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How to Change the Top and Bottom Heads on a Snare Drum

Changing the Heads on a Concert Snare

Welcome to Amro Music! Today's blog is part two in our percussion series. We will cover the steps for changing the heads on both the batter side and the snare side of a concert snare drum. Our first section covers the top head. If you're already familiar with this process, you can skip down to the steps for chaning the bottom head here.

Changing the Top Head on a Concert Snare

Our resident percussion specialist, Alan Compton, walks us through the process of changing and tuning a drum head on the top side or batter side of a snare drum.

1. Select a replacement drum head.

The first thing to do is to determine what type of drum head you would like to use as the replacement.

For general use in a school setting (whether its for use on the concert snare drum or drum sets) you really can't go wrong with a one-ply, coated head such as the Remo Coated Ambassador or the Evans Coated G1.

If you're replacing a head on a drum that will be mainly used in a concert or orchestral setting, perhaps on a drum that has cable snares rather than the coiled wire snares found on most beginner level snare drums, you might consider using something with a warmer, darker tone such as the Remo Renaissance batter head or something from the Evans Strata or Evans Orchestral series. These heads, when tuned properly, can have a more sensitive response, providing a well-balanced sound and a wider dynamic range.

2. Use a drum key to start loosening the tension rods.

To remove the existing drum head, use a drum key to loosen each tension rod gradually, in a star or radial pattern. Loosen the first tension rod, then move to the tension rod directly across the drum from the first rod and loosen it. Move over one tension rod from that spot, loosen that rod, and then move to the tension rod directly across from that one. Continue this pattern until you have loosened all of the tension rods where they can easily be turned with your fingers. 

3. Use your fingers to further loosen the tension rods.

Use your fingers to unscrew the tension rods the rest of the way. Loosening and tightening in this pattern will evenly decrease or increase the tension of the drum and reduce any chance of warping the drum's rim.

4. Remove the rim from the drum.

Leaving the tension rods hanging inside the rim, lift the rim from the drum and set it aside, taking note of the exact position that the rim was sitting on the drum. Ideally, you will want to place the rim back in its original position. If you want to, you can mark this position using a bit of tape or a light, concealed mark with a pen or pencil.

5. Clean the drum and rim.

Now that you have the head and rim off of the drum, this is a perfect opportunity to clean both the rim and the inside of the drum. Dust and other foreign particles can end up inside your drum, so it's best to take care of this while the drum is disassembled. Wipe the inside of the drum and the bearing edge (the top edge of the shell where the drum head bends downward towards the rim) with a soft cloth like a towel or an old t-shirt. You can also take this opportunity to lightly tighten any casing screws or strainer screws that may have been loosened by the drum's vibrations.

6. Place the new drum head in the right position.

Now, place the new drum head on the drum with the head's logo in the desired position. This is a question of personal preference. Some drummers like to have the logo at the front center of the head, at 12 o'clock from their playing position. Others will align the logo next to the snare throw-off so they have an instant visual reference of where the throw-off is located. There is no right or wrong positioning.

7. Reattach the head.

Once the head is in the desired position, replace the rim in the exact position that it was before you removed it, with the tension rods lined up with their original casings. Insert the tension rods into the casings and tighten them with your fingers until they are as tight as you can get them with no help from the drum key. This should get the head to a good starting point of even tension before you begin tuning the head.

Begin increasing the tension of the drum head one tension rod at a time (in the radial or star pattern) using quarter or half turns with a drum key until the drum head has an audible tone when lightly tapped with the stick or finger. This will not take much tension, so be careful not to exceed two or three half turns per tension rod.

8. Tune the head.

Now, begin tapping the drum head with the beat of a stick one inch away from the rim at each tension rod and listen to the pitch. The goal is to adjust the pitch of the head at each tension rod where they all have matching pitches, thereby making the drum head in tune with itself. Using the drum key, adjust the tension of each rod until the pitches are as close to each other as possible. Now, use the drum key to tighten the drum head still using the star or radial pattern to raise the drum to the desired pitch. Once you reach your desired pitch, some fine-tuning may be necessary to bring the drum back into tune with itself.

Thanks for letting us walk you through the process of changing a snare batter head. Keep in mind that the mechanics of this procedure can basically apply to changing any key-tuned, synthetic drum head, although the tuning could vary depending on the type of drum. As you can probably tell, the basic mechanics are not difficult and the tuning can become second nature with just a little practice.


Changing the Bottom Head on a Concert Snare

In the second half of today's blog, we walk through the process of changing and tuning a drum head on the bottom side or snare side of a concert snare drum.

1. Select a replacement drum head.

The first thing to do is to determine what drum head you would like to use as the replacement. Since this head's main purpose is to properly activate the snare system, the drum head will need to be a thin, one-ply head that is meant to function as a resonant snare side head.

A good choice for a standard snare side head would be the Remo Ambassador Clear Snare Side head or the Evans 300 Snare Side head. These heads provide bright, resonant tones to facilitate crisp snare response at all dynamic levels without impeding the drum's projection.

If you desire a darker tone and a warm snare response that's closer to traditional calf skin, you can't go wrong with a Remo Ambassador Renaissance Snare Side head. These heads sound fantastic when paired with the Remo Ambassador or Diplomat Renaissance batter head.

