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What Are the Pros and Cons of a Steel Snare Drum?

Steel snare drums boast a sharp, cutting sound with bright overtones, perfect for piercing through any mix. They're durable and consistent in various climates. However, they can be loud and less warm compared to wooden snares, potentially limiting their versatility. How might this affect your choice for the studio or live performances? Explore the impact on your sound.
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

Steel snare drums are just one option drummers have when selecting drums to use. While these drum have qualities that outshine those found in other metal drums or wood drums, they may produce a sound that isn't right for each performance. In general, a steel snare drum projects better but is harder to blend.

A steel snare drum typically has a thinner shell than a wood one. With less mass, the drum can vibrate very freely when the drummer performs, making the response of the drum often very good as a result.

Steel snare drums tend to produce bright sounds.
Steel snare drums tend to produce bright sounds.

In addition, the surface of a wood snare drum shell naturally is porous, with tiny groves and pits in it from the grain of the wood. When the drummer plays, this translates to a more diffused sound. By comparison, the shell of a steel snare drum is very smooth, which lets the sound bounce off the shell surface with less muffling.

The lack of mass compared to a wood drum, combined with the smoothness of the steel, translates to a very resonant, bright instrument with a fairly long decay. These are exactly the qualities desired in particular styles of music, such as rock. They make the steel snare drum suitable for situations where the drummer needs more projection, as well.

All drums — and in fact, most instruments — expand and contract slightly in response to changes in temperature in the environment. With a wood drum, if too little or too much moisture is present in the environment, temperature changes can cause issues such as warping and cracking. At best this changes the tone of the drum slightly, and at worst, it makes the drum unstable and therefore unusable. A steel drum does not have this problem, and because most steel drums are stainless steel, they're rust resistant.

On the other hand, a steel snare drum can sound very biting, making it harder for the drummer to blend. In situations where a band or other ensemble wants to tone down volume and get a soft sound, a steel drum can stick out be overpowering.

Another problem with a steel snare drum is that it can produce a lot of overtones, which causes what is known as "bleeding." Bleeding means that audio equipment intended for other instruments picks up the frequencies produced by the drum. This is a major issue in studio recording, because bleeding makes mixing tracks a challenge. Many drummers find they need to switch out their steel drums for a wood one to get a mellower sound and prevent the bleeding effect.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main advantages of using a steel snare drum?

Steel snare drums are renowned for their bright, cutting sound that can easily project through a mix, making them a favorite for live performances. They offer a pronounced attack and a wide tuning range, which allows for versatility across various music genres. Additionally, steel snares are known for their durability and resistance to environmental changes, ensuring a long lifespan with consistent performance.

How does the sound of a steel snare drum differ from wood or brass snares?

Compared to wood snares, which typically produce a warmer and more rounded tone, steel snare drums deliver a sharper and more metallic sound with enhanced overtones. Brass snares, on the other hand, tend to have a somewhat mellower tone than steel but still retain a metallic brightness. Steel snares are often chosen for their ability to cut through dense mixes with their distinctive, high-pitched crack.

Are steel snare drums suitable for studio recording?

Steel snare drums can be suitable for studio recording, especially in genres where a pronounced, crisp snare sound is desired. However, their bright and sometimes ringy overtones may require careful tuning and dampening to fit into a studio mix. Engineers often use specific miking techniques and EQ adjustments to harness the steel snare's lively character while minimizing any unwanted frequencies.

What are the drawbacks of playing a steel snare drum?

One of the main drawbacks of a steel snare drum is its potential to be overly bright or harsh, particularly in small or acoustically bright rooms. This can lead to a less controlled sound that may require additional dampening. Additionally, the loud volume of steel snares might be overpowering in more intimate settings or when a softer touch is needed. Some drummers also find the metallic timbre less suitable for certain styles of music that demand a more subdued or warm tone.

Is a steel snare drum more durable than other types of snare drums?

Yes, steel snare drums are generally more durable than their wooden counterparts. The metal construction is less prone to warping or cracking under varying temperature and humidity conditions. This resilience makes steel snares a reliable choice for touring musicians who need an instrument that can withstand the rigors of the road and frequent changes in climate without compromising its structural integrity or sound quality.

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    • Steel snare drums tend to produce bright sounds.
      By: abf
      Steel snare drums tend to produce bright sounds.