Snare Drum Tuning: Dialing in the Multisonic System
Updated: Aug 24
Tim takes a deep dive into our Multisonic snare system, discussing concept and tuning the individual snare units.
What is the Multisonic Snare System?
The Multisonic strainer and snare system were launched in 2002, building off the concept and functionality of our original SoundArt strainer design.
The Multisonic Snare System meets the challenge of repertoire spanning centuries and allows you to instantly and silently switch combinations of cable and wire, giving the discerning artist complete control over the voicing and character of the drum.
The creation of this system is documented in the video below, featuring Eric Sooy, president and founder of Black Swamp Percussion.
Snare Drum Tuning
When tuning snare drum heads, you can think of snare drums like little timpani. If you've ever tuned timpani, you know how important it is to clear the drum heads before making any adjustments. Clearing a drum head means all the tension rods are evenly tensioned across the lugs around the drum.
At Black Swamp Percussion, our recommendation when installing new heads on a drum is to start with seating the snare side drum head, also known as the resonant head.
Tuning the Resonant Head
Most all concert snare drums have snare beds on the bottom, or snare side, of the drum. These beds are located near the strainer and butt of the drum. Snare beds will be slight or drastic indentations within the bearing edge around the drum and vary in appearance depending on the make and model of the snare drum.
Seating the resonant head over a snare bed creates a slight bow in the head, allowing the cable snares to make full contact with the drum head as they pass over the bearing edge. This direct contact with the snare side head increases response, sensitivity and quality of sound on your instrument.
Once the bottom head is seated and tuned to your desired pitch, it's time to install and tune the batter head on your snare drum.
Tuning the Batter Head
When tuning the batter head, make sure you've disengaged any snare wires on the instruments strainer. Like the resonant head, you want to make sure you've cleared the top head before making any drastic adjustments. We do this by finger tightening the tension rods evenly around the whole drum. Once the head is cleared, use two drum keys placed on tension rods directly opposite of one another, and begin increasing the tension of each rod in a star-shaped pattern to bring the pitch up. Start with smaller tension increments (a quarter or half turn) as your move around the head and slowly increase the head tension to your desired pitch.
While tuning philosophies can differ from player to player, we don't necessarily tune to our concert snare drums to a specific pitch. Instead, we look for a slightly higher pitch on the resonant side head than the batter side head. This method produces a full, round, and pure tone in the instrument. Speaking personally, we tune to a feeling, one that resonates in the chest when when playing the snare drum.
Once the top and bottom heads of the instrument are in tune, it's time to start dialing in the tension of our cable snare wires.
Cable Snare Wire Tuning
Similar to tuning drum heads, there are several schools of thought on how cable snare wires should be tuned and tensioned on concert snare drums. We'll be discussing the system that we use to tune every Black Swamp snare drum before it leaves our facilities. For starters though, what even are cables snares? How do they differ from traditional gut snares or curly snare wires? Let's dive in.
Cable snare wires are offered in a variety cable types. These types are differentiated by the use of different materials such as stainless steel, coated stainless steel, guitar wire, or curly wires. the different materials and thicknesses allow the wires to respond at different dynamic levels when the snare drum is struck.
Not only does the type of cable make a change to the timbre of your drum but the arrangement of these cables on your drum also have an impact on the response and articulate of each cable.
Pictured below is how every Multisonic snare drum is equipped from the factory.
The versatility of the Multisonic snare system allows for you to remove and arrange these cables in any fashion you would like. For instance, you can add additional coated cables to your strainer for higher dynamic repertoire.
Tuning Each Cable Type
When tuning your Multisonic snare drum, it's important to understand the intention of each cable type on your drum and its use cases. Variations in tension will allow specific cable snare wires to activate at different dynamic levels.
The guitar wire unit (5WMS) is installed at the center unit of the Multisonic strainer. This unit is the most sensitive cable type in the arrangement and activates at soft dynamic levels. These units should be tensioned loosely with some fluff to them.
Moving outwards, the stainless units (8SMS & 6SMS) are bright and wet in timbre, meaning they offer more sustain and respond best at medium dynamic levels. These units should be at a medium tension, slightly more than the guitar wire unit at the center.
With these details in mind, engage each cable snare unit one at a time to begin tuning. Loosen the cable you intend to tune all the way so that you clear the cable. Strike the drum at the dynamic level associated with the cable being tuned:
Guitar Wire: soft, piano dynamics
Stainless Cable: medium, mezzo forte dynamics
Coated Cable: loud, forte dynamics
Listen closely as you slowly tension each knob and identify when the cable snare wire activates. It is important to make sure you do not choke the snare unit in question but to allow it room to resonate fully. This is practice in intentional, focused listening and takes time to become skilled in the wide dynamic range your Multisonic snare drum offers. Be patient and don't be afraid to start over.
Multisonic Snare Drum Configurations
The beauty of the Multisonic snare system is the ability to combine different cable types to create the desired timbre for your concert snare drum.
We strongly encourage combinations of two or three snare units at one time. Engaging more than three cables at a time starts to choke the sound of the drum. Take some time to try several of our recommended combinations (pictured below). After that, it's time to experiment with your own combinations and see what works for your specific musical application.
Dry & Throaty
Bright & Delicate
As you explore the sounds of your Multisonic snare drum it is always important to remember that you should always tune the instrument to what sounds best to YOU. Unlike pitched instruments, the snare drum is a membranophone and is not required to hold a specific pitch.
You can explore sound samples of our instruments on the Multisonic page of our website to find inspiration and hear variety of timbres the instrument is capable of.