Many drummers consider their snare to be the most important drum of all. For this reason, your snare drum is going to need regular tuning and maintenance to enhance sound and ensure long life. Good news for procrastinators. Properly tuning your snare drums won’t take a lot of time and you don’t have to be a drumming technician to get your favorite snare back in tune. Follow the easy step-by-step instructions to avoid the common and frustrating tuning pitfalls. With a little practice and patience, you’ll have your drum fine tuned and ready for action in no time.
1. Start with the resonant (snare-side) head.
Remove snare wires and batter head from the drum. Remember, the resonant head is much thinner than the batter side head so don’t press it forcefully into place. Use a two key method to center the head, but be careful not to over-tighten as you risk pulling the head out of its hoop.
2. Start tuning
To begin tuning, start from finger tight. You should see wrinkles between the lugs on either side of the snare bed. Instead of removing them by tuning the rest of the head really tight, use two keys (one either side) and tension the head enough to remove wrinkles.
3. Use your hands, use your ears
Give each lug a quarter turn (except the lugs either side of the snares) until they are fairly tight and the head starts to produce a tinny or toppy sound with a little ring. Snare head needs to be evenly pitched so don’t rush this step. In most cases the drum will perform best if the resonant head is pretty tight, regardless of size. Let your ears tell you when enough is enough.
4. Move on to the batter head
Tightly seat and tension the batter head using the two-key method described before. For best results, let the drum sit for 8-10 hours so the head can form better to the drum. Once resuming, take the tension up in half turns 2-3 times depending on the drum’s diameter. Check to make sure the head is evenly tuned across the drum, then continue with smaller turns.
5. Tune the top head lower
To get the best possible sound, tune the top head a little lower than the snare side. If you prefer a slight pitch difference, simply mute one head while tapping the other and adjust as necessary until you reach a pitch point you’re happy with.
6. Don't fiddle with the resonant head
When making adjustments at this stage, it should almost always be on the batter head.
7. Check your work
If your snare drum still sounds out of tune, it’s usually due to one of three things. Either the batter head is too tight, the head is inappropriate for your style of drum, or you have the wrong snare for the sound you want.
8. Replace the wires
Replace the snare wires and make sure they are centered both across the width of the drum and square to the shell. Loosen the snare release mechanism to its loosest working tension and place the lever in the 'on' position. Snare wires stretch over time so you need to add some slack.
9. Play the drum
If the drum rattles too much for you, tighten the adjustment knob on the snare release using quarter or half-turns, playing the drum between each adjustment. If you have to make the snares really tight, you’ve probably tuned the drum badly and you’ll end up choking the drum.
10. Check for over-tight snares
Softly tap the center of the batter side. If there is no snare sound, the wires are too tight.
11. Eliminate buzz
If you have a six-lug drum, you will need to start by applying even tension to all lugs and tuning evenly all round. Complete the method as described above, but if you experience a buzzing problem, try loosening each pair of lugs on either side of the bottom head snare wires by a quarter turn.