4 Classic Snare Sounds

For me, the quintessential Ringo snare sound is all over the “White Album.” Who would think a muffled snare could sound so cool? The problem we face here is that Ringo’s sound is pretty much impossible to achieve after the fact, so you have to record the snare already muffled.
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Ringo’s Dry Thump

For me, the quintessential Ringo snare sound is all over the “White Album.” Who would think a muffled snare could sound so cool? The problem we face here is that Ringo’s sound is pretty much impossible to achieve after the fact, so you have to record the snare already muffled. The hot setup at Abbey Road for the Ringo sound was a snare tuned loose, with tea towels draped on the top head. Not muffled enough? No problem-o. Ringo would just throw someone’s wallet on top of the tea towels for even more ambience-killing thunk. Back then, the Abbey Road crew probably brought back some of the snap and grit by ruthlessly squashing the signal with a tube limiter. You can start experimenting with a 10:1 ratio, and just keep cranking it until you achieve the proper mash. To boost—or cut—some sizzle, manipulate 10kHz with a late ’60s sense of freedom and abandonment. If all this sounds like too much work, stick an extra top head on the snare—as I once did by mistake—and marvel at how much the whole thing sounds like a muffled snare slammed by a Fairchild 670 tube compressor.

Crazy Thonk

Who says you can’t have crack and wood from a snare drum? The Fine Young Cannibals 1989 hit, “She Drives Me Crazy,” has a snare sound so distinct, it lodges in the darker recesses of the mind to the point you could name that tune after a single snare hit. While the original version was created using a combination of a real snare and a sample, a bit of EQ tweaking will get you darn close. Boosting 100Hz to 300Hz should give you some major wood, while boosting 2kHz–3kHz will provide crack for days. Compress with a 2:1 ratio, and apply a light dose of a large room reverb algorithm.

Bonham Bedlam

The massive success of Led Zeppelin afforded Jimmy Page the ability to drag the band all over the English countryside to record in various castles and stately manors in an effort to further enhance his spooky cred. Word has it the somnambulist sounds of doom from the classic track “When the Levee Breaks” were achieved by placing Bonham’s kit in a stairwell, and miking it from several stories above. Of course, this type of excess is unavailable to mere mortals, so if the Bonham snare sound is the action you crave, a workable understanding of reverb parameters is necessary to recreate the vibe. First, you will need a room. Pick something big—like a large hall or a cathedral. Dial up a reverb time of one second for starters. Predelay settings mimic the time it takes for the original sound to reflect back as reverb, so for our Bonham Fest, 5ms to 25ms should put you in three-story stairwell territory.

Chad’s Meaty Thwack

Another distinctive snare sound can be heard on “Give It Away” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Drummer Chad Smith whacks his snare so hard, it sounds as if it may come apart on the molecular level, so this treatment will work best with snare tracks played with similar ferocity. First, gate the track using a very fast attack time of 40ms to 100ms. Release times will require some tweaking, but start with fairly fast times in the 150ms range. The reverb on the track enhances the tightness of the overall sound, so go with a small, reflective room or plate algorithm. There is a certain grittiness to the quality of reverb on the track, so if you can dig up an old 12-bit Alesis Midi- Verb from the days of yore—or if your reverb plug-in of choice has a bit-reduction function—give it a try. Keep the attack fast, and adjust the decay parameter so that the reverb trail doesn’t step on the subsequent snare hits. Tube socks optional.