Cable Snare Wires: The Secret to the Concert Snare Drum Sound
Updated: Jun 28
Retrofit Cable Snare Units are a quick way to bring life back to your instrument for an authentic orchestral sound.
There is a lot to learn and assess when it comes to cable snares, so we'll start with the basics and help find the perfect solution for your snare drum sound.
What Are Cable Snare Wires?
The characteristic crisp, snappy, sound of a snare drum is created by its defining feature: the snare wires. The most common variety of these wires consist of coiled strands stretched across the bottom drumhead that vibrate crisply upon being struck. These are often referred to as curly wires. Cable snares are a variety of snare wires that feature a more traditional orchestral snare drum sound. This sound is often drier and more articulate than curly wires due to the different materials, coatings, and thicknesses used.
Before our innovative snare drum strainer systems were developed, Black Swamp began manufacturing a selection of cable snare units that could be attached to any existing snare drum. Combinations of different cable types would bring depth and clarity to a drum’s sound, and when a crisp articulate texture is preferred - typically a band or orchestral situation.
This concept of contrasting cable types that respond best at varying dynamics and timbres ultimately gave birth to our original SoundArt snare system in 1999 and then transitioned into the groundbreaking Multisonic strainer in 2001. We made a video detailing the full history of the Multisonic strainer and the SoundArt system that preceded it featuring Black Swamp founder and president, Eric Sooy.
Black Swamp Percussion still manufactures a full collection of retrofit cable snare wire units that can breathe life into a flat lining snare drum you may already own. So let’s break it all down!
Different Cable Types
When deciding on a cable snare for your snare drum it's best to start with the question: “what kind of sound are you looking for”? This well help you determine what your sonic goals are and what options are best suited for your needs. Black Swamp retrofit cable snare units consist of 3 different cable types which each have a distinct quality of sound and application; Stainless Steel, Blue Nylon Coated Stainless Steel, and Gold Nylon Coated Stainless Steel.
Stainless Steel Cable Snare Wires
Stainless Steel cable snare units produce a bright, crisp sound, which is a bit more wet sonically when compared to the other cable types that Black Swamp offers. Wet is a way of describing the amount of sustain that is produced from the cable. Wet sounds have a little extra sustain whereas dry sounds are shorter and have less sustain. Stainless steel is nice for shorter depth and piccolo drums like our Mercury series snare drums, as this cable type responds best at soft to medium dynamics. This cable type is so important for a concert snare drum that it is present, in one form or another, on every snare system that Black Swamp Percussion offers.
Considering that, it is important to note that some drum set players can sometimes prefer stainless steel snares for jazz & combo settings where a typical snappy snare might be to fuzzy sounding or aggressive for the music or venue. Black Swamp previously manufactured a variation of our stainless steel cable for drum set snare drums called the "Ballad Snares".
"The Black Swamp Percussion Ballad snare wire set is a game changer for anyone who wants to quiet down the snares without having to over-tighten them or mute them with tape." - Mike Dawson, Modern Drummer
While these cables are no longer available, the standard length stainless steel cable (S14S) is currently available with all major Black Swamp retailers and offers all of the same great features of the Ballad Snares.
Blue Coated Cable Snare Wires
The blue coated cable is nylon coated stainless steel and produces a dry and articulate sound. As we defined earlier, dry sounds will offer shorter sustain and more focused sounds than that of wet sounding cables. The blue coated cable unit will respond best at medium to loud dynamics and is also featured on every snare system in the Black Swamp concert snare drum catalog. This precise snap to the cable snare unit is key to achieving a desired orchestral sound for your concert snare drum.
Gold Coated Cable Snare Wires
The gold coated cable is also nylon coated stainless steel, but is thicker than the blue cable and offers some different sonic qualities. This cable has a darker, throatier character more similar to traditional gut snares. Gold cable is great for field drums or deeper snare drums where you want a more rich, full-bodied tone from your instrument, as this snare type performs best at louder dynamic levels. You will find this cable type on our Multisonic, Pro10, and Symphonic field drum snare systems.
