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Making a giant snare drum

D., 13 june 2019
Making a giant snare drum

Last year, we learned about the existence of A&F's 18" gun shot and 28" gong snares, and immediately decided we want to sample a giant snare. Not having much faith that samples of such snares would sell well enough to justify investing thousands of dollars, we decided to try something cheaper. This was the result:

Now, there are some problems that need to be solved before we could get it working like that. Nobody makes snare wires for snares that big. The available heads are not as thin as snare bottom heads should normally be, which makes it harder to get good sensitivity. Getting the bottom head tight enough is also difficult because the lugs are spaced far apart, and softer wooden hoops don't work too well for cranking the tuning very high. Though metal hoops or even occasional triple-flange rims in big sizes exist, they don't always fit modern drum heads. These are all solvable problems, though.

First, we asked Bang! Drums Burgdorf about their 20" snare. It had been disassembled since the famous video was made, but Hannes was kind enough to loan it to us for more than a month, and samples of it can be found in our Frankensnare library. As those who've seen the video know, this snare has 20" tom hoops, which don't quite want to fit kick heads. Rather than spring for tom heads, we used spacers to make things fit, like Hannes did, and the 16" snare wires. This worked, though getting it set up so it would be sensitive was a pain, especially trying to get the bottom head tuned tightly enough.

We then managed to acquire an old RMIF drum kit made in Estonia, whose kick had 22" triple flange hoops for 10 lugs. Now, as it turned out, these don't quite fit "normal" kick heads, but fortunately it had a very thin, very cheap reso head with no hole cut in it - as good as it's going to get for a 22" snare bottom head. And it has goofy-looking flames, too! After thinking about cutting down the shell, we instead talked Grzegorz Smyczek Kurpiel of Fat Flying Drums into making one from a better-quality shell he had laying around, and putting big ol' re-rings and a deep snare bed on it. That left the question of snare wires. Rather than use a 16" set, we just got 12" and 10" sets and tied them together in the middle. We had to drill some holes in the bottom rim to tie the snare wires to the throwoff and butt end, but that was no big deal - this crappy metal is soft...

We still had two problems. The rim didn't want to fit a nice new Evans Calftone head, so we used the original beater head on top. This sounded OK but wasn't coated for brushes. Also, tying the wires together in the middle meant the flat metal at the end of the wires slapped against the reso head, which made a pretty nasty farting sound. That was easily fixed with a bit of masking tape. Sometimes the simple, stupid solutions work great!

In order to get the Calftone head on the top, we swapped out the top rim for an old wooden hoop with clawhooks. This also warmed up the sound and reduced the sustain, which is nice. The top also has a rounded bearing edge, while the bottom has a 45 degree edge - a nice combination that allows the bottom to be tightened while the top maximizes warmth and thump. We now have a big snare with a massively fat sound and good sensitivity which works with both sticks and brushes, and you can get this sound in our Unruly Drums kit.

So, if you want to try something like this, the main challenge is getting the bottom head nice and tight. A thin head helps - cheap old reso heads are worth finding. More lugs also help, so triple-flange hoops for more than 8 lugs are also a good score, if they'll fit the head. Shallow depth also helps with sensitivity.

Then there's the Unruly Drums kick, which is 20" and also has snare wires and a very tightly tuned reso head, but achieved both in a very different way which deserves its own post!

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