Anatomy of the snare drum

When building a snare drum there is no part less important than another. Every part and detail must meet the highest quality. Attention and precision are the key words. That’s why I added this page with information about the different characteristics of a snare drum, and what the influence is on the sound. The list of characteristics is not (yet) complete and will be expanded. If you have any additions please send me a message.

Tone drums snare drum snare drums

Snare Characteristics

The drum shell is fundamental for the created sound together with a diversity of factors that influence the tone and voice of the drum. These factors lay in the selection of bearing edges, hoops, tuning, the material of the shell, etc. Which shell type you choose, metal, plywood, acrylic or other material they all have their unique sound and a stave shell is no exception.

Wood Hardness

Every wood type has it’s own charasteristics. The tone color of the wood is primarily rooted in the density of the wood. Soft woods have warm tone and tend to blend in where hard woods have sharp attack and volume. The Tone Drums Hardness scale clarifies the differencess in types of wood for easy understanding their particular nuance.

Tone Drum Hardness Scale
Scale 100%
White Oak

Snare construction

The uniqueness of the stave shell is that in it’s construction less glue is used compared to plywood shell. The staves are not bend and endure no stress which gives more natural tone. The orientation of the wood grain is vertical allowing the energy of the head flow downwards and interact with the air mass inside the shell giving a huge dynamic range.

close-up of bearing edge Tone Drums

Shell Thickness

The thickness has a great effect. A thin shell will vibrate more and can attenuate a tone in a specific region. A thick shell is more rigid and will vibrate less but wil give more attack and overal expression.

Shell Size

The larger the diameter of a shell the lower the tone but the depth of a shell has also an influence. When the batter is struck the air between the batter and resonant head is moving in the drum volume, effecting it’s tonal voice. In general a deeper shell will result in a fatter/thicker sound and more sustain, and a shallow shell wil sound shorter with a thighter feel.

Bearing Edge

The edge is an essential part of our instrument that often is underestimated. It is evident to look into it more closely. The bearing edge is the part of the shell, which is in contact with the drumhead.The top surface of the bearing edge should be a truly flat surface with no gaps when the drumhead is fastened. It is the primary outlet for energy to transfer between the drumhead and the drum shell. The shape of the edge let’s drum builders decide how much resonance sensitivity and sound the shell will create. 

The types of bearing edges described below are most commonly used.

  • A standard 45 degrees edge has minimal head shell contact. Resulting in a good attack and plenty of sustain because it allows the drumhead to freely vibrate. Changing the thickness of the inner and outer cuts adding more contact with the drum head results in more warmth, less resonance and less sustain. Ideal for single ply drumheads.
  • A 30-degree edge has more head shell contact resulting in a more woody round sound with a little bit less attack and less sustain than a 45-degree edge. It’s a classic mostly used on Gretch and Ludwig drums.
  • A round bearing edge has maximal head shell contact. It was used by classic American vintage drums and gives a fat woody darker mellow tone and is more suitable for larger sized drums giving more mid to low frequencies. They have a shorter tuning range especially on small sized drums. 

In general more head shell contact gives a woody and drier response. Less head shell contact gives more sustain more attack and an opener sound.