Combination Cable Snare Wires
I bet you're thinking, why not combine some cable types? We're way ahead of you! We have a blue coated and stainless steel combination unit, which is actually our most popular style. The combination unit features 12 blue coated strands and 6 stainless steel strands. Because the blue & stainless cable have contrasting timbres and “dynamic windows”, these two cable types work well together to present a balanced orchestral sound with a wide dynamic range. An excellent choice for an all-in-one solution to capture the classical concert snare drum sound.
Now that we've covered the materials types available for these cable units, let's talk about the two styles of cable that are offered.
Standard vs Wrap-Around Cables
Apart from the cable types providing multiple sonic opportunities, Black Swamp Percussion manufactures cable snare units for 14” drums with two different lengths - each that serve a specific purpose.
Standard Cable Snare Wire Units
Our Standard length snares are 13” long and lie fully on the bottom head, similar to a standard drum set or snappy style snare. Standard snare units are specifically intended for drums with little or no snare bed on the snare side of the bearing edge of the shell.
The strands of cable on the Standard length units are also slightly spaced apart, and for good reason. This spacing allows each of the 16 snare strands to vibrate more freely to help optimize response of each cable.
Wrap Around Cable Snare Wire Units
If your snare drum has a noticeable snare bed on the snare side bearing edge, you should consider the Wrap-Around models. These units are 16.5” inches long and wrap-around the bearing edge and snare bed of the drum. When your snare side head is seated properly, the snare bed will help create a subtle arc in the head which the cable snares will ride across while passing over the bearing edge. This creates more snare to head contact which will help increase response and sensitivity of the instrument and help your cables resonate properly.
When your snare drum has noticeable snare beds, it's very important to make sure you've properly seated your snare side head to the drum. We've made a video tutorial of how to do this and recommend you take time to make sure your own snare side head is in tip top shape before installing a new cable snare unit.
Again, if your drum does not have much of a snare bed, DO NOT install a wrap-around unit on your snare drum. The Wrap Around cables won’t properly make contact with the head and will interfere with the sound quality and performance of your instrument.
Now, let's address a few mounting tips when you're ready to install your cable snare unit.
Tips For Mounting Your Cable Snare Wires
It is important to note that the snare ends for these cable snare units are intentionally smaller than what your might find on a traditional snappy snare wire. This smaller size is to make sure the cable snare can fit through various size snare gates on any type of hoop your may have installed on your snare drum. Due to this smaller size, the Wrap Around cable strands are spaced closer together in comparison to the Standard cable snare units. It’s ideal to see a little daylight between the cable strands to help boost response of the snares - otherwise, it’s like putting one big piece of cable on the bottom head of the snare drum which is not very effective. In this case, you can manually spread the cables apart after they unit has been installed to create some space in between each cable strand. As you do so, be careful not to kink or distort the cable.
When using the Blue/Stainless Combination snare units (Standard or Wrap Around models) you can mount the unit at a slight angle on the butt side of the strainer system. Because the blue cable responds best at a higher dynamic than the stainless steel cable, you can mount the blue side a little tighter. This leaves the stainless steel cable a little looser which allows it to vibrate or respond easier at a softer dynamic. There isn't an exact degree you should shoot for so feel free to experiment with the angle and tension of the cable snare unit to help dial in response.
This slight adjustment to the tension of specific cable types is the whole premise behind multi tension strainers like our SoundArt and Multisonic and Pro10 snare systems.
Which Cable Snare Wire is Right for Me?
When it comes to deciding on the cable snare that is right for you, there are a few factors to consider. First and foremost, it's important to think about the sound that you are looking for. Are you looking for a bright, crisp sound with a wet sustain or a dry, articulate sound with a shorter sustain? This will help you determine which cable type is best suited for your needs. Additionally, you should consider the size and style of your snare drum. Black Swamp Percussion offers different lengths of cable snare units to accommodate different types of drums. The standard length snares are 13" long and lie fully on the bottom head, and should be used if your drum does not have a noticeable snare bed. The wrap-around units, on the other hand, are 16" long and are designed to extend over the edge of the drum and rest on the snare bed. These units are ideal for drums with a snare bed that is more pronounced.
By taking into account these factors and consulting with the music being performed, venue of performance, and desired sound, you can choose the cable snare that will help you achieve your desired sound and take your snare drum sound to the next level.
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