The snare drum is the central instrument within the drum set. There are essentially two types of snare drums on the market: wooden-shelled drums and chrome-shelled drums. In rare cases, you may come across plastic or composite-shelled drums, too. A common starter snare drum a chrome 5 1/2" x 14" eight-lug drum.
The snare drum contains:
A shell or circular body. A top "batter" head and a bottom ultra-thin clear head. Chrome hoops (rims) that fasten the heads to the shell. Tension rods that screw into lug casings, these are used to tighten the rim onto the shell. Snare wires. A throw-off apparatus.
Whatever drum you buy make certain that the snare (thin metal strings on the bottom of the drum) are intact and that the throw-off lever on the side of the drum works properly. The throw-off is a chrome apparatus found on the side or the shell of the snare drum. It contains a lever that snaps the snare wires up against the bottom drumhead or releases them so that they hang about 1/8" below the head. When the throw-off or strainer is in the up position, you will hear the buzz of the snare wires. When the throw-off is in the sideways position, the drum will sound similar to a high-pitched tom-tom.
Tom-toms are similar to snare drums in that they have two heads fastened to a shell. They do not contain snare wires though. They also differ from the snare drum in their function. When checking the snare strainer, make sure that you can turn the snares on and off without too much effort. Also, make sure that the snares tighten and release quietly. If you do not get this on-off effect at all, it may simply mean that the snare wires are too loose. All quality snare drums have an adjustment knob that is part of the throw-off apparatus. If the snare is not working properly, try tightening this knob. You should feel the tension increase depending on the direction you turn it. If you turn the knob and it has no effect on the sound of the drum, chances are the apparatus is faulty. Don't buy this drum.
Finally-and this goes for any drum-check to see if the drum has any cracks in the shell and make sure that the rims or hoops that fasten the head to the shell are not bent or dented. Also, make sure that none of the tension rods (screws) are missing, and check that none of the lugs(tension rod casings) are stripped. Don't worry about heads, because these are dispensable. Often the head that comes with your purchase needs replacing anyway. Once upon a time, drumheads were made from calf hides (skin). However, the problem with skins was that they were very difficult to keep in tune due to fluctuations in the weather. They were also not very durable. Now days, we use plastic or Mylar heads on our drums and the most popular head manufacturer is Remo, although Evans and Aquarian make fine heads, too. On the bottom of your snare drum, you must use an ultra-thin clear head. Anything thicker will choke the snare wires and they will not vibrate. Also, you should use only a single-ply "batter" head on the top of your snare drum. The batter head is a rough, sand papery-surfaced head that is designed to give texture to brush strokes. If the head were smooth, brush-ing the head would have little effect. The batter head is also single-ply to allow for a crisper tone and more sustain.
The white Remo Ambassador Batter is the most common of its kind. You may use the Ambassador Batter heads on all of your drums. However, a heavier, double-ply pinstripe head is very popular with many drummers because of its durability and rounder tone on tom-toms. The pinstripe head rings less, and therefore has fewer overtones. Whatever you do, definitely use the pinstripe head for your bass drum, as this will give you the necessary punch and durability you need. You will need to change your top or "batter" snare head every three to six months depending on your degree of activity. In most cases, you don't need to replace the bottom tom-tom heads, front bass drumhead, and bottom snare head with high-quality heads since you will never strike these heads. Whatever heads come from the factory (or the person who had the drums before you) are probably good enough as long as there are no rips or holes in them.
By Eric Stark