Considering buying a Ludwig Black Beauty snare? This article is for you!
This is by a drummer who has had one for 35 years. I know what I am talking about when I say yes, my Black Beauty snare drum is worth the cost. If you are thinking you might like one, you are absolutely right.
“Is a Ludwig Black Beauty worth the money?” Let me first say I didn’t go out and buy a Black Beauty last week for the sake of doing an article on them. As you will read, I have owned and played a 61/2” x 14” Black Beauty with millennial lugs, a P85 throw-off, and which came with triple flange hoops, across an approximate 35-year-period and have used it in many different situations over those years.
When I bought my Black Beauty way back in 1985, I was playing in a heavy (read: really loud) rock band. I found myself without a decent snare and a friend who worked at a drum shop said “Just come in and buy a Black Beauty, you’ll never look back.” He said he would give me a good price and it would solve my problem. So I scraped together the money and bought my first Ludwig drum.
The second I hit this snare in a live situation I knew this a great decision, it was the best snare drum I had ever played. It sounded just great, and it seemed like there was no limit to the volume at which I could hear it by just hitting cleanly, I suddenly had more expression and power in my playing than ever, and oh my, the chop of that rimshot! Utter bliss. That rimshot alone would have made the Black Beauty worth the money.
What makes a Black Beauty snare drum worth YOUR money?
I paid somewhere around AUD$800 for my 61/2” x 14” Black Beauty in 1985 (with almost a $100 discount) and this was a huge outlay for me at the time. I’ve now owned it for almost 35 years at the time of writing this article, making my investment – let me see, approximately AUD$23 per year – that’s about US$17 per year… And that has just blown my mind, it’s almost nothing. When you think about it, that is about five and a half coffees per year.
This drum sounds and plays every bit as good today as it did the day I bought it brand new, even after it has been used for many of those years as my go-to workhorse drum.
Gotta have a Black Beauty of your own?
Full disclosure, these links for Black Beauty snare drums are affiliate links, but if you have to have one, they are available here:
Does ease of tuning make the Black Beauty worth the money?
The Black Beauty would have to be one of the most forgiving snares I have ever tuned (and I am known amongst my peers for being a bit of a tuning freak). The BB tunes up or down – sure, don’t all snares? Pretty much, but not to the same degree. I subscribe to the theory that almost any drum can be tuned well to sound good. In fact an average drum tuned well will mostly sound better than a good drum tuned badly – but it is hard to tune a Black Beauty badly.
They are easy to tune, partly due to the thickness and softness of the brass shell and the warm tone that comes from it, and partly it is the triple-flange or die-cast hoops, if you take a tuned BB with die-cast hoops* and completely undo one tuning lug until loose, you would hardly notice a difference in the sound. The triple-flange hoops on a Black Beauty are quite rigid – the die-cast even more so – the tension of the surrounding two lugs is averaged between them.
Get this beast anywhere near tuned and you are right to go.
*One note on the die-cast hoops, if you like to tune your snare down, you need to detune more lugs to get the same effect, due to that rigidity.
Does the standard equipment make the Black Beauty worth the money?
P85, P86, P88 throw-offs
They come with a choice of two strainer options (P85 Supra-Phonic or P86 Millennium). The P85 throw-off always grabs when I turn it on from the full-off position without lifting the tension knob first – click here to see a video example of this, this is quite easy and can be done with two fingers while using a thumb (or visa-versa for the left hand) to move the lever. I do this without thinking so its no big deal.
Although I could see why Ludwig would have it “lock in the off position” I have always thought of this as a design fault. It is extra effort to turn it back on in a live situation. Although I don’t have confirmation at the time of writing I believe that the P88 throw-off is being issued to replace the P85.
Ludwig snare throw-offs are mostly mounted by just two screws making them easily interchangeable and my favourite is the Ludwig P86 Millennium. This may be the only thing that would actually increase the value.
It wouldn’t be hard to swap this out and I am actually considering doing this as I type. Stay tuned for updates on that.
Imperial or tube lugs
Brass tube lugs and brass hoops were standard on the original Black Beauty circa 1920. There is not a huge difference in sound between the two, although there is less shell contact with the tube lugs, which will allow the shell to resonate more. Pictured with imperial lugs.
All Ludwig snares come new with Ludwig snare wires (I don’t remember how many strands) but these got damaged pretty early on and as I was working most nights at the time I just quickly replaced them with some 24 strand snare wires I had (I think they are Pearl wires) and guess what, they are still on it. They sound just great, loose or tight or anywhere in between. Nowadays, if I change the snare wires I usually replace them with Puresound 24 strand, they have a sparkle to them which is hard to beat, especially for recording, but at the same time, The Puresound wires have a very distinct sound and can have a tendency to make very different snare dums sound quite similar.
