I purchased this snare in 2012 from a close friend who had owned the snare for a couple years. The drum had seen a number of albums, and been used by several drummers who had recorded at my friend’s studio. Somehow the snare was in absolute mint condition after all that playing. In this blog I cover all the reasons why this snare earned a permanent place in my studio.
Metal snares LAST. They are incredibly durable, and quite resistant to scratching and denting. We all know our maple and birch snares (probably more so maple) are prone to taking hits, and wearing the scar for a lifetime. Even cheap hardware can damage a snare drum, especially in touring situations. One thing to consider if you’re shopping for a new snare, is the longevity of the drum itself. I can say with confidence that my Gretsch Steel Snare still looks as beautiful as the day she was born.
If I could use one word to describe the tone of this snare, it would be “cold.” Surprisingly, the snare doesn’t particularly record that way. When you’re playing the snare alone in a room, you can hear a distinct bite ringing through the dense shell. (Which is only 1.22mm thick.) If you’re looking for a snare that will cut through anything, this is the snare for you. I will say that the aggression (and sheer volume) this snare brings to a mix will limit the styles that the drum can be used for. I find the natural icy tone of the snare to fit any genre with a solid backbeat. (Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop.) I say this not because of the drum’s inability to perform in other styles of music, but more so because of a general lack of warmth. In a jazz ballad, you may find the need for a warmer snare to settle in with surrounding instruments.
One huge advantage of steel snares is the density of the shell material. We know that sound physically bounces, or resonates, off of different materials. In the case of wooden snares, the softer the wood, the more warm the drum will be. A denser wood provides higher attack and greater sensitivity to ghost notes and lighter playing. So you can imagine making the leap from any wood to any metal will be a big one. One of the first things I noticed when playing the Gretsch, is that you can more audibly distinguish your ghost notes. This is something I’ve never experienced before on a wooden snare. Imagine having your ghost notes amplified by 30%. It’s strange at first, but soon you begin to hear your left hand with a new clarity.
In addition to the steel’s bright reflections, you’ll also experience extreme sensitivity from the adjustable snares. Both the butt plate and the throw off are adjustable, which is great for the amateur drum tuner like me. It’s extremely easy to adjust your tension, and the throw-off operates like butter.
Regardless of source of the spikey sensitivity, the drum allows me to hear my playing notes honestly, in a variety of ways. In fact, I love that word so much, it’s going to be my next bullet point.
You know when you go into a doctors office or hair salon, and the lights are super bright and ominous? There’s a reason for that. Both a doctor’s office and hair salon are environments where you don’t want anything to be left unseen. If a hair salon had dark, flattering lighting, you may think you look great when you’re there. But in actuality, you might not look so hot when you step outside. The Gretsch steel snare is an honest drum. You can hear everything you play; exposing weaknesses, flaws, and sloppiness all across the musical spectrum. And from a practice standpoint, isn’t that a wonderful thing? I thoroughly enjoy playing a snare that’s so crisp and truthful. If this snare isn’t your main choice for sessions and gigs, it certainly could be the best weapon in your arsenal for practice. I’ve developed great habits since practicing on this drum, and found its sensitivity to be helpful in cleaning up my left hand.
One “negative” point I should mention about this snare is the absurd volume it will reach. This snare will damage your ears. At no point in time do I ever play this drum at my highest volume. It’s simply too loud. This becomes problematic on small gigs, as controlling the volume can be difficult. Remember that even on the “louder” gigs, there is an appropriate volume to play. In my opinion, there is no situation that would require this drum to reach its sonic potential. The top 20% of this drums amplitude is simply useless. Unless of course you’re trying to make contact with extraterrestrials. Then you’ll be in good shape.
The only other negative to speak of is the weight of the drum itself. I’ve yet to throw the snare on a scale, but I’m confident it’ll be the heaviest snare you’ll own, making this an ideal snare drum to leave at home in the studio. I made the mistake of taking this monster on tour, and ended up leaving it in the van most nights; opting for a maple snare that’s about 1/4th the weight.
Need I say more? They come stock on the drum, which is is like rims in a car in my opinion. Great attack and bite on rim shots, and incredible crispness on rim knocks for those R&B ballads and Latin rhythms. The hoops not only offer a great sonic advantage, but they looks incredible against the hand hammered finish. I’ve preferred the sound of die cast hoops for years, and hearing them on a steel snare for the first time didn’t change that one bit.
The stock head that comes with the drum is the Evans G1 Coated. When I acquired my snare, the G1 had already been replaced with the G2. I have not tried the snare with a stock head, but I have read numerous reviews claiming that the G1 sounds less than impressive.
But here’s the crazy part; after wearing through the G2 that came with my used snare, I went and bought another G2 Coated right away. Never in my life have I replaced a head with the exact same head. I find it way too boring to keep cycling the same heads over and over. Until I’m endorsed, I plan to always change up my heads and experiment with the newest line from my favorite companies. But with the Gretsch snare, the sound was so perfect with the Coated G2, that I had no desire to switch to any other head. Another head would certainly sound different, but to my ears, no head could sound “better” than the G2. It was simply perfect, and will probably be replaced by a 3rd G2 when the time comes.
All in all, I can find very little negatives about this drum. In my research for this blog, I could not find any online retailer that had this drum in stock. Even Gretsch’s website had dead links on the snare’s product page. I genuinely hope this beautiful instrument has not been discontinued, but if so, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of them on eBay. With a retail price of $399, you should expect used models to appear around the $275 price range in great condition.
See the other Gretsch hand hammered snares
Go hunt this monster down and join the club. This is my first Gretsch drum, and I’m certainly on board with Gretsch after falling in love with this big hunk of beautiful metal.