Snare drum setup, along with ride cymbal selection, is probably the most subtle and personal aspect of drum kit playing. Below is how I have come to setup my snare drum.
I find the that the snare side head has limited impact on the sound of the snare but a massive influence on the feel and response of the drum. For my Slingerland snare drum with its deep and wide snare beds, I find that tuning the bottom head very tight leads to the best sound. In order to get the head to seat in these beds, I use a thin Remo Diplomat snare side. I begin by over tightening the 4 lugs around the snare beds to get the head approximately seated, and then even out the tension as best I can on the remaining 4 lugs.
The top head is tuned moderately tight. I begin by turning all the lugs finger tight and then adding had a turn to each. From here I equalise all the tensions before tightening up to my favoured tension. I don’t tune to pitch but resonance – I find the tension where the most pleasing a consistent resonance is found. I tune precisely enough to remove ring from the centre hit.
I use dampening not to deaden the sound the snare but to improve snare response. For my snare drum, the deep snare beds produce excellent snare response at low snare tension. However, playing hard I find that low tensions produce snare contact problems. I find that by dampening the snare drum using the internal dampener, I don’t lose tone but can run much lower snare tensions to maximise the snare response and consistency over a wide variety of volumes. I have arrived at this configuration to produce optimal tone and feel. I use a lot a fast single strokes in my playing and a heavy backbeat, so I need clarity in my snare. But I also play in quiter smoother settings, and in such situations I need to be able to play delicate and smooth press rolls. My configuration covers all bases for my purposes.
I encourage all drummers to experiment with head, snare wire tension, shell, bearing edge and snare bed combinations in order to achieve the sound that’s in their heads!