5 Best Snare Drums: The Complete Guide
By Mason Hoberg
If you’re trying to figure out how to evaluate the best snare drum for your needs, you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you all the information that you need to make an informed purchase, as well as give you five great recommendations to aid you in your search.
- What Is A Snare Drum?
- What Should I Look For In A Snare Drum?
- The Top 5 Snare Drums
What Is A Snare Drum?
Obviously if you’re here you’re probably going to know what a snare drum is. Feel free to skip to the next section if that’s the case, because you won’t be missing much that you don’t already know. However, if you’re new to the world of percussion instruments the following section is going to be pretty valuable.
The snare drum is constructed of two heads (commonly plastic discs stretched tight over the rim) and metal wires. The wires give the snare its trademark sharp staccato snap. Through use of the strainer ( a lever on the drum) the amount of contact between the bottom drum head and the snare wires can be adjusted, resulting in a stronger or weaker snare sound. Like any other drum, the overall tonal characteristics can be adjusted by either tightening or loosening the head.
What Should I Look For In A Snare Drum?
Just like a guitar, before you buy a drum you’ll need to know what kind of sound you’re after. Different materials cause different tonal variations, and the same is true of building techniques and the overall quality of the drum.
The two most common woods used in snare drums is maple and birch. Maple is generally used, and is generally considered to produce a full and round tone. Birch is a bit brighter, though it is less common. There’s also drums made with a combination of the two, featuring maple’s fullness and the extra snap found in birch.
The metal shells found on a snare drum is either steel or brass. Brass is considered to be a bit warmer, though it generally isn’t thought to cut through a mix as well as steel.
One thing to consider is the amount of lugs on your snare drum. The more lugs a drum has the more control you have over the distribution of tension on your drumhead, which results in a greater level of control over the final tone of your drumhead. The only con to more lugs is that it will result in a more expensive drum.
The size and amount of wires is also a crucial factor in the tone of your drum. Basically, the more metal that’s in contact with the bottom drum head the fatter the tone of the “buzz” element of the snare drum sound. They’re actually a bit like the pickups on an electric guitar. They’re a crucial element of the instrument that can transform the tone, and they’re commonly sold as after market additions to drums. Also, just like pickups they’re not necessarily going to turn a bad instrument into a good one.
Lastly, you’re going to want to consider the ideal size of your drum. Most snare drums have a 14” diameter, which results in a tone that’s both full and cutting. The bigger the drum the fuller the sound, but as you increase the size of the drum you lose clarity and snap. Bigger drums are also louder, the difference in volume isn’t too dramatic.
The Top 5 Snare Drums
As always, our recommendations are selected with widespread applicability in mind. We recognize that a more expensive instrument is generally going to be objectively better than a budget option, but it doesn’t matter how good a product is if someone can’t justify the purchase. Just keep in mind that the best option for you may not be the best option for your fellow musicians, and vice versa.
Still not sure where to start on your search for the best snare drums? If so, you’re in luck! The five recommendations below are all great products, so no matter which you choose odds are you’re going to be pretty happy with the results.
GP Percussion SK22 Complete Student Snare Drum Kit
One of the most notable student snare drums available is the GP Percussion SK22 Snare Drum. The first thing prospective buyers of this kit should be aware of is that while this snare drum could be used with a kit it is intended for a marching band and/or orchestra setting.
The GP Percussion SK22 features a 14 inch metal-shell. The difference between a metal shell and wooden one is that a metal shell is going to have a tighter, more focused sound. The appeal of this in a orchestra or marching band setting is that it allows the drum to cut through other instruments with less volume, which is important when you’re playing in a setting that could easily have 20+ instruments.
This snare drum is orientated more towards cutting through a lot of instruments. The 14 inch diameter of the shell gives the drum a bit more volume than a 13 inch, which when paired with the metal shell gives the drum a pure and bell-like quality. The only downside to the sound of the drum is that it’s not very resonant when compared to a wood shell drum.
The stand for GP Percussion SK22 is double braced, which does a lot to increase the stability of the drum (more on this in the following section). The SK22 also comes with an included practice pad (a plain, yet serviceable model), a drum key for tuning your snare, wooden drum sticks, a padded nylon backpack.
The two most important of the accessories listed above are the practice pad and the drum key. The practice pad allows you to mute the drum as well as play an approximation of your drum silently depending on how you choose to use it. To mute the drum simply place it on the head, and to play silently place the pad on a hard surface. The drum key is also a nice addition because most beginning drummers aren’t going to even be aware of the fact that they need to tune their drum, let alone which key they’ll need.
