It’s no coincidence that the snare drum sits at the center of the kit. As the most expressive drum in the setup, the snare sets the foundation for every drummer’s personal sound. It’s like choosing a bandmate—pick the right one, and you’ll be amazed what you can do together. This guide will give you some of the best snare drums, new and old, to help you find the right match.
Like any instrument, the best snare for you will come down to (1) what you need it for, and (2) what you’re willing to spend. The good news is that in 2020, there are truly excellent snares for any drummer at any price point. Let’s say you’re looking for a classic metal snare that can handle any gig. For every legendary high-end option like the Ludwig Black Beauty, you’ll find a shockingly affordable counterpart like the Ludwig Supralite. The differences come down to the details.
There are general rules: Metal shells are bright and sharp. Wood snares are known for their deeper “crack” sound. Thin drums offer excellent tone and sensitivity. Heavier ones stand up to louder volumes. But beyond the conventional wisdom, there is a world of details that make every snare drum unique. It’s a subtle instrument. The little things matter. If you're new to snare shopping, we’ll give you a crash course on the parts of the drum to help you make an informed decision.
If you’re already a pro, use the table of contents to skip down to our recommendations by genre, material and skill level. Our guide also covers our favorite budget options, including the best snare drums under $200. Whether you’re looking for a starter snare, an upgrade or just another addition to your collection, we’ll help you make the right choice.
Need help choosing a full setup? Check out our drum kit buying guide.
Table of Contents
The snare is easily the most complex drum in the kit. For beginners: the snare is the drum that sits between your legs. It’s usually about 13" or 14" wide and relatively shallow, with metal wires strung tight along the bottom head. This creates a “snap” or “buzz” sound when you hit the top head. In popular music, the snare is often used for the backbeats on two and four. That’s just the beginning, though. The snare is the frontperson of the drum set. It can fill in spaces with ghost notes, take center stage with fills or create its own melody with subtle brushwork. And just like a guitar, every snare has its own presence and voice. Simply put, there is no other drum that can cover so much range. To see how, you’ll need to get a feel for the parts.
Most snare shells are 13" to 14" in diameter. They’re typically made of solid metal or layered plies of wood. There are exceptions on all fronts. Side snares can be much smaller than 13". Specialty snares can be made of solid logwood rather than plies. There are less conventional materials, too, like acrylic.
The main variations in shells will be material, thickness and depth.
Material: Metal shells have a bright, crisp attack that’s great for tight grooves. Wood shells create a deeper, richer tone with a rounder frequency response. There are wide variations between different types of wood and metal, which we get into below. Tuning has a lot to do with it, too, as well as head choice. It's all relative—tightly tuned wood snares can still produce clean backbeats, and metal snares can be loosened up for a lower, fatter attack. But these adjustments only go so far. If you’re looking to match a specific snare sound from a record, you’ll want to get one made from a similar material to the one you're hearing. You can’t fake it.
Thickness: Shell thickness mostly has to do with sensitivity and volume. Thinner shells can produce lots of tone from quiet playing. Thicker ones have more material to vibrate, so they require more force to open up, but they project full tone at higher volumes. Think about a sheet of tin foil and a piece of sheet metal. The tin foil can make a whole range of sounds just from touching it. Sheet metal can’t, but if you hammer on it, you can hear it from much farther away.
Depth: Most snares are around 5" to 7" deep. The depth affects the fullness of the sound. A deeper drum will resonate more and sustain for longer. A shallow drum will have quicker decay and lighter tone. Super-shallow snare drums are known as piccolo snares, used often as side snares for sharp, cutting accents. Deep drums like the 14" by 8" mahogany Gretsch Swamp Dog are at the other end of the spectrum, with beefy tone that lingers a while after you strike it.
The hoops are what hold the heads down to the snare drum. Besides keeping the tension even across the head, the hoops affect how freely the edges of the drum head vibrate. By far the most common type is the triple-flanged steel hoop. Flanged hoops begin as sheet metal. Machines bend them into a circle and then fold the top into a flat surface. The common triple-flanged hoop has largely replaced vintage non-flanged hoops, known as “stick choppers” for how they tear up drum sticks with rimshots. Tapping a flanged hoop on its own will make an open, melodic sound.
By contrast, many premium drums have stepped up to die-cast hoops. Instead of being folded into shape from sheet metal, die-cast hoops come from molten metal poured into molds. The result is one solid piece, equally dense throughout and free from weak points or inconsistencies. This increases durability and reduces warping. Most importantly, these heavier die-cast hoops vibrate less freely. The result is that they sharpen the definition of the drum by decreasing overtones. In this way, die-cast hoops reduce the need for thicker heads and muffling.
If you’re looking to lessen overtones and dry out your snare sound, there’s another option: wood hoops. Imagine hitting a flanged hoop on its own, then a die-cast one, then a wood one. The die-cast will resonate less than the flanged hoop, but the wood hoop will make almost no sound at all beyond the initial attack. That’s what wood hoops do for your drums. They eliminate vibration along the edges of the head. This creates fat, low rimshots with shorter sustain.
Lugs are the pieces of metal on the drum shell. They’re where the hoops are screwed into place, holding the drum together. Sturdy lugs will keep the tuning consistent and prevent rattling. Drum makers take care to minimize vibration transfer between the lug and shell, sometimes with rubber components. There’s also a trend toward lugs that make minimal contact with the shell and weigh as little as possible. The idea is to make sure the lugs hold the drum together without stifling the tone.
You’ll come across bridge, low-mass, turret and other kinds. So long as they're well-built, the lugs are as much a stylistic choice as a musical one. Drum Workshop and PDP use specialized turret lug designs that make them recognizable without even seeing the badge. Companies like TAMA have gone in the other direction, making the lugs on their kits as unobtrusive as possible. If you’re sporting an exotic lacquer finish on your Starclassic kit, they don’t want a set of metal lugs getting in the way.
The screws that attach the hoop to the lugs are tension rods. They’re adjusted with drum keys to tune the snare drum. The snare is usually the most tightly tuned drum in the kit, so the tension rods need to be real workhorses. There’s not much to them, except that they should be well-made to prevent slipping. Tension rods with a finer thread will allow for more precise tuning.
Pulled against the bottom drum head are wound strings of wire—also known as snares. The vast majority are made of steel, which makes a broad, all-purpose sound. Some steel snares will have carbon mixed in, brightening the sound by making the strings lighter. Copper, brass and bronze are also common materials for snare wires, each with unique sound profiles. Snares also vary in how many wires they have. More wires mean a fuller buzz that lasts longer. If you want your snare to have more of a snap than a buzz, go with fewer wires, or wires that are split into two smaller beds. Snare wires are easy to replace, making it possible to experiment.
The strainer is really two things—a throw-off and a butt plate. Together, these two pieces of hardware hold the snare wires against the head. The throw-off lets the user flip the snares off, making the drum sound like a sharp, expressive tom. Many throw-offs are just levers with dials to adjust wire tension. Butt plates are usually simple metal attachments without any adjustments.
Some proprietary strainers have more useful extras. For instance, DW’s MAG throw-off combines with their 3P butt plate to let drummers switch between preset tensions. To turn the wires on and off, the MAG uses an internal magnet. This keeps it secure while making it easy to switch the snares off with a quick tug. Many premium strainers are designed to pull the wires far off the bottom head. If you’re playing with your wires turned off, chances are you don’t want any ambient snare buzz.
We talk a lot about shells and hoops. It’s easy to forget that the sound comes from the drum heads first. When you’re playing your snare, it’s the heads that displace the air to create sound waves. The shells and wires can alter the tone and texture, but without the heads, they’d be useless. Keep that in mind when you choose which drum heads to use for your snare drum. It’s as important as the drum itself.
Pictured: Remo Ambassador Drum Head
The snare is generally tuned tighter than other drums, with some metal and funk drummers cranking it up about as tight as it goes. It’s also the drum that takes the most rimshots. High tension plus a hard rimshot equals a boatload of overtones. That’s one of the reasons that snares almost always use coated batter heads. The coating muffles the harsher tones while keeping the ones you want. The other reason for the coating is so that the drummer can use brushes—sticks made from metal wires that scrape the rough coating. It’s dazzling how many sounds an expert player can get with their brushwork. Paul English, longtime drummer for Willie Nelson, was known to play arena shows with just a snare and a pair of brushes.
Most snare drum heads are made from one or two plies of plastic. The general rule is that thin heads will be more sensitive, and thick ones will handle higher volumes. The thicker ones will also have fewer overtones. Some go-to options include Remo Ambassador and Evans G1 (1-ply), and their counterparts, the Emperor and G2 (two-ply). Companies also make heads specifically for snares, often with extra plies or dots in the center, like the Emperor X and the EC Reverse Dot.
On the bottom, you'll need a special "snare side" resonant head. These are extremely thin and tuned super-tight so that they’re sensitive enough to activate the wires. Don't try to use a regular head on the snare side—it won't work.
Shell material is the most common way to classify snare drums. It’s the most obvious difference between models, both visibly and sonically. It’s also a major factor in price. Choosing the material is probably the first and most important decision you'll make when searching for a snare. The first distinction is between metal, wood and acrylic. In general, metal snares will be crisp and cutting, with sharp rimshots. Wood creates a rounder, fatter “crack” sound with lots of bass. Acrylic makes a flat sound, closer to wood than metal, but brighter, and loud. There's a reason acrylic is popular with heavy hitters—think of John Bonham wailing away on that orange Ludwig kit.
From there, the different types of metal and wood create even more variance in tone. Each metal alloy or tree species has its own sound profile. For instance, maple is known for its boosted low-end frequencies. Steel has a cutting high end with muted lows and long sustain. We'll give a quick rundown on what each material is known for.
And remember: the thickness of the shell matters just as much. Thinner shells create darker sounds and let the material open up more quickly, even when playing lightly. Thicker snares can be a bit brighter, but more importantly, they’ll be able to cut through a wall of guitars while keeping the tone intact. Cymbals are a good reference point. If you need a heavy ride cymbal to cut through your band, you'll also probably want a thicker snare shell. If you play lower-volume environments with paper-thin cymbals, a thinner snare shell will be expressive without overpowering the music.
Brass Snare Drums
One of the oldest snare materials, brass has the cut and crispness you expect from metal drums. But it's also one of the warmer alloys. It has a decent amount of bass that keeps the sound balanced. Brass snares are extremely versatile for this reason.
The Pork Pie Big Black Brass snare drum is a classic example of what Pork Pie does best. It’s meticulously crafted to have a classic brass sound, with a few stylish touches. The tube lugs are vintage all the way. The black chrome plating keeps the style understated but adds a bit of modern shine under stage lights. And in an added touch Pork Pie is known for, the Big Black Brass drums come with matching brass snare wires. This creates a unity of tone that's hard to beat.
The DW Design Series Black Nickel Over Brass snare drum has a lot in common with the above, including the 1 mm brass shell and darker plating. But instead of those narrow vintage tube lugs, this snare is fitted with recognizable Drum Workshop turret lugs, in a miniature size made for the Design Series. Thanks to the brighter chrome finish on the hardware, the lugs stand out from the shell. That way, you won't miss out on that iconic DW look. The MAG throw-off is a major benefit, as is the included reverse-dot batter head made by Remo. You won't be heading straight to the store to replace the stock head. It's playable right out of the box.
And then, of course, there's the Ludwig Supraphonic Black Beauty. As one of the most famous and most recorded snares ever made, this drum hardly needs an introduction. In many ways, the Black Beauty's combination of cut and warmth is what other brass snares measure themselves against. In terms of specs, it's thicker at 1.2 mm, giving it more volume without losing sensitivity. The lugs have a classic Art Deco look that never goes out of style. If you've got the money, you can't go wrong with a Black Beauty. If you want to save a bit, the good news is that the above two drums are quite similar at less than half the price.
Maple Snare Drums
Maple is the king of drum woods. More high-end drums are made of maple than any other species. That's because it has powerful low end and subdued highs. When you hear the booming toms and thundering kick drum on a classic American recording, chances are you're listening to a maple kit. Maple snares are known for a rich, warm "crack" that lingers in a pleasing way, without too much ringing.
We'll start with an eccentric one: this Orange Country Drum & Percussion maple snare marries bold looks with seriously premium hardware. The drum is all maple except for an ash outer ply that sports a striking grain. The natural look gels with the offset black nickel lugs, made from an aluminum/zinc alloy that's harder than the usual zinc. And the excellent hardware doesn't end there—the die-cast hoops make sure this drum has sharp attack without any annoying ring.
The PDP Dark Stain Maple and Walnut snare is a limited-edition model for fans of traditional wood snares. This thing is class all the way. It has 10 plies of maple at the center, with walnut outer and inner plies finished with antique-style lacquer. The wood hoops create a wide rim, perfect for chunky rimshots with tons of bottom end. The wires are copper, which is common in after-market premium snare wires, but rare in stock ones. The double-turret lugs announce this drum as PDP, while the trusty MAG shows off the brand's Drum Workshop pedigree.
The Pork Pie Percussion Exotic Rosewood Zebrawood snare drum is great for mid-volume playing. It's on the slightly thinner side with 7 plies of maple, giving the dark low end some room to breathe. But take one glance at this snare and you'll know it's about more than the sound. Pork Pie doesn't do boring—case in point, this snare has a look unlike any other. The outer veneer sports a dark rosewood finish with a contrasting zebrawood stripe around the middle. The stripe is placed by hand to make sure every drum is a work of art. The vertical zebra lines interact perfectly with the hourglass lugs for a striking effect. You'll get compliments every time you play it.
Steel Snare Drums
As the most common snare drum metal, steel is a pretty safe choice for drummers who don't have a lot of specific preferences. It's also highly affordable. Steel has lots of treble and decent mids, giving it a sharp cut. The lows are subtle. Rimshots on steel drums are unmistakable—bright, melodic and clear. Depending on your needs, it's common to use some kind of muffling on a steel snare, to keep those overtones under control. That could mean an internal dampener built into the drum, an accessory like Moongel or Big Fat Snare Drum, or a batter head with overtone control.
The TAMA S.L.P. Big Black Steel snare has a muscular look and the sound to match. The matte shell and hardware are menacing ebony. The 8" depth means this drum will fight through even the fiercest guitars. The triple-flanged Mighty Hoops are the heaviest TAMA makes, able to take a beating without stifling the vibration. As part of the S.L.P. project, this drum also boasts a competitive price without skimping on looks or resorting to budget components.
With a thick shell and proven design, the Ludwig Supralite Steel snare is one of the absolute best deals in drums. The 1.5 mm shell has bright steel tone at any volume without losing sensitivity. And in a nod to its Black Beauty sibling, it sports premium brass snare wires for a little extra balance in the snare response.
