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Snare drum shell thickness / metal shells - brass, steel, etc
Old 26th April 2011
Lives for gear
666666's Avatar
Snare drum shell thickness / metal shells - brass, steel, etc

I'd like to do a little study here of the thicknesses of popular metal drum shells.

I was inspired to post this after recently starting to look into new brass shell snare drums and discovering that many are of different thicknesses. In some cases the shell thickness spec is not advertised by the manufacturer and in some cases this spec is not even available at all from the manufacturer. And, with something like a brass shell specifically, the thickness of the shell plays a very significant part in the overall sound and behavior.

As I recently posted in a recent thread, I've previously owned Pearl brass shells and currently have an old Tama "brass" shell (not the bell brass), the Tama being maybe 50% thicker than the Pearl... and these drums sound and behave drastically different from each other.

Pearl does list their shell thickness, their new brass shells are listed as 1.5mm thick. 1.5mm is equivalent to about 0.06 inches.

On the more extreme end of the spectrum, by comparison, the new Gretsch spun brass shells, as reported by Gretsch, are 3mm thick (about 0.12 inches). This is the same as the old super heavy (and super expensive) Tama bell brass snares that were also listed as 3mm thick. These are a totally different animal verses the 1.5mm and less thickness brass drums.

I'm interested in the new (and vintage) Ludwig shells, such as the COB shells and Black Beauty shells. I can't seem to find thickness info on these shells on the web anywhere. Anyone know? Did I miss it? I've found just about every spec possible except for shell thickness. I'm sure they're not 3mm, but are they 1.5mm, or 2.3mm, or???

I realize that shell thickness isn't everything, actual composition of the metal is important too, I'm sure the "brass" used for these assorted snare shells is of very different compositions etc. But, the thickness spec is still useful for predicting at least somewhat how the drum may sound and behave. There is surely a very large difference between a 1.5mm thick shell and 3mm shell regardless of the exact metal composition.

I have a good micrometer here that I use to measure shell thickness. Yes, I also have a ball attachment for the micrometer which is necessary for measuring from the inside of curved surfaces (inside of shells) etc.

I just measured the thickness of one of my vintage Ludwig Supra Ludalloy shells (1970 Super-Sensitive 5"X14")... measures accurately, and quite consistently, at 0.0720 inches (which is about 1.83mm) . When I get a chance I'll measure my other two vintage Ludalloy Supras just to check for consistency. And... hmmm... it would be interesting to measure a brand new Ludalloy Supra too... (this might be something that Ludwig might not want us to be doing ).

It would be awesome if someone could measure the new (and vintage) Ludwig Black Beautys and COBs etc. I'd find this info interesting.

In general, with metal shells, based on my own experience, the thicker the shell, the higher the pitch, the brighter the frequency response, the sharper the attack, etc (just like with wood shells). Again, I had some "thin" Pearl brass shells here and I felt they were somewhat dark, soft and mushy in general, where as my thicker Tama brass shell is, by comparison, brighter, sharper, etc.

Same with steel shells... have a Pearl 1mm steel and a Yamaha steel which is thicker (can't remember the exact spec at the moment, might be 1.3mm or so), and the Yamaha, with same heads and same tuning, sounds brighter, sharper etc... (but the Pearl will achieve more low end, in a very nice way).

Side note: none of this means that thick shells are better, thin shells certainly bring a lot to the table and have their own very useful sound and vibe, it's just a matter of personal preference. I tend to tune very tight and hit hard, I like a lot of response and sharp attack for great articulation of rudiments, etc. "Thick", "fat" or "dull" sounding snares are generally not what I'm after.

Once a drummer came to the studio with a vintage Zildjian brass snare (seemed similar to an old Tama bell brass), super thick shell, it weighed a ton, this snare sounded ridiculous. Loudest snare I never heard and had a very distinct tone and character... extremely sharp, bright and focused, like a real gunshot. Very wet, very metallic. It was so unusual sounding that it was almost a problem to deal with in the studio, but it ultimately worked and sounds very cool and distinct on the recording. But... this drum surely wasn't for me, it was TOO sharp and TOO bright, was off the charts, just too extreme, my assessment is that such a snare drum is almost more a novelty than a useful instrument, but if the guy who owns this snare heard me say this he'd probably break a pair of drumsticks over my head.

Anyway, just figured I'd post this in case anyone else out there has any interest in thickness specs for assorted common metal snare drum shells. I wonder if there are any universal charts / lists anywhere.

Before I get flamed here, I'll just state that usually, I am not a "scientist" when it comes to instruments (and pro audio gear). I am a firm believer in obtaining instruments SOLELY based on how they sound and feel, I almost NEVER look at specs and generally do not care about specs.

However, when it comes to snare drums, I do find it interesting to note specs, it DOES help to know in advance the thickness of shells that one might be considering, helps to give one an idea of what the drum is about. For instance, I already know that I am not a big fan of very thin brass shells, based on several different thin shelled brass snares I've had here to use. But I DO know that I like "thicker" brass shells (such as my old Tama... can't remember the exact spec on this one at the moment, but I think it might be 1.8mm - 2.2mm).

So... I have my eye on possibly a Black Beauty (thickness = ???)... or... I'm open to any other ideas too. But, in general, I'd be looking to potentially audition brass shells of thicker than 1.5mm but less than 3mm, based on my past experiences.

