The cheap'n'nasty steel shell snares that many of us endured as part of our first drum kits have much to answer for. Clangy, over-bright and hard to tune, most of them were ditched as soon as we could afford something smarter - but not before they put us off steel snares for life.
Such budget steelies never did much for the reputation of metal shell drums, hence the growing popularity of wood snares a few years back. Nowadays, youngsters are spoilt by the number of half-decent wood shell snares coming with even low-end set-ups. But, as ever, the situation is not as simple as wood equals good/metal equals minging. Far from it.
While a nice maple or birch snare is something to behold, the benefits of 'proper' steel, brass and copper snares are many and various. Yamaha is one maker so convinced by the attributes and saleability of metal snares that it now offers a range of no less than 18 Handcrafted snares, in a wide variety of materials and sizes.
While the close inspection of close to 20 metal snares would doubtless be illuminating, the interests of preserving hearing and sanity we've chosen to cover just eight from the line-up here.
Brace yourself, because this review is going to feel like a whirlwind introduction to a few faces from a sizable family. So, let the following whet your appetite, then go and experience the instruments that take your fancy for yourself.
If there's such a thing as the 'bog standard' snare drum spec, it would be the 14"x 61/2" steel shell snare, so that's where we'll start. Yamaha were good enough to also furnish us with 13"x51/2" and 12"x4" steel drums, but I'd wager that a good proportion of us started out with something close (in basic terms) to the 14"x61/2" here. Rest assured, though, this drum is in a different league to the entry-level 'instruments' of yore.
While it sports a fairly simple specification (1.6mm triple-flanged hoops and unfussy 'SD' lugs' - 10 on the 13" and 14", six on the 12"), the 14" sounds remarkably upmarket compared to expectations. It delivers a much more rounded, thicker tone than one might have predicted, and the ever-present 'zing' of the steel is tempered by a healthy dose of low-mid punch. The slightly shallower and narrower 13"x51/2" is also on the right side of bright, so it's crisp without being ear-drum piercing - and lovely for electronic pop, and the like.
We've always liked 13" snares for their tight, 'together' tone, and although this steel snare is more open-sounding than an equivalently sized maple type, for example, the drum still displays these integral characteristics.
The 12"x4" steel is the most extreme drum here in terms of dimensions, and the fact that it's fitted with a tom-arm clamp points to Yamaha assuming that it will be used as an auxiliary snare by most owners. Super-high head tension suits the snare down to the ground, and tuned as such, it throws out a controlled 'pop' that's immediately responsive to each stroke. The size of the drum means that overtones and decay are limited, and it slots into busy beats with aplomb.
Big and brassy
Having dispensed (in the nicest possible way) with the steelers, it's onto the brass members of the Handcrafted collection. Of the six models currently in the range, here are three of them - a big old 14"x7", a 14"x4" and a 13"x51/2". Aside from the obvious difference of shell material, there's plenty of clear water between the brass and steel drums as far as other specs are concerned.
The brass shells, for example, are thicker than the steel (1.5mm as opposed to 1.2mm) and they sport Yamaha's innovative Nouveau lugs. The triple-flanged DynaHoops are also beefier than those on the steel types, at 2.3mm. The chunkier shells and hoops combine to add real weight to the tone of the brass snares.
The 14"x7", as you'd expect, is beautifully fat, if a tad hard to tune to its sweet spot. But once it's there (and with the supplied 'O' ring in place to rein in some ring if you need it), the drum roars out in fabulous rockin' fashion. Beef with bite just about sums up the big 'un.
The remaining pair make an intriguing mix. The wide-but-thin 14"x4" is funky, quick to respond and articulate, while the 13"x61/2" is simply the most fantastic proposition for contemporary r'n'b, crisp and hip-hop. The 13" will tune to high pitch with ease, and the relative depth means there's always body to each note, and it never loses composure, even when used without any form of dampening.
Onto the final pair - a vintage-vibed 14"x51/2" copper, and a rather more up-to-date 14"x51/2" aluminium model. The ally drum features the thickest shell of the whole bunch - at 2mm - and is fitted with the same simple SD lugs as the steel line-up and the 2.3mm DynaHoops of everything else.
In sonic terms, the snare is perhaps less extended at the top end than you'd predict - there's plenty of clarity, but this is not a clanky or spiky-sounding instrument. It also seems to decay a tad faster than the steel snares, creating a decently balanced, well-behaved recording or gigging partner.
Last, but very definitely not least, there's the Nouveau copper 14"x51/2", which in terms of sophistication and sheer tonal gorgeousness, has everything else here licked. This is a beauty, with oodles of smooth, plummy low end, a fat mid-range and a sprinkling of defined high-frequency sweetness to keep things crystal clear.
Of all the drums here, it's this one that works best over a wide tuning range, with low-to-mid tension bringing out the best in the snare, flattering old-school funk and jazz styles effortlessly. Whether or not this is your usual snare fare, if there's just one from this selection that you really should make an effort to hear, it's this particular drum.
There's a huge choice of snare drums on the market, but on the evidence of the eight instruments here, Yamaha's Handcrafted metal series does enough to ensure it makes its mark.
There's no weak link here.