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Great Snares of Rock

by Omar on December 27, 2009

in Drummers, Product Review

DW Edge Snare

DW Edge Snare

No other drum in a drummer’s kit stirs up more emotion than the snare drum.

It is a very unique drum.  As individual as the drummer themselves.  Some drummers go through a painstaking sampling process to determine which snare drum sounds just right for them.  For those who can afford it, many snares make it to the inventory, for when the occasion calls, there’s the perfect snare waiting in the wings.

For some drummers, even though they have their snares, that sound doesn’t define them.  Maybe the whole of the kit defines them.  Others are known for their snare sound, and even have their own signature snare made for them.  In any case, it’s a special drum.

In the article “Leave That Snare Alone!”, I talked about how special the snare is, and how attached drummers are to them.  Sometimes whole kits come and go, but when we hit the sweet spot with the snare, it stays.  Some even stay with the same drum (not only the make and model, but the actual drum) for decades.  ‘Leave that snare alone’ indeed!

Being that the case, over the years I myself have grown fond of this drum.  I currently have only two snares at the moment, but my search is on for the snare (or snares!) that I’ll fall in love with.  Ever since I was little, this drum has always captivated me with the sheer power of being able to penetrate through so much amplification.  You have to respect the snare drum.

So many different snare sounds as well, with their different sizes, differing snare strand counts, different tunings on both top and bottom heads, throw off, throw on, ringing, muffling – ‘the end is listless’.  It’s so much fun.

All that being said, after many years of listening, I’ve come up with a list of my top five favorite snare sounds in all of Rock.  Of course, there’s Jazz, Country, and whatever other genres, that use the snare too, but I grew up in a little town north of Boston listening mostly to Rock.  Hearing all these songs and bands on the radio, vinyl, 8-Track, cassette, CD, mp3, etc., well, you get to hear a lot of different snare sounds, if that’s what you’re looking for specifically.

Admittedly, this top five is very subjective.  Like I said, there are as many snare sound preferences as there are drummers; these are just my favorites.  There are more snare drum sounds that I truly love as well, but I’m limiting my countdown to five.

When I started researching for this article, I figured that, if I could, I would find out from the artists themselves what specific snare drum they used.  Some of us may want to imitate those sounds on our kit as closely as possible, so why not hear ‘from the horse’s mouth’ what the artist played?  I was thrilled to get responses from the very artists who produced these awesome snare sounds.

The descriptions I give about what I hear are strictly how I hear them.  Someone else may hear something very different, or not agree at all.  Or maybe you’ll wonder, “What’s that snare doing on this list?”  Sometimes it’s not just the sound of the drum, but it’s also how the music makes you feel (see “Not Just About the Drums”).  You’ll also note that there’s a common thread among these snares, which I’ll emphasize in the end.  So without further ado, here’s TheParadiddler.com’s list of the top five snare sounds in Rock.

Number 5:  Simon Kirke, Free, “All Right Now”

The first time I heard this song on the radio, the drum sound immediately stood out.  Yes, you have the recognizable guitar riff, but to me, the snare sound was just beautiful.  Actually, I really love the bass drum sound too.  You can hear the smack of the beater create the full, rich bass drum sound with fast decay.  I like bass drums that are thick and fast, and get out of the way.  But even though the bass drum here had a tinge of boominess, it fit the overall sound just right.

But I digress!  Back to the snare.  When I first heard it a long time ago, I couldn’t describe why I liked it – I just did.  It felt so right in that song.  I like the snare’s innocent pop, but it’s also very pronounced.  I don’t like snares that have a lot of delay, as if the snares are loosely set, or by post-production (a la Def Leppard’s Rick Allen) – this snare was totally the opposite.  Fast, quick, responsive, slightly thick – a thing of beauty, a feast for the ears.

The sound I describe is mainly during the verses of the song.  Because the volume of the singers seems to go up a bit during the chorus, the snare doesn’t sound as pronounced.  Another thing I noticed is that the drums sound better on the radio than they do on my computer playing as an mp3.  Not significantly better, but enough for these ears to notice.  All I know is, whenever “All Right Now” comes on the radio, I must listen to that snare.

So what did Simon Kirke play on for this recording?  Well, TheParadiddler.com inquired, and he was gracious enough to answer me directly!  Not only did he give specifics of the snare, but of the whole kit.  It wasn’t a complicated kit, but here’s what Simon says (couldn’t resist the game reference :)):

“The kit was a Ludwig Super Classic.  Regular size snare, 14x5.5”.  22x14 kick, 12x8 and 14x14 toms.  Paiste cymbals.  No special tuning.  A bit of duct tape on the snare.”*

Well, that setup produced one of my favorite snare sounds of all time.  Some muffling on the snare is interesting, since I tend to try to eliminate the ringing of my snares as well (check out “The Ringing In My Ears”).  All in all, great sounding kit, greater sounding snare – it’s, well, ‘all right now’.

