The Ludwig Supraphonic is said to be the most recorded snare drum of all time and it is a great workhorse. Lots of Pro drummers from Gadd to Bonham have used these. You can't go far wrong with one of these old 60's or 70's Ludalloy drums, they sound great tuned high or low and can be used in a variety of situations. The machine spun aluminium shell gives a very crispy sharp tone which I have always preferred over steel. It's generally agreed that machine spinning gives a superior shell in terms of integrity and sound than the cheap and simple way of rolling a sheet of material and welding / brazing the ends together! I've owned both the 5" and 6.5" versions and if you are after a bigger fatter sound go with the 6.5". If you want a snappier sounding snare go with the 5" - less guts but more "crack" in the sound. If you are after the 14 x 5 size you might also consider an Acrolite, these use the same shell and cosmetics aside are in effect an 8 lug Supra. The sound of the Acrolite is slightly rawer due to having 8 contact points on the shell as opposed to 10 for the Supra (which sounds slightly more controlled). Although I'm talking about the aluminium shelled stuff on this webpage there are also other variations too: the pre-serial Supra (technically known as the Super-Ludwig) used a rolled seamed chrome over brass shell and some early 70’s Blue-Olive badged drums were spun brass shelled… these have a “B” or “BR” by the muffler and a cut-down badge to fit the old keystone badge hole spacing.

Left: Cut down Blue/Olive badge to fit Keystone hole spacing. Middle: "B" above muffler. Right: Proof that normal badges won't fit!

For complete details on the Supra I'd recommend Kirk Higgin's Supra Article . One thing that crops up when selecting a Ludwig snare is the option of a conventional strainer (Supraphonic) or the more complex parallel strainer which uses longer snare wires that span the entire bottom head (Super Sensitive). Both have advantages and I'll discuss that here (as per my own personal findings) since there seems to be a lot of debate about the pros and cons.

Supra Mech SS Mech
Left: 70's P85 Supra Mech / Right: 70's SS Mech

Supra Wires SS Puresound Wires
Left: Supra Style Wires / Right: 70's SS Style Wires (Puresounds)

The first point to note is a Super Sensitive mechanism sticks out on both ends of the wires and relies on good alignment with an undented shell, it's therefore more vulnerable to knocks, especially if the guards are missing. A conventional strainer is simpler and hardier in that respect. Having said that, I regularly used a 14 x 5 SS for rehearsals and live work for a period of 5 years and thanks to a Le Blonde case it was still in the same condition when I sold it.

Rule number 1: Buy a decent Square Case for a Super Sensitive!

The second issue is setting up, SS's are notorious for being fiddly in that respect whereas the Supra strainer is relatively easy. On the Supra we have a solidly mounted plate to hold the wires on one side, and a very simple strainer at the other. On the SS, the wires can be tensioned from both ends and in addition there are two adjustment screws per mechanism which can take ages to setup. I personally tune each screw and carefully listen to the wires whilst doing ghost notes and let my ears be the best guide. Always check the shell where the mechanisms meet it for dents, straightness in the mech arms and wear in the moving mechanism parts on an SS otherwise the wires will be suspended out of alignment and you may never get rid of unwanted snare wire buzz! This can also be caused by stretched wires of course, and SS replacement wires cost a lot more than standard Supra ones! If you are having hassles with your SS mechanism see my help page for details on a possible cure.

Rule number 2: if you intend on running an SS, you need patience!

After hearing conflicting arguments about the sound I went to silly lengths to find out for myself the answer to that! I got hold of a very nice 402 Supra and after a time a nice 411 SS (both were 14"X6.5")! After a complete strip down and rebuild on both (any minor faults were corrected at this point) I fitted them with brand new identical heads and tuned them exactly the same. First impressions were both sounded good and there wasn't a lot in it, the SS being slightly more sensitive as expected, almost military sounding on gentle rolls. The more I listened over next few days the more I started to notice very subtle differences. The SS had slightly more presence and top end cut than the Supra thanks to the longer wires and all the fiddling to get the Super's mechanism nicely setup was well worth doing in my opinion. I tried to get the Supra to have the same bite by changing the tuning and wire tension but never managed it. I have since tried other Supras and they aren't quite as snappy either. I think those differences might give an edge on a recording, for live playing either will get the job done well. One final point is that in my experience the Super Sensitives don't suffer the dreaded "backing off" problem on the snare wire tension when played hard anything like the Supras. It seems to affect the P85 in particular which lead me to have a look at the Supra strainers. The 60's P83 strainer was superior in my opinion because it used a steel metal front with a brass threaded receiver for the tension control threaded rod, the 70's drums used a P85 which used a soft casting which was directly threaded. Pot metal castings aren't really very durable for that purpose. The harder surface will wear the softer one so the steel thread on the tension control wins out whilst the casting gets worn and sloppy. After a while you will end up with a strainer which will not hold the tension particularly well if subjected to vibration from heavy playing.