The GP Percussion SK22 is made to a quality representative of the fact that it’s a beginning instrument. Due to the nature of this instrument you’re really not going to have to worry about it falling apart or breaking with moderate use, so it is something you can depend on for either live performance sessions and/or regular practice. Despite being geared toward beginners, this drum sounds good, so you’re not going to be embarrassed about your tone as you grow into the instrument.
An important thing to note about this stand is that it’s arguably going to be one of the most durable components of the instrument (barring a few more fragile pieces). The stand is double braced, which does a lot to enhance the stability of the drum. It also helps to keep the legs of the stand from bending, which ensures that the drum will remain level instead of gradually being shifted as the stand gets bent from use.
While the GP Percussion may be geared more towards beginners it is an exceptional product when you consider its intention. It’s not meant to sound like a professional level instrument, it’s meant to offer beginners an affordable platform to start their musical journey.
Tama S.L.P. Big Black Steel Snare Drum 14 x 8 in
A little-known fact about Tama drums is that the company actually has roots that extend further into the past. Hoshino Gakki (the founder of Tama Drums) began manufacturing drums in 1965, though this was under the brand name “Star Drums.” Hoshino loosely translates to “star field”, so the name was an attempt to launch a brand that would be palatable to North American consumers without abandoning the company’s Japanese roots. Interestingly, for a time the drums were actually manufactured in the same plant as early Ibanez guitars and amplifiers.
However, in 1979 Hoshino decided to abandon producing budget instruments and decided to instead focus on manufacturing high quality drums. The drums were actually considered to be a competitor to higher-end American made kits produced by companies such as Rogers, Ludwig, and Slingerland.
Another important part of Tama’s history is their joint purchase of the defunct company Camco Drums. Though the company did eventually end up going bankrupt they did produce one of the most revolutionary drum pedals on the market. Tama absorbed the design of the pedal (as well as others) to increase the variety of products they produced. For a time they actually marketed a high-end kit under the Camco brand, but drummers at the time actually preferred Tama’s original kits because they were made to a professional level of quality while still remaining affordable. Given the company’s history, as well as their current preeminence in the market, it’s not surprising that the Tama SLP Big Black Snare has become a hit with drummers the world over.
The first thing you need to know about this drum is that it features a brass shell. Brass is defined by its sharp and punchy quality. Brass represents these qualities to a lesser degree than steel, making it a perfect fit for genres that require a tight and sharp sound without sacrificing any depth or resonance. The only con with brass is that it doesn’t have the musical resonance you find in a wood shelled drum, though your experience with the different materials is going to be dependent on a wide array of variables.
The Tama SLP also features an 8-inch depth, which enhances the low end response of the snare. When coupled with the steel shell this results in a snare that does an admirable job of representing every level of the frequency spectrum, making the drum incredibly versatile.
Lastly, this drum features steel hardware. Not the pig iron or steel sheeting hardware, but the type of heavy duty hardware that you would find on a much more expensive drum. This is great for heavy handed musicians, or musicians who find themselves traveling or gigging consistently.
Tama is a highly regarded manufacturer of musical instruments, and they haven’t had a product that’s been widely dismissed by the community. While some drummers may prefer drums/hardware produced by other companies any drummer would be hard pressed to say that the instruments and hardware produced by Tama are objectively worse than any of their competitors.
In regards to this drum in particular, the product is actually gets great reviews virtually everywhere, so we are not alone in saying that the Tama Big Black Snare is very impressive. There’s also a similar trend on just about any forum dedicated to drumming that you can name, so we're probably not contrarian in naming this one of our favorite snares.
As an added bonus, all Tama drums also feature a one year warranty for any drum hardware and a five year period for any drum shell. However, keep in mind that this warranty does not cover damage caused by alteration, misuse, normal wear and tear, or damage caused by exposure to temperature/ humidity. Essentially, the warranty covers everything excluding operator error.
The Tama SLP Big Black Brass Snare offers a great value to any musician, especially those who require a sharp tone that’s still resonant and musically pleasing.
Drum Workshop Collectors Series Black Nickel over Brass Snare Drum
Founded in 1972 by Don Lombardi, Drum Workshop was originally intended to be a learning resource for local musician. Rather than producing their own products, the company actually focused exclusively on offering entry-level to advanced lesson for aspiring musicians. Drum Workshop also hosted a variety of drum workshops (which likely led to their name in the first place).