2. Remove the snare system.

To remove the existing drum head, you will first need to remove the snare system that stretches across the width of the bottom side of the drum. You don't necessarily need to remove both sides of the snare system to change the snare side head. However, it is a great opportunity to check the snares themselves for any damage or loose snares that can cause unwanted extraneous snare buzzing. Using a screw driver or drum key (depending on the specific tool needed for your drum) loosen the retaining bracket for the snare system on the throw-off side of the drum and pull the untied snare string or plastic strap through the bracket to detach it from the drum. (The reason that we're doing this on the throw off side of the drum is that it is typically more adjustable, so there's a little more leeway with reattaching the snare system.

3. Use a drum key to start loosening the tension rods.

Now, use a drum key to loosen each tension rod gradually in a star or radial pattern. Loosen the first tension rod, then move to the tension rod directly across the drum from the first rod and loosen it. Move over one tension rod from that spot, loosen that rod, then move to the tension rod directly across from that one. Continue this pattern until you have loosened all of the tension rods where they can easily be turned with your fingers. Loosening and tightening in this pattern will evenly decrease or increase the tension of the drum and reduce any chance of warping the drum's rim.

4. Remove the rim.

Once each tension rod is less than finger tight, use your fingers to unscrew the tension rods the rest of the way. Leaving the tension rods hanging inside the rim, lift the rim from the drum, carefully guiding the snares through the snare gate, and lay the snares over the side of the drum where they won't get damaged.

Now, set the rim aside taking note of the exact position that the rim was sitting on the drum. Ideally you will want to place that rim back in its original position. Since the snares can only pass through the two snare gates on each side of the rim, this is a fairly easy position to remember.

5. Clean the drum.

(If you've already followed the cleaning steps from the top head section above, you can skip to step 6.)

Now that you have the head and rim off of the drum, this is a perfect opportunity to clean both the rim and the inside of the drum. Dust and other foreign particles can end up inside your drum, so it's best to take care of this while the drum is disassembled. Wipe the inside of the drum and the bearing edge (which is the top edge of the shell where the drum head bends downward towards the rim) with a soft cloth like a towel or an old t-shirt.

You can also take this opportunity to lightly tighten any casing screws or strainer screws that may have been loosened by the drum's vibrations.

6. Position the head and rim.

Now, place the new drum head on the drum with the head's logo in the desired position. Again, there is no right or wrong position for the logo. Once the head is in the desired position, replace the rim in the exact position that it was before you removed it, with the tension rods lined up with their original casings.

When replacing the rim on the drum, you'll want to carefully guide the snare system back through the snare gate from which you originally removed it. You'll reattach those after the snare head is in tune with itself.

7. Tighten the head into place.

Insert the tension rods into the casings and tighten them with your fingers until they're as tight as you can get them with no help from the drum key. This should get the head to a good starting point of even tension before you begin to tune the head. Begin increasing the tension of the drum head one tension rod at a time (in the radial or star pattern) using quarter or half turns of the drum key, until the head has reached an audible tone when lightly tapped with a stick or finger.

This will not take much tension, so be careful not to exceed two or three half turns per tension rod.

8. Tune the new drum head.

Now, begin tapping the drum head with the beat of a stick about one inch away from the rim at each tension rod and listen to the pitch. The goal is to adjust the pitch of the head at each tension rod to where they all have matching pitches, thereby making the drum head in tune with itself. Using the drum key, adjust the tension of each rod until the pitches are as close to each other as possible.

When adjusting the pitch at each tension rod, it helps to lightly place a finger or two in the center of the drum head to deaden the primary pitch of the head. This can eliminate extraneous overtones that can be misleading to the tuner's ear.

Now, use the drum key to tighten the drum head (still using the radial or star pattern) to raise the drum to its desired pitch. Once you reach the desired pitch, some fine-tuning may be necessary to bring the drum back into tune with itself. The pitch of the snare side head should be a little bit higher than the pitch of the batter head to achieve a good response from the snares. If the snare side head is lower than the pitch of the batter head, it is likely that the snares will not respond at all, leaving the drum sounding stifled, wthout the characteristic snare rasp.

9. Reattach the snare system.

Now, place the snare system back over the top of the drum head and thread the attachment string or strap through the snare gate on the throw-off set of the drum. With the throw-off in the off position and the snare adjustment knobs somewhere in the middle of its tension range, insert the string or strap through the loosened retaining bracket. If you're using string to attach the snares, it's best to tie a square knot with the two ends of the string that will stay on the outside of the retaining bracket.

Once the strap or string is threaded through the bracket, retighten the screws firmly, being careful not to over tighten and strip the threading in the screws. Remember not to pull the string or strap through too far, or the tension will be too great for the throw-off to close once you've tightened the bracket back down. The goal is for the snare system to be perfectly centered when the throw-off is in the "on" position.

It might take a couple of tries to get the positioning down, but the snare response will be much better when the snares are centered on the drum head.

10. Test the snares.

Once the head has been replaced and the snares are reattached, test that the snares are responding properly. If the snare buzz sounds too loose or lasts too long, you can use the snare adjustment screw to tighten them. If the snare buzz sounds stifled, then you might need to loosen the same adjustment screw. Try your best to adjust the snare tension until the snare sound is activated at all dynamic levels.


That's it! Thank you for letting us walk you through the process of changing a snare side head. As you can probably tell, the basic mechanics are not that difficult and the tuning can become second nature with just a little practice.

Thanks a lot, and have a musical day!

Posted by Emilee McGee at 10:51 AM
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