Friday, 18 January 2013

Readers question 4: Shell Material

Hey and the 3rd question from Sophie, what does the different shell material do for a sound? Well this is a slightly hard question as most companies use either different types of one material (eg finnish birch compared to Scandinavia birch) which, although on a small level, do sound different, or they treat there material differently. But if we assume these materials are all generic it should help. So what are the most commonly found materials today?
Steel: The cheapest, and in some cases most expensive, shell material. It has a very harsh sound with high attack due to its hard material. They are often found on student snares and some intermediate where they are easy and cost effective to manufacture. However they also have there place in the professional market. The harsh and ringy sound of a steel snare is very good for funk where the sharp attack and long delay help blend into the music better. They also deliver cutting rim shots, however the snare is also very loud. Because of this players such as Chad Smith have found steel snares to be a staple in there own music. They are also finding a place in metal music where the volume and harsh sound cuts its way through the mix. A good way to hear a snare like this is in any red hot chilli peppers song or Limp Bizkit-Take a look around, where you can clearly hear the harsh tone of the steel.
Brass: The "standard" for professional sound. Been around since the 1920s as the luxury material. Back then snares such as the original ludwig black beauty and leedy full dress were made out of them. Even small boutique companies used brass. Some, like Boosey & Hawkes, who made drums purely aimed at the upper class, made their student snares out of seamless brass, the same they use today in the famous supraphonics! Vintage brass snares are highly sought after as brass shells have a better sound the more they age, just like wood, and because the craftsmanship is generally of a superior quality as they were hand made. They are a soft of  "malleable" metal and so give a warm snare sound with medium decay and mellow overtones. All of the properties are considered pleasant and as such are the standard for the professional sound. To hear a brass snare usually you just have to turn on the radio, they are that common. But for a true example listen to anything by led zeppelin, where Bonham puts the fantastic Ludwig LM402 through its paces.

Birch: A material that has had an interesting development. It hasn't been as heavily promoted as Maple or other metals, but it is finally gaining its reputation. Being slightly more dense than maple it creates more punch and attack and being stronger it can be made thinner without the need for re-enforcement rings. It is also famed for its pre-eq'd sound. Thin birch shells became the staple of Premier drums and is what made them the company they are today. It has a fine grain and relatively light color. Due to its quick decay do to its denseness (a dense material doesn't vibrate as much or as long, try hitting a stick against a thin steel pipe and a thick one and you can see that the sound travels longer on the thin pipe due to it being a lot lighter and able to vibrate for longer), high attack and very low pitch (as it is able to be made thinner) it has become the wood of choice for metal drummers of today. A good example of a birch snare drum is Mikkey Dee from motorhead, and a good example of a birch drum sound is Nicko Mcbrain from Iron Maiden.

Maple: The standard of high quality wood. Quite a soft wood that produces a warm sound with plenty of overtones. In general maple comes in 2 types: single ply or multiple ply. Both produce a very different sound.
Single ply create a very open and resonant sound with plenty of overtones with low attack and very high sensitivity. This is the sound of vintage drums from around the 1930s until around 1960. Nowadays kept for jazz and soft rock where a cutting sound is not needed and a pleasant tone is more important than volume and cutting through a band. A multiple ply snare drum doesn't have the openness of a single ply but is more structurally stronger. It is also a lot cheaper to make ply snare drums compared to single ply. To try compensate some companies either make the maple very thin (premier) or so thin that they use re-enforcement hoops. The reason for the decreased openness is that a single ply snare drum is an uninterrupted  lump of wood that is free to vibrate, whereas ply drums have a layer of glue in between each ply that soaks up vibrations and decreases resonance. For the sound of a single ply snare listen to pretty much any buddy rich song as he almost exclusively uses his single ply radio king. For a ply maple snare listen to dennis chambers with santana.

Acrylic: A material rarely used in snares but mainly found in kits. Famed for its striking visual appearance they took the world by storm in the 1970s. Traditional acrylic drums were very dry with a focused punch due to having a large seam that was simply glued together and then another plastic strip placed inside to strengthen it. This meant that with its non smooth and brittle shell vibrations didn't travel perfectly and resulted in the dry sound. Modern acrylic drums, however, are cast and so vibrate freely and are very open and resonant with added punch due to the speed the vibrations can travel through the shell due to its smoothness. Most drummers nowadays use triggers on these kits and use them primarily for there visual appeal. For the sound of a vintage acrylic listen to John Bohnam live (in studio he used a maple kit) and for a modern sound listen to Celebration day dvd by Led Zeppelin.

Rarer materials:
Mahogany: Low quality mahogany, or luan, is mostly found in student drums for its abundance, however it is a low quality wood that is rarely used. True mahogany, on the other hand, is an almost exotic material. It is renowned for its beautiful grain and dense material. It is also known for its unique property in that it has a remarkably similar sound to aged wood making it a fantastic alternative for a vintage snare. It also absorbs the low frequencies of sound and so is used among other woods to boost the low end of drums. In snares it is mostly used to recreate a vintage sound, or to make a high pitched dry sound due to its high density. A good example of a mahogany snare (and also having mahogany mixed into other materials, this time maple) then listen to Chris Adler playing with lamb of god.

Bubinga: A wood that is now becoming a bit more common. The densest wood currently on the market, it creates a high volume dry tone with high sensitivity. It is finding its place mainly among metal drummers for its great mix of properties. It is also a loud snare with a great sound range, many considering best when hit at high volume. A great example of this snare is in any song by Nightwish.

Aluminium: A word that americans can't say right, a very very soft material that due to this is the driest on the market. It does not conduct sound very well and as such has quick decay with extreme sensitivity and high attack. Again another snare that has found its place among metal drummers for its dryness and focused attack. A great example of this material is with Shawn Drover of Megadeth.

Copper: A material that is rarely seen. Copper sounds a bit like a brass snare, but with extra warmth and dryer. It is a mid way between metal and wood but is often overlooked for brass which also acts as a midway between wood and metal, but has more sought after properties. Mainly found in jazz due to it not having a cutting sound or high attack and thus failing to stand up against heavy music. A good way of hearing this sound is with Roy Haynes.

Bronze: A very expensive material that is often mistaken for wooden snares. Low attack and warm sound and moderate sustain without the common metallic sound. Often used by others as a substitute for wood but with some extra sensitivity and strength.

Titanium: The thinnest and driest shell on the market. Being so thin there is less to vibrate and due to the strength of the shell it creates a very crisp dry sound with perfect articulation. Very expensive shells and very hard to create.

Hope all this helps :)

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