Ludwig LB416T Black Beauty Snare Drum
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First, we must admit the sad truth — we’ve never actually had the honor of playing an authentic Ludwig De Luxe model (aka “Black Beauty”) snare from the earlier part of the twentieth century. But from everything we’ve read, stories we’ve been told by players who have played the original, and from listening to classic recordings, the Black Beauty was second to none. It featured a dark, brassy tone, and was admired as a drum of true beauty with ornate patterns engraved in the black, nickel-plated shell. The original masterpieces are extremely rare and highly desirable, and, if found in decent shape, can fetch a handsome price well into the thousands of dollars.
The Ludwig Black Beauty snare is probably one of the most-recorded snare drums in history. Although there are too many credits to list, the Black Beauty has been used by everyone from Jeff Porcaro to Steve Smith, and is still the go-to snare for many drummers and recording studios. The Black Beauty sound is so famous, in fact, that many sound developers have meticulously sampled the drum for use in eDrum models such as the Synesthesia Mandala as well as software-based products produced by DrumWerks and Toontrack (to name just a few).
Ludwig has been making reissues of the Black Beauty snare off-and-on since the 1960s, and the drum’s popularity is as prevalent today as it’s ever been. Eager to get our hands on one of these legends, we ordered for ourselves the LB416T model from Ludwig’s current lineup of Black Beauties. The LB416T is the middle child in this family of snares with chrome-plated hardware, tube lugs, and five-inch shell depth.
Although 3.5” and 6.5” depth models are available, we opted for the LB416T because of its workhorse reputation, size, components, and mid-tier price range out of all the Black Beauty models. We found that this Black Beauty really lives up to its namesake as a highly versatile drum that plays well and sounds great. History really does have a way of repeating itself.
The main feature of the Ludwig LB416T Black Beauty snare drum is its 5” x 14” brass shell. What makes this shell unique is that it comes from a single sheet of brass that is machine drawn and spun into a seamless beaded drum. In keeping with tradition, and where the drum gets its name, is the beautiful black nickel, gunmetal-plated finish. This smooth, dark, and glossy finish is stunning and provides a nice contrast for the chrome hardware accents.
The LB416T model ships with tube lugs, triple-flanged hoops, and the P85 Supra-Phonic strainer, all of which are chrome plated. The classic tube lug design is a design hold-over from the original Black Beauty snares of yesteryear. Ludwig’s Imperial-style lugs and die cast hoops are also available for the Black Beauty snares and can be found on other models (see model comparison list at the end of this review).
There are a number of different Ludwig Black Beauty models available. Although we only reviewed the LB416T model, here is a feature comparison list of the 2008 Black Beauty models line-up. Note: all models have black nickel plated finish shells.
The Ludwig LB416T Black Beauty snare drum is surprisingly lightweight for a brass drum. Part of the weight savings can be attributed to the use of some non-brass components (as opposed to parts used on the higher-end model LB416BT that has a more traditional brass-on-brass look). While researching facts online about the original Black Beauty snares from the 1930s, it seems as though the earlier models used a heavier-gauge brass, or even bronze, shell. We noticed that the current Black Beauty brass shell (with the center bead) shares the same design used on other Ludwig snare models such as the venerable 400 Series Supra-Phonic aluminum snare.
Ludwig also offers a Chrome Plated Brass Snare that is virtually identical to the Black Beauty with the shell finish being the only visibly differentiating factor. The point here is that Ludwig seems to have standardized some of its components and design, so if you like the features of the Black Beauty but are looking for a slightly different sound or finish, you might want to check out some other Ludwig models.
The chrome P85 Supra-Phonic strainer set the standard for more than forty years and is a proven and effective design. The tension screw is smooth and sensitive, and does not loosen from its set position even under the heaviest of playing. Our only real nit-pick with the P85 is that the throw lever feels a bit flimsy with slightly too much play in its action. Either way, the function of the P85 works perfectly in both snare positions and is a nice complement to the drum.
As with any new drum review we prefer to start our sound evaluation with a detuned drum. Out of the box the drum shipped with a fairly high batter head tension. So the first order of business was to detune both the batter and resonant heads down to their lowest possible tension. At the lower tunings, with both heads tuned just barely tight enough to remove the ripples from the outside edge, the drum yielded a deep, fat bodied tone. This drum can be tuned really low while still providing a nice round tone.
Tightening the heads a bit more, we found a sweet spot for the drum in the mid-range tunings. This is where the drum thrives with that warm, metallic sound that is legendary of Black Beauties. It doesn’t shy away from heavy hitting either, and barks when played loud. Rim shots produce a bright crack that’s sharp enough to cut though any mix.
With the heads cranked up fairly tight the snares responded with a greater snap. Some drums tend to choke at higher tuning tensions, but not this beauty! One thing we loved about this drum was that stick definition and brassy tone were consistent throughout the tuning ranