Introduction: How to Make an Effects Snare Drum
One can never utulize too many sounds when trying to get creative with their drumset. Effects cymbals, accessories, elecronics all give you more options when you need them. If you have an extra snare drum that you dont regularly play with the rest of your kit, there are ways to turn this into an effects drum that will give you tons of possible sound combinations.
What follows is a guide that I hope will help you think outside the box when creating an effects drum, as there are numerous different sounds that you can achieve. Most of these can be made with things sitting around your house, so you dont have to shell out to spruce up your snare.
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Also check out some of my other drum instructables:
Step 1: Getting Good Head(s)
The first choice to consider is making sure that you pick the right drumhead for your personalized effects snare. Of course, just about any head will do, but if you really want to go crazy, there are special heads that will give you a unique sound. For example, Evans makes a few snare batter heads that have between 15 and 20 small holes around the edge of the head. While these are meant to increase air flow and effect the attack when you strike a drum, you can use these holes to your advantage, inserting and stringing things through them to create an interesting sound. Just off the top of my head the Evans Genera Dry Snare Batter Head and ST Dry Coated Snare Head will both do the trick. There may be others made by Evans, or Remo, or Aquarian, but im not aware of any.
You can also try experimenting with various other head types. For example, try getting a super heavy duty head like the Aquarian Hi-Energy or a marching snare head. These will change the character of your attack, and while adding an interesting new sound to your kit, and may also influence what drumheads you buy in the future for your everyday snare.
Another thought that I have been meaning to try is to get a calfskin or a mylar fiberskyn head for your snare. Granted, this probably isnt a good idea if you are a heavy hitter or are playing rock, but if you have a pair of multirod sticks like the Pro Mark Hot Rods and want to experiment a little, you could end up achieving a pretty cool sound.
Other options for head choice include trying a different kind of resonant head on the bottom. I have experimented with this a couple of times, and I usually never liked the sound I got from using anything but a extra-thin or hazy snare side head, but who knows, maybe you will.
Basically, it all comes down to what you are trying to get out of your second snare. If you are looking for something that you can use in your everyday playing that gives you a little more choice when reaching to hit a snare, you can play it conservatively and just experiment with different head, snare wire, and dampening combos until you find one that not only sounds good, but adds depth to the arsenal of drums that you use. On the other hand, if you want to go all out and dream up some crazy beast that makes drummers and non-drummers alike sit and think, "what the hell is that thing?" then check out some of the tips I offer on the next page.
Step 2: Springs
The options here are endless - it all comes down to what sound(s) you are trying to achieve, what resources (such as tools and small parts) you have at your disposal, and, of course, how much creativity you can muster. Lets start simple.
If you happened to pick up one of the two snare heads that I mentioned before (just about every drum shop should sell one of the Evans Dry heads with holes) then you have a distinct advantage going into this because you don't have to worry about dreaming up some way to attach your effects to the drum. Thanks to the 20 or so small port holes along the edge of the head, you can use just about anything that is small enough to fit in these holes to affect the sound of the drum.
This first idea I got from something called the Remo Thunder Tube that we used to sell (albeit not very many of) at the drum shop I used to work in. This little toy has a shell, a thin head and a long spring coming out of the back. You can get some cool sounds by playing around with it, so I thought it would be interesting to apply this idea to a snare.
If you have or can get your hands on a long spring, like the one coming out of the thunder tube, this can go well with the Evans head you have. Using a pair of cutters, try playing around with different lengths of spring, screwing them into the small port holes on the top of the snare head. The nice thing about these springs is that you can easily screw them in or out of the snare head, effectively changing the sound (and in some cases pitch) of the spring. Like you can see in the picture below, I used a total of 9 springs cut to different sizes: one is long and is merely a cool sounding low-pitched spring, while with the other 8 I was able to screw the springs into the head enough to get a distinct pitch out of each. Then it was just a matter of tuning them so that the strings produced the pitches of a major scale. And who said that drums cant be melodic?
Step 3: Port Holes and Jingles
If you have access to a router or a Dremel, and you aren't too concerned about the well-being of your alternate snare, you can try to take a page out of the book of DW (see picture below) and port your snare. Yes thats right, it sounds crazy (in theory) but actually sounds awesome (in application). Different shapes and sizes will obviously give you different sounds, and this transitions into our options for the next idea.
Tambourines started out as nothing more than a one-headed drum with little metal jingles attached. While some models have lost the head part, you can still find many around that have the sound of both drum and tambourine. Now, if you were ambitious enough to actually try porting small holes on the shell of your snare, you can further attempt to install tambourine jingles into this slot. Buying and breaking apart a cheap tambourine can give you all the parts you need (basically just the jingles and the small metal rods - bottle caps work well as a replacement for the jingles). You can either drill into the shell or simply glue or tape the rods on so that the jingles sit sticking out of the port holes.
If you dont have the machinery or will-power to gut the shell of your snare to install port holes but still wish to experiment with the jingle effect, no worries. Using a guitar string (you dont want to use the thickest gauge possible, but it is a good idea to use at least the A or D strings so that they have more texture) you can thread a few jingles onto the string and then feed it through two of the small port holes on opposite sides of your Evans Dry snare head. This offers you the ability to have jingles right on the head of the drum (a very cool effect) while also giving you a string to play with. The sound of a guitar string sliding in and out of the port holes on the head is actually pretty cool, and gives an interesting ethereal effect. Just be careful when you do this, because it can be easy to tear the head.
Step 4: Other Ideas
Ok, so you tried the spring or jingle or string or porting ideas (or you didn't) and you're still looking for more. Well, your imagination is the limit here. These are a few basic ideas to get you started.
Grab a rubber band and some tape (electrical tape is the best - strong enough to hold but light enough not to destroy the vibration of the head) and pick a good spot on your snare. Try to find an area that you don't usually strike with a stick but is still close enough to easily reach with your right or left hand. Securely tape down the rubber band and give it a pluck. It isn't much but at least it is a new sound to incorporate.
If you want something melodic and didn't like the spring idea, try crafting a thumb piano. BobsDogHouse has written a good building guide here: thumb piano. I got this idea from watching a video showcasing Glenn Kotche, the Wilco drummer (not my kind of music but a great drummer nonetheless). He has a similar kind of snare that he refers to as a 'prepared snare.' He mounted a small version of BDH's thumb piano (also called a lamellaphone) onto the face of his snare that offers him the chance to throw some melody into the equation.
If you can get your hands on a vibrating mechanism (its up to you where you get it from) and can keep it light yet mountable, applying that to the resonant head of your snare while you play is a good way to get an interesting sound that mimics the response of your snare when the bassist hits that low note that seems to set your snare off.
If all else fails, or if this instructable just didn't inspire you, there are plenty of 'over the counter' accessories that can spruce up your snare. Just go to your local drum shop and see what's available. There are all kinds of mountable brackets and stands to which you can attach a whole bevy of things - cowbells, cymbals, tambourines, wood blocks, scrapers, and all sorts of dampeners to fine tune the sound of your kit. Lots to experiment with.
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