Shop Talk

Get the Most Beat for Your Buck

4 Options for Building a Primo Snare Collection on a Workingman’s Budget

by Nate Bauman

As a single man in my late twenties with few commitments and even fewer resources, I spent a great deal of time and energy this past year recommitting myself to the drums and improving my skills. This meant way more practice hours, but it also meant putting more thought into the gear I was using. The first question I asked myself: What snare drum should I be playing?

The Scenario

I’d spoken with a number of drummers on the topic of gear selection, and the common denominator in all of the conversations was that there was a clear lack of variety in my personal collection, specifically in terms of snare drums. I’d been using only a 1984 Yamaha 8×14 Recording Custom for the past fifteen years, but now it was time to branch out and expand my sonic palette.

It’s easy to be envious of guitarists. With the click of a pedal, they can change the entire sound of their instrument. I would argue that picking a different snare is the closest thing we have as drummers to changing our tone like a guitarist can do with pedals.

The difference, though, is money. A guitarist can spend as little as $40 on a pro-quality pedal. Snares, on the other hand, cost much more than your average stomp box. If I wanted to build my collection without destroying my bank account, I’d need to learn as much as I could about the snare drum in general and about the various options out there.

Find a Sensei

Living in Chicago, my first thought was to head to Chicago Drum Exchange and start asking questions. Enter Rob André. He has a fantastic résumé in the Midwest for opening and operating drum shops, and this particular store may be his finest yet. I’d be at his counter after hours during the week, and I’d camp out all morning on the weekend. Our discussions of snare drums went back to basics, as if I were a brand-new drummer just entering the world of music. Some questions we addressed: What’s the difference between the various types of metal and wood shells? What’s the relationship between the weight and size of a drumstick and the attack and response of a particular snare? How do I properly tune a drum? Should I use a Remo Vintage Emperor head or an Ambassador X? The list went on and on.

André coached me on discovering the answers to these questions, while letting me try his 150-plus snares in order to build a mental database. After a few months of taking it all in, I had narrowed down my “dream collection” to a handful of drums that I knew were a bit out of my price range: a 6.5×14 DW smooth brass ($550), a 6.5×14 Brady jarrah ply ($799), a 6.5×14 Ludwig Black Beauty ($749), and a 6.5×14 Craviotto solid cherry ($1,500).

Imitation Is the Highest Form of Flattery

The best thing about today’s drum market is that there are always affordable alternatives built to replicate the sound and shape of top-shelf instruments. (Guitarists have been enjoying replica models for decades.) After I had determined my top four ideal snares, André helped me locate some of the closest affordable equivalents, which ended up being a 7×14 ddrum Vintone nickel over brass ($349), a 6.5×14 Dixon Artisan Chris Brady rose gum ($499), a 6.5×14 Taye MetalWorks brushed black nickel over brass ($359), and a 6.5×14 ddrum Vintone solid cherry ($750).

ddrum Vintone Nickel Over Brass

Each situation can call for a different snare, but sometimes all you need is simplicity and consistency. When my band, Royale, is working on new material, the guitarist and I often flesh out arrangements in the rehearsal space. My job there is to serve as a glorified metronome. The ddrum 7×14 nickel over brass has just enough attack, with a healthy dose of warmth, to work well with our truncated two-piece outfit. It has a mellower sound than a traditional nickel-over-brass snare. When working out ideas or getting your practice reps in, this is a perfect choice.

Dixon Artisan Chris Brady Rose Gum

Acquiring a boutique-quality snare for a reasonable price is feasible. In fact, you can get one for less than $600. Dixon teamed up with master drum maker Chris Brady to offer a beautiful 6.5×14 Australian rose gum drum, which I was initially drawn to because of its beautiful brown finish and vintage-style tube lugs. After a closer look revealed a swiveling Dunnett throw-off, I was sold. I assumed this snare would put me into the mindset of Dave Weckl–esque late-night swing, but instead I found myself ripping through a bunch of classic Smashing Pumpkins–type riffs. The drum nailed the warm, open tone that was a signature of Jimmy Chamberlin’s sound through the mid-’90s. Arrangements and situations that would normally call for the power and bite of a metal snare can be handled easily with this affordable wood model.

Taye MetalWorks Brushed Black Nickel Over Brass

The Taye 6.5×14 brushed black nickel over brass is the workingman’s Black Beauty, and it’s about as close as you’ll get to the real thing for under $400. It has ten vintage-style tube lugs and triple-flange hoops. To get the most out of it, throw on a Remo Coated CS black dot or an Ambassador X drumhead and start hitting like Bonham. This drum has great attack and a wide range for tuning, making it easy to achieve whatever sound you’re looking for when recording or playing live. When it comes to competing with other instruments that take up a lot of the low, middle, and high-end frequencies in the room, this snare has great, usable overtones that allow it to cut through while still sitting nicely in the mix.

ddrum Vintone Solid Cherry

I once overheard someone joke that people buy ddrum because they mistakenly think they’re purchasing DW. But there are no mistakes here. The ddrum 6.5×14 Vintone solid cherry is the prettiest-sounding snare I’ve ever owned. It has an astounding amount of tone with a healthy blend of body and warmth. When I sit behind this drum, I envision myself playing fusion arrangements with the house band on a late-night talk show. I always walk away with a handful of beats and fills I didn’t know I had in me. This is the priciest of the bunch, but when you factor in that it has a premium solid-cherry shell and is about half the price of its dream-drum counterpart, it’s pretty much a steal.

The Moral of the Story

The main reason why drummers often own a vast assortment of snares is because different drums bring about different sounds and styles in your playing. And with all the great instruments out there today, thankfully you don’t need to be rich to start putting together your own collection. The models discussed here are just a few examples of the outstanding options available at prices accessible to most working drummers. There are plenty more, so be sure to do your own research when the time comes to make a purchase. It’s never too late to add variety to your sound and see where it leads you with your drumming.