According to the wikipedia:
The snare drum or side drum is a drum with strands of snares made of curled metal wire, metal cable, plastic cable, or gut cords stretched across the bottom head. Pipe and tabor and some military snare drums often have a second set of snares on the bottom (internal) side of the top (batter) head.
Ah, the snare drum. It’s typically what you hear on the 2 & 4 of a rock song. You know, where people with rhythm clap. I firmly believe it’s the most complicated instrument to record. There is so much going on. It covers so many frequency ranges. It has so many voices and dynamics. It’s overtones and harmonics are tremendous yet it’s a very sensitive instrument. More so than most people can imagine. It also gives the listener a real feel for how the room in which it was recorded is shaped. Only an experienced (or lucky) engineer can properly and accurately capture it’s sound.
Here are my favorites:
- Bryan St. Pere (Why I Like The Robins by Hum) – A masterpiece of snare sound. A gigantor yet deep sounding snare with little decay. It’s very woody (which compliments the delicate undertones) sounding and you can really hear the room in which it was recorded in. It’s bombastic.
- Willie Hall (Walk On By by Isaac Hayes) – This snare is quite overwhelming. There is so much going on. There’s a slight verb in the left channel. Perhaps a plate reverb or just the room sound. It’s very gentle. And tuned slightly higher than average. It’s attack and compression are so natural. And one can’t forget the dynamics going on here. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but you can’t get much better than these subtle dynamics.
- Steven Drozd (Turn It On by The Flaming Lips) – Steven’s snare is so madly intense and were quite so in the 90s. After they got all Yoshimi the drums went to crap and/or were forgotten about. The slight overdriven snare (and bass drum) bring this kit over the edge. It’s so intense and juicy like a wet orange covered in a medium rare steak. There’s a heavy gate which typically gets on my nerves but it totally works here. Not to mention the rock shelf compression. It’s a brick.
- Stewart Copeland (So Lonely by the Police) – Quite possibly the most dry sounding snare, ever. If anything you get a feel for the room it was recorded in. One that has zero reflections. It’s almost lifeless and dead, except for the fact that Stewart is a master of his craft and can tune his snare like nobody’s business.
- Jimmy Chamberlin (Snail by the Smashing Pumpkins) – Yes, it’s almost demo-sounding. But there is such great girth to the snare. Saying it’s wide does not do it justice. And one can’t help but melt in to the gentle ghost notes Jimmy pulls out of the snare. And let’s not forget the pretty tight gate, which redeemed itself with a perfect release. Perfect!
- Yuval Gabay (Mr. Bitterness by Soul Coughing) – Actually utilizing two snares here. The ghost notes (slight right channel) are played on a smaller and higher pitch snare while the 2 & 4 are played on a larger deeper and mad girthy snare. Yuval has a way of tuning his drums to be huge, but not overwhelming. Perhpas it’s his playing. Whatever it is, it sinks my ears in wet, drippy, greasy, latherable butter that I can wade in all day.
- Brendan Canty (Glue Man by Fugazi) – Holy reverb. There’s about as much reverb on this snare as Bruce’s Born in the USA. Ok, well maybe not that much. But for Fugazi it’s a lot. But it works. This snare is quite poppy. Not like the style of music, but it’s recorded quality. Like popcorn. “GAH!” It jumps out. It does what it should. And has awesome high end harmonics to finish the deal.
- Johnny “Machine” Herndon (Gamera by Tortoise) – It’s really recorded like a jazz record put on pause and stretched. It’s very roomy and open but has a slightly tight gate to contain the harmonics and decay. The ‘verb starts in the left channel and heads quickly to the right channel.
- Alex Van Halen (Dance The Night Away by Van Halen) – If anything his snare is the most consistent sounding of all time. How he gets his snare to sound like that is beyond me. And how Alex tunes it to sound that way on every record Van Halen ever recorded is almost godly. It’s mildly chalky, but has a kiwi juicy ring to it’s decay. I live for that decay.
- Prince (Another Lonely Christmas by Prince) – It’s pretty rare especially from this era of his catalog to have a raw snare sound not heavily processed by his Linn Drum machine. And it’s impeccable sounding. Super tight and panned hard to the left. There is really only a slight room sound to it that ‘verbs in the right channel.
Honorable mentions include: J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Chester Thompson (Frank Zappa), John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) & Omar Hakim (David Bowie).
I am sure I’ll remember a few more tomorrow. But this is where I am standing tonight.