Drum Workshop didn’t start producing hardware until Lombardi’s student John Good (who is currently the Senior Executive Vice President of the company) proposed marketing their own products to cover production costs incurred by the company’s other exploits.
The first product marketed by Drum Workshop was actually a height adjustable trap seat, an innovation which quickly became a hit with drummers the world over. The company also gained notoriety with drummers following their absorption of Camco Drums, which allowed them to absorb the designs pioneered by Camco and use them to sell new and exciting products of their own.
The company has received a wide variety of endorsements (the first was actually an endorsement by Tommy Lee!) from musicians such as Dave Grohl, Chad Smith, Thomas Pridgen, Dominic Howard, Steve Jocz, Brooks Wackerman, Scott Travis, Nick Mason, Jason Bonham, and Don Henly.
Given the company’s history, as well as its wide range of famous endorsees, it’s comes as no surprise that the Drum Workshop Collectors Series Black Nickel Over Brass Snare Drum offers an exceptional value to any drummer.
The most important thing to note about this snare is that it’s intended for intermediate to professional gigging musicians. This drum isn’t priced towards beginners, and as such there may be better values available for drummers who are just starting on their instrument.
With that being said, this snare does offer a great example of the raw musicality and punch that you can only get from a brass shelled snare drum. Brass is one of the most inherently musical alloys in the world, and though it does offer a decidedly metallic tone it is still a very resonant material. Brass is the middle ground between a wood shelled drum and a steel shelled drum, which makes drums that utilize the material incredibly versatile.
This drum is made from a 6.5-inch by 14-inch shell. Generally, the bigger the drum is the lower the fundamental tone will be. As drum size increases you get a tone with more warmth and depth, but as drum size decreases you get a better representation of high-end frequencies.
Lastly, the most praised element of this snare is its sensitivity to dynamics. The drum is highly regarded as one of the best modern updates to Ludwig’s famous Black Beauty snare, and it shows. Tonally this snare is capable of faithfully capturing the feel of a wide variety of genres, and it sounds great doing all of them.
As far as quality is concerned, anything produced by Drum Workshop features a level of quality that you would expect from a high-end piece of equipment. Drum Workshop isn’t a company that’s known for having issues with quality control, so if you should choose to go with this snare you’re not likely to run into any problems.
This trend holds true for the Drum Workshop Collectors Series Black Nickel Over Brass Snare Drum. There’s no widespread reports of any consistent structural defects with the product, and you’d actually have a hard time finding a review of it that isn’t glowingly positive. However, in case you should be unlucky and run into a drum that does have defects any Collector’s Series drum is covered under a limited two year warranty.
Though the Drum Workshop Collectors Series Black Nickel Over Brass Snare Drum is most likely out of the price range of beginning musicians it does offer a great value for intermediate to professional level players.
Griffin 14" x 5.5" Poplar Snare Drum
When looking for your first snare drum, price is generally a primary concern. Most beginning musicians just can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars on a hobby that they aren’t sure that they’re going to like, which is completely reasonable all things considered.
However, the only problem with purchasing budget equipment is that it can be hard to find a cheap instrument that sounds good while being able to hold up to the rigors of consistent practice and possibly even performance. Usually prospective musicians have to choose one option or the other, which is both frustrating and incredibly inconvenient should you decide to continue with the hobby.
Thankfully, the Griffin 14” by 5.5” Poplar Snare drum offers a great value to prospective musicians, because for its price point it’s a remarkably competent sounding snare with a reputable track record of durability. The most important part of this snare is that it features a one year replacement warranty, as well as a 30 day back guarantee. For this price point this is essentially unheard of, and it really speaks highly of the company’s faith in their product.
This snare is made from poplar wood, which is a bright and clear sounding tone wood. Poplar is a close relative of birch as far as tone is concerned, though it does generally tend to lack the fullness and depth common to well-built birch drum shells. That’s not to say that poplar is a bad tone wood, it’s just a cheaper alternative to birch. It’s not quite as desirable, but it does have its own merits.
The Griffin Snare also features 20 snare strands. The general idea behind snare strands is that the more strands a snare has the more “snare” sound it’s going to have, and the less strands it has the more it’s going to sound like a traditional drum. This drum only has 20 strands, which is towards the lower end of the spectrum. Snares can have as many as 42 strands, though snares with only 20 strands are still going to sound snare-like. With this drum in particular the amount of strands it has probably works in its favor, because with the poplar shell more snares would probably lessen the depth of the drum’s tone.
