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The Snare Tailpiece

The image is clear, in this post I want to talk about the tailpiece of the snare drum.

The tailpiece is one of the parts of the battery that is less considered by those who start playing and do not have much experience. In reality, it is a fundamental element, just think that without the tailpiece the snare drum would sound like any other 14″ shallow tom.

It is often perceived also with a certain annoyance, especially when you hear that characteristic rustling sound while the other instruments are playing and then you go there with your hand to try to “stop” the sound or worse still resort to adhesive tapes and handkerchiefs.

Before acting, it is better to understand some things.

I go step by step, one question at a time:

WHAT IS THE TAILPIECE?

Few descriptions would be more explanatory than good old and dear Wikipedia:

The tailpiece is composed of a series of metal spirals, called “threads” (in the numbest of twenty in the most common models), put under tension by a  string-making machine. The spirals run parallel to each other along the diameter of the drum and are put in contact with the resonant skin with a tension that can be regulated, which is increased and decreased by means of a special screw (usually driven by a knob or a wheel ). Increasing the tension of the tailpiece corresponds to a reduction, in duration, of the vibration of the same: the sound will, therefore, be shorter and dry.

A lever on the machine also allows the release of the tailpiece, removing it from the skin and thus eliminating the effect on the sound. This is useful [….]  Since, at times, the snare drum is preferred “without a tailpiece” or when, playing with sticks or with other knockers, you want to get different sounds and timbres.

In fact, by “unhooking” the tailpiece, we will have what is the true sound of the snare drum, which is of the coupled drum-skin.

This is very important. That is the TRUE SOUND of the snare drum. There are very few people who, when they go to buy a snare drum, also listen to the sound without a tailpiece, but it should always be done because a tailpiece if you don’t like it you can always change it, but the shaft will always remain the same.

MODELS AND TYPOLOGIES

The tailpieces differ mainly in:

  • Number of wires
  • Wire material
  • How much the wires are “spiraled”
  • Plate material
  • Ties or cords (to attach them to the snare)

NUMBER OF WIRES

The wider tailpieces, unlike those with fewer threads, have more volume and are much more sensitive. Obviously this could cause problems in his control. To some, this does not bother, also because it tends to be often hidden by the other instruments, to others instead this feature does not like at all. It depends a lot on the genre played, on the volumes, on whether to use the brushes, on the tension and the resonant skin pattern.

There are some types of tailpiece that have an empty space in the center. That type of tailpiece guarantees a fuller and drier sound than the standard ones.

MATERIAL OF WIRES

The most common tailpieces are made of steel or a steel/carbon mix. The latter guarantees a brighter and “sparkling” sound. There are also tailpieces made of synthetic gut, less common and with a much less brilliant sound.

Some use synthetic gut to decrease the volume a bit when playing in small venues. Personally, I consider it a somewhat uncomfortable solution (changing the tailpiece according to the premises) and would not alter the snare drum too much due to volume requirements.

AS WIRES ARE SPIRAL

The spiraling of the wires also called “curling” affects the volume and how the sound is articulated.

The greater the spiraling of the wire, the greater the volume. It will be the quality of the sound that is described as less articulated.

More spirals = More volume

Frankly, I would focus on the volume because the complexity of the sound is a very subjective factor and to say that a more curled spring has a less articulated sound can be a source of discussion.

BANDS OR CORDS

The straps are usually more reliable than the cables (personal experience and opinion), both in terms of tension and resistance. The fact remains that if you break the lines, you can remedy the flight quite easily, while finding a clamp may not be easy. Fortunately, many plates allow the use of both systems.

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