The 2020 pandemic has been a truly remarkable and stressful shit show. Aside from its stresses, I thought maybe I could use the opportunity to really dive into how Ludwig snare drums differ (or don't) across the decades. So I decided it would be fun to put together a head-to-head sound off - what I'm calling the "Throwoff" - for several 6.5"x14" Ludwig snares.
My first disclaimer is I'm a drummer, not a sound engineer. So I'm not doing a super fancy "in-studio setup" and recording. I'm trying to keep it basic. I'm still working through the particulars. It may end up being a simple iphone recording for each one. It may get a little more involved with some specific drum mic'ing and condenser overheads. I'm not sure yet.
What I do know is all of the snare drums in the Throwoff will be thoroughly inspected, reconditioned and dialed-in with the same heads and same tunings. For the heads, I've been loving the Aquarian Hi Velocity white texture coated batter side head lately. It's a 7 mil two-ply head with a reverse "power dot" underneath. It is highly durable for rock applications and the two-ply construction helps to control overtones. On the snare side, I'm using the Aquarian Classic Clear snare side. It's a traditional 3 mil single ply head.
I chose to go with Aquarian heads on this Throwoff because, frankly, I just love how they are constructed and I've been using them on my snares for years. The collar of the drum head ensures the head lays nice and flat and it hugs the outer shell around the bearing edges. Lately, I've noticed drum heads from other manufacturers seem to have a bit more side-to-side movement than they used to. Now I don't know if that is indicative of drum manufacturers slightly shrinking the shell diameter or what...we'll look into that another time.
I'm even using each drum's period correct snare strainer. Three drums have the original strainers; two drums have replacements but are period correct. These aren't upgraded Puresound wires for this Throwoff. Normally, if I was testing Supras I would upgrade to the Puresound CPS1420. However, because we are including three Super Sensitives, which obviously don't use the CPS1420, I chose to stay "as built." So I'm using what Ludwig would have (or did) use from the factory.
Here's the line up and the order in which the drums will be tested:
1970 Ludwig LM 411 Super Sensitive
1976 Ludwig Vistalite Super Sensitive (very rare drum)
1988 Ludwig LM411 Super Sensitive
1990s Ludwig Chrome over Steel (COS) Student Model (made in Taiwan)
2010 Ludwig LB417 Black Beauty
The only reason I'm not including a vintage Ludwig LM 402 or a more modern Supralite is because I don't currently have either in the shop. While I have several LM 400s, I want to ensure each drum has the same dimensions to provide an apples-to-apples comparison.
The other thing that will be noticeable in the Throwoff is the '70 LM 411, '76 Vistalite SS and the '88 LM411 each have tone control built in. I will be using that to control some of the overtones on those drums. Because the '90s COS and the 2010 BB don't have built in tone control, I plan to use a small amount of moon gel. Hopefully this puts all of these drums on an even playing field.
Any predictions on which drum will come out the winner? Wait. How does one drum win over another? Well, truly this is highly subjective. However, because each will have the same heads, same tunings and nearly the same tone control, I'm thinking tone is the winning factor. Part of why I decided to do the Throwoff is curiosity. Particularly with the '90s COS student model made in Taiwan ... by all indications, this should be a clear loser going head-to-head with these other four drums.
I'm excited for part two and sharing some of the video clips of the Throwoff. Please stay tuned! That should be forthcoming in mid September.
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