Wood vs. Metal Snare Drums

Where would we be without snare drums? A world void of groove and expression? Perhaps we’re exaggerating. Either way, they’re pretty darn important – and there are plenty to choose from.

In this article, we’ll explore one of the most common snare-related questions: wood or metal?

Sam Beattie

Sam Beattie

Wooden vs Metal Snare Drums - Andertons Music Co.

The humble snare drum is arguably one of the most important elements in any band or ensemble. The backbeat has been a staple of modern music for the best part of a century, while ghost notes, fills and modern techniques provide our music with everything from groove to outright ferocity.

As with any percussion (or musical instrument for that matter), there’s an awful lot of choice when it comes to snare drums. Different varieties offer different sounds, responses and aesthetics depending on your style. These varieties differ in terms of shape, size, skin, hardware, tuning – the list goes on. But arguably, the most important aspect to consider is the material.

The bottom line is this: wood or metal? In this article we’ll dig deep into the primary differences between the two. Here’s what we’ll be comparing:

  • Sound
  • Looks
  • Feel & response
  • Practicality
  • Construction

Without further ado, let’s get to it…

What is a snare drum?

To start us off, let’s cover the basics. You might be a professional drummer looking to upgrade your setup, or you might be a total novice looking for advice on your first kit. Either way, we feel it’s a good idea to clear what a snare is and how it works.

As with most contemporary percussion, a snare drum features a round frame with two heads – one on top, one on the bottom. The snare element refers to a selection of metal wires attached to one or both of the heads – most commonly on the bottom. This wires can be tightened against the drum head or loosened completely. When tightened, the snare is considered engaged, resulting in a bright, quick attack. When loosened, it’s the opposite, with the sound resembling a tom.

Snare Underside - Andertons Music Co.

Wood Snare Drums

Snares have existed in one form or another for centuries. Derived from medieval times, they were commonly used as marching drums – an application that lives on to this day. Naturally, these drums were traditionally made of wood due to its availability and relative lightness. Even now, wood remains the most popular material for snare drums.

Most Popular Snare Drum Woods

  • Birch – great for projection due to good low-end response and pronounced, crystal-clear treble. Plenty of attack, great for more aggressive styles.
  • Maple – slightly more well-rounded than Birch, but still with a healthy bass response. Clear, balanced sound makes it highly versatile.
  • Beech – this hard wood offers a balanced tone not dissimilar from Maple, but with a slight mid-boost and accentuated low-end. Great for a super-fat snare sound.
  • Mahogany – known for a rich warmth and resonance in the bass and low-mid frequencies. Mahogany used to be a gold standard for shells, so is associated with a vintage sound.
  • Poplar – a softer wood, Poplar is becoming increasingly popular. Its sound is comparable to Mahogany but with some of the bass substituted for more top-end.

Honourable mentions: Walnut, Ash, Basswood, Oak, Bubinga, Cherry. It’s worth pointing out that many snares use multiple woods, for sound, practicality and budget reasons. Many believe that solid-wood snares (rather than thin multi-ply constructions) sound more resonant, an argument that’ll be familiar to many guitarists. Snares with multi-ply shells, however, can sometimes be more durable and offer unique tones. They also tend to be more affordable!

Why choose a wood snare drum?

The reasons for choosing a wood snare drum may be obvious, but there’s plenty to consider. The sound of a wooden snare drum is arguably more familiar. The woods mentioned above have been used for centuries to produce drums of all shapes and sizes – there’s a reason they’re still popular.

The sound of a wooden snare drum can range from bright and focused to vintage warmth. Some materials are more versatile than others (Maple), while some provide an unmistakable sound (Birch). If you’re looking for something familiar, versatile, or for a particular style of music, you’ll definitely find a wooden snare to suit you.

Wooden snare aesthetics can vary greatly, as with many instruments. Solid finishes, transparent finishes, natural grain. For those who prefer a more organic look, nothing beats the grain of a wood like Birdseye Maple or Bubinga. Price-wise, solid wood snares tend to cost more (as mentioned earlier), but are generally comparable to snares of other materials.