P85 with Locknut and Washer
Left: P83 Strainer front with brass threaded receiver. This was a better idea than... middle: P85 pot metal strainer front casting / threaded receiver which doesn't wear too well. Right: I play fairly hard at times so to stop the dreaded "backing off" of the snare wire tension that P85's suffer I added a locknut and washer. Just dial in the tension you want, hold the strainer knob and lock the nut... easy!

It seems Ludwig have noticed there may be a problem with this strainer too and their solution is this:

P85 with Locknut and Washer

Above: Ludwig have sneaked a spring into the latest P85 strainers to keep tension between the cast front and threaded rod in an apparent attempt to stop it backing off!

The ultimate solution if originality is not needed is to do away with the P85 altogether and fit a more modern unit. P86 strainers are said to be a drop in replacement and work much better. For more exotic strainers all that's needed is a bracket which uses the original mounting holes on the drum and mates that up with the new strainer, this avoids drilling new holes and thus devaluing the drum. Some examples can be found HERE.

Finally, a couple of pointers when reassembling either type of these drums... use wadding under the springs (cotton wool strips work fine), it stops them rattling against the lug casing and therefore eliminates this unwanted background noise. Every Supra I've seen has suffered from this! If an old Imperial threaded screw has ripped out the lug casing I use an M5 tap to make a fresh thread due to the wide availablity of Metric screws here in England, it leaves enough meat in the casting and gets the job done.

Wadding Inside A Supra Lug Prevents Spring Rattle M5 Tap To Make Old Stripped Lugs Reusable
Left: Wadding to stop spring rattle / Right: M5 Tap for stripped threads.

Conclusion: Supras are far easier to setup, will withstand knocks on the road better, replacement wires are cheaper, and they sound virtually the same as an SS. Most people will stick with a Supra over an SS for those reasons and they are both fine drums at the end of the day. It all depends on whether you think a weeny bit more cut in the sound is worth all the fiddling and that is all down to personal choice!

My next theory was to take that lively SS and make it bite harder!

Due to machining tolerances when the shells were spun years ago some Ludwigs definitely bark a bit better than others whether they are a Supra or SS. I've tested a fair few of these and found it to be true, you get the odd one that does have a tiny bit "extra" in the sound in the same way that hand made cymbals of the same model can be lined up and have slightly different characteristics. This SS definitely falls into that category to my ears and is very lively (more so than three other identical 6.5 SS type drums I have rebuilt and tested). An experiment I have never tried personally but have read about is that if you strip a bunch of Ludwig Supras to shells only and tap them the note produced between the same looking shells can often vary in pitch. This reasonant characteristic will form part of the drum's sound when fully built and played and is usually subtle. It's the same principle as the hoop experiment elsewhere on the site. If you get hold of a Supra or SS that "has it" be wary of letting it go because the next one you buy might not!

The next thing I did was to put on a vintage die cast 10 lug Gretsch top hoop on it to give the rim shots more focus and attack and it certainly did the trick, ear plugs are recommended...! One thing to remember with die cast hoops is they have a slight muffling effect and can dry out a drum slightly (I was warned that the old die cast Ludwig ones are quite heavy and can dry out a drum a lot). Some folks like that kind of thing and some don't, a compromise between a normal top hoop and a die cast would be something like a Pearl Superhoop (chrome over steel 2.3 mm thickness). You'll notice I left the bottom hoop as standard, this was to avoid drying out the drum too much. I have since tried out a set of PS-1416 Puresound wires on the drum, soundwise they are not as bright as the originals but slightly fatter and heavier. I do think I prefer the bright crispy Ludwig wires though.

1970's Super Sensitive
Here's the 1970's Ludwig 411 Super Sensitive that I completely stripped and rebuilt. Note the Gretsch die cast top hoop for an ear splitting rim shot! This drum barks slightly more than any other alloy Ludwig I've tried, the shells were spun before the days of modern computer aided machinery and they do vary slightly in tone!