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General Guidelines for Selecting the Right Shell

All drum shells produce a fundamental note and frequency. Both are governed by the material, thickness and size of the shell. The fundamental note and frequency are the foundation for the sound that your drum will be capable of producing.

Other factors that will have an effect on the sound include the bearing edge profiles, the snare bed shape and size, the hardware, the head type and thickness, stick choice (material, size, weight and tip profile), the amount of venting and even the room or environment it is being played in. Knowing how these elements combine with one another and being able to manipulate them to produce the desired sound is an art form in and of itself. It can make the difference between a good drum and a great drum.

Material and construction –

The last 20 years or so have seen a bit of a revolution in drum making. From companies large and small to boutique builders and do-it-yourselfers, almost all have embraced the notion that drums can be made from just about any material or combination of materials and elements. Some designs and combinations produced great results and others; not so much so. But that is how new things come to be. Trial and error, the sharing of knowledge and experiences and not being afraid to try something new or “out of the box” is how the craft progresses.

We would love to hear about your ideas for new designs and are happy to assist you in making them a reality. If you are not sure of where you should start, here are some basic guidelines to follow on selecting the right shell for the sound you a looking for –

Maple is considered the industry standard for wood drum shells as it offers excellent resonance, a warm consistent tone and is a very good platform for finishing. Our current inventory consists of wood ply shells. Ply shells consists of cross laminated, thin plys of wood. Cross laminated means that the grain directions of the plys alternate between long grain and cross grain throughout the shell. This makes for a shell with a great strength to weight ratio.

Maple is considered the industry standard for wood drum shells as it offers excellent resonance, a warm consistent tone and is a very good platform for finishing. Our current inventory consists primarily of wood ply shells. Ply shells are composed of thin layers of wood that are cross laminated. Cross laminated means that the grain direction of the plys alternates between long and cross grain throughout the shell. This process produces a shell with a great strength to weight ratio as well as a consistent tone.

A 10 ply Maple shell is a great foundation for a snare drum. It offers a stable platform for finishing and is versatile and sonically malleable. Adding some 10 ply reinforcing rings will produce a higher fundamental note and increased attack with a rapid decay. The performance characteristics can be fine-tuned by varying the width of the rings.

A 15 ply Maple shell adds mass and rigidity which will favor higher tunings. A 15 ply Maple shell will have a lot of focus and attack with a rapid decay and very little sustain.

A 10 ply all-Bamboo shell will give you a brighter sound due to the shear density of the material. The snares we’ve done produced a sound that was mid-way between a wood shell and a metal shell. Plenty of focus and attack with a quick decay and a bright ring. Bamboo shells have a “sweet spot” that resides in the higher tuning ranges.

An 8 ply all-Birch snare shell is great for studio work. A wide tuning range and a drier tone with moderate decay and sustain makes them a perennial favorite with sound engineers. Works very well as a Jazz drum.

Shallow Depth Shells –

A shell with a shallow depth offers greater sensitivity and a focused attack. Great for brush work and when you need to play short/quick notes with a short decay. 3 ½” to 5” depth in a 14” diameter. Shallow depth shells are often referred to as “piccolo” snares. Dropping down to a 13” diameter shell can offer a higher fundamental note and a shorter reaction time and decay.

Moderate Depth Shells –

A shell that is 5 to 6” deep offers a wider tuning range and can be a little more versatile in terms of performance. Great for a work-horse snare since it can be cranked up to give you a cannon-like rim shot or tuned looser for a lower rock ‘n roll back beat. Dropping down to a 13” diameter works great for progressive or funk-based rhythms.

Deep Shells –

A shell that is 6 ½”+ in depth is perfect when you are looking for a low / wet fat-back sound as well as rock ballads. They are great when you need more sustain and a longer decay with some ring in it.

General Guidelines for Selecting the Right Bearing Edge Profile.

The bearing edge profile provides the shape of the surface that makes contact with the heads. A good rule of thumb to follow in selecting the right edge for your shell would be “Rounder Edge = Rounder Sound” / “Sharper Edge = Sharper Sound”.

Rounded Edges –

A rounder edge profile allows more shell to head contact. This allows the shell to have a greater effect on the overall sound. This means that changing head brands/types will give you a less pronounced difference in the tone while still allowing a good tuning range.

A rounded edge is generally called a “round-over”. A round over consists of a 45 degree inner edge with a round counter cut in various radii. A 3/16” round over on a 10 ply shell offers a great head to shell contact ratio. Dropping down to 1/8” reduces the amount of contact, while going up to 1/4” will offer a broader contact area. Additional hand-sanding can be done to fine-tune the amount of the shell to head contact area.

Sharper Edges –

A sharp edge reduces the amount of shell to head contact. This allows the head brand/type to have a more pronounced difference on the overall sound.

Sharp edges are offered in two styles; a traditional 45 and a double 45.

A traditional 45 puts the peak of the edge closer to the outside of the shell and the shoulder of the head. (The shoulder of the head is the point where the flat part of the head makes the transition to the curved area that is held by the rim.) A traditional 45 offers a slightly wider tuning range but may take a little more effort and experience to tune properly.

A double 45 puts the peak of the edge slightly closer to the center of the shell which positions it further away from the shoulder so it is on the flat part of the head. A double 45 can reduce the tuning range slightly but makes it easier to tune.

Starting with sharp edges means you can always make them less sharp with some hand-sanding.

The Finished Flat –

All edge profiles generally feature a “finished flat”. This is achieved by using a flat surface covered with varying grits of sandpaper. The shell is placed on the flat and rotated with gentle downward pressure to form a perfectly level spot on the peak. This allows the head to have an even and consistent point of interaction with the shell. The size of the finished flat is up to the individual builder. Our recommendation is that it amounts to a single ply width.

Since sound is ultimately “In the Ear of the Beholder”, determining how all of these elements work in concert with one another to form your desired sound is part of the journey of building your own drums.