or Mahogany. It can be found on snare drums such as the Pearl Firecracker, which is often used as an auxiliary snare drum and can be bought for $110-$150 depending on the size.
Metal Snare Drums
Steel snare drums have a very powerful cut and a very distinct rimshot sound, making it perfect for cutting through loud music. Steel snare drums are also inexpensive to produce, making them common on entry-level drum kits. An example of a quality steel snare drum is the Tama Steel snare drum series which ranges from $120 to $300, again depending on the size of the drum.
Brass snare drums are very crisp, though also very warm in their sound, giving them a sound that could be likened to a mixture between a typical metal and a wood snare drum. They also have clear rimshots that can cut through loud music. A great brass snare drum is the Pearl Sensitone Elite Brass snare drum, which starts at around $230.
Aluminum snare drums are also crisp and defined although they have less sustain and are often drier than other metal snares, meaning that they do not necessarily need dampening like other metal snares often do. The Ludwig Acrolite is a common and classic aluminum snare drum, which sounds fantastic. It can be bought for around $400 new.
Copper snare drums are darker and have a warmer tone compared to other metal snare drums. Copper snare drums are often found in orchestral music because of the fact that they are not as bright. A good copper snare drum is the Ludwig Copper Phonic, which will cost you from $770.
Bronze snare drums are not extremely common, however they can be found. Their sound is quite dark and warm, again making them very good for orchestral music. A bronze snare drum would be the Ludwig Hammered Bronze snare drum, which will set you back around $760.
No matter what kind of a drum your looking for — or what sound you’re looking for — there’s bound to be something for you. This guide is a great place to start, but as usual, it’s always a good idea to go to your local music store to try things out before buying.