If you ask 10 different drummers which kind of snare drum material sounds best, you will likely get 10 different answers. Brass, aluminium and steel are commonly used in snare drum construction, but copper snare drums are becoming a niche market. Perhaps as much as the material of the drum itself, the choices you make regarding drum hardware, construction, heads and tuning can greatly affect the sound.
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Typically, copper-shell drums are more expensive than aluminium-shell drums. Copper typically costs more than aluminium, so drum builders will factor those material costs into the ultimate price of the drum. However, the cost of a snare drum depends on more than just the raw shell material. The number of hours a drum builder puts into making the snare and the cost and quality of hardware attached to a drum may make a handcrafted aluminium snare more expensive than a mass-produced copper drum.
According to a comparison of metal-shelled doumbek drums on the Art Drum website, a copper shell of the same design as an aluminium shell will have greater resonance and more of a "singing" quality. A comparison of Puresound limited-edition snares in copper and aluminium models indicates that the aluminium drum has more of a ringing, brash sound than a comparable copper drum. Drum reviewer Billy Ramirez says an aluminium drum needed to be tuned higher than a copper snare to tame the ringing sound.
Art Drum indicates that a doumbek drum in copper is lighter than an aluminium drum; however, it is common for aluminium snare drum shells to be relatively thin, which may reduce the overall shell weight. For example, the Puresound Limited Edition Ultrasonic aluminium snare is 1mm thick. The Ludwig Acrolite aluminium snare drum of the 1960s and 1970s was likewise thin and lightweight.
Billy Ramirez says the Puresound copper snare drum is louder overall than the aluminium drum in the same range. Ramirez adds that both thin-shell drums are not likely to be very rugged and would be damaged if dropped or knocked offstage. When choosing any kind of metal snare drum, balance weight and fragility, as well as sound quality and price.
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