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Best snare drums 2021: 10 killer snares for all budgets and playing styles

Best snare drums 2021: 10 killer snares for all budgets and playing styles
(Image credit: Future)

It's no surprise that many drummers own more than one snare drum. It's the key, central hub of any kit, the drum that's played and heard most frequently, and the one that can most define your sound.

So whether you’re looking for another snare drum to add to your existing arsenal, or searching for that one special drum to build your kit around, we're here to point you in the direction of the best snare drum for you.

Once you’ve set the budget for your next snare drum, you'll need to to consider the sound you’re looking for and the styles you will be playing. 

There are a range of materials to consider, from wood and metal snare drums, to acrylic shells, each of which will give you a unique tone and character. The size of the drum will also have a big impact on your snare's sound.

As you'd expect, the more you spend on a snare drum, the better the quality of components, overall shell construction and material. 

Snare drums at the upper end generally also offer a wider tuning range and more versatile tone, meaning they're workable in both studio and stage settings, but there are also some lively options at the budget end of the market if you're prepared to do some digging.

The best snare drums you can buy today

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1. Tama S.L.P.

A range of wooden-shelled snare drums to suit all drumming styles

Launch price (pictured models): 14”x5.5” Classic Maple, $342/£259/€293; 13”x7” G-Maple, £382/£289/€327 | Shell material: Maple | Shell thickness: 7mm, 8-ply (Classic Maple); 10mm, 11-ply (G-Maple) | Sizes available: 14”x5.5” (Classic Maple), 13”x7” (G-Maple) | Hoops: Sound-Arc (Classic Maple), die-cast (G-Maple)

Superb build quality
Commendable sound
Huge choice within the range
Very little

Out of the box Tama’s 13" G-Maple snare drum sounds really good. Aiming for the sweet-spot centre produces a dry woody crack, then by hitting slightly off-centre, provides only the slightest overtone which is immediately snapped shut, thanks to the natural gating effect of the die-cast hoop and smaller diameter. This drum is at home with tight funk or any song that requires precision strikes – think 'Superstition' by Stevie Wonder. The Tama S.L.P. Classic Maple is a truly 'classic' sounding wooden snare drum that responds to all levels of tuning – it's capable of rocking it up or simply taking a laid-back approach and playing some tasty jazz. Alongside the Classic Maple and G-Maple featured here, Tama also offers birch, kapur, walnut, spruce and a host of metal-shelled options. The company has done a fine job of narrowing down the choice of snare drums and, in amongst their S.L.P. range, you're likely to find at least one to suit.

Read full review: Tama S.L.P.

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2. Natal Arcadia Acrylic

A well-built, affordable introduction to the world of acrylic drums

Launch price (pictured models): $197/£149/€169 | Shell material: Acrylic | Shell Thickness: 6mm, single-ply | Sizes available: 14”x6.5”, 14”x8” | Hoops: 2mm triple-flanged, chrome-plated | Finishes available: Transparent, Transparent Red, Transparent Orange

An affordable acrylic snare, ideal for rock
Dry and focused sound
Eye-catching looks
The 14"x8" could dominate a small kit

Back in the 1970s acrylic drums were made popular by drumming giants such as John Bonham and Billy Cobham. Reviving the trend, Natal’s acrylic snare drum offering comes from its affordable Arcadia range, which has received deserved plaudits for its competitive pricing and impressive quality. Most modern acrylic drums are seamless and cast in moulds. This is the case with Natal’s Chinese-manufactured offerings, and the clear, round and uncluttered shells make an immediate impression. Acrylic drums have a reputation for being loud, uncomplicated and generally less precious than their wooden counterparts. The Arcadia Acrylic sound is clean and muscular with overtones and unwanted snare buzz as good as non-existent. Tuned down they’re superbly fat and waiting to crash into a rock ballad. Higher up, they cut through with ear-jarring ease. Just above mid-tuning point is where they really hit their stride, clouting out backbeats yet remaining responsive to ghost notes and lighter touches.

