how to put on a new snare drum head

so...your drum is starting to sound like a soggy trash can. or maybe it's starting to become impossible to play a clean roll because the head is droopy and there's no more bounce.

it's time to change your snare drum head.

"but," you might be thinking, "what if i don't do it right, and i actually make it sound worse?" or "what if i ruin the head and mess up the lugs?"

i'm glad you asked me that question!

today's video, the 2nd in our series of 4 videos on how to tune your snare drum and make it sound awesome, is about how to replace your head.

it's easy (3 steps), and the snare drum tuning guide PDF will help you clearly follow the directions as you go.

how to put on a new snare drum head

i'm gonna show you how to put on a new snare drum head in 3 simple steps.

ok, so there's no exact moment when you know for sure that it's time to replace the drum head. it doesn't usually split down the middle. usually it just gets beaten down so much that it starts to sound dead, and no matter what you do to it, you can't make it sound nice.

but it's easy! the three steps are:

  1. take off the old head
  2. put on the new head
  3. even out the lugs

if you get lost along the way, you can follow along with the snare drum tuning guide that you can download on this page!

step 1: take off the old head

take off the head by loosening all the tension rods to 0 and laying all the hardware carefully on the table. a couple things to keep in mind here: you want to loosen all the rods around the drum evenly. don't do it in a circle; do it in a big star pattern. remember that these lugs are supposed to have tension up and down, and if you have tension on one side and not the other, it's going to start pulling sideways, which can bend the lugs and start to warp your drum.

here's my system for loosening or tightening lugs: i always start with the one to my right and the one across from it at the same time. then i skip a lug and i go to the next one, and then i go around like that until i've hit all 10 lugs. i only do 2 or so turns at once, max. as you take each piece of hardware off, put it on the table beside you IN ORDER, so that later you can put them all back in the exact same place when you're putting the head on.

why does this matter? if there's some sort of irregularity, maybe one of the tension rods is a teeny bit bent, there's so much tension on the drum that the lug that the rod goes into could also bend a little bit and adjust its shape over time. then, if you put that weird tension rod in another lug, then that one starts to get funny, and then another rod starts to get funny, then another, then another. 

you want to dry to avoid your drum warping and you want to limit the damage if something is funny about your drum by keeping everything in the same place and letting it maintain its shape over time.

step 2: put on the new head

this step includes putting on the new head, putting on all the hardware, and tuning it up to playing tension.

you're going to measure it precisely later, but for now just keep all the tension rods generally even as you go. you're going to go through 5 checkpoints along the way:

  • first you're going put the tension rods in at absolute zero...just enough to not fall out.
  • then you're going to screw them in to touching, which is the point where the head of the screw touches the hoop. anything beyond that is actually adding tension to the hoop and the drum head.
  • then you can continue tightening to finger tight, which is basically as tight as you can make it without your fingers getting too uncomfortable and having to press too hard.
  • then get your drum keys out, and using the tightening system that we talked about before, start bringing the rods up 2 half-turns at a time, until the point where you see no more wrinkles in the head.
  • then bring it up 2 or 3 more full-turns until you get to playing tension.

step 3: even out the lugs

this step involves evening out the lugs and rods until the drum can ring clearly. some people call this "clearing the head." i do this by measuring the distance between the top of the drum head and the top of the hoop to make sure that it's evenly pulled down all the way around.

so first, you measure. find a measurement device that's sturdy and doesn't bed. i use a credit card that has characters on the side on the back. put one side of the card on the head, out at an angle so it doesn't fall in the ditch, and the other side of the card up against the lug as close as you can get it. in your eyeline, line up the top of the back hoop with the top of the front hoop so that you're reading it at the same angle every single time.

read the measurement, write it down, measure all the other lugs, and write those down. this is the key: look at that list of measurements, take the average of all of them, and then that's going to be the measurement you use to adjust all the lugs to.

now we adjust the lugs 1 by 1. if the first lug needs an adjustment, do we tighten it or do we loosen it? if you need to shorten that distance, then you tighten it. if you need to lengthen that distance, then you loosen it. you can tighten it in quarter-, half-, or full-turn increments. try not to let the lugs just start pointing in random directions, because that's going to make your life so much easier later when you're tuning the head.

when you loosen one, you need to loosen it about a quarter-turn past where it's supposed to go, and then tighten it back into position.

once you've adjusted it, measure it again and continue adjusting it until it's correct. then adjust the next, and the next, and the next, and the next until you get all the way around the drum. here's the thing: each time you make an adjustment to a lug, it's going to slightly effect all the other lugs. you need to continue going around and adjusting the lugs until they're all correct. once you can count 10 lugs in a row that don't need an adjustment, you're done.

rob's snare drum tuning guide

i made this comprehensive tuning guide that includes diagrams, checklists, and explanations so you can get started right away.

the next step is to start tuning the top and bottom heads up and down until you can find the right pitches and the right ratio of tension between the heads. it's also to optimize the snares, and i'm going to talk about those topics in the next couple of videos which will be posted on my facebook page and my youtube channel.

thanks, and don't forget to download the comprehensive tuning guide!

rob knopper

hailed by @nytimes and james levine as needing 'louder triangle notes'. recorded delécluse: douze études for snare drum, percussionist in @metorchestra.