This snare’s shell is 7.5 mm, which helps to enhance the clarity and resonance of the drum. The only con to this is that a thinner shell doesn’t hold up well to looser drum tunings, which may not be ideal depending on your preferences in regards to your drum. However, this will come in handy for those of you who prefer a “bouncier” head.
Griffin’s snare is available in three different finishes, glossy black, pearl white, and silver sparkle. The snare does not come with a carrying case or a stand, though it does come with a drum key.
The best part about this drum is that the manufacturer guarantees the quality of your purchase, and if you happen to receive a damaged instrument the company will either replace it or give you your money back. This is a huge bonus, especially if you’re purchasing this snare online. Though it’s not the fault of the manufacturer it is always a possibility that you’ll receive a lemon.
One thing to note with this drum is that there are reports that the hardware isn’t cast, which is unfortunate because steel sheeting (or pig iron, depending on which material is utilized by the company) is definitely nowhere near as durable as cast steel. This does mean that you will have to take extra care with the hardware, but so long as you’re relatively careful with it you shouldn’t run into many problems.
There have also been reports that some of the hardware needs to be lubricated, because it ships from the factory dry. Lubricating the mechanisms is going to make it easier to tune the drum, which is a huge plus because you’re going to have to tune your drum when there’s change in temperature or humidity or as it loosens with time.
The Griffin 14” by 5.5” Poplar Snare Drum offers a great value for the drummer on a budget, and though it may require a bit of work to get into shape at the end of the day it is a quality product.
Pork Pie Big Black Snare Drum
Founded in 1987 by Bill Detamore, Pork Pie Percussion was actually a realization of Detamore’s lifelong infatuation with percussion instruments. The company wasn’t founded for monetary gain, it was actually just a side project of Detamore’s so that he could pursue building drums as a hobby.
Though Pork Pie has become a reputable company in its own right, it hasn’t lost its dedication to quality. Every drum manufactured by Pork Pie comes signed by Bill Detamore, and it also includes a handwritten date to designate the time that it was built. Pork Pie also offers a wide range of services out of its shop, including but not necessarily limited to: drum restoration, customizing, and refinishing. The company has customized or hot rodded drum sets for some of the best groups around, such as Van Halen, Marilyn Manson, Blink 182, and Guns N’ Roses.
Given the company’s humble origins, it’s no surprise that the Pork Pie Big Black Brass snare is made to an extraordinary level of quality. Even better, Pork Pie has a very generous warranty policy. They offer a full warranty for a year, and in most situations they’ll be willing to work with you in the event that you experience technical difficulties with a product after the warranty expires.
The first thing to note about this snare is that it features a brass shell. The general consensus is that wood shelled drums are more musical and resonant while metal shelled drums are generally more focused. Your results with either variety of snare is going to depend on the sound you’re looking for, as well as the band you’re playing with.
This drum is considered to be one of the more versatile snares in its price range, able to accommodate both very tight and very loose tuning styles. Most drummers also praise the versatility of the drum, with sensitivity and a dynamic range that’s incomparable for the price commonly being cited by most reviewers.
Another thing to note about this drum is that it has a 14 inch diameter as well as a 6.5 inch depth. This results in a very loud drum with a warm yet punchy tonality. The metal shell undoubtedly gives the drum a focus that would be lacking in a wood shelled drum with similar dimensions.
Lastly, the Pork Pie Big Black Brass Snare Drum comes with a black chrome plated finish but the main material is made from brass. So while the brass may not be readily apparent at first glance the product does come as advertised.
Pork Pie can be thought of as more of a boutique company, which is likely why they can maintain the level of quality that they’re generally known for providing. Bigger companies tend to have more issues with quality control because they’re unable to dedicate as much time to their products (this can be for a variety of reason, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the company is at fault or being lazy), while smaller companies are usually able to provide a more consistent quality.
Another thing to note in this regard is that every drum is signed by the company’s founder, which makes the company’s dedication to quality a more personal affair. Every drum sold by the company is a reflection of both the company and the founder’s work ethic and honesty, so it stands to reason that Pork Pie would have a higher interest in maintaining a high level of quality because they don’t have as much anonymity.
It’s incredibly rare for any Pork Pie drum to ship with any quality issues. Considering that any issue with a company is widely reported online, the glowing reception that Pork Pie gets from the community reflects very well on their dedication. As previously stated, the company does also have a warranty. The warranty guarantees the drum for one year, though there are reports of Pork Pie repairing drums where the warranty has expired though it may come at a slight cost to the buyer.
The Pork Pie Big Black Brass Snare offers a great value for any drummer looking for a mid-range snare that offers a great sound without straining the budget.