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3. Pearl Sensitone

A great range of metal-shelled snare drums for all playing styles

Launch price (pictured models): 14”x5” steel, $348/£263/€298; 14”x6.5” aluminium, $523/£395/€448; 14”x5” phosphor bronze $713/£539/€612 | Shell material: Beaded steel, beaded seamless aluminium, beaded phosphor bronze | Shell thickness: 1mm (steel); 1.2mm (aluminium, phosphor bronze) | Sizes available: 14"x5", 14"x6.5” | Hoops: SuperHoop II

Genuinely useful design innovations
Variety of classy tones available from the range
Wooden-shelled drums also available
Not much - these drums are decent all-rounders

All of Pearl’s metal Sensitone drums come in 14"x5" and 14"x6.5” variants. Pictured here are Classic models in steel and aluminium, plus a Sensitone Premium model in phosphor bronze. The Classic chrome-plated steel and matt aluminium drums have chrome-plated steel tube lugs, while the bronze model has Pearl’s ARL Arch-Tube lugs. The Classic Aluminium drum can be compared with Ludwig's timeless Ludalloy (aluminium) SupraPhonics – the lightweight shells produce a lively but focused tone; not too much sustain; good for recording; a fairly dry bark; crisp when tuned mid to high. The steel drum is slightly ringier, more expansive and naturally higher-pitched. It’ll easily achieve a volume, but it’s also sensitive and adaptable. The phosphor bronze is fractionally deeper and warmer, maybe a little less clinical and powerful, but always engaging. Sensitone’s are cleverly designed and gimmick- free. There's a cool sounding model to suit every pocket.

Read full review: Pearl Sensitone

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4. DW Design Series Black Nickel Over Brass

Bag Black Beauty sound without the price tag

Launch price (pictured model): $383/£289/€328 | Shell material: Brass | Shell thickness: 1mm | Sizes available: 14”x5.5”, 14”x6.5” | Hoops: Triple-flanged | Finishes available: Black nickel plated

Superb build quality
Unbelievable price tag
Drum features top-end DW components
Difficult shell to keep clean

You may have already noticed the similarities here with the famous Ludwig Black Beauty snare drum, commonly recognised as an industry-standard studio snare. In addition, Design Series snares are afforded many of the same luxuries as their more expensive, full-fat Drum Workshop siblings, including the signature Mag Throw-off and True-Pitch tuning system. With the drum at medium tuning, a light stick-hit will bring it to life with a subtle attack that fades with a harmonic ring from the brass shell. With the strainer loosened, the drum comes into its own, offering a thick, deep backbeat. The drum is lively and warm yet versatile enough to be used in any style. It will record like an absolute dream too. The Black Nickel Over Brass is an absolute stunner of a snare, both aurally and visually. Top quality design and construction is what we've come to expect from DW, only now it comes without the price-tag.

Read full review: DW Design Series Black Nickel Over Brass

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5. Gretsch Full Range Hammered Black Steel

A trio of steel snare drums boasting sensitivity and power

Launch price (pictured models): 14”x5", $561/£424/€480; 14”x6.5", $587/£444/€503; 14”x8”, $600/£454/€514 | Shell material: Steel | Shell thickness: 1.2mm | Sizes available: 14”x8”, 14”x6.5”, 14”x5” | Hoops: Die-cast | Finishes available: Hammered black steel

Beautifully sensitive
Hammered shell adds to the tonal complexity
Three size options
Not overly cheap

The Full Range is Gretsch’s more affordable, Taiwanese-made snare drum series. Steel snare drums are generally the cheapest option, associated with beginner kits, but that is misleading. For many, steel is actually the ideal all-rounder. It’s the densest material, the hardest and thus the ring-iest and loudest – qualities that many appreciate. The design of these drums does temper the unruliness. The dimpled hammering causes the inner sound waves to bounce around more, making the tone more complex and drying it out. Combined with the heavyweight Gretsch cast hoops and cast lugs this does focus the sound. There’s a feeling of control despite the considerable horsepower. Steel is also good for sensitivity – play these drums towards their perimeter and the response is crisp. Ghost strokes come off well too, especially given the drum’s depths. The Gretsch Full Range Hammered Black Steel snares are handsome drums with the power and sensitivity of steel, controlled by the cast hoops and hammered black-coated shells.