Pictured: Ludwig Supralite Steel Snare Drum
The steel DW Performance Series snare is thinner than the Supralite at 1 mm, adding a hint of darkness that balances some of the steel overtones. The all-chrome shell and hardware are functional, even elegant. The usual MAG throw-off is there in all its convenience. And as one of the most affordable offerings from DW, the Performance Series is one of the easiest ways to add that coveted DW badge to your kit.
Aluminum Snare Drums
With tons of high end but less sustain, aluminum snares are a mix of dry and cutting. Unlike steel, aluminum snares don't typically require dampening. This material is great for sharp, sparkling backbeats that don't linger. You'll cut through just about any mix with an aluminum shell. It's a less common material, with a particular sound, so be sure to check out some recordings of aluminum snares before you buy.
The Pearl Sensitone Beaded Seamless aluminum snare is a blast from the past. This is a contemporary remaster of a classic drum, reviving the full-throated attack of the original. With matte finishing, long tube lugs and that vintage Pearl Sensitone badge, this drum is proud to be old school in the best way.
The Yamaha Recording Custom Aluminum snare has solid specs, but perhaps its most impressive feature is the artist who spawned it. Steve Gadd is one of the most recorded drummers of all time. His choppy, dry snare sound is iconic. He worked with Yamaha to bring it to this drum. In addition to the already-dry aluminum shell, it's got two other features that result in Gadd's trademark staccato feel. The first is obvious: die-cast hoops. You know 'em, you love 'em. The other choice is less conventional. The steel carbon wires are split into two sides, leaving an opening in the middle that cuts down on buzz. The result is total control over the snare response.
It's all about simplicity and value with the TAMA S.L.P. Classic Dry Aluminum snare. The matte finish makes for that vintage look, with the same 1.2 mm shell thickness as the Sensitone. At similar price points, choosing between the Pearl and this one will come down to size (the TAMA is an inch shallower at 5.5") and style. If you love tube lugs and a classic badge, go with the Pearl. If you like the shorter sustain of a shallower drum, the TAMA S.L.P. is the way to go.
Acrylic Snare Drums
While other unconventional materials have largely gone by the wayside, acrylic is still kicking. You just can't beat the look of a colored acrylic drum lighting up on stage. There's nothing more stylish. As far as the sound goes, acrylic is not for the faint of heart. You won't be grabbing one for brushwork. Acrylic snares shine when you want dry, punchy backbeats and accents. You can wail away on these things and project through the heaviest guitars or synths and look like a million bucks doing it.
The PDP Chad Smith Signature Acrylic snare is just like its namesake—stylish, affable, impossible to dislike. The shell is transparent, calling attention to the badge, which sports the Red Hot Chili Peppers logo. In the spirit of Smith and RHCP, this snare is all about grooving and having a blast without holding back. And it's extremely affordable. That makes this eccentric drum an especially good choice for a side snare. PDP agrees, which is why it comes as small as 12".
Where the Chad Smith model is understated, the DW Design Series Acrylic snare is for those who want to stand out. The Sea Glass finish option is completely outlandish—and we love it. The color brings to mind the bold characters of DW's original beachside home in Santa Monica. Acrylics are not for players who want to hold back, and this drum knows it. This one is a limited edition, so grab one now if you're interested.
It’s worth saying right away: there are no hard rules about what kind of snare you can use with what genre. Rock music has gone through eras where an airy, crisp snare sound was the norm (think Led Zeppelin or Red Hot Chili Peppers). Alternative rock bands like Nirvana used looser snare wires and lower tuning, creating a more relaxed and messier vibe. Your snare sound is part of what makes you unique, regardless of what genre you play. The biggest changes to snares have happened when drummers tried something different than what they were hearing.
Tuning and heads are always a huge factor, too. A heavy metal drummer can pick up a high-end steel snare like the Pearl Joey Jordison Signature, but they won’t get the most from it without thick heads and cranked-up tuning. So, whatever drum you choose, you’ll want to make it your own. If you play a specific genre, we have some recommendations for snares that will make that process easier.
Rock music is as diverse as the genres that spawned it, so your snare sound will depend on what kind of grooves you're laying down. Two of the most common snare sounds in rock are the sharp "pop" of brass and the deep, resonant "crack" of maple. It's common for drummers to have both a metal snare and a wood snare to cover these bases. You can rely on tuning and accessories to get a wide range from both. We've selected two solid snares for rock—one brass and one maple.
If you're looking for that classic, beefy crack of a maple snare, we recommend the TAMA S.L.P. G-Maple. It's extra thick at 13 plies, giving you room to really lean into your backbeats. The die-cast hoops welcome rimshots without any of that unpleasant ringing. The extra-deep 7" shell helps with that, too, making sure you get a full-throated response every time. This is a classic studio snare drum without gimmicks to hide behind. It's everything that makes the TAMA S.L.P. series such a gem.
Pictured: TAMA S.L.P. G-Maple Snare Drum
We're going to say it again: you can't go wrong with a Ludwig Supraphonic Black Beauty. That goes double for rock music. This drum has graced countless hit albums. The warmth, balance and sheer presence of this drum is legendary. Some instruments have a personality that goes beyond their specs, like the Les Paul guitar or the Hammond organ. The Black Beauty is one of those instruments. It's the gold standard—or, well, the brass standard.
