Monday, March 1, 2010

Anatomy of a two-piece shell

One of the most prized snare drums is a circa 1920s Ludwig with the heavy two piece shell. While the term heavy is subjective (and inconsistent considering the wild variation in manufacturing back then), the two piece shell is most confusing to many people who have not handled one of these drums.

Let's put the weight issue to rest first. Here are two of my Ludwigs, the first is the heavy 2 piece shell model:

The second one is the thinner, one piece shell:

Both drums are configured nearly identically, with six lugs, calf heads, and either gut or cable wires (which will account for a few grams difference in weight). Here are the weights: Heavy = 3039 grams, Light = 2722 grams, which is about a half pound difference. Other weights of deeper drums with different lug counts were relatively consistent with my own drums according to this informal (and very unscientific) survey.

This brings us to the matter of the two-piece shell. Specifically, what does that mean? Fortunately, Adrian Kirchler is now reproducing these shells and he has the anatomy of a two piece shell on his web site. As an aside, one of my fantasies is to own one of Adrian's snare drums. He is also the craftsman with whom Ludwig contracted to produce the 100th Anniversary Gold Triumphal snare drum.

I have annotated Adrian's shell photos to show how the shell is constructed and how it goes together during the manufacturing process:

Notice how the shell is made from a top half and a bottom half, both with a formed center bead in which the bottom half nestles inside the top half. This design allowed Ludwig to use a thin brass shell and use the double thickness of the two beads to strengthen the shell. The top and bottom halves of the shell were soldered together. Another design feature that strengthened the shell was the how the bearing edges were formed and soldered to the shell. Not shown are the snare beds, which were crimped into the shell, however they are clearly shown in the photos of my two snare drums in the above photos. They are deep, but narrow, and were perfect for the gut and cable snares that were standard back then. If you have the good fortune to own one of these snare drums I strongly recommend using Puresound 12-strand snare wires with them, which I have found to be a perfect fit to the crimped beds.

One more annotated photo shows the way the shell pieces fit together in more detail:

One quick way to tell whether of not one of the old Ludwigs has the two piece shell is to run your finger along the bottom of the bead on the outside of the shell. If it's a two piece you will feel the seam where it was soldered. I hope this clears up some of the mystery about what is meant by a 2 piece shell.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Best Snare Drum

Every few days I review my logs to see how many visitors this blog gets, and how they found it. A significant number of visitors arrive via one of the search engines seeking the best snare drum. To be completely frank, snare drums are such personal expressions of the drummer that there is no best one out there.

I will, however, discuss my favorite two snare drums and why they are best for me, but I will also give some caveats. The first caveat is my playing style and the types of music I play may be vastly different from yours. Also, even my favorites can sound like dogs in certain rooms, and, finally, I do not record or mic my drums - all of which allows me to proclaim what I consider to be my best snare drums.

First up is my 6.5x14 Leedy & Ludwig

I play brushes a lot, and I also play music that requires shuffle beats. The Leedy & Ludwig seems to have the mojo to make both brush playing and shuffles sound magical. Since I typically play with musicians who use small amps and tend to not play overwhelmingly loud, the snare drum is a perfect fit. Because it has single flanged hoops (see Band, Single and Double Flange Hoops Explained for an explanation) I get an open sound that would drive any sound engineer nuts in a studio. It would probably not work well in venues like churches with complex acoustics either - or at least not without different heads and other tricks. The bottom line here is I have a best snare drum, for me, that may or may not be best for you. In fact, it may not even be best for me if I were in a room where the drum's resonance would overpower other parts of my kit or, worse, other musicians.

Although I prefer wood snare drums, I am fond of my 1966 5x14 Ludwig Supersensitive.

It is crisp, sensitive to the edges, and is articulate at any level from PPP to FFF. If I had to play in a room with wild acoustics that is the drum I'd bring.

Many drummers are frightened off by the seemingly complex snare mechanism on the Supersensitive models, but they are relatively easy to dial in a snare sound for any room or playing situation, and are versatile enough to fit any music style with minor adjustments. If I were to ever go into a studio to record this is the snare drum I would use.

The bottom line is just about any snare drum will work well with

  • Heads that match the playing situation - double ply heads, for example are going to have a lower fundamental than single ply; pinstripe type heads are going to attenuate ring and resonance, etc.
  • Snare wires matched to your snare bed - if you have narrow and/or deep snare beds on your snare drum snare wires with 16 or less strands are going to work a lot better than 20+ strand snare wires
  • Tuning - I strongly recommend reading Prof.Sound's Drum Tuning Bible to find your sound
On the room itself, which can have a dramatic effect on sound, I recommend reading Joe Shambro's Setting Up Your Home Studio Space even if you are not interested in setting one up because his discussion about acoustics can be used to survey a room or venue in advance, which will allow you to pick your best snare drum for the venue or at least tune for the room. If you are interested in a home studio, on the other hand, I recommend Home Recording Studio: Build it Like the Pros. While I don't mic, if you do, Micing the Drum Kit is a well written resource that is rich in hints and techniques.