Triple-flange or die-cast hoops
I have actually swapped the original hoops on mine for the gold die-cast hoops in the photos. This was done for looks only, I had the gold hoops and wanted to put them on something. The Black Beauty is pretty majestic looking with the black nickel finish, and they do come new with gold hardware as an option, so that’s why I put them on this drum to add a bit of bling. As I have several snares, I was able to use the hoops from the BB on other snares, they are very rigid, and add a weight and solidity to the sound as well as forgiveness to the tuning.
Hammered or smooth brass shell
This unique shell is made of a single sheet of brass which Ludwig says is “machine drawn to create a seamless beaded shell”. This gives the Black Beauty the characteristic sound it is known for. It looks beautiful and sounds wild! The hammered shell makes the drum sound “dryer” when this is already a warm and reasonably dark snare anyway (think hammered cymbals). I recommend the smooth shell as it is brighter sounding, you can always muffle or mute the drum to make it dryer (see the moon gels in place) but you can’t go the other way.
All Ludwig snares come new with Ludwig heads matched to the drum. Heads are a very personal choice and they have minimal effect on the value of the drum. I like an Ambassador on a snare, for me it is just the right balance of thickness/response/warmth/versatility. But some people like thinner, some people like dots, CS, two ply etc. You choose.
Does playability make a Black Beauty worth the money?
The Black Beauty is a beautiful sounding, super-responsive, loud and powerful beast, it is the most powerful snare drum I own. It is controllable from very low volume. Just tap it and it sounds phenomenal. You don’t need to hit hard to get a beautiful tone and that is one of the great things about them. With easy dynamics right at your fingertips, this thing sounds like an explosion even at a relatively low volume or it can be as loud as an explosion.
Tune it loose and low and loosen off your snare wires and you have that fat low thud sound which recording engineers love. To quote Ludwig: “…the Black Beauty responds with excellent sensitivity at all volumes”.
Tune it a bit sharper and you have that sound of a lumberjack with a big axe in the woods as the brass resonates for a second before the sound slopes away.
Tune it even tighter and you are Dr Funk, with so much cut that you only need to massage it and your stick will just dance. It will almost play all the doubles, presses and ghost notes for you.
With many 61/2” deep snare drums there seems to be less response than say a 5” or 51/2” drum. This is possibly due to the extra air and distance from the batter head to the snare head, but it doesn’t seem to be the case with the Black Beauty. For some reason which I can’t truly fathom, the response is as crisp and immediate as on a more shallow drum.
Cost of a Black Beauty
Obviously most of us need (or at least want) to get the best price we can on any purchase. Before you decide to let one of these go because it is say $50 to $100 above your set budget, consider this. This is the way I like to look at important, long-term purchases: You will still own and have been using a quality item, long after you have forgotten what it cost.
Long after I have forgotten the cost (although I actually do still remember) I still have my Black Beauty. It just keeps playing and sounding fantastic! I love hitting it, I love the security of knowing I have a unit which will more than keep up in any situation, and happily, I am sure that my Black Beauty has been worth every cent of the cost!
Looking after your investment
Maintaining the resale value of your drum
Get yourself a good quality snare case. This goes for any snare and is an important part of looking after a long-term investment. Your Black Beauty can be a long-term investment. I could sell mine today for more than I bought it for (not that I ever intend to sell it).
One look on eBay or similar and you will see the prices these go for used. Looked after properly, these snares hold their value well. Used they still fetch good prices, not much less than new ones. This is due to the fact that practically speaking, they look, sound and play just as good as new drums. For that matter, who sees your snare apart from you anyway?
I have mine in the same case (new lining and padding) as it’s been in since the 80s and there was a period of a few years when I hadn’t used it at all. I took it to a jam and played it straight out of the case and it sounded just awesome. Try that with most snares – these are truly special.
Does Engraving affect the resale value of a Black Beauty?
Yes, definitely. An engraved Black Beauty is a far more collectible item, therefore the chance of its value being maintained or even increased is higher.
Am I biased about Ludwig drums?
Is my opinion biased? The answer is probably yes – but I think it is for the right reasons. I have developed a love of Ludwig drums over the years and I think that when it comes to standard production snare drums, Ludwig has owned this market since at least the 60s.
Ludwig have been widely touted as the makers of the most recorded snare drums in the history of recording.
Did my bias come from being a brand junkie? No. It comes from the drums themselves.
There are many great drums out there, more great snares now than ever, but bang for buck, quality and tone in the general range of production drums, Ludwig snares are worth every cent. They are the king of snare drums and deserve the reputation they enjoy to this day.