Read full review: Gretsch Full Range Hammered Black Steel

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6. Mapex Black Panther Design Lab Series

A proven snare drum range combining classic tones and modern design

Launch price (pictured models): Cherry Bomb, $587/£444/€503; Heartbreaker, $710/£540/€612 | Shell material: Mahogany (Heartbreaker), Cherry (Cherry Bomb) | Shell thickness: 8mm, 8-ply (Heartbreaker); 9mm, 8-ply (Cherry Bomb) | Sizes available: 14”x6” (Heartbreaker); 14”x6” and 13”x5.5” (Cherry Bomb) | Hoops: Sonic Saver

Classy, minimalist look
New SONIClear finish helps shell resonance

Both the Mapex Design Lab Heartbreaker and Cherry Bomb snare drums are dressed with Sonic Saver hoops, Puresound Custom Series 16-strand wires, Black Panther cylinder-drive strainer and butt-end adjuster and Remo heads. Both snares also share the same 45-degree SONIClear bearing edges and Mapex’s new minimalist Natural Satin SAS finish, designed to promote shell resonance. The Heartbreaker feels right at home in a rock setting, blasting through heavy guitars and delivering a beautifully balanced backbeat in a medium-low tuning. When cranked pretty much all the way up, the drum becomes a force to be reckoned with. The Cherry Bomb is more controlled and precise. You barely have to tickle the batter head to be rewarded with a full response from the 9mm shell. A little livelier than the Heartbreaker, it produces a warmer tone and sounds great across a wide dynamic range. We’d also recommend trying the North American Maple-shelled Design Lab Equinox snare drum.

Read full review: Mapex Black Panther Design Lab Heartbreaker and Cherry Bomb

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7. Yamaha Recording Custom

A versatile snare drum range developed with Steve Gadd

Launch price (pictured models): 13”x6.5” brass, $571/£432/€489; 14”x5.5” aluminium, brass, steel, $598/£452/€512; 14”x6.5” aluminium, brass, $621/£470/€532; 14”x7” steel, $657/£497/€563 | Shell material: Aluminium, steel, brass | Shell thickness: 1.2mm | Sizes available: 13”x6.5” (brass), 14”x5.5” (aluminium, brass, steel), 14”x6.5” (aluminium, brass), 14”x7” (steel) | Hoops: Aluminium die-cast 3mm (aluminium); steel triple-flanged 2.3mm Dyna Hoops (steel, brass)

Fantastic build quality
A range of sizes and materials available
Ideal for stage or studio
The aluminium drum may need some extra dampening

Accompanying the newly re-launched Yamaha Recording Custom drum set are seven metal snare drums, designed with input from Steve Gadd. The snares encompass three metals: stainless steel, aluminium and brass. Steel is heavy and hard – and this is reflected in the sound, which is loud and resonant. That density also leads to sensitivity and the slightest featherweight touch is picked up and then transmitted. Moving onto the aluminium, the timbre is bright and breezy, always sprightly, like the metal itself. In fact, there is a high-end ping to watch out for that may need a bit of judicious damping. Brass is deeper and warmer, and yet ringier, looser and less controlled. The brass shell is perkier, with a complex timbre. Beyond these attributes, the choice of sizes further extends the series’ adaptability and range. A well thought-out and superbly built collection of snares in steel, brass and aluminium that will fire up just about any musical situation.