Number 4:  Keith Moon, The Who, “My Wife” from The Kids are Alright

When I was very young, my brother took me to the cinema to watch a movie.  I had no idea what the movie was – I was just glad my brother was taking me out!  We went to see The Kids Are Alright. It remains one of my favorite movies.  It had such an impact musically on me as far as expanding my Rock palate.  Suddenly Kiss wasn’t the only band in the world!  Wow, these guys were fun, crazy, funny, and immensely talented musically.

The funny thing is, the snare drum sound I extracted from this movie was not from the movie itself, but from the soundtrack.  “My Wife” (the performance occurred at the Gaumont State Theatre, Kilburn, in London on December 15th, 1977) did not appear in the movie originally, but what an impression the drumming made on me!  Well, the drumming made an impression on me before that, but this song awakened my awareness to what a snare with personality sounds like.  It has such incredible presence in this song.

It showcases such a rainbow of sound with each strike.  It almost sounds like it has microscopic jingle bells – I can almost hear the bells with each strike (within the context of the snare, very fast), almost trebly.  It has a fat, punchy sound, but fast and pronounced – it is never drowned out by any of the other sounds in the song, instruments or voice.

We all know about Keith Moon’s prowess on the kit.  I actually think this is one of his best drumming performances.  There are no holes drumming-wise in the song.  He fills all the gaps.  He uses the whole of the kit, and the snare is featured very prominently throughout.

I hadn’t heard this song in a long time, but I always knew that the sound of the snare impacted me from the moment I heard it.  I definitely stored it away in my mind as one of my favorite sounding snares.  If I had one phrase to describe the sound of this snare, I think it would be:  “an orchestra of sound in one strike”.

Now, as beautiful as the sound of this snare is, that’s equally how hard it was to figure out what the snare drum is!  We all know that Keith played Premier drums.  The January 2010 issue of Drum! magazine stated that he used Ludwig and Gretsch snares.  I inquired of several sources to determine if anyone knew specifically what snare Keith used on this recording.  That may have been a tall order, but alas, it was to no avail – no specific answer (yet).  As soon as The Paradiddler finds out, it will be posted.

Nevertheless, this is one of the best snare drum sounds I’ve ever heard, very difficult to duplicate.  But then again, so is the drummer!

Number 3:  Alan White, Yes, 9012 Live

I had a friend in middle school that was a Rush fan as I was.  However, he was also just as much into Yes.  I didn’t understand his obsession.  I knew about “I’ve Seen All Good People/Your Move” and “Roundabout”, but that’s all I knew about Yes.  (Actually, I liked “Roundabout” a lot, because of one of the most famous bass licks in Rock that Chris Squire plays.)  He tried to get me into them by playing “The Gates of Delirium” from Relayer. Suffice it to say that I just didn’t get it.

My older brother one day secured tickets to see Yes during their Big Generator tour.  It was a week after having seen Rush for the first time (best back-to-back concerts ever).  I said, “Oh well, what the heck.  Free show, right?”  To this day it was the best sounding concert I’ve ever been to.  Once they played “Heart of the Sunrise” (I believe it was the second song in the set list), which I’d never heard before, Yes was instantly my second favorite band ever (Rush was and still is number one).  Now I understood my friend!

I made a note to start listening to as much of Yes as my friend could give me.  I was particularly interested in Alan White (even though every musician that has played in Yes is superb).  He was such a great timekeeper, explosive when he needed to be, reserved when needed - a consummate drummer.

Eventually I procured Yes’ VHS release of 9012 Live (recorded at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, Canada, on September 28th and 29th, 1984), and I absolutely loved it.  My favorite versions of “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Starship Trooper”, to this day, are from that performance.  “It Can Happen”, to me, is epic.  But of course, from a drummer’s perspective, it’s the snare drum that stood out from Alan’s playing.

As the dynamics rose at the beginning of “Cinema” (the first song of the show), I was floored by the power and finesse that was emanating from the snare.  The ghost notes were very pronounced alongside the powerful strikes.  You can hear the echo of the snare in the coliseum as if you were there.  Well, if you have your VHS (or DVD) hooked up to your stereo system, you can hear Alan’s snare pack a powerful punch.

