Alex Van Halen Snare Project

Average

Senior Member
There is a lot of fascination with the Alex Van Halen snare sound on the internet, but there isn't a lot of solid information on how to get the sound. If you listen to the albums, the sound changes slightly over time and even from track to track on the same album.

The best information I can find on what kind of snares he actually used points to him using a Ludwig LM402 and a Tama MasterCraft 6.5X14" Rosewood Snare in the early years of Van Halen. I have photos of him playing each of those snares in live settings.

The next thing to figure out is what kind of heads he was using. For the early years, the best sources of information I could find say that he was using either Remo CS black dot or a Remo CS reverse dot on the batter side. I have photos of his snares set up live verifying that he used those heads. Most sources list his snare side head as a Remo Ambassador Snare, although I did find one source that said he used an actual Ambassador which is thicker than the Ambassador Snare. I don't have any photos of the bottom sides of his drums to verify that.

There are claims that most of his sound comes from using duct tape on the batter head of his snare. I remembered reading in MD that Alex taped the heck out of his drum heads with duct tape. Well, excessive taping to me is any tape on the head. I like a real lively drum. I remembered hearing that he used to tape it in a triangle shape. I couldn’t find any verification of this until I re-watched the 1984 video. And here it is, as big as life:
 

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Average

Senior Member
That is most definitely an LM402 with a Remo CS dot head. You can see the triangle pattern he used. I don’t know if he recorded with it set up like that, but he shot a video with it. I don’t imagine he would use one set of drums to shoot a video and another to play live on stage. Those drum heads look pretty well used so I suspect that was his gigging kit at the time they shot the video. There is the smoking gun!
It also answers another commonly asked question – did he put the tape on top of the head or underneath? Well, duct tape looks cream colored when it is upside down, so at least for that one snare, on that one day, it was taped on top of the head. It would drive me nuts.
As for tuning the heads, almost all of the recordings I have sound as if the drum is tuned very low. The pitch varies from album to album and even from song to song. What I did was pick a song that I liked – Mean Streets – and tune the drum as close as possible to that pitch. The resonant head is pitched slightly higher than the batter head. I’ll leave the experimentation with tuning up to the individual.
I just so happened to have a 1984 Ludwig LM402 sitting around. It was pretty beat up so I replaced the rims with Ludwig Dye Cast rims. I chose those hoops to help focus the sound and dry it out a bit. Also, his signature Rosewood Snare came with Dye Cast hoops so I figured it was something he had used in the past. I replaced the p85 strainer with a Millennium strainer. I set it up as described above and the sound is pretty close.
I’d like to hear what it would sound like recorded with a shotgun mic and an ambient mic. I read an interview in which Alex said he recorded the snare that way. I think I can also hear some effects being used, depending on the song, but as to which ones I’m not sure enough to offer speculation.
Although I don’t personally use that snare sound with any of my current projects, it would be neat to know how it was done. If you have any additional information I would certainly welcome it. Here is a photo of the finished project. Enjoy!
 

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73Rogers

Member
Just a note on tape:

Duct tape (the silver stuff in the harrdware store) has a vinyl backing and lots of soft, sticky, adhesive. It's job is to seal air ducts. It makes a mess when applied to anything else.

What you see on the AVH pic you posted is called Gaffers Tape and is widely used in the film, video, and sound business. It is a cloth-backed tape with very little adhesive. It is available in a rainbow of colors, most commonly black. If you look closely, you can see the edge of the tape is on top of the dot on the head, not underneath it.

Personally, I can do more fine tuning / ring control by using small pieces of gaffers tape than I can with moongel or other methods.
 

sam13

Member
I have a Ludwig LM402 and get a sound sort of inbetween VH's sound and Bonham's.
I use an Emperor X coated reverse dot on batter, ambassador snare with 42 strand snares.
No muffling or tape at all.
Both heads tuned around medium, with batter slightly higher, it's not an exact science. I go in small increments until I hear "the sound".
I don't think those guys used this head combo, but probably something close.
I doubt AVH taped his snare in the studio like the pics. Also on the 1984 record he used a lot of different drums to record. The "jump" video is his roto-tom set which he never used live and it's not like he was actually playing during the video shoot anyway.

Going by later VH videos you can see he didn't tape his snare like that.

I think it's all in the tuning.

That is my take on it,
-Hank
 

AlexVanHalen

Junior Member
Hello guys, this is my first post over here.

Have a lot of myths about Alex's Brown Sound.

In fact he had used many types of snare drums, and many combinations of batter vs resonat head. Sometimes he have used tape on some heads, sometimes not.

On studio uncle Al have used a lot of snares, and changed from take to take.

Many people determine the LM 402 as the mythic drum, but in fact is the Ludwig Supraphonic 411 Supersensitive that one.

On the early days Alex have used the 402, and then the Tama Rosewood, and some other ones, but most of Van Halen live appearances is with one 411. Alex usually changes the regular Ludwig batter rim (usually normal hoop or power hoop) for a die-cast model, and usually he changes only on the batter side, keeping the snare side as it comes. On 2004 tour he used a Black Beauty 416 model.

The Ambassador Snare Side is his choice from years to use on the resonant side, from the batter side many models have been used. Just for an example, some heads that he have used on Blance Tour:

Ludwig Weater Master Clear Heavy mod. LW4114 taped a little bit, inside on the batter, close to the edge
Remo Black Dot Coated (with no tape or taped inside)
Remo Reverse Black Dot Coated taped with tho small pieces, outside of the batter, close to the edge, next to his legs
Remo Pinstripe Clear taped a little bit, inside on the batter, close to the edge

Actually I never saw he using one snare drum tapped as that one on 1984 video on live stage. And Alex usually choice his drum kits only for the recording session, as on Poundcake video, when he used three floor tons, or on Runaround, when he used a lamp on the bass drum shell, or on Finish What Ya Started when he is using a snare drum with the batter head tottally loose.

Some pics of his tapping style on 1998 and 1995:


 
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clevelandrum

Junior Member
I'm a little late to the thread, but in my opinion, the bottom head is key. I'm using an 8x14 Tama Artstar with a standard clear ambassador for the snare side,(not an ambassador "snare side" head) with 42 strand snares. Batter is the Aquarian High Velocity, which is similar to an Emperor X. I get that "clank" mid-rangey sound that's very similar to his. I'd love to have a Rosewood shell drum, since that seems to be the other side of the equation. I think the final component to his sound is the velocity of his strokes, lots of rimshots, large sticks!
 

drummerfish

Senior Member
also late to the post as i was looking for other avh pics. a short story on the "jump" video snare...

my old boss used to work for ludwig and al gave him the share used in the video. he said it was used since the first tour and up to the 1984 tour (possibly alittle later as well til .f.u.c.k. album) and that al does like to use tape on his top snare head (he now does not)

he didn't have a "video kit" and a "tour kit", as if anyone seem old vh pics, its the same kit used on the 1984 tour.

the "jump" video snare was sadly sold on ebay along with alot of other snares artists gave him thru the years. had i known he was selling some, i would of tried to get a few.

but my old boss DID give me alot of stuff when he retired. i have a wall of signed drum heads (some are bass drum heads used on tour-incl 2 from v.h.) and a few road cases (which i would of also tried to buy) and one is a v.h. tech case used since the first tour. one drawer has a custom fitted space for a jack daniels bottle. unless i'm dying, this case isn't going anywhere.
 
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