Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A few heads I left out and words about the best snare drum for brushes

In my haste to complete my last post I left out one head model that I use on many of my vintage snare drums: Aquarian's American Vintage series. The coating on this head is similar to the Aquarian Texture Coated drumhead that I mentioned in my last post. Unlike the Texture Coated model, the American Vintage does not have the plastic-like sound quality, although I still prefer the tried and true Remo coated Ambassador. Call me a creature of habit.

A bit more about the American Vintage - many older snare drums require this head because modern heads are designed to fit modern shells. Today's 14" diameter snare drums are actually based on a 13.85" shell, whereas many of the vintage snare drums have a 14" shell, which makes for a frustrating experience getting a modern head onto the older shell (as well as properly fitting the older hoops onto the collar of the heads, which tend to go past the collar.) Keep this in mind when purchasing vintage drums.

One head I didn't cover is the Evans J1 Etched model. The reason I overlooked it is because I have no direct experience with it, but a fellow forum member on DFO uses them and offered to give his opinion and experiences. His name is Chris Worrick (cworrick on DFO) and here is what he had to say about the Evans J1:

As for the J1 - I think it was someone on the forum that turned me on to this head, but I don't remember who. I don't know the exact specs, but it feels and responds more like a Remo Ambassador to me rather than the usual Evans heads but without the Remo break in period. It is just a touch more lively which is great for the brushes. I don't know how they are doing it, but the etching surface on the head seems to be in the plastic rather than a coating on the head so it doesn't wear near as quick (I usually only have to change once a year after the tone has been wore out).

Con - the surface may be a little smoother than a coated head so there is not as much bite, but it last longer with it's surface than a coated head.

I've played Remo coated ambassadors and Evans coated G1s and I like the durability and sound I get with the J1. I have not had the chance to try the Aquarian head you mentioned in your article (I have also heard some other drummers mention it as well).

A big thanks to Chris for taking the time to add his experience and thoughts!

The big questions is which snare drum works best with brushes? The answer is any snare drum that has appropriate heads and is properly tuned will work well. Either of my two favorite snare drums will work well; however, if you are seeking a specific snare drum for brushwork I recommend 6-lug models, preferably an old Ludwig or WFL Pioneer, Leedy or Slingerland student model. Why six lugs? To my ear they are open sounding, which supports brush playing, and these old snare drums work well with sticks. When possible I acquire the old 3-ply, mahogany models, ideally with single flanged hoops.

Here are a few examples of snare drums I use frequently for brushwork (and shuffles when playing with sticks):

The above transition badge Ludwig Pioneer at 5x14 inches is near perfect for brush and stuck playing and I find myself reaching for it often. If you are interested in how I restored her, see this post.

This 6.5x14 inch Ludwig Pioneer, concert model, is another of my favorite snare drums for brush playing.

In fact, many of the vintage student model snare drums, including some 8-lug models, work exceptionally well with brushes. One great thing about the 6-lug and other student models is that they are going for bargain prices on eBay and other outlets.

As you have probably noticed from the examples I gave, I use snare drums of different depths. There is no perfect depth for snare drums used in brush playing, although many drummers prefer deeper ones, while others swear by the versatile 5x14 or 5.5x14 size. Even 4x14 works well, and especially so if you are playing Latin-style music because the shallow snare drums have a nice timbale sound when the snare are dropped, which greatly complements that music style. Moreover, a 4x14 snare drum tends to be crisper for certain music, such as bebop. The bottom line, though, is any snare drum (properly tuned with appropriate heads) will work with brushes in any music style.

If you have any questions or think you have spotted that perfect snare drum on eBay or craigslist and want advice don't hesitate to contact me.

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