Read full review: Yamaha Recording Custom

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8. British Drum Company Merlin

A range of top-class professional snare drums

Launch price (pictured models): $826/£625/€708 | Shell material: Maple/birch | Shell thickness: 10.5mm, 20-ply | Sizes available: 14”x5.5”, 14”x6.5” | Hoops: 2.3mm triple-flanged steel | Finishes available: Hand-rubbed finish with four coats of BDC blended oil

Superb build quality
Versatile, all-rounder
Flawless shells

In addition to the British Drum Company’s new Palladium lug and Strainer 1 throw-off, the Merlin snare drum centres around a 10.5mm-thick 20-ply cold-pressed shell, made up evenly of premium grade maple and birch. Finishing off the shell is a decorative face veneer of black tulip wood with hand-inlaid maple pinstripes. Shells are perfectly round, superbly constructed and presented. Flawless, in fact. Tuning feels silky, the tension rods turn easily, allowing sharp attacking or fat slappy-deep beats with equal aplomb. Maple provides more mids, warmth and body while birch gives a darker edge and focus. The medium thick 10.5mm shell, which is pretty heavy and has truly precise 45-degree edges, brightens the tone and results in a drum that is ideally suited as a versatile all-rounder. Whether you opt for the 14”x5.5”, 14”x6.5” or any of the other available size, the Merlin will give you a versatile, professional sound.

Read full review: British Drum Company Merlin

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9. Sonor Signature Series Benny Greb

A well-thought out signature snare drum bearing the name of a true kit master

Launch price (pictured model): $911/£689/€781 | Shell material: Beech | Shell thickness: 5mm, 9-ply | Sizes available: 13”x5.75” | Hoops: 2.3mm Steel Power Hoop | Finishes available: Semi-gloss Scandinavian Birch

Has the Benny Greb seal of approval
The usual premium Sonor build quality
Wide tuning range
You made not need such versatility. If so, there are cheaper alternatives

Benny Greb is well known for his incredible versatility behind the drum kit. So, when it came to designing his own signature snare drum, it needed to be capable of tackling everything from rock, to jazz and brass band, to a drum solo mid-clinic. Benny is a detail-focused guy, so you can rest assured that Sonor didn’t start full production until this drum was absolutely spot on. Beech is a rarely-used material in drum building, but it offers a similar character to maple or birch, with an added warmth and softness. The result is that this 13”x5.75” drum delivers a wide tuning range, crystal clarity and articulation, and an inherent fatness that’s ideal for anything from big grooving backbeats, to light jazz comping. The thin shell is complimented by 18-strand stainless steel snare wires, Remo Ambassador heads and chrome-plated hardware.

Find out more: Sonor Signature Series Benny Greb

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10. Ludwig Black Beauty

Hands down the most famous snare drum of all time

Launch price (pictured model): $1,416/£1,076/€1,220 | Shell material: Brass | Shell thickness: 1.2mm | Sizes available: 14”x5”, 14”x6.5”, 14”x8” | Hoops: 2.3mm steel triple-flanged

Amazing tone in the studio or on stage
Works for a wide variety of playing styles
Black Beauties are collector’s items
This sort of snare drum perfection doesn’t come cheap

Ludwig's Black Beauty snare drum is without doubt one of the greatest snares ever made. It was first introduced in 1919 and remains one of Ludwig's most iconic creations. The modern version features all the tonal character of the original, but with the benefit of modern manufacturing processes. Each Black Beauty is made from a single sheet of 1.2mm brass, which is drawn into a seamless, beaded shell. Each drum is dressed with 2.3mm steel triple-flanged hoops, 10 of Ludwig’s iconic Imperial lugs, a P85AC throw-off, plus a Ludwig Weather Master Medium Coated batter and clear resonant heads. The resulting sound is well-rounded, metallic and warm. Black Beauties are a studio favourite because they deliver bags of projection, whilst being super responsive; many of the world’s biggest drummer’s record with them, even though they’re not Ludwig endorser’s! Black Beauties are excellent gigging drums, too. Every drummer should own a Black Beauty at least once in their life. 

Find out more: Ludwig Black Beauty