Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to Properly Thread Snare Cord

When attaching snare wires to the strainer and butt my preferred method is to use gorsgrain ribbon (see Other Tweaks in this post). However, I have a lot of vintage drums equipped with strainers that require snare cord. Often I get these drums with the snare cord incorrectly installed.

This post applies to the majority of snare wires one encounters with the end plate designed with a lateral channel under the end plate. An example of this type of end plate is shown here:

There are exceptions, such as these two examples where there is a pair of front channels designed into the end plate or tabs on top of the end plate that require an approach opposite of what I describe below.

For the majority of snare wire models, including Puresound and other common models that have the lateral channel under the end plate, here is an example of how not to thread the cord (and is the focus of this post):

Notice that the cord is threaded over the top of the end plate, which means that the two ends of the cord are threaded under the end plate. This causes the end plate to lift slightly off the head, which, in turn, does not allow the wires to have full head contact.

The second problem shown in the photo is the end plate is slightly cocked to the side, which also hampers wire to head contact because the wires are slightly offset from the center line that extends from the strainer to the butt. A close-up of the problem is shown in this photo:

You can actually see the lifting of both the end plate and the wires.

The correct way to thread snare cord is to pull each end through the eye holes in the butt plate from the bottom as shown in this photo:

Under the end plates are slight channels that prevent the long side of the cord from lifting the end plates off the head. There is a caveat here: not all snare cord is created equal. For example, the stiff blue cord that comes with Puresound snare wire sets is too stiff to be pulled flush into the end plate channel, which prevents the plate from laying flush against the head. Another problem with the Puresound cord is it is really wire, and if you over tighten your snares they can actually dig into your snare beds!

Yet another potential problem is using any kind of cord that is handy, which may be too thick to properly fit into the channel. I have received snare drums with everything from packing twine to fishing line in lieu of proper snare cord. They do not work!

I use and recommend Ludwig's orange snare cord, which can be purchased from any Ludwig dealer in ten yard lengths. I order mine from Dana Bentley who runs Bentley's Drum Shop. I've also used Gibraltar snare cord with good success.

Threading the end plates correctly is only half the battle. You also need to make sure that the snare wires are centered and straight when installed. Correctly done, your wires should look like this:

Getting the wires correctly centered and straight takes attention to detail and a little time, but the effort is worth it.

First, lay the properly threaded wires across the head and visually center them with relation to the shell's bearing edges.

Second, thread the cord into the strainer holes. I usually use the two outermost holes on the strainer as shown here:

This gives me sufficient spread to aid in lining up the snare wires from the center of the strainer to the butt.

Before tying off the strainer end, adjust the throw between fully engaged and disengaged, and make sure the end plates are each the same distance from the bearing edges, indicating they the wires are completely centered on the head. There are two basic ways I adjust the strainer's tension to be between fully engaged and disengaged, with the method chosen depending on the travel of the strainer when it is cycled from fully engaged to fully disengaged:

  1. For strainers with relatively short travel distances, such as the strainer on the 1920s Ludwig snare drums, I usually loosen the tension know a few full turns, then position the throwoff lever halfway between fully engaged and disengaged.
  2. Strainers with a lot of distance, such as the Leedy three-point and the Ludwig P83, I leave the throwoff lever up (engaged position) and loosen the tension knob adjustment by two thirds.
The goal is to make sure that your initial layout of the wires across the head does not change when threading the cord into the strainer and butt.

After you have threaded the strainer, thread the cord into the butt and tighten the pressure bar on the butt sufficiently to hold the cord in place, but loose enough to make minor adjustments in tension.

Double check thhe wires across the head to ensure they are centered relative to the shell's bearing edges, and are straight with respect to the center-to-center of the strainer and butt. After making any necessary adjustments, fully tighten the butt.

Turn the drum over to normal playing position, place it in a snare drum stand, and adjust your wires with the strainer adjustment knob to suit your preferences. Play the drum with the snares on and off to make sure those adjustments are correct, and that the snares engage and disengage normally.

Finally, town the snare drum back over, snare side up, and make sure that the wires are centered and aligned. If you need to make small adjustments, do so by loosening the butt pressure plate slightly, while also using the snare adjustment knob to ensure that the end plates remain centered relative to the bearing edges.

