Snare Drum Effects
16 Add-ons to Quickly Modify Tone
by Willie Rose
The snare drum could be viewed as a drummer’s most important voice and has helped define some of the drumming community’s most revered performances. Consider John Bonham’s deep, throaty snare on Led Zeppelin’s IV, which dominates tracks such as “When the Levee Breaks.” Or Steve Gadd’s dry tone pulsating throughout Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Or the monstrous crack from Elvin Jones that prods and stabs its way through Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. With these classic tones inhabiting such an important place in drum lore, it’s easy to see how players would spend much of their attention, and budget, collecting snares to help define their sound.
Recently a slew of products have been introduced that allow you to quickly modify your existing snare sound without having to break the bank on a new drum. Using these accessories, it’s possible to slash through a band, dry out your sound while adding beef, alter the drum’s pitch, finely attenuate frequencies and sustain, or enhance the snare with specialized effects, all within a matter of seconds.
Let’s dig in!
The Sabian Hoop Crasher features two B20-alloy cymbal rings fastened together with a set of screws. Thirty-two holes are cut into the top ring, and the bottom ring’s ribbed grooves are said to prevent airlock as the cymbals sit on the drum. Three plastic clamps are included to ensure the hoop stays in place, and adjusting the tightness by moving the clamps’ placement on the rim deadens the sustain of the drum while providing a tighter crack.
The Hoop Crasher greatly shortens the drum’s sustain, providing a quick, dry tone when playing in the middle of the head. The Crasher is most noticeable when hitting rimshots, and its tone is brash yet bright, almost like adding a distorted clap or “chik” sound to your snare. Ghost notes and stronger strokes in the middle of the drum don’t engage the cymbals, so you can still get a fairly normal yet dampened tone in between trashier backbeats.
Like the Hoop Crasher, 10″ and 14″ Dream Re-FX Crop Circles add a trashy, distorted effect to the snare. These single-layer rings, which are built from other manufacturers’ recycled cymbals, each feature four sets of replaceable jingles. Brackets aren’t included to hold the cymbals in place, but they weren’t necessary in the case of the 14″ version. Occasionally the 10″ Crop Circle would creep toward the bottom edge of the drum when played, but a quick adjustment or a piece of tape remedies this.
The 14″ Crop Circle had a darker tone compared to the Hoop Crasher. The jingles and lighter weight added to the effect’s distorted sustain, and more of the drum’s higher overtones were present. The 10″ version’s loose placement added movement when playing, which almost resembled a natural delay effect to the distorted sound as it bounced on the drumhead. The trashiness of both cymbals presented itself at very light playing volumes and opened up the most during accented backbeats.
The 6″ stainless steel Meinl Ching Ring also adds a brash effect to your snare. Its sound kicks in slightly at very soft playing volumes but is most effective with harder strokes. Like the 10″ Crop Circle, its small design can lead to greater movement around the snare, but again, adjustments can be made to keep it still. The Ching Ring doesn’t mute the drum as much as the Crop Circle or Hoop Crasher does, so more of the snare’s natural overtones persist. In terms of tone, this was among the trashiest of the bunch.
Meinl’s Generation X 8“ and 10“ Drumbals, splash-size cymbals outfitted with a handle, add a bright, trashy enhancement at each dynamic level. By controlling the cymbal with one hand and playing the snare with another, you can alter the effect’s sustain and the pitch of the drum. There was a slight drop-off in volume when the Drumbal was placed flat on the snare, so in a live situation you’ll want to make the sound engineer aware that you’re using the cymbals.
The Drumbal’s handle opens the door to a lot of creative playing techniques. Quickly lifting the splashes up and down while playing the snare creates a vibrating tremolo effect. Turning the cymbal on its side and pressing the edge into the drumhead produces quick pitch shifts. And hitting the cymbal itself on the snare results in a bright and quick clap-like sound, while rimshots and backbeats replicate a distorted crash.
Dry beefy Tones
Big Fat Snare Drum produces multiple head add-ons, including its Original model, a 14″ Mylar skin surrounded by a rubber ring, designed to quickly deaden and beef up your snare while effectively lowering its pitch. Along with the Original, we tested out two other models: the Donut, which features a center cutout, and the Snare-Bourine, which is outfitted with four pairs of tambourine jingles.
With its controlled overtones and beefy tone, the Original responded well in the studio and could fit perfectly into groove-based, rock/pop, or electronica settings, among others. The head also brought out the bass-driven throatiness of the drum without bogging it down with overtones. This sound was reminiscent of Steve Gadd’s dry ’70s snare tone. The Donut controlled overtones and sustain the most, and it provided more of a natural rebound because of the center cutout. The Snare-Bourine resembled the Original’s throaty tone yet added a clear, jangly addition to each backbeat, and it could work well in a pop, funk, hip-hop, or Motown setting. Because of the added denseness of each of the BFSD heads, rimshots required a little extra power to achieve a crack.