For a lot of contemporary genres, overtones are the enemy. Brightness and cut are great, but many pop and rock drummers will do anything to avoid the more extreme frequencies that come with high tuning. Jazz is a different story. Expert jazz drummers often tune their snares high and wide open, playing them almost like a melodic instrument, using the full range of tones available. The ping of a rimshot with the tip of the stick. The dry scraping of brushes on a fresh coated head. The placement of ghost notes to syncopate the spaces between the horns. The below drums—one metal and one wood—are up to the task, with vintage styling to boot.
Nobody has more jazz pedigree than Ludwig, and the Ludwig Jazz Fest snare cashes in on that cred in the best way. The original version of this drum was called the "Buddy Rich Model" in the 1950s. This current model keeps all the authentic vintage touches. That begins with a shell made from mahogany, a hard wood with powerful low end. It used to be the leading drum wood, and it has made a resurgence in recent years. With thin 3-ply construction, this drum takes full advantage of the dark mahogany tones. It's also got the "baseball bat" internal muffler that can be adjusted from the outside. This keeps overtones from the thin shell under control. In keeping with its status as a collectible, the Jazz Fest snare offers gorgeous mod, sparkle and oyster finishes.
Pictured: Ludwig Jazz Fest Snare Drum
Everything we said about the steel DW Performance Series steel snare also applies to the maple version. It's one of the most affordable entries into the universe of DW. Like the Jazz Fest snare, the wood is all about low-end power—except in this case, it’s North American maple. This drum is built to a full 10 plies, meaning it's better suited to louder applications than the Ludwig. In a nod to jazz drummers, the throwback sparkle and pearl finishes are packed with vintage vibes.
Funk music might be great for loosening people up, but the drumming is all about precision. Think of the dizzying linear grooves of Dave Garibaldi from Tower of Power, or the deep pocket of New Orleans greats like The Meters. That kind of precision isn't possible without the right snare. That's why we've chosen three meticulously built drums—two snares used by all-time greats, and another made by a company that specializes in handmade snare drums.
The Ludwig Supraphonic LM400 might be the greatest funk snare ever made, owing largely to one man: Clyde Stubblefield, drummer for James Brown. As a self-taught musician, Clyde first learned rhythms from the cadences around him, like the factories and trains of his hometown in Tennessee. This gave his drumming a natural feel that breathed life into James Brown's songs. Along with fellow drummer John "Jabo" Starks, Stubblefield put down the beats that defined funk music for generations. Throughout his career, he was loyal to his chrome Ludwig Supraphonic, which gave him that bright "pop" that marked the backbeats of hits like "Funky Drummer." We were proud to induct both Stubblefield and Starks into our Rockwalk in 2017.
Pictured: Ludwig Supraphonic LM400 Snare Drum
The Pork Pie Brass Patina leans into the low-end tones that set brass apart from other metals. Pork Pie's custom wires keep the snare sensitive, but when you give it a good whack, you'll feel the 7" depth. In funk music, a lot of the fun comes from quick dynamic changes. This snare can power through a walloping chorus and then flip to a subtle bridge on a dime. And that's to say nothing of the funky patina on the outside. It's applied by hand. We can't do it justice—take a look for yourself.
The Gretsch Vinnie Colaiuta Signature maple snare was created for probably the most versatile drummer to ever play. Vinnie has been at home with jazz greats, funk masters and classic rock legends. The guy is a ringer, plain and simple. Gretsch made these two signature drums to be his go-to main and side snares. While they'll work for anything, Vinnie's creative grooves bring nothing to mind more than funk. Just like the man himself, these drums have a quiet confidence, backed up with flawless performance. Maple shells at a 6-ply thickness, die-cast hoops, clean blue finish, simple badge with Vinnie's signature—find a flaw in this drum. We dare you.
Heavy metal is about a different kind of precision. The speed and complexity of contemporary metal requires a snare that cuts through at exactly the right time. Just like a thick cymbal made for heavy riding, the snare drum needs to absorb every hit and turn it into a clear, piercing note. This is one area where wood snares rarely make the cut—it's metal all the way.
One look at the MAPEX Black Panther Sledgehammer and you know it means business. The thick 1.2 mm brass shell has been hand-hammered across the entire surface. Besides a cool appearance, the hammering increases the surface area, just like it does for cymbals. This allows more vibration, meaning this snare will really sing when you're bludgeoning your way through heavy sections. The rims are uniquely constructed for heavy metal, too. These "sonic saver" hoops have the rounded top of a die-cast hoop to enhance the response, but they're lighter than die-cast, so they don't stifle the drum when it's doing battle with the guitars. The hoop is also light on the sticks. If you're a heavy hitter, you know that's no small thing.
As the signature snare for one of the most respected drummers out there, the Pearl Joey Jordison Signature has a high bar to clear. The matte color and all-black hardware make an impression, but really, it's all about the 6.5" deep steel shell, projecting that high-treble steel tone through anything you throw at it.