These instructions make the procedure appear to be more difficult than it is. In practice, the procedure is straightforward, reasonably easy to perform, and the end result is worth the time and effort to get it right.


PeterK said...

Brilliant! I've been threading it wrong for years. What was I thinking!

Mark Glomski said...

A square knot? Or some secret fancy drummer knot?

Mike Tarrani said...

Either knot will do :-)

StevieP said...

Cripes! I have a vintage Ludwig Jazz Festival snare that uses the P83 strainer and trying to get it set up with new snare wires was driving me crazy. I was actually using cut strips of duct tape as well as the snare cord just to keep the end plates in place.I hate snare cord but love the sound of my snare. Thanks to your blog with detailed photos, I may not be tearing my hair out of my head.

StevieP said...

To those who are just checking out this blog for the first time, beleive me....this guy knows what he's talking about! I just set up my 1965 Ludwig Jazz Festival snare using the instructions Mike posted and my snare never sounded so good! Just a few extra things to consider: 1. If you're going to install a new set of snares, you may also want to purchase a new snare side head. 2. Learn from my biggest mistake...make sure that your snare side hoop is not out of round or has a warp issue. My snare side hoop was warpped and it was only then that I knew the real reason why my snare wasn't consistant in it's sound...and I only found out about it just by pure, simple coincidence. 3. Follow Mike's instructions...especially about Ludwig orange snare cord...that stuff works great...no more strips of duct tape for me! Thanks Mike!

BadRonald1 said...

The string I use (and maybe no one has thought of this maybe someone has) but the white string from blinds. Think of it, it's small and thin and to mention strong enough to use for snare wires. Just wanted to throw that out there. Drum On !!!
---Stixx Murphy

Clint Carothers said...

Strange.....I've been playing drums professionally for 45 years. I'm always looking to learn something new that maybe I overlooked. I had my snare cord mounted the "wrong" way on my puresound blasters wires, but the snare sounds great (both a black beauty and a supraphonic). I saw this post, it made sense, and I immediately installed the cord like you illustrated. To my surprise, the drum sounded worse, and I couldn't get the snares to tighten enough against the head no matter how tight I turned the tension knob on the throw-off. It was screaming tight, in danger of cutting through the cord, and it still sounded like a rattling tom. Your post made perfect sense and the wires seemed to be making contact the entire length of the snares, but something must have been keeping the snares from being pulled close enough to the head. It looked fine and I couldn't see anything impeding the snares to make contact. I changed it back to the way I had it with the cord coming out of the holes underneath and bam! Killer snappy snare sound with a beautiful open, crisp pop. I don't know man, didn't work for me. On a side note, the grosgrain ribbon is more reliable, as sometimes the holes in the end of certain brands of snares are sharp and cut through the cord after a bit of playing. But to me, after A/B-ing the sound of my snares with cord and ribbon, the cord sound was better. More open and full with a nice pop and snap. It's not a huge difference, but noticeable enough to have me always use cord to attach my snare wires. The puresound snares have holes drilled in the end plates that seem to be thicker and not rough and abrasive. The holes in my Gretsch 42 strand snares are terrible. Really rough and sharp. The cord doesn't work with that brand of snares unless I file down the holes (pain in the butt!) Just my 2 cents for anyone else reading this post.....

Clint Carothers said...

Update to my original post..... It bugged the heck out of me as to why the snares didn't sound right on my 2004 black beauty when properly mounted as shown. No matter what I did, I couldn't seem to draw the snares tight enough against the head to create a desirable sound without tubbiness and rattle. I tried the mounting method on my 1976 supraphonic and it sounded great. Hmmmm....why is this not working on my black beauty? Well, I have a theory. When I look at the direction of pull on the strainers, I notice the 1976 supra has a straight up pull because the strainer mechanism is closer to the shell. On the '04 black beauty, it's nearly an inch further out, causing the pull to be outward and upward. This seems to make sense as to why I can't get the snares to sound correct on the black beauty. When I mount the cord the "wrong" way, it sounds great. The ends of the snares are slightly lifted off the head, but it doesn't seem to affect the sound. I'm thinking maybe the slight difference in the angle of pull caused by the cord raising the end plates a bit allows for better contact on the head?? Other than that, I can't figure out why it would be different. Anyway, I'm in search of a vintage strainer now, either P-85 or P-83 to see if that's the culprit. Too bad they're so dang expensive!!