We need to be experts at our jobs, and knowing our tools is a part of that. I always put together my rig for tours or gigs, and then take suggestions from my tech on how to make the setup easier and smoother to recreate night after night. I like to know exactly what’s going on with my instrument at all times. I believe that’s a crucial component to developing consistency in my presentation.
In this installment, I want to continue our discussion about drum design with some information about snare beds, which are the portions of the drum shell where the snare straps pass over the bearing edge. Snare beds are somewhat of a mystery to many drummers. Hopefully this information helps you make more informed decisions about what gear to use for a given musical situation. For instance, you might want to play articulate, funky ghost-note patterns, but if you use a drum with rounded bearing edges and a shallow snare bed, you won’t get the sensitivity required to play that approach effectively. Let’s look at the components of the snare bed and how they affect the sound.
Snare Bed Basics
The width of the snare bed has a huge effect on the sensitivity and sustain of the snare wires. The pitch (steepness) of the snare bed dictates how cleanly the snares respond without extraneous buzz or sympathetic vibration from the toms. When the pitch is too great, meaning the angle is too steep between the bearing edge and the bed, the drumhead will wrinkle where the wires make contact. This often causes the wires to bow outward and rattle.
The depth of the snare bed is what determines how articulate the snares will be. Deeper beds can cause the wires to mute the bottom head and dry up the sound. As with everything in instrument design, the type of snare bed you employ is a matter of preference.
Here’s a breakdown of different snare bed types and the sounds they produce. If you want a more articulate (dry but sensitive) sound, then go with deeper snare beds. If you need a bigger sound with wide and long snare sustain, then go with a wider but shallower snare bed. For a cleaner sound with less buzz, utilize a snare bed with a more gradual pitch.
Keep in mind that there’s give and take with these different types of snare beds. An articulate, dry snare exposes every detail of your playing, but backbeats aren’t as big and wide sounding. You sacrifice some of the fatness of the drum’s tone in order to make it more sensitive and articulate.
Here’s a diagram to help you recognize the various parts of the snare bed.
Extended (Floating) Snare Systems
Another way of mounting the snares to the drum is with what is called an extended or floating strainer. This type of design utilizes wires that are longer than the diameter of the drum. The Ludwig & Ludwig Super-Ludwig snare drum was the first model to incorporate this design, back in 1925. The idea behind this design is that the snares aren’t pulled via tension on either end, but, rather, are attached evenly to the snare mechanism. The snares travel evenly up and down the span of the drum. These types of throw-offs usually have separate tension adjustment capabilities for each wire. Extended snare systems are often used on symphonic drums, and many of them feature multiple compositions of wires (gut, steel, brass, cable, etc.). Drums with extended snare mechanisms feel a bit different because there’s little tension between the wires and the bottom heads. These drums can have more ambience, or they can be adjusted to create very articulate, controlled tones.
The conversation about snare beds really boils down to a few simple questions. First, how articulate do you want the drum to be? Do you need to hear every tiny ghost note clearly and precisely? You might think everyone would want that, but remember that a snare bed that increases articulation can also lead to a smaller backbeat sound. Conversely, if you need a wide, puffy, vintage-sounding backbeat, then you won’t want to use a drum that has an extra-deep snare bed.
I hope we were able to shed some light on the details of the snare bed, and why you should choose certain types over others. I encourage you to spend time testing and playing as many drums as possible, and pay attention to the details of the snare beds for the various models. By educating yourself, you’ll be better equipped to know which drums will work best for different scenarios.
Russ Miller has recorded and/or performed with Ray Charles, Cher, Nelly Furtado, and the Psychedelic Furs and has played on soundtracks for The Boondock Saints, Rugrats Go Wild, and Resident Evil: Apocalypse, among others. For more information, visit russmiller.com.