There's no music more expressive than worship. Old-school gospel drumming has animated congregations while also laying the foundation for American secular music. Contemporary religious pop has filled everything from small churches to arenas. In the musical sense, worship music has all kinds of practical considerations—will you be playing in a small chapel, or a cavernous megachurch with a professional PA system? Whatever guides you to express your belief through music, make sure you pick the right snare to get your message across.
Inspired by the Black Beauty, the Ludwig Black Magic snare has a brass shell with an outer layer of nickel that matches the hardware. This look gives the drum an understated vibe. The tube lugs are an old-school counterpart to the flamboyant Art Deco lugs on the Black Beauty. Compared to other nickel-over-brass snares we've mentioned, the Black Magic comes with an extra perk: die-cast hoops. If you're playing in a place of worship where volume is a consideration, these hoops will give you punchy rimshots without the overpowering ring.
Pictured: Ludwig Black Magic Snare
There's not much to say about the DW Collector's Series Snare Drum Black Nickel Over Brass snare drum, except what's in the name. Collector's Series means it's fitted with DW's absolute best hardware, including the 3-position butt plate that lets you change snare tensions instantly at the flip of a switch. It’s especially useful for worship services that cover different moods. The 1 mm brass shell is the industry standard, and the black nickel coating keeps things understated.
After an era when samples and drum machines took over hip-hop, drummers are resurgent thanks to visionaries like Anderson .Paak and Questlove. At the heart of hip-hop and R&B is the beat—and the most stirring beats come from a living, breathing drummer with a heart of their own. With roots in the blues and gospel, these genres are less about musical complexity than the complexity of human beings. They’re about our emotions, sensations and dreams. That's why we're starting with two wood drums. Their deep, rich tones leave room for expression.
The PDP Eric Hernandez Signature Maple snare just oozes style. As one of the go-to drummers for rap, pop and hits of all kinds, Hernandez knows how to keep it cool while laying down beats for some of the biggest songs on earth. This drum is built to keep hard overtones at bay, with maple reinforcement rings and a 2-ply ebony head on top. With the black finish to match, gold-plated hardware and a custom "E-Panda" badge, this drum looks like it was made by a fashion designer.
The Yamaha Recording Custom Birch is the first birch snare on this list, and there's a reason we picked this wood for hip-hop and R&B. As two genres that come alive in the studio, they benefit from the balanced tone of birch, which has more high end than other woods. This balances out the sound and puts it somewhere between metal and bass-heavy woods like maple and mahogany. Some players refer to birch as having a "pre-EQ" sound, meaning it doesn't require editing to sit well in the mix. In genres with so much processing involved, birch lets you start with a clean slate.
Pictured: Yamaha Recording Custom Birch Snare Drum
All that being said, sampled beats have life, too—they were all performed by a drummer sometime, somewhere. In fact, the most sampled drummer of all time is Clyde Stubblefield, that legendary funk drummer for James Brown. His beats showed up on tracks from N.W.A., Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Beastie Boys and a bunch of others. In a way, Clyde was the most influential drummer in hip hop. So if you want to play old-school hip-hop beats with acoustic drums, there's a solid argument that you should just pick up a Ludwig Supraphonic. You've probably been listening to Clyde play that drum your whole life, whether you know it or not.
Folk music is sparse with its instrumentation. With roots in oral tradition, folk uses percussion and acoustic instruments to punctuate storytelling through music. This makes folk one of the most poetic and sincere genres. For a drummer, it means your snare will need to stand on its own, with no wall of guitars or synths to hide behind. We favor nicely balanced wood snares for that reason. You want a drum that will sound authentic on mic or busking on the street, without any processing.
The most important elements of a folk drum are (1) deep tone and (2) the ability to play at lower volumes. The Yamaha Tour Custom Maple snare meets those needs with an all-maple shell that's thin enough to open up during an acoustic set. The proprietary DynaHoop is a clever twist on triple-flange, where the flange is inverted. This makes for a rounder, sharper rim that excels at cross-stick, a common technique in folk.
Pictured: Yamaha Tour Custom Maple Snare Drum
Where the Yamaha is a straightforward classic, the TAMA Starclassic Walnut/Birch snare is an innovative drum that could have been custom-made for folk music. The materials sound like a tour of the woods: 4 plies of European birch, 2 plies of American black walnut and an outer ply of Eastern red cedar. The birch brings a balance to the sound, great for acoustic tracks with minimal editing. Walnut has a maple-like low end. Cedar is an exotic wood that creates a rustic look that's remarkable at this price point. Also remarkable for the price are the die-cast hoops. For folk drummers, the die-cast material excels at cross-sticking and quieter rimshots without ringing.
The fundamentals of the snare drum haven't changed much over the years. Even going all the way back to early marching snares, it was the same basics: heads, shell, hoops and wires. That’s why it’s possible for beginners to get surprisingly high-quality drums at reasonable prices. All these snares are made with the same basic materials and design as much more expensive drums. They’re great for beginners, but with the right heads and tuning, they’re plenty good enough to grow with you.
