You’ve purchased a great snare, selected the drumheads carefully, tried countless tuning methods but your snare still doesn’t sound right? You might have overlooked the importance of your snare wires.
Yes, snare wires do make a difference to your sound. The more strands the more you’ll hear the snare wires, with less strands the natural tone of the drum will come out more. A higher strand count can also make your snare sound brighter and more articulated, but it can also choke the sound. The material of the strands is also a large contributor, brass and bronze wires will sound warmer while the steel types will sound brighter.
There are a few more details that will affect your sound – let’s break them down further.
Snare drum wires range from anywhere between 8 wires and up to 42 wires, however the most common number of wires is between 12 to 24. In this range the number of wires jumps by 4, so you can purchase 12, 16, 20 or 24 strand wires.
A higher number of wires means more surface area that will rattle against the resonant (bottom) head of your snare drum and this in turn influences the type of sound you can achieve.
Generally the higher the number of wires the more sensitive the snare will be to your playing, giving you a faster response. Dynamic playing will be more articulated with a higher wire count and your ghost notes will be more defined. More wires can also make your snare sound brighter.
On the other hand a higher wire count can choke the bottom head of your snare and it will reduce the natural tone of the drum.
If you prefer more of the natural shell sound then a 16-strand wire is a good choice, if you want higher articulation then give the 24, or even 30-strands a go.
Keep in mind that the wider the snares the wider the snare bed has to be. If the snare wires are wider than the snare bed they won’t be spaced evenly from the resonant drumhead when you tension them and won’t work correctly.
In addition to the number of strands you use the strand material will also make a big difference to your sound. Here are of the more common materials you’ll find:
Tip: if you find that your snare drum is already sounding quite bright and you want to make it a bit warmer you should try using brass wires. On the other hand if you want to brighten up a warm sounding snare then give the steel or carbon steel wires a try.
The more tightly wound or braided snare wires are the less they will rattle which will create a snappier snare drum with more pop.
The looser the wires are the less pop you’ll get and the tone will be more “open”.
Some wires can also be coated in various finishes such as chrome or fabric. The coating will extend the lifespan of your snares and will also affect their sound.
A light metal coating such as chrome will make the wires sound brighter while something like fabric will have the opposite effect.
Snare wires can be attached to the underside of the snare (the throw off and butt-plate) using different materials such as plastic straps, cords or grosgrain ribbon.
The effect on the sound can really depend on the type of snare and drumheads you’re using so we recommend trying a couple of different options to see which you prefer, but here are some of the pros and cons we’ve heard over the years from drummers:
Note that some cables can damage your snare bed over time by leaving indentations in it. This can happen if you’re using a wooden drum with very hard cable material such as steel.
If you’re worried about this but still want to use cables then make sure they’re fabric / string and not from steel.
Instead of purchasing cords or straps from one of the known drum brands some drummers swear by grosgrain ribbon. This is a durable, flexible ribbon that can be bought for quite cheap from any local arts and crafts store.
Many drummers prefer the sound they get with these ribbons, but another great benefit is that you can purchase the ribbon in any colour you want.
If you want to try these out then we recommend trying to use a 5/8” (1.6cm) wide ribbon.
When selecting snare wires first take a look at the depth of your snare beds. If your snare beds are shallow then you should select wires with flat end plates. For deeper snare beds you can go with a pitched end plate.
When you’re buying the snare wires make sure you get a length that matches the diameter of your snare drum.
The description of the wires will generally include the diameter of the snare in inches, so 14” 20-strand wire will be for a 14-inch snare drum, whereas a 15” 20-strand wire will be for a 15-inch snare.
Once you’ve decided on the number or wires, material and whether you prefer cords or straps one of the biggest mistakes is to purchase the wires from an unknown brand because they’re cheaper.
The quality of the wires will make a huge difference to the sound so make sure you’re selecting a quality brand such as:
Cheap snares don’t offer as much sensitivity and crispness, and this is especially important if you play a lot of ghost notes.
Loose snare wires will result in too much rattling, whereas tightening the wires too much will choke the sound of the drum. The right amount of tension will depend on the music you’re playing (and of course your personal taste).
When playing a softer style such as Jazz, or when playing with brushes you might want to loosen your snares so that even soft strokes pick up a bit of buzz. On the other hand for other musical styles you might want to tighten the wires up so that the snare starts to sound more like a tom drum, and only a very strong hit causes them to buzz.
What you can do to find the perfect tension is to start with the wires loose and then tighten them just a bit on both sides evenly, then play a few strokes at various dynamics (starting from ghost notes and increasing the power) and continue the process until you find the best sound for you.
Pro tip: to make sure you’re getting the best sound out of your snare wires make sure that you’re tensioning them evenly on both ends. It can be hard getting this right so what you can do is measure the length of the snare wires where they pass through the snare hoop and making sure they’re equal on both sides.
Daniel started drumming as a teenager after realizing just how fun air drumming is. He was blown away by the power of the drums at his first drum lesson and hasn’t looked back since.
He has almost 20 years experience drumming and was heavily into Metal when he first started playing but has since transitioned to Jazz, Funk and Progressive Rock.
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