By Jay Tibbitts
After four years of piano lessons from age 7-10, I begged my mom to let me switch to playing drums. Hesitant that I wouldn’t stick with it for long, my parents bought me a Remo drum practice pad and signed me up for lessons to see how serious I was.
As I proved myself by practicing month after month on my pad, they finally helped me out and arranged for me to get a drum set.
On my 11th birthday, my grandfather delivered an old red Ludwig drum set. The kit was beat-up and scratched. The hardware stands were mismatched. The cymbals included were a pair of 70s Zildjian hi-hats and an old 19″ Paiste crash, and the snare drum was something akin to the CB700 or Sunlite steel or aluminum drum.
At age 11, I didn’t know better. However, as I progressed in my drumming over the years, I quickly realized the importance of having better cymbals and a robust and versatile snare drum.
As I asked my drum teachers, musician friends, and older drummers what kind of snare drum I should get, they all recommended the same thing…the Ludwig Black Beauty.
Ludwig Black Beauty Review
I’m 32 now and have been playing Ludwig snares since I was 16 years old. I’ve played varying sizes of Black Beauty snares on tours, sessions, and a wide variety of gigs from small jazz club gigs in Graz, Austria, to outdoor alt-rock festivals in Austin, Texas. I can add my testimony to the legacy that the Ludwig Black Beauty snare drum is one of the best snare drums I’ve played and owned.
My favorite aspect of the drum is its versatility. I have cranked it up super tight for specific jazz and pop gigs, and I have tuned it down as low as it goes with moon gels and tape all over it. I have always been able to achieve whatever tone I am searching for.
What Size Snare Drum Should I Use?
These days you have many options for snare sizes and builds. I have owned and played three different sizes and makes of the Black Beauty snare. I have a 6.5″ x14″ deeper version, a standard 5″ x14″, and a hammered shell 6.5″ x14″ version with tube lugs. Here are my thoughts on those three drums:
- 5×14 – My personal favorite has been the 5″x14″ version. I have found that my 5″x14″ deep version sounds good in just about any tuning range. Even though it’s only five inches deep, it always has a deep and rich tone while still providing a clear, strong crack for the backbeat. I also love how it responds when I tune it up and keep my snares reasonably tight.
- 6.5×14 – The 6.5″ deep versions are great drums as well, but I haven’t been as satisfied with the drum in the medium-high to higher tuning ranges. It always feels a little choked and stiff in that range. When I am looking for a classic deep snare sound, wide-open rock snare, or a lower and deadened snare sound, I usually go with the 6.5″ deep snare and then muffle to taste. (Lately, I’ve been loving using Drum Tortillas)
- 6.5×14 Hammered Shell – The hand-hammered shell with tube lugs looks incredible, but I have found that the tube lugs lose their tuning quickly, and the drum itself is quite dry for my taste. This is probably because of the reduced reflections with the hammered shell. I feel it doesn’t have as much resonance and body as the smooth shells. I absolutely love the look of tube lugs. Still, in my experience, they lose their tuning too quickly and loosen much quicker than the imperial lugs.
The Ludwig Black Beauty typically features:
- P85 snare throw-off
- Black chrome finish over seamless brass shell
- Smooth shell with Imperial lugs
- Triple-flanged hoop
Die-Cast Hoops or Triple Flanged Hoops?
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of drummers experimenting with die-cast hoops on their Ludwig snares. The die-cast hoop provides a heavier hoop that can take a beating if you really need a slamming rimshot.
If you need your snare to cut and want more volume out of it, you might prefer the die-cast hoops. They have been known to help focus your snare drum sound and keep the drum sounding drier without needing too much additional muffling. The die-cast hoop also is really great for sidestick backbeats.
That said, I personally have preferred triple-flanged hoops (at least on my snares). I think die-cast hoops choke the drums too much and are too heavy and stiff for my taste. I’ve always liked my rimshot backbeat snare sound on triple-flange hoops more than a die-cast hoop. Triple-flanged hoops just breathe more and have more give since they’re not as heavy.
My only complaint about most Ludwig snares, including the black beauty snares, is the P85 snare throw-off. If you’ve ever used one, then you probably know what I am talking about.
It is virtually impossible to turn the snares back on solely by lifting the lever alone. You almost always have to raise the base of the throw-off to help it up and then lift the lever. Otherwise, the lever gets stuck and will bend when you try to force it up.
It always seemed odd to me that this high quality $700 snare drum came with this cheap throw-off. That said, one thing I do like about it is that I can twist and fine-tune the snare wire tightness while the snares are up, but overall I’d say it’s a pretty weak throw-off.
Some of the newer snares come with the P88 throw-off, which is an improvement, but not my favorite either. I’ve learned to like the P85 and get by with it, but If you really dislike the P85 throw-off, I suggest trying the P86 Millenium throw-off. It’s more expensive but worth it.
There’s a reason why the Ludwig Black Beauty snare drum has been a staple for working drummers worldwide. It really does have an iconic classic sound that has been heard on some of the most timeless records.
It’s more expensive than your beginner snare drum, but it’s worth the investment since your snare and cymbals really define your sound as a drummer. I own Craviotto, Gretsch, and various Ludwig snares, and the Black Beauty never lets me down. It really is a versatile and great sounding drum.