Author: Dawson, Michael
Date published: March 1, 2013
Ludwig snare drums have played a crucial role throughout drumming history. These coveted instruments, from one of the United States' original drum companies, have appeared on countless recordings and stages since the early twentieth century. From the early days of jazz and Dixieland to the evolution of contemporary styles like modern rock and fusion, Ludwig has always been a go-to choice. And any studio drummer would attest that no drum collection is complete without at least one Ludwig snare. Some would even argue that you could get through just about any session or gig with a single Black Beauty or Supraphonic.
Ludwig recently introduced a new snare line, Supralite, which features a chromedsteel shell and vintage-style tube lugs. To see where the Supralite fits within the sonic spectrum of the black-nickel-over-brass Black Beauty and chrome-over-aluminum Supraphonic, we had the company send over a sample of each: a 5×14 Supraphonic, a 5×14 Black Beauty, and a unique 5×15 Supralite.
OPEN IT UP
Ludwig metal-shell snares are revered for having vibrant, open tones and great snare sensitivity-two traits that translate just as well to the stage as they do to the recording studio. The kit that we used to test these drums was a 1964 Slingerland. To get a baseline, we first played the kit with its matching single-ply maple snare. The drums sounded warm, punchy, and controlled, if not a bit dark and dry. When we swapped out the maple snare with one of the Ludwigs (it didn't matter which one), the kit sprung to life with a much livelier presence. The entire drumset sounded more resonant and open, just by swapping in a Ludwig snare. It was pretty mind-blowing.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM
We tested the entire tuning range of these drums by playing the same basic funk groove for a few bars at various tensions, from as high as the head would go down to as low as it would go. Then we tuned each drum to the same pitch (E) and played them all in a lighter jazz setting. This gave us a good idea of each snare's versatility, as well as its core tonality.
What we discovered is that all three snares shared Ludwig's trademark expressiveness, and each one worked well at just about any tuning. Yet there was a clear difference in timbre between them. The 5×14 Black Beauty ($1,295) sounded warmer and darker, especially at high tunings, and a medium tension produced a classic "crack" with just the right amount of overtone. The word dignified came to mind when I played this drum, whether I was slamming rimshots or dropping in light Billy Higgins-style comping.
The 5x14 Supraphonic ($695) was a wilder beast, exhibiting a wider array of overtones and a sharper attack. This drum made me play with a looser feel and with a bit more recklessness. Tuned lower, it recalled sloppy, sweaty classic-rock stylings, with wide resonance and a smacking attack. And when tuned tight, it beckoned for slippery, sneaky Chad Smith/Zigaboo Modeliste ghost-note grooves. In a jazz setting, the Supraphonic urged me to go for a more adventurous Elvin Jones-type approach.
With such stellar sounds coming from the Black Beauty and Supraphonic, we were a bit apprehensive about the 5x15 Supralite. After all, this Taiwanese-made drum retails for less than half the cost of its U.S.-made brethren (the 5x15 Supralite lists for $309.99). Yet it stood its ground and brought to the table a brighter and sharper tone that was distinctly different from that of the other two.
The extra inch of width on the 15" Supralite will take some getting used to, as you'll have to adjust how you approach rimclicks and rimshots to find the sweet spot. But it's a fun drum to play. Very tight tunings produced a strong "pop" with a bit more girth than you get from a 13" or 14" model, and medium tunings showcased long, even overtones. I could also get a solid, fat tone out of the Supralite without having to loosen the batter head too much, and the drum's shallow depth helped retain crisp snare response across all tunings. In lighter jazz styles, the Supralite might sound a bit too bright, but it had a really nice rimshot that had me attacking it from a more aggressive Jack DeJohnette-inspired headspace.
You can't go wrong with owning any one of these three snares. If prodded to make a choice, I'd say the 5x15 Supralite is probably the least essential, due to its brighter, louder tone, but it's hard to argue against it, since it has such an affordable price. In a perfect world, I'd keep all three of these snares at my disposal, with the Black Beauty tuned medium for a classic, all-purpose sound, the Supraphonic tuned tight for extra funkiness, and the Supralite tuned low and muffled for a fat yet vibrant punch.