Tuning Acoustic Snare Drums

The instructions to get it right, the first time!!


There is no right or wrong way to tune a snare drum. This guide is designed for beginners and/or those who are frustrated with the current sound they are getting from their acoustic snare drums. We've used this tried and true method for tuning acoustic snare drums for many years. This tuning method allows for precise tuning of the drum by simply maintaining equal tension between the lugs. Feel free to experiment with what your learn here...

We recommend using new heads for best results with these tuning instructions.

Tools Needed for Tuning:

Common tuning tools...

  • Standard Drum Key
  • #2 Pencil with a good eraser
  • Both Phillips and Slotted Screwdrivers (not shown)
  • Ski or Snowboard Wax (not shown)
  • Gloves & Carbonated Beverage (optional, not shown)

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Tuning Your Snare:

Step 1:

It is best to start with a new set of heads, but for purposes of learning you can simply take the existing ones off of your drum kit. Use your drum key to remove the top head of the snare drum. After dis-engaging and loosening your 'strainer assembly', use the appropriate screwdriver to remove the 'butt side' of your snares from the mechanism. Now that your snares are free, you can remove the bottom head. Once both heads are removed, place your shells on a smooth surface (a glass tabletop is best) to inspect your 'bearing edges'. The 'batter side' (top) edge should rest flat against the surface of the table. (You should notice that there are dips in the bottom bearing edge where the snares meet the shell. This is normal.) Any warping or nicks out of the bearing edge can make proper tuning difficult. Assuming they are good on both sides, we can proceed with tuning your new heads.

Bearing edge...Bearing edge close-up...

Step 2:

With the 'print' of your thumb (you may wish to use gloves), turn the rounded part of the head inside out in order to 'break in' the head. (While you may hear a crackling sound, this is perfectly normal.) This loosens up the head, breaks loose any over-applied adhesive and makes the head more pliable to tuning. (THIS STEP IS NOT ADVISED FOR 'SNARE SIDE' HEADS AS THEY ARE VERY THIN AND DAMAGE EASILY.)

Thumb crunch...

Step 3:

After lightly waxing the very tip of your bearing edge, put your new (or original) heads and rims back on each drum and tighten the tension rods 'finger-tight' only.

Finger tighten...

Step 4:

Tighten each rod 1/2 turn, always moving to the opposite lug until the majority of wrinkles have disappeared from the head. Continue this process until you can start to hear tone when you tap the drum. (DO NOT USE A DRUMSTICK ON A 'SNARE SIDE' HEAD. THE RECOMMENDED STRIKING IMPLEMENT IS A PENCIL ERASER. 'SNARE SIDE' HEADS ARE VERY THIN AND DAMAGE EASILY.)

Example lug order diagram...

Step 5:

In order to 'seat' the head, you will need to apply pressure to the center of the head with your open hand. This will ensure that the drum head's hoop seats properly in the groove of the drum's rim. (You may hear a crackling sound, similar to the one heard when you did Step 2. This is perfectly normal.) Repeat steps 4 and 5 until the drum maintains tone after the seating process. (THIS 'SEATING' PROCESS SHOULD NOT BE USED ON 'SNARE SIDE' HEADS.)

Seating the head...

Step 6:

Set the drum on a carpeted surface, with the head you wish to tune facing up. (This will help muffle the 'resonant side' head so you can focus on the head you are tuning.)

Drum on carpet...

Step 7:

Tap the head about 1" in from each tension rod with your #2 pencil's ERASER and listen to the pitch produced. (A pencil eraser is better to tune with. It eliminates a lot of the overtones that a good whack with a drumstick produces, allowing you to better focus on pitch.)

Pencil eraser strike...

Step 8:

Keep track of which lugs sounded higher or lower than others. You will notice that the 'opposing' lug will usually have the same pitch. (This is not the case on some drums smaller than 10 inches, as they don't always have an even number of lugs.)

Step 9:

Loosen each rod where the pitch was high (1/4 turn) and tighten each rod where the pitch was low (1/4 turn).

Step 10:

Re-seat the head again. (See step 5.) Repeat steps 7, 8 and 9 until you are comfortable that the drum is in tune with itself. Once you have done this, tighten the drum head using opposing tension until it produces the pitch you want.

Step 11:

Only perform steps 6 through 9 on the bottom, or 'snare side' head of a snare drum. In bringing the 'snare side' head in tune with itself, you may still see wrinkles near the 'snare bed' section of the drum. (The snare bed is where the snares themselves lie on the re-assembled drum. it is these dips that help the snares lie flat against the head and prevent excess buzzing.)

Snare bed...

Step 12:

Now is the time to replace your snare's strainer assembly. Assembly is specific to your drum, but is generally the opposite of the removal process. Once your heads are in tune with themselves and your strainer assembly is properly adjusted, the rest is personal taste. Many drummers tune the bottom head tighter than the top, but feel free to experiment. A tight snare drum is less likely to have 'sympathetic resonance' issues with other drums in your kit. (Sympathetic resonance occurs when a struck drum causes another that is close in frequency to resonate.)

Strainer control...Strainer butt...

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