Maybe it was unintentional, but even though his kit as a whole sounded good, his snare sound to me was so much better as compared to the rest of the kit.  It had boomy pop, of sorts.  It responded perfectly to however Alan played it.  It’s almost like Alan and the snare made each other play and sound better.  I think the snare, more than the bass drum, was the driving force of Alan’s performance.  The finesse and power which came out of the snare particularly during the Würm section of “Starship Trooper”, was a triumphant climax in a stellar performance, playing and sound-wise.

This was another one of those cases where it was not only about how the snare sounded, but also about how it made me feel.  To me this snare sounded awe-inspiring, perfectly tuned, perfectly mic’ed - a perfect storm of a snare.

Ok, so what snare did he use that night?  Fortunately, Mr. White himself personally answered TheParadiddler.com’s inquiry, and I’m very grateful for that!  I know that drummers usually have several snares in their arsenal, but sometimes there’s one in particular that’s a favorite.  Here’s what Alan said about his snare that night (or those two nights, actually):

‘Ludwig 6.5x14” hammered bronze snare with die-cast hoops, Remo heads and a 12-strand snare.  Still using the snare on current kit.’

The fact that he’s still using that very snare on his current kit is a testament to the outstanding sound this drum produces.  I sense it’s a favorite of Alan’s, and it’s one of my favorites as well!

Number 2:  Neil Peart, Rush, Counterparts Tour, Auburn Hills, MI, March 27th, 1994

Following the career of Neil Peart has brought much musical joy to me.  He, together with Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, to me, form the best trio in Rock, due to their creativity, endurance, and never, ever, just going through the motions.

Many times they’ve had to stick to their guns, creating and playing music that was satisfying to them, and not necessarily the record company’s (a la 2112).  This also applies to the equipment they use as well.  If it sounds good and it works, why not continue with it?  This applies more to Neil’s choice of snare drum than anything else.

For the longest time, from the time he joined the band, all the way up to the Counterparts tour, he used a 5x14” wooden Slingerland Artist snare that he bought for $60.00, secondhand!  This ended up being a very versatile snare, and throughout the years Neil got a lot of different sounds from it.  I really loved how it sounded on Exit… Stage Left, both the video and the LP (later CD).  Maybe because that’s when I started liking Rush, and Rush fans tend to like most the Rush era when they got into their music.

But it would not remain that way.  Along came Counterparts in 1993, and I was floored by the dynamic sound of that CD.  A very raw, loud (but not distorted) sound, in your face.  All three musicians stood out – to me, this is one of Rush’s best sounding recordings.  The drums really stood out.  And obviously, so did the snare.  The same snare as always, but there was so much punch to it, very solid.  I don’t think I ever heard Neil’s “Number One” sound so good.

The goodness of this snare’s sound carried on to the tour.  I (lamentingly) didn’t get to see this tour in person, but I got a hold of a bootleg of the performance mentioned above (no I didn’t buy it, nor did I sell it, but someone had it, and I had to watch!).  I was floored by the sound of the snare on this performance.

I’d have to describe the snare as having a ‘snap of the whip’ type sound, but obviously with much more power and projection.  I think the acoustics of the venue served the snare drum quite well.  The fast fills were very well defined, and when Neil hit the snare with mighty force, the full-bodied snapping sound penetrated all other sounds fiercely.  One of the songs that particularly highlight how great the snare sounded that night was “Double Agent”.  I’m hoping someday that Rush release that show on DVD (one can hope!).

We were very lucky to have an authorized release of part of the show, anyway.  In the article “Neil Peart Solo Number Two – Counterparts, 1994”, which was part of an exhaustive ranking by TheParadiddler.com of all of Neil Peart’s published solos (you can read the beginning of the series at “Neil Peart’s Solos Ranked”), it was mentioned that this solo was included in the Anatomy of a Drum Solo instructional video by Neil Peart.  That, actually, was the qualifier for including the solo in the countdown, and I’m very glad it was published for the general public.  Such a great solo.  Neil’s drums always sound great, including of course, his “Number One” Slingerland.

This tour ended up being the Slingerland’s swan song, because it was retired in favor of some DW snares that Neil had grown fond of.  I’m sure it’s still a favorite in his heart.  As for me, it produced some of my all time favorite snare sounds.

Number 1:  John Bonham, Led Zeppelin

One thing we can say about the sound of John Bonham’s snare drum is that it was very consistent.  The sound varied little from album to album, even to live settings.  But it was always vintage Bonham.  It’s very difficult to nail down a specific performance that exhibited the snare’s best sound, because it always sounded consistently great.