The Yamaha Stage Custom Birch is made from pure birch, making it a real bargain for beginners who want to start with quality wood. Birch produces a balanced frequency response across the whole spectrum. The medium 6-ply thickness gives it room to breathe without sacrificing volume when you want to rock out. Handcrafted by Yamaha with their distinctive lugs, this drum will have you starting out like a pro.
The Pearl Igniter snare looks and sounds great for less than $200, but to leave it there would be missing the point. This drum is made for, and by, a new generation of drummer. Made in collaboration with YouTube sensation Casey Cooper, this drum is practically searing with ambition. Casting aside the understated design of classic drums in favor of a bright red graphic, this looks like a drum made by the internet. Case in point: the badge sports Casey's handle (@coop3rdrumm3r).
Pictured: Pearl Igniter Snare Drum
In terms of looks, the SPL 468 Series blows its class out of the water. You can pick from a range of sizes from super deep to piccolo, all with different fade finishes. The 14" by 6" ones might just be our favorite, owing to the single row of vintage tube lugs. You'd be hard pressed to find that kind of throwback style elsewhere at this price.
As we said above, the Ludwig Supralite snare is one of the best deals in all of drums. We'd recommend it to anyone who wants a steel snare, but given the price point, it's a real gem for beginners. The shell is thick enough to accompany you on any musical adventure, no matter how loud or outrageous. But with excellent construction reminiscent of the Black Beauty, it's also articulate and warm.
Maybe you’re just looking to add a new snare to your collection. You don’t need the basics explained to you. You just want to know the best snares you can get for a steal in 2020. Well, this section is for you. We put together our favorites in a few price ranges. Don’t let the low cost fool you—these are solid options from trusted drum makers. They’re instruments that take the essentials seriously.
Best Snare Drums Under $500
We picked it for heavy metal due to its specialized hoops and muscular style, but the Mapex Black Panther Sledgehammer works for just about any genre. It might not look like other brass snares (it looks cooler, really) but it's got the same 1.2 mm shell, just enhanced with hand hammering. That means you can use it for just about any genre. With an antique bronzed look and sculpted lugs, it's also a real work of art. At hundreds less than a Black Beauty, this thing is a steal.
Just like its name, the Ludwig Standard Maple isn't afraid of simplicity. It meets one of the most common needs among drummers: a maple drum from a trusted brand, with a gorgeous finish, without an inflated price tag. It's barely over $300, and to top it off, the drum is handmade in the USA. What's not to love?
Pictured: Ludwig Standard Maple Snare Drum
What makes the TAMA Starclassic Walnut/Birch snare special is the unique combination of birch, walnut and cedar. They make for a balanced sound as well as a natural look that's impossible to fake. That alone would make it a great deal at under $400, but when you add die-cast hoops, it's worth a serious look.
Best Snare Drums Under $300
If you're a heavy hitter who wants to make a powerful impression, the TAMA S.L.P. Big Black Steel snare will get it done for a bargain. The 8" deep shell mixes projection with surprising warmth, and the Mighty Hoops can take a pounding.
If you're read this far, you won't be surprised to hear the Pork Pie Little Squealer is a little... different. Pork Pie took a deep, thick maple shell and finished it in ebony, with matching hardware. Then, they punched holes all over the surface. The result is a unique mix of depth and openness. It avoids that "thud" sound that deeper drums are prone to, but doesn't waste an inch of its maple shell. Built by hand like all Pork Pie drums, the Little Squealer is a special drum at an everyday cost.
Pictured: Pork Pie Little Squealer Snare Drum
In the world of DW, the Design Series Black Nickel Over Brass snare drum is like nabbing a five-star hotel reservation for the price of a motel. It's a DW drum through and through—not PDP—and sports a classy nickel finish. Add in the MAG throw-off, DW badge and an included reverse-dot drum head, and the price becomes difficult to believe. With similar specs to more expensive brass drums, this one is an easy call.
Best Snare Drums Under $200
When it comes to value, birch is king. The balanced tone makes it suitable for professional applications, at a much lower cost than maple. Enter the Pearl Vision Birch snare drum, which might as well be designed to prove that point. It's simple in all the right ways: pure birch shell, sleek black hardware with low-contact lugs and an attractive badge that would look good on a drum five times this price. And when we say under $200, we mean way under—it's got room to spare.
On the metal side of things, steel is the value pick. It's cheap to make but gives you bright tone and crisp attack that makes no compromises. Our favorite steel snare under $200 is the Yamaha Stage Custom, another simple drum that doesn't feel like a "budget" option when you play it. The extended 6.5" depth helps bring out the hidden warmth of this metal. The beaded shell calls to mind drums twice its price.
Pictured: Yamaha Stage Custom Steel Snare Drum
The TAMA Woodworks poplar snare comes in both 8" and 6.5" depths, both well under $200. Poplar is highly prevalent in drums. It offers the warm low-end punch of hard woods like mahogany, but it's faster-growing, meaning more affordable. It's a great way to keep prices down without losing wood tone. Both sizes have matte black hardware, which makes for a nice contrast with the art grain finishes.
