Offending Buzz

Many of us face an ongoing battle when it comes to removing unwanted buzz from our snare drums. This buzzing sound is almost a way of life for most drummers ... but in order to resolve the issue we first need to know what is causing it.

Snare buzz is caused by what is known as sympathetic vibrations. Things such as your tom-toms and kick drum can cause the snare to "buzz". The sympathetic vibrations can be reduced by changing the tuning of your snare drum so that its pitch is no longer close to the pitch of the offending drum(s). Sometimes the harmonics alone are enough to trigger this unwanted buzz ... so even though the fundamental pitches may different, the upper partials found in the toms and kick can cause your snare wires to vibrate.

It's not only drums that can cause sympathetic vibrations. Any sound source that comes close to the pitch (including harmonics) of your snare drum can cause this buzzing nightmare. Bass guitars, electric guitars, piano, monitors ... anything in the band's sound system can cause a problem. Even the room you are in can reflect the sound back so that the snare itself seems to cause its own buzzing!

Many drummers (including myself) have found a way to deal with and remove this unwanted snare buzz ... without having to rip your entire kit apart.

First you need to make sure that all the drums, especially the snare, are in tune with themselves. Check each drum, batter and resonant side, to make sure they are in tune with themselves as well as to the related drumhead (top or bottom) on that same drum. If the buzzing persists, and you really like the way your snare drum is tuned (and don't want to change it) see if you can tune the drum that is firing off your snare wires a little differently. If that doesn't work for you, it's now time to address the snare drum again.

On the snare-side head, that is the bottom resonant head on the snare drum, back off the tension slightly on the tension rods which lay to each side of the snare wires. The area where the snare wires lay is called the snare bed. Some snare drums have a snare bed actually cut into the shell, creating a little channel for the wires to lay. So what we are doing is loosening the tension around the snare bed only ... nowhere else. Some people find the best results when they loosen the tension to the point that you see wrinkles in the drumhead just under the snares on the snare bed. So when you are finished, you will have only loosened four tension rods; one on each side of the snare wires. The imbalance of tension we've just created on the snare head (at the snare bed) helps to dissipate the sympathetic vibrations caused by other instruments in the drumkit and the band.

When it comes to recording, many drummers just accept a little bit of buzz in the snare sound. It is, in fact, part of the drum's natural sound, but we don't want it to get out of hand!

If you find that the sound engineer is giving you a lot of grief over the buzz, but you like it as is, here's a little trick I do.  When I'm doing a sound check at the session ... I flip my snares OFF (aka muffled snare) after we check the snare, then proceed to check the other drums. Then when the engineer is ready to hear the WHOLE kit, I flip the snare wires back on. This way, no one hears any buzzing while checking individual tom-toms or kick drum. When you are actually recording ... all the mics are up and running, so all the sound bleeds anyway ... so what's the big deal right?!

Lastly, as a last resort, you can always break out a little tape to dampen a drumhead. Place the tape on the snare head or the resonant head of the offending drum. If this doesn't help, then go ahead and try dampening the batter head as well. I strongly discourage anyone from using tape as their default solution to poor tuning and/or sympathetic vibrations. The reason is that any drum will breathe and sound so much more natural if you just leave it WIDE OPEN!!! Sometimes, unfortunately, it's just not possible. Experiment with the amount of tape as well as the placement. Just try to use as little tape as possible.

It's always best to get out from behind the drumkit, when possible, to see what the audience is hearing from your drums. If you are on a live gig, have someone play your drums as you see just how bad the buzzing really is. What you hear behind the kit will always sound more intense than what everyone else hears. If you are in the recording studio, go into the control room to listen back to your drums before making drastic changes.

Be encouraged; snare buzz is a way of life for many of us. The key is to minimize the offending buzz as it as much as possible without sacrificing the overall sound of your drums.