Aquarian offers a 12″ adhesive Kick Patch in its accessory lineup that’s meant to be a quick fix during a gig for a split bass drum head. However, without peeling off the adhesive, you can place the pad on a snare drum to get the same dried out, pitch-lowering effect as a BFSD. The patch doesn’t cover the entire drum, and it’s lighter than the BFSD, so more of the drum’s higher overtones carry over, and the patch shifts around more when playing. The overall pitch variation was comparable, though, and we were able to get more of a distinct crack out of rimshots.
Aquarian Dura-Dots feature 4.5″ clear and 5.5″ coated adhesive pads that dramatically reduce overtones and bring out a bass-heavy, lower-pitched thud when placed in the center of the drumhead. The pads offer slightly less rebound, so playing became a little more of a workout. But the change in feel wasn’t as drastic as with some of the other products in this category, and rimshots cut through with a crack. Dura-Dots are removable and are said to increase the drumhead’s durability.
Latin Percussion Sound Enhancers include three clip-on effects—a tambourine-like Jingle, a Snare wire add-on, and a Shaker. The Jingle features three sets of tambourine jingles that lie flat on the drumhead. The tambourine engages at very soft dynamics, and there’s a slight reduction in resonance when it’s placed on the drum. These are great for adding a fast, bright attack, and could be useful in pop, funk, or Motown settings. The tambourine’s sustain is fairly short, so unwanted jingles shouldn’t be a concern when playing live.
The Snare add-on clips a 4.5″, 16-strand snare wire to the top of the drum. Although it could seem redundant to add wires to a snare batter head, this placement proved to be surprisingly effective. The wires dried out the drum’s sound and added extra snap and clarity. With the Snare’s resonant wires engaged, the accessory dampened overtones while enhancing the drum’s natural, snappy tone. It could be a useful and quick alternative to loosening up your snare wires to get more buzz.
The Shaker features three mini plastic shakers that lie flat on the drumhead. This effect dampened the drum’s sound more than the other two products in the Sound Enhancer collection. With the snare wires on, the effect was somewhat hard to hear, as the wires overpowered it. However, turning the snare wires off produced a deep and dirty rattle.
All three Sound Enhancers were quick and easy to put on and remove. The plastic mounts slip easily over the snare rim, and there’s a magnet beneath the LP logo that works exceptionally well at keeping each product in place.
Meinl offers two size variations for its Backbeat Tambourines—one for 10″ and 12″ drums, which holds four pairs of stainless steel jingles, and one for 13″ and 14″ drums, with six pairs of jingles. Both require a small, Velcro-like fabric fastener to be affixed to the drumhead, which is included. Without the tambourine, the adhesive fastener didn’t noticeably affect the drum’s tone in terms of frequency reduction. Unlike the LP variation, the jingles on the Backbeat sit on the top of the tambourine’s mount and don’t press against the drumhead.
Mounting the tambourine shortens the drum’s sustain slightly. The add-on’s jingles start becoming audible around a mezzo-forte dynamic, so you can get away with quiet, natural ghost notes without necessarily engaging the jingle effect. And louder rimshots blend well with the Backbeat, adding a clear, bright jangle without the need for a percussionist. The Backbeat Tambourines could fit well in a pop, funk, Motown, or drum ’n’ bass setting.
Fine-tune your tone
RTOM Moongels, self-adhesive rectangular gel pads that can be placed on the top or bottom of drums and cymbals, attenuate overtones and shorten sustain. Depending on each pad’s placement on the drum, pitch shifts were also attainable—placing gels closer to the center of the drumhead, for instance, lowered the fundamental pitch. In the studio we were able to cut out higher frequencies by placing the pads closer to the edge of the snare, while still dampening the drum’s resonance. Cutting the gels also allows you to get a smaller, more specific amount of overtone control. Live, these pads proved to be a quick, simple, and efficient way to control ring.
Like the Moongels, Vater Buzz Kill dampening pads attenuate high frequencies and control resonance. Two models are available: the standard Buzz Kill and the Buzz Kill Extra Dry, the latter of which features more weight and a larger diameter for greater frequency dampening. The smaller pads let slightly more ring through and produced more of a snap while playing backbeats, while the Extra Dry gels produced a beefier, throatier sound with less sustain. The gels can also be cut down to a smaller size to fine-tune frequencies.
Aquarian T-Tabs offer a set of coated and clear adhesive plastic pieces that control ring and sustain. Removal of the T-Tabs’ backing reveals adhesive that allows them to stick to drumheads, and they can be moved once placed on a drum. One advantage is the product’s ability to be placed and played anywhere on the head, including directly in the center, where it enhanced the stick’s attack while attenuating the drum’s overtones. Compared to the gel pads, slightly more ring was present when using a single T-Tab, but finer control can be achieved as more pieces are added.