Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Configuring snare drums from drum set use to concert/orchestra use

You've got an extra snare drum lying around the house, or several like I did. You would like to explore the sound concept of what a band/orchestra snare drum sounds like, but you don't want to spend several hundred dollars on a drum that is specifically designed for concert use, rather than drum set use. What should you do? You convert the drum by changing out the heads and the snares.

Concert snare drums have a much dryer and crisper sound than the snare drum that you would use with a drum set. If you check out a real concert drum, you will notice a couple of things: I own a Pearl symphonic model concert drum. It came with Diplomat weight heads top and bottom, and cable snares that wrap completely from strainer to strainer, with a snare bed that is cut about 1/4 inch deep. It's dry, and you've got to be in shape in order to play on it. It's very unforgiving. However, it's the right sound concept for a symphonic or concert band snare drum. It also cost about $400. That is very reasonable for that type of drum. Many concert drums go for well over $1000. Most of us don't have that kind of money, so what's the alternative? Convert a drum.

Most snare drums come with medium weight heads. For Remo heads, that would be the Ambassador weight. For Evans, that would be the Genera G-1. Those are the only two heads that I have used, but I'm sure they other manufacturers have similar products. For concert use, you would want thinner heads. For Remo, that would be the Diplomat weight heads, either the standard Diplomat Batter on the top, or the Renaissance Diplomat Batter. They also have the Diplomat weight snare heads. For Evans, they have Orchestral, and Strata. The Strata come in two weights, the 700 and the 1000. The 700 is a thinner head. Now here's the catch. The thinner heads are going to give you the crisper sound that you want, but they are going to make the drum very unforgiving. You are going to have to spend a lot of time practicing to get yourself in shape to play on that crisp of a drum. You can make the drum a little easier to play by doing the following: change out just the bottom head to a thinner snare head, and leave the batter head medium weight. You will compromise the crispness a little, but you will still be in the ballpark as far as the sound concept. Next, you change the snares from coiled wire snares to cable snares.

I have converted six drum set snare drums to concert drums, by changing out the heads to thinner heads, and by changing out the snares to cable snares manufactured and distributed by Grover Pro Percussion in Massachusetts. Grover makes several different models. Because some of the drums are metal, and the wood shell ones that I have were originally standard drum set drums, they do not have cut snare beds. Full wrap cable or gut snares will not work on them. The Grover cable snares install just like regular snares. They have a real nice crisp sound. Are they as crisp as my real concert drum? Not quite, but they are about 95% there. The cost? The heads will run you about $15 a piece, and the snares will run you about $35 to $70, depending on which ones you get. So for between $70 to $100 you can covert that drum, instead of spending $400 and upward for a concert drum. Would you ever use a regular snare drum for concert use? Of course. There are some pieces that would work great with a regular snare drum with coiled snappy wire snares. I would, at least, change out  the bottom head out to a thinner head.

One thing I did find out was when you change out the snares and leave a medium weight snare head, you get a real funny ring to the sound. The thinner head minimizes that. Also, you are probably going to want to dampen the top head a little too, in order to dry out the sound. A business card at the near edge of the drum works just fine. Then use a good pair of concert sticks like the Vic Firth SD1 General, SD2 Bolero, or some of the wonderful, but expensive sticks made by the Cooperman Drum Company, and you will be in business. Good luck.

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