There are a lot of considerations when looking for the right Jazz snare, including the drum’s diameter, depth, shell material, drumhead and snare wires.
Since Jazz is such a wide and varied genre there is no single best snare, however for a highly versatile snare we recommend a 14-inch diameter snare and 5 to 6 inch depth, with a wood, brass or aluminum shell, 16 or 20 strand snare wires and a rough coated drumhead. If you have more money to spend look at wood shell snares, if your budget is not as high then the aluminum ranges can be great substitutes.
I break down the reasons for this recommendation below.
The most common size for Jazz snare drums is 14 inches in diameter and a depth between 5 to 6 inches. Unless you have a very specific sound you’re after the safest bet is to purchase a 14 inch x 5.5 inch snare drum.
The smaller the diameter of the snare drum the higher the pitch. A 14-inch snare gives you the right amount of versatility as you can tune it up or down in pitch, whereas if you purchase a smaller diameter snare you will be more limited to a higher pitch tuning.
Some Jazz drummers will have a secondary snare with a smaller diameter so that they can create some differentiation between their main and secondary snares, or they may swap to playing only on their secondary snare for some songs where they want a crisper higher pitch sound.
The depth of a snare drum affects how deep it sounds. A deeper drum will make a deeper sound, the depth will also affect the responsiveness of the snare wires (the deeper the less “responsive” they are).
Generally for Jazz you will be playing a lot ghost notes and dynamics and you’ll want the snare to be more responsive – especially if you’re planning to play with brushes as well as drumsticks.
If you do have a deep snare and want to play Jazz you may find you have to muffle it to reduce the “boomy” tone it produces.
Since Jazz has such a wide range of sub-genres and interpretations many common drum shell materials can work, including brass, wood and aluminum – however many people prefer a wood snare for Jazz, with Maple being one of the most popular timber selections.
A wood drum gives the snare a warm, rich sound. That being said, depending on the tuning metal shells can also sound great for Jazz. This is good news because it means you have more options depending on your budget as timber shell drums can be more expensive than their metal counterparts.
If you are planning on only playing Jazz – and it fits your budget, you can’t go wrong with a Maple shell. If you are planning on playing multiple styles then a metal shell might be a better choice, as you can tune it to sound more open and warm (like a wooden shell), or crisper with more attack which will fit better with other genres such as rock or metal.
Here’s an example of a wooden snare – Peter Erskine playing his signature Jazz Snare by TAMA which is made of Spruce and Maple. The snare is a 14”x4.5” (so slightly less deep than the standard snare drum):
On the other hand here’s Dave Weckl playing on his signature Yamahas 14”x5.5” brass snare drum. As you can see both shell materials sound great!
As mentioned Aluminium shells can work great for Jazz as well. Here’s an example using the TAMA S.L.P. Classic Dry Aluminium 14”x5.5” snare drum:
For a Jazz sound you will generally want a textured drumhead, especially if you are planning on playing with brushes. A textured drumhead will give you a more nuanced sound, and feels great when you’re playing on them with brushes.
Some popular choices include:
If you’re not planning on playing with brushes then take a look at our breakdown of coated vs clear drumheads here.
Note: for the resonant drumhead (the drumhead on the bottom where you don’t hit) you can go with a clear head, these don’t need to be coated.
The more strands on your snare wires the crisper and brighter your snare drum will sound, on the other hand too many snares can choke the natural resonance of the drum.
Jazz drummers will often use 16 or 20 strands on their snare drums.
A guideline to keep in mind when making your selection is – the less snare wires the more tone you can get out of the drum, the more snare wires the better articulation you can get out of the drum.
The material of the wires will also change the snare’s sound, you can read more about snare wire selection here.
Here are some things you want to avoid when selecting a Jazz snare:
It can be very tempting to want to purchase a more expensive snare, especially if you’ve seen one of your drum heroes play on it and you want to sound just like them! However keep in mind that the more you practice the better you can make pretty much any drum sound.
Drumheads, tuning, muffling, snare wire tightness etc. will also play a huge part in the sound of your snare drum. Play around with this and you might be surprised at the different sounds you can get out of your snare.
Unless you have a very specific sound you’re after, have been practicing for a while or already own a more standard snare I wouldn’t recommend getting something too unique. By unique I mean an unconventional snare diameter or depth, or even shell material.
With a more standard snare you will have the flexibility to tune it to different sounds, with a more unique snare this might be harder.
This tip is if you already have a snare but you’re considering purchasing a new one because you don’t like the sound of your current snare. Assuming you’ve already tried different tuning, before you go out and purchase a new snare purchase some new drumheads instead.
Drumheads will set you back much less than a new snare, which will set you back a few hundred (or something 1,000+) dollars. If the drumhead change works then you’ve saved yourself quite a bit of money!
If it doesn’t you will eventually need new heads as your old ones wear out, so this is not money down the drain.
Although a 14″ snare drum is more common, some Jazz drummers prefer to play on a 13″ snare drum which lets them achieve a higher pitch. Other drummers will use a 13″ snare as their secondary snare.
Yes you definitely can, for some genres you will be able to use your Jazz snare as it is. For others you may have to tune your snare up or down, tighten your snare wires, change the drumheads or add some muffling.
In some cases you might not be able to achieve the sound you want however, for example a warm timber shell will not work well for playing Death Metal where you need a lot of attack and less sustain.
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.
AboutDrumming.com is run by a group of drum teachers, drumming professionals and hobbyists. We love all things drums, and when not drumming we spend our time adding more awesome content to this website!
Affiliate Disclosure: When relevant AboutDrumming.com uses affiliate links (at no additional cost to you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.