What Are the Pros and Cons of a Wood Snare Drum?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

Snare drums come in two major types: wood and metal. Using a wood snare drum is beneficial because it provides a warm, natural sound that doesn't bleed much. It is a problem when a drummer needs to project or is in environment where temperature and humidity are difficult to control, however. In some cases, a wood snare drum exceeds the weight of its metal counterpart.

A wood snare drum tends not to produce as many overtones compared to metal drums.
A wood snare drum tends not to produce as many overtones compared to metal drums.

One benefit of a wood snare drum is that the material from which the drum is made is porous. The fact that the surface naturally has grooves and pits in it makes it uneven, allowing sound to be diffused. The result is a very mellow and warm sound from the drum. Many drummers prefer wood snares because of the "natural" tone the wood creates.

Due to the uneven surface of the instrument, a wood snare drum tends not to produce as many overtones compared to metal drums. This is ideal in the studio setting when the group needs to prevent "bleeding." Bleeding means that some of the frequencies produced by the drum are picked up by the microphones dedicated to other instruments. This makes it very difficult to mix the music, as it can be difficult to extract the drum sound from the tracks for the other instruments.

The disadvantage of having a porous surface to the drum, of course, is that a diffused, warm sound does not project as well. This can be desirable in some genres of music such as bluegrass, where a sharp hit to the drum would cut through too much. In genres such as rock or metal, though, the lack of projection can make the drummer struggle to sound balanced with the rest of the group.

A wood snare drum also is sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, factors which influence expansion and contraction of the instrument. If the environment is too humid or dry, rotting, cracking or warping can occur, especially if the snare is in storage where it is not monitored on a daily basis. This is a problem with any wood part on any instrument, which musicians are willing to deal with in exchange for the natural sound the wood gives. Should the drum need replacement due to these issues, the drummer probably will need to spend more than he would if replacing a metal snare drum, simply because of the difficulty in shaping the wood. On the other hand, the majority of the drum is not susceptible to corrosion.

A final consideration with wood drums is that they usually are not as thin as metal ones. This adds to the warmth of the drum's sound, but it also means the drum can't resonate quite as easily and typically is heavier. This of course depends on the type of wood used and the porosity of the exact piece from which manufacturers have made the drum.

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