Popular Wood Snare Drums

Metal Snare Drums

Compared to their wooden peers, metal snare drums are relative newcomers. They first appeared in the 20th Century due to improved manufacturing methods and availability of materials. Sonor and Ludwig initially pioneered the use of metal for snare shells (in that order), most notably brass.

Metal snares have since become hugely popular for their sound, response and – we hate to admit it – looks. Admit it, they look pretty darn cool don’t they? Advances in technology and decades of experience earned by manufacturers mean that metal snares are more diverse in their sound and design than ever before. Generally speaking, a brighter attack is the theme, but it varies. Let’s take a look at some of the more common materials used…

Most Popular Snare Drum Metals

  • Brass – as the earliest metal snare material, brass is the most familiar. Accentuated top-end but not without some bass/low-mid warmth.
  • Aluminium – a sharp, dry sound with a sparkling treble response. Great for cutting through pretty much any mix but not for the faint-hearted.
  • Steel – boosted mids and even more treble than aluminium, Steel also offers improved sustain and presence. Generally, it’s pretty affordable too.
  • Copper – a darker, more rounded sound with less emphasis on top-end and a warmer response in the bass and mids. Often found in orchestral ensembles.
  • Bronze – often used for cymbals but far less common for shells. You’ll notice a slight boost in the low-end with a warm midrange, far less attack-focused.

Why choose a metal snare drum?

As mentioned earlier, metal snares are more diverse in sound than ever before. But it’s undeniable that they’re generally known for producing a brighter sound with a more pronounced attack. For this reason, you’ll generally want a metal snare if you want your backbeat to puncture any mix or your fills to command an audience’s attention.

Metal snares are (rather fittingly) popular in the metal genre. Many metal styles, particularly at the more extreme end of the spectrum, feature intricate patterns and polyrhythms. It’s therefore imperative that every aspect of your drum part stands out – hence the need for a great attack and top-end response.

You can imagine what metal snares look like. Aluminium snares tend to appear silver with an almost-matte finish, while Steel and Brass appear shiny and golden respectively. Each to their own. As mentioned earlier, metal and wooden snares tend to share the same price points. The price tends to be affected more by the design, fittings and variety of respective material that’s used. For example, Bell Bronze (a tin and copper alloy) tends to cost more than Steel.

Popular Metal Snare Drums

In summary

It depends on what you’re after – once you know that, you’ll be able to narrow down your choice. What isn’t immediately obvious is that wood and metal snares aren’t as drastically different as they once were. In a nutshell:

  • Sound – yes, metal snares generally sound brighter whereas wooden ones sound more resonant. However, you can now get a metal snare that offers a fair bit of warmth and sustain; similarly, opt for a Birch wooden snare for an immediate, pronounced attack. Consider the sound you’re after and consult the choices above to hone in on the material that’s right for you!
  • Price – it’s pretty even nowadays. You generally won’t find any one material cheaper than the other – there’s more to it than that. So don’t worry about it!
  • Looks – I mean, there’s no right or wrong answer here. Personally, if I was shopping based purely on looks, I’d go for a nice Maple grain. Fancy something blingy? Try Steel or Brass. Fancy an eye-popping finish? Any material will do, perhaps a wood with a less-pronounced grain.
  • Practicality – we may be stating the obvious, but metal snares can be a tad heavier. Consider where your snare will be; at home? In the studio? On a plane every week? If you’re travelling frequently, consider your shell’s weight!

What it really boils down to is sound – it’s a musical instrument after all!

Enjoyed reading this article? Check out the rest of our head to head content here. If you’re on the hunt for your next snare, check out our full selection here. Thanks for stopping by!

Sam Beattie
Sam Beattie
Sam is one of our content writers, as well as being our resident southpaw and synth enthusiast. He spends his free time composing for music libraries and playing in a post-rock band. Sam's desert island gear would be his Mexican Tele, Strymon El Capistan and Teenage Engineering OP-1.

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