The snare bed is that scooped out “trench” running from end to end of the bottom, snare-side head. The snares sit tight in this bed. It is their home. Yes, a snare bed is necessary….unless you like the idea of snare buzz and incessant rattling beyond your control.
The only part of this trench that is plainly visible (and if you’ve never noticed it, you will henceforth) is the scooped out section of the bearing edge on the strainer strainer lever side and on the butt side. Our first photo shows a fairly shallow snare bed, into which the snare strands sit snug. This modest bed fosters good snare sensitivity while eliminating snare buzz. Some drummers prefer deeper beds.
You can’t really see the trench but you can see plainly the dip at each side of the drum. So go along with me for now. If that dip, one on each end, hadn’t been cut, you would sure hear the difference. Without the snare wires running straight as a train track in this little hollow, if you tightened the strainer they would bow in the middle—lift clear of the drum!
There they’d sit laughing, chattering, and catching zzzzz’s. If you think you’ve been afflicted with the dreaded snare buzz now (as when you strike your small tom and your snares rattle), this would drive you nuts. And there’s no remedy except for cutting a snare bed.
Make your bed, sleep in it
I had trouble grasping the concept of the snare bed. I still do, in fact, although it’s coming to me…about as quickly as peace in the Middle East.
For example, I have trouble with referring to something I can barely see. Yes, I can see the indentations on each side of the shell: with a clear snare-side head, especially, I can spot the concavities and even see wood that’s been gouged away. But the long trench itself, in which the snare strands are supposed to sit tight…well, for me it’s a matter of faith. And experience, too, because I’ve worked with hundreds of snare drums and heard them under close-miking situations, where a shallow vs deep snare bed can be a big deal, especially in a drum booth.
Sometimes it’s hard to nail it down, aside from one’s personal preferences. In the 1980s I favored shallow, wide snare beds; currently I prefer deeper beds.
As a journalist, I’ve been free to toss around the concept in reviews in magazines such as Rhythm (UK), Batteur (France), Drums & Percussion (Germany), Drums Etc (Canada), and Modern Drummer (USA). While I stand behind my gear reviews (coming to this website shortly), I guess I ought to apologize for muddying the waters by not clarifying the concept of the snare bed. Perhaps the following will help. It’s not technical but it’ll help you understand.
The snare bed is necessary
Think back to public/grammar school. I’ll never forget that appliance we called a ruler; perhaps they still stock it in classrooms. It was a slender strip, perfectly cut and inscribed with lines that you employed to measure length, width etc in inches, centimeters, etc.
When students were noisy in class, they’d be called up to the front and told to extend their hands, maybe their buttocks, which were soundly whipped for a duration that increased proportion to the severity of the offense. This means of corporal punishment is now illegal in many parts of the world.
Students would have great fun with rulers, lying them on a desk with a few inches protruding out. This would be the lever that would rocket an eraser or spit ball at its target.
This was precisely the thinking behind the ancient instrument of war called the catapult.
There were occasions when another, less broad anchor (fulcrum), on which the ruler would pivot, both ends free to grasp. If you pressed both ends downward, the middle would bow upward.
Think of the snare wires (which are attached to strainer and butt via strings or tape) as the ruler. When you whip the snare lever into place, the snare wires want to leap upward, especially in the middle. Go ahead increasing tension at the strainer end (and, if there is a know, at the butt end) but it won’t do a bit of difference. The snares won’t slit flat but will jangle chaotically. Unless you’ve created a snare bed by hollowing out portions at opposite ends of the path of the snare wires.
In the photos you see relatively shallow and deep beds respectively. The first photo is of a Pearl Reference (series 1) snare bed.The next is a Satoyama drum and the snare bed is noticeably shallower.
When I speak of a “wide snare bed”, I’m referring to a scooped out area that extends to the tension rods on either side of the snare path. A narrow bed would be…well, narrow, as in the photo of the Ludwig Standard model snare drum, circa 1926, in the final photo.
Why extend the width of the bed further towards those tension rods. One easy answer is that a wider snare bed permits the use of extra-wide snare wire units. It also enables more precise tensioning such that the bottom head sinks into the concavity. Crank the snare key clockwise on the two tension rods adjacent to the bed, and that head will grab the shell tightly.
The problem arises if your drum is like the old Ludwig metal drum in the photo, meaning it’s got a narrow, deep snare bed, and you attempt to get a 42-strand set of snare wires to sit flat. The middle strands might but the outer ones will creep up the sides of the bed. To get them to sit flat, you’d have to widen the snare bed—no easy feat on a metal shell.
Some drummers prefer deep snare beds, others like them shallow. Deep beds permit snares to lie more securely in the embrace of the bottom head. Shallow beds allow the snares to “dance” atop the snare head. Yes, I’m oversimplifying.
Either way, you need a snare bed.
I remember getting a phone call from a local drummer who took the law into his own hands in order to attain the snare drum of his dreams. He bought a Keller shell, lugs, rims, and a good strainer and set to work. The reason for the phone call was that no matter how much he tweaked the position of the snares and the tension, they refused to mate with the bottom head.
I asked him what sort of snare bed he’d cut.
We had words. Next day he phoned again. He’d formed a snare bed. Even though it was a first try and rudely carved out, the snares now did their job. He could get a nice, tight sizzle out of a mere tap of his finger nail.
Yeah, but I can’t tighten the snare-side head properly where it contacts the snare bed!
Snare beds create a ripple on the drumhead at the portion of contact with the bed. You have to tighten disporportionately to get rid of that ripple and sometimes you never succeed. Don’t worry about it, said the great drum designer George Way some 50 years ago. The ripples may be annoying but they didn’t interfere with tone or function, George stated, the reason being those ripples were situated an nodal points—zones that had nothing to do with tone.
Who’s gonna argue with George?
Well, maybe at some point we will. But it remains that you gotta have snare bed for those ol’ rascals to sleep in. You don’t want them up and out of there, causing a rukus.