Snare Tuning

For this month’s article, I sat down with Ercan Erhan, the 1999 Snare I&E Champion with Santa Clara Vanguard and snare instructor with Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif., to discuss the art of snare tuning.

Halftime: With so many top and bottom head options, how do you select a head you like?

Erhan: For snare heads in general, I make my selection based on sound, feel and durability. For bottom heads, I look mostly for durability and the ability to hold tension as I like to tune the bottom head slightly higher in pitch than the top head. Kevlar heads work best for this situation.

For top heads, I prefer a warm blended sound (think Black Max or Hybrid Grey) but still want the durability of a Kevlar head. I also want the head to accommodate the rebound approach we utilize when hitting the drum.

Halftime: What is most important when tuning snare top or bottom heads?

Erhan: Don’t take the head up too fast. Let it settle for a while (a day or two), then take it up some more. “Sweet little cranks,” as a former instructor of mine used to say.

Halftime: Why is tuning guts important, and how do you do it?

Erhan: Without guts, the snare drum sounds like a box! Guts also determine how wet the drum sound will be. For example, a Scottish drum is traditionally tuned for a really wet sound.

To tune the guts, slide a pencil between the guts and the bottom head on the far side, away from the snare strainer handle. You can then use a screwdriver to tighten or loosen each gut. You want all guts to have the same tension and pitch. Pluck each gut and adjust with the screwdriver until they all sound the same, then turn the knob next to the strainer handle to increase or decrease the tension of the guts on the head.

Too loose, and the snares will not even touch the head. Too tight, and the guts will not vibrate when the head is struck. After that, it’s all personal preference!


Lane Armey is the battery percussion coordinator for Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif. During the past 15 years, he has worked with various groups including Northwestern University and the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps.

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