Reverb's Top Five Signature Snare Drums

A signature sound for a drummer is difficult to pin down. Whereas a guitar is packaged as a singular unit, a drum set is an amalgamation of separate parts that creates a modular, adaptable instrument. The question becomes: how do you define a signature drum sound? Sure, there are signature artist drumsets for behemoths like Ringo or Bonzo, but they are few and far between. Signature artist cymbals are also in rotation, but a throaty crash or a solid bell on a ride is, in most cases, a fringe definition of the meat and potatoes a drummer brings to the table. One of the most definitive sounds a listener hears and a drummer obsesses over sits smack in the middle of a kit: the snare. That’s where you find a signature sound.

Today, there’s an army of signature artist snares on the market. Some are great, some are not so great. We rounded up our favorites from all over the site running the gamut of genre, price and era. These snares were selected on the basis of their quality and construction, but also for their ability to capture the sound of the artist they were made for. Let’s get into it.

Chad Smith

You can run, you can hide, but you can’t escape the ubiquity of Pearl’s Chad Smith Signature Snare. From corporate stores to mom and pop shops, the Chad Smith snare is one of the most popular and easily recognizable signature models on the market, and for good reason. Reasonably priced and surprisingly versatile, the 5”x14” black nickel-plated steel shell boasts a dynamic tuning range, clear sensitivity and a high-decibel response without a lot of effort. Chad’s unmistakable ghost notes and solid “crack” are easily achievable with a quick tune, and the price point makes this snare an attractive alternative to Tama’s Stewart Copeland Signature.

Mike Portnoy

Tama thought that the prog-metal master and thumping heart of Dream Theater should have equipment to match his resume. The Mike Portnoy Signature comes in 5”x14” and 5.5x14” models of 1 mm thick hammered flat black steel (a 9-ply bubinga model exists in 5.5” as well), making for a stark, sensitive and crisp snare not afraid to force its way through a mix. The die-cast chrome hoops act as something of a governor to the snare’s throaty power and make tuning and sound management a bit easier. Tama also includes a “three-way strainer” on the model, something they claim adds new facets to the possible snare sounds. Even if the strainer seems gimmicky, Tama is fabled for making powerhouse snares, and the Mike Portnoy Signature stands as a pillar in their hard rock tradition.

Taylor Hawkins

Taylor Hawkins - aka blonde Animal from The Muppets - isn’t exactly what you’d call a refined drummer, but he more than makes up for an absence of poise with sheer force and aggression. Some say his Gretsch signature model is too basic to warrant attention, but the snare is all Hawkins: a no-frills black nickel over steel shell unabashed about tearing its way into a mix. This is a workhorse snare any rock drummer be pleased to place as the fulcrum of their kit. Throw in a 26” kick, big crashes and some hard-hitting elbow grease, and arena presence is within easy grasp.

Anton Fig

The name “Anton Fig” might not have the immediate recognizability to some readers as other names on this list, but without doubt, millions, maybe billions, have heard his playing. A lauded session drummer best known as the drummer for The Tonight Show with David Letterman’s house band and for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s house band CBS Orchestra, Fig is a tight, fierce player who earned the nickname “Buddy Rich Jr.” Yamaha’s Signature Snares are one of the most coveted snare lines for their immaculate quality and sound, and Fig’s stands as a sterling example. The 14”x6”, 7-ply maple shell and 19-ply maple hoops coated in urethane for added durability offer up the kind of clarity, warmth, and depth that make drummers weak in the knees. If you’ve got the scratch to spend, this is one snare that lives up to the hype.

Kenny Aronoff

Unrelenting, pronounced and aggressive are just a few adjectives that come to mind when thinking of Kenny Aronoff’s powerful style and performance. A man who has played with the likes of Mellencamp to Bob Seger to Alice Cooper brings a lot of oomph to the table, and his signature snare through Tama, the Trackmaster, is designed to emulate his personality and style. Designed after the Black Beauty, the 5”x14” model is black nickel over brass with ornate carvings reminiscent of classic pre-war Black Beauties. With no internal muffling device, the snare is brash and resonant but immensely sensitive. Players looking for more understated tone and style will want to look elsewhere, but if raw power is your game, the Trackmaster is a great partner in crime.

Buying Guide: Snare Drums
Everything you need to know about snare drum sizes, styles, and other considerations
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