I thought it might be a good exercise to write about my amazing snare drums. Like a lot of drummers, I don’t get my snares out often enough, so this was a good excuse.
Pearl 4214 Snare (COB, 14” x 5”)
Also referred to as the Stewart Copeland snare, this early-70s chrome on brass snare drum came as part of my first drum kit; a second hand, early-80s Tama Swingstar, purchased by my Dad in around 1986. Somewhere he has the receipt which I’ll try and get a copy of for this blog.
As a youngster learning to play the drums in the 80s, I often heard negative things about Pearl drums. For some reason, maybe because their entry-level kits weren’t fantastic, the company had developed a bit of a dodgy reputation. Consequently, I got it into my fourteen-year-old head that my snare drum wasn’t all that great. It wasn’t terrible by any means, but because my drum tutor played top of the range Sonor drums, I felt I had a pretty good idea of what a snare could and should sound like. (It turns out I didn’t know shit, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)
I experimented a lot to get the best sound out of it. I remember discovering an Aquarian coated head worked really well in conjunction with different dampening methods. It usually sounded best with the top head pretty tight, and a little bit of dampening using the internal damper.
Brass or Steel?
Years later, I decided to do research some research to find out a little about the drum. Imagine my shock when I stumbled across an online forum full of drummers raving about the Pearl 4214 ‘Stewart Copeland’ Drum (often mistakenly referred to as the slightly different Pearl Jupiter). I discovered the drum was brass, as distinguished by three ridges on the shell (the steel version had two ridges). Yes, all those years I’d spent obsessing about owning a brass Black Beauty (only to discover that when I did get one it was bronze), and it turns out I already owned a brass drum and had done since I was a kid! Here’s a link to the 1977 Pearl brochure.
The throw on the Pearl 4214 is the Gladstone cast type. It’s common for the top of these to snap off but mines still in one piece. Up until my early-30s, this was my ONLY snare drum and whenever I played with it live, soundmen would often comment how great it sounded. A few years ago, when I started teaching from home, I converted the whole of my Tama Swingstar and this snare into an electric kit. Everything is now fitted with mesh heads and homemade drum triggers. Evidently, I still play this drum more than any of the amazing snare drums I have collected over the years, but not for gigging at the moment.
Ludwig Black Beauty (Bronze, 14” x 6.5”)
I have already written the horrors of identifying my Black Beauty, so I won’t go over that again. Instead, I’ll talk about how it sounds, which as you would imagine is very loud but also fantastic for a rock sound. As with all drums, it took a little bit of experimentation to get it to produce the sound I desired. In the end, I plumbed for a Remo Emperor on the top and a Diplomat on the bottom. Prior to this, I found using an Ambassador on top was too bright and ringy. Whilst I could have used some Moongel to reduce that, I decided to go with the slightly thicker Emperor head. I always crank the bottom head up super tight as I feel this produces a sharper sound that really cuts through.
In replacing the 16-strand Ludwig strainer with a 20-strand PureSound, I felt this lost a little definition and wound up sounding too fuzzy. To remedy this, I cut out four of the stands in strategic positions. To my ears at least, this produced more bite. When I recorded my Black Beauty a couple of years ago, I was really delighted with how good it sounded. It’s a deep drum, so I used a little EQ to really bring out the high end. I think it makes a great allrounder and, certainly for recording, it’s one of my favourites.
The Kenneth Hemmings Snare (Maple, 14”x6.5”)
I remember asking my Dad a few years ago if he’d be able to drill some holes in a single-ply drum shell I’d seen on eBay. My plan was to build the drum from scratch, buying all the hardware bits and bobs separately and assembling it myself. My Dad looked at me and said, “Why don’t we build the shell as well? Shouldn’t be too difficult.”
And so, a year later, having converted his garage temporarily into a drum factory, building all the tools required to steam-bend a length of maple into the shape of a drum, my Dad completed his first and only snare drum. (There were several prototype shells but these were never made into drums). It always reminds me of Brian May and his Dad building The Red Special, only I didn’t really help my Dad at all.
The drum is beautifully designed and build. I had the opportunity to show it to a drum builder who used to work for Premier who described it as a beautiful drum. At the moment, I use a vintage Remo head on the top and the sound is crisp and bright. The Trick snare throw was imported from the U.S. , via a friend of mine. It saved a few quid and gives the drum a real sense of luxury. I don’t think you can do much better than Trick throws, if this one is anything to go by, they are super smooth. Really cool.
The finishing touch is the gold plated KH emblem, which my Dad had used for various projects in the past. The photograph above also captures more accurately the honey colour of the maple shell. This is a one-off drum and it’s mine so don’t go looking for them in the shops!
Sonor SQ2 (Maple 14” x 6.5”)
This is a heavy drum with a deep sound, and was custom built by Sonor. It’s also the one drum I’ve yet to figure out because on paper it should sound AWESOME. However, I’ve never changed the heads(!), and from what I’ve heard Sonor stock heads aren’t great. For the next blog, I’m going to replace them with Remo heads and write about what happens.
The drum is made out of maple with a rosewood veneer; however, as many who bought drums from Sonor in the 2008 discovered later, not all the exotic wood veneers were what they were advertised to be. A few years later I learnt that the veneer was in fact replica rosewood. As far as I know, no mention of this was made by Sonor at the time in their SQ2 brochure. When I contacted them to confirm this, they explained that rosewood trees are endangered, so it seems like they are being upfront about it now, but in 2008 less so. Grumbling aside, it is a beautifully manufactured drum, as you would expect from the Sonor SQ2 range.
Noble and Cooley (Cherry, 14” x 5”)
I picked up this N&C solid shell drum in New York in 2006. As it was my first wooden snare drum, I spent ages mulling over which type of wood to get. There was something about cherry that appealed. I think it was the idea that it turns a darker red with age and exposure to light. Having a drum which changes its colour sounded ORGANIC, like a kind of percussive cuttlefish. It really suits jazz/rock for some reason and I used it often with Evil Dick & the Banned Members. It doesn’t have the rock heaviness of the Black Beauty or the Pearl 4214, and it doesn’t have the same crispness as the Kenneth Hemmings, but it does have a definite warmth to its sound.
N&C describe this drum as “Rich, projective midrange and balance without favoring bass or treble frequencies. More focused, crisp fundamental than maple.” It also has a wide tuning range. I’ve cranked it up often and it cuts though well. However, it can also sound quite deep with the head slackened off.
If you’ve enjoyed looking at these snare drums (and if you’re a drummer, you probably have!) let me know you thoughts! What’s your favourite snare drum? Any preferred head combinations?