This is one of my favorite snare drum sounds, if not my favorite.  It is so powerful, yet when played softly, it whispers.  It plays ‘fat’, but the fat sound is gone as soon as it comes, giving it a complex, full sound.  It has nice bottom and high end frequencies, giving it a multifaceted voice.  I can’t say enough about its sound:  it absolutely rocks.

There’s something else about this snare that I’ve never been able to figure out to this day.  I think it’s only me, but who knows.  It seems like when Bonham struck the snare, it sounded like there was always a ‘ghost note’ struck simultaneously.  Sort of like an ever-so-slight echo, but right before instead of right after the main strike.  Ok, not every single time, but way enough times for me to notice.  I don’t think I’ve heard this phenomenon with any other snare (or drummer?).  At least it’s what I hear.  It’s hard for me to explain, but it only adds to the drum’s mystique.

So what snare drum is it that JB played?  It was the Ludwig Supraphonic 402, 6.5x14", chrome plated aluminum alloy.  For those who want to reproduce as faithfully as possible the John Bonham sound, many try to obtain these models made during the time Bonham was playing.  But according to Shane Kinney of the Drum Center of Portsmouth, NH, this is not necessary.

Shane demos lots of the gear sold at the store on their YouTube channel.  He does a great job, especially with their snare drums, to explain the virtues of the drum, and for the snares he demos their sound with low, medium, and high tunings.  One of the snares he demos is a new Ludwig Supraphonic 402 6.5x14" snare.  According to Shane, you don’t need to seek out a ‘vintage’ 402 to get that Bonham sound - the new ones sound just as good.  To see for yourself, here’s a video of Shane demonstrating the sound of one of the most awesome snares in Rock.

It has been noted that Bonham later used a 42-strand(!) snare on his drum, so if you really want that JB sound, you may want to experiment with different snare strand configurations, in addition to the one that comes from the factory.

So what conclusion can we arrive to after all is said and done?  As far as Rock goes, Ludwig rules. Four of the five drummers on this list used Ludwig snares.  And although Neil Peart wasn’t known to use Ludwig snares, from Rush’s Hold Your Fire release in 1988 up until the Counterparts tour in 1994 (thereabouts), his kit was Ludwig (when he then switched to Drum Workshop).  So again, across the board, Ludwig rules in Rock.

Of course, there are many, many brands of snare drums, and each drummer has their own preference.  I’m of the belief, and I’m sure I’m not alone, that the snare drum should be brand independent in a drummer’s kit.  It’s a unique drum in a drummer’s kit, and the one many are very passionate about.

I hope this little countdown of my top five snare sounds in Rock has created a little spark, encouraging you to experiment in duplicating your favorite snare sounds, or configuring a sound all your own.  As for me, the next time I’m in the market for a new snare, at least I know what brand it will be!

*All manufacturers mentioned here can be accessed from the Drum Directory of this web site

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff May 6, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Interesting article but like most drum worshippers of drummers and sounds (and I am both) I believe you left out the single most important facet of it all. How are they tuned ? Specifically the relationships between batter and snare. What heads? What snares? What stick sizes are striking them?


Omar May 7, 2014 at 11:34 am

Hi Jeff.

You are right about all the little (or big) details regarding the sound of these snares.

The article really was written from the listener’s point of view, and not necessarily from a technical one, the latter being somewhat beyond the scope of the article. There’s no question though that the technical details are also critical to the sound of these awesome snares.


Matthew Ruege March 12, 2013 at 11:46 pm

Great job! However you did leave something out on the John Bonham section. He used a coated ambassador head as the resonant head on his snare, I know it sounds crazy but it produces an awesome sound.



Omar March 13, 2013 at 12:29 am

Matthew, that is MOST interesting! That snare certainly was phenomenal.


David Ingerton February 11, 2015 at 11:53 am

Just to correct you there, John Bonham used a Remo Coated Emperor on his batter side over a clear snare-side Ambassador head on the resonant side (the distinction between the snare-side Ambassador and the regular Ambassador heads is the snare side variation is much thinner, personally I feel Remo have unleashed a world of confusion by calling them the same name!) however, he did utilise the coated Ambassador on the resonant side of his toms/bass drum 🙂


Christopher Alvarado Sr. December 27, 2009 at 10:21 pm

My Brother,

Very nicely written! Very informative and revealing…at least to me! Forced me to reevaluate what I thought of these songs from a drumming point of view.

Thanks for the the article!

Keep them coming!




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