I don't think any brass shells less than 1.5mm are going to work for me. Just too dull and dark sounding... and mushy feeling... for me personally. The Pearl 1.5mm brass shells were so thin and soft you could just about dent them by pressing your finger against the shell... and it makes sense that a shell that is so soft is going to be a bit dark and dull sounding. My thicker Tama brass shell, you can knock on that shell quite hard with your knuckles and it feels nice and solid, not gonna dent so easily... very firm, stiff, hard edged.

Anyway, I'm all ears at this point. Would love to hear any thoughts / comments from anyone who might have any interest in this subject.

Old 27th April 2011
Lives for gear
666666's Avatar
I just found a bit of info on the web regarding Ludwig Supraphonic shell thickness.

One fellow also measured some old Supra shells (a 1970 and 1963) and, like me, arrived at a shell thickness spec of 1.8mm... at least near the upper end of the shell. This fellow claims though that towards the bottom of the shell the thickness is different, thinner, at 1.6mm. Interesting. I had only measured mine near the top (about three quarters of an inch below the batter side bearing edge). Next time I'll have to measure the bottom end as well to see if I also come up with 1.6mm.

Shell Thickness

Old 27th April 2011
I'm going to see if I can squeeze some info out of Gregg Keplinger about this - he's The Man when it comes to metal shell snares, IMO.
Old 29th April 2011
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666666's Avatar
Originally Posted by bleen View Post
I'm going to see if I can squeeze some info out of Gregg Keplinger about this - he's The Man when it comes to metal shell snares, IMO.

I just made a discovery... Yamaha's chrome-plated aluminum shell snare drums are of 2.0mm shell thickness according to Yamaha. In theory this shell should be VERY close to a Ludwig Supra (which is also chrome-plated aluminum and is about 1.8mm thick). Lug casing design is similar to the Supras as well. I may have to get my hands on one of these aluminum Yamahas to see just how close they are in terms of sound and feel etc to a Supra. The Yamahas are a lot less expensive and are likely made with greater precision too... perhaps they are "Super-Supras" (Yamaha SD-3465)

But, the Supras do have very wide, rounded bearing edges, the Yamahas likely have much sharper bearing edges, that plays a big part of course, the Yamaha may not feel and sound as meaty by comparison... but might have better stick response.

I do have a steel shelled Yamaha that I like a lot, shell thickness is 1.2mm (which is thicker than most other steel shelled drums which are typically 1.0mm). This drum has a nice upper-end cut, nice high-end, but still a good overall tonal balance. Crispy but not ear-splitting.

The Pearl aluminum snare shells (NOT the cast ones) are apparently 1.2mm in thickness, much thinner than the Supra shells and Yamaha aluminum shells. I suspect they are very different and probably not nearly as quick and crisp. Just a speculation.

The Pearl cast aluminum though (Ultra-Cast)... 3mm thick... I did briefly test one of these a while back when they first came out... my personal comment is, like with the 3mm Tama bell brass, these drums are VERY loud with absolutely devastating attack. They can also be extremely sensitive as well, very different animal verses the more common 1.5mm - 2.0mm type shells. Whether or not the solid 3mm type shells are "better" is purely a personal choice. They would almost seem too "extreme" for my tastes, I like a snare that blends well with the rest of the kit in terms of volume and tone. But surely the ultra thick 3mm type shells can be very cool in the right situation... and they'll cut through anything if you need that ability.

Again, thin shells can have their pluses... my Pearl steel shell snare (6.5"), only 1.0mm thick, yields tremendous low-end.... but with plenty of top-end too. On more than one occasion I've had guys at rehearsal studios say, "man, I can really feel that snare, it's like a punch to the gut"... that's the low-end they're referring to of course. But it's never muddy... but that could also be because I tune quite tight. I have to question if the super thick shells can yield that type of true, physical low-end "punch". Probably not. But they'll surely yield a gunshot-like crack like no other, something that the 1.0mm shell is not going to be able to do.

It's all interesting stuff. I'm all hot on this Yamaha 2.0mm chrome-plated aluminum shell now though. Could this be a cheap and well-made "Supra sound-alike"? Well, if I find a good deal on one, I may give it a shot... if so, I'll surely report back.
Old 28th April 2015
Gear Maniac
DaPhunk73's Avatar

This is an interesting topic!

I have been playing Ludwig 5½ keystone Supras almost exclusively for years, and recently acquired a 6½" Yamaha SD-3465, and it is quite similar to a Ludwig Supra. Having only owed 5½ supras, I can't make direct comparison, but the first impression is a bit like a supra on steroids. Definitely worth checking out!
Old 16th June 2019
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rojaros's Avatar
I'll measure my Pearl Marvin "Smitty" Smith Signature copper snare drum when I'm back home in a few days.
Old 24th June 2019
Gear Addict
Gulliver's Avatar

Just a note as we're talking here a little about some of the vintage snares.. Wanted to add that "Ludalloy" is actually an aluminum and magnesium alloy. A little different from the Slingerland, etc straight aluminum shells. The early Supraphonics (1960-63) were brass of course, and were actually called Super Ludwig". The Supraphonic" name cam with the "Ludalloy" in 1963.

Good work 666666 on deciphering all the different shell thicknesses, it's interesting. Another huge difference in sound are the hoops themselves, and the differences in 1.3/1.5/2.3mm and die cast hoops, but probably another thread entirely
Old 4th July 2019
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rojaros's Avatar
Originally Posted by rojaros View Post
I'll measure my Pearl Marvin "Smitty" Smith Signature copper snare drum when I'm back home in a few days.
It's dfficult to measure, but it seems to be around 1.03mm of copper.
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