Piccolo snares are the most popular choice for adding a side snare to your kit. They’re often placed on the other side of the hi-hat from where the main snare sits, so the drummer can switch back and forth without stopping the groove. Due to their shallow profile, piccolos have immediate snare response and quick decay. With the snare wires off, they make for bright, spirited drums with twangy rimshots, excellent for reggae and world music. With the snares on, they can liven up bridges and other sections where you want to shift the vibe.
The Pearl Piccolo snares, available with both steel and maple shells, are pretty much the industry standard. The steel option has all the shimmering high-end tone you expect, with decay that's nearly instant. With the snares on, you'll get that snappy attack that's addicting to play. Snares off, and your rimshots will have that twangy ping that's great for reggae-style fills. The maple version has the same speed, but fleshed out with a warmer and more full-bodied tone. With the snares off, it has surprising bottom end that brings to mind a conga drum.
Pictured: Pearl M1330 Maple Piccolo Snare Drum
Some players might cringe at the idea of paying over $100 for a side snare. Luckily, there are solid options for roughly half the price of the Pearl. Enter the 14" SPL Piccolo and the 13" SPL Piccolo. They're deeper than the Pearls, making them less snappy, but also more versatile. They're intriguing options for both side and main snares. Either way, at full 1.2 mm thickness, these snares offer a lot of sound for your buck.
The greatest instruments from history aren't just about specs. They're about moments in time. They represent the brilliant people who built them and made music with them long ago. New drums can preserve what was great about their predecessors, but sometimes there's no substitute for the real thing. That's what our vintage drum collection is all about—authentic drums from every era. Our stock is constantly changing, but there are a few classics we get especially excited about.
You can copy the specs of Krupa's Slingerland Radio King snare from the '30s, but you won't be able to use the exact maple that went through the Slingerland factory in those days. Your drum won't be made by, or for, the same hands. The Radio King came along at a time when jazz drummers were going from hired guns to stars in their own right. When you think of Krupa or Buddy Rich dazzling crowds with those lightning-fast snare patterns, chances are they were playing a Slingerland. These guys were the first drumming superstars—and the Radio King was the first superstar drum.
A lot of vintage drums are known for nailing the basics, but there's a surprising amount of innovation in the past, too. Rogers Dynasonic snares are futuristic and old-school all at once. You'll often find models from the '60s with chrome styling and that cursive Rogers logo, but the vintage looks are disguising a unique piece of technology. Rogers invented a clever system to prevent snares from choking the bottom head. It's a metal frame that can pull the snares tight, but hold them so they're just barely kissing the head. This allows for a crisp response that's still alive with snare buzz. You can hear the Dynasonic at work on classic records, and also in the authentic vintage pieces that come through our stores from time to time. There's still nothing quite like it.
Speaking of innovation, you might see some Leedy gear in our collection. Dating back to the late 1800s, the Leedy drum company invented a lot of things we take for granted in the modern kit. That began with the very first snare drum stand. The founder Ulysses G. Leedy was an orchestral drummer who was fed up with having to hold his snare on a sling. He made a stand that would let him play while seated. For extra convenience, he made it lightweight and foldable. Sound familiar? Leedy then went on to produce some of the most influential snare drums ever made. The company invented such essentials as flanged hoops, self-aligning tension rods and the modern snare strainer with tension adjustment. The company was obsessive about pushing the limits, and that includes a wide variety of cosmetic touches—lacquers, engravings, oyster wraps—that still look great today. Owning a Leedy drum gives you an entry into an exciting time, when the concept of the snare drum was still very much in flux.
An early inventor at Leedy was Billy Gladstone, the most famous snare drummer in New York City. Gladstone played at Radio City Music Hall, where his flamboyant style was a perfect match for the Rockettes. Eventually, Gladstone was hired away to join Gretsch in the 1930s, intrigued by their 3-ply drum shells with die-cast hoops. The partnership between Gretsch and Gladstone resulted in the Gretsch-Gladstone snare drum released in 1937. It cost over $100, equivalent to nearly $2,000 today, making it the most high-end snare in the world. Still, the Gretsch-Gladstone snare was a massive hit due to the premium build and Gladstone's inventions. It introduced 3-way tuning, a device that tuned the top and bottom heads simultaenously. While that feature has gone by the wayside, another is still around: a strainer that you could turn off with the tip of your stick. These drums are collector's items, and very expensive, if you're lucky enough to find one. When we get a Gretsch-Gladstone, it's likely to go fast, and for good reason—it might be the greatest vintage snare of them all.
While the Ludwig Black Beauty has maintained its distinctive tone over the years, there have been countless variations of the drum. Check our selection at any given time. There's a good chance you'll see at least one vintage Black Beauty. Some of them will be from the '60s and '70s, with design you still see today. Others have tube lugs, nickel-plated shells, different hoop types, you name it. The rarest vintage Black Beauty snares are nearly a century old, coming from the same era as those Leedy and Slingerland drums. These are the true gems, with engraved patterns and bright gold hardware. And since they still rely on that classic brass shell, they're as good for modern rock as they were for big band jazz. They have everything that makes vintage drums so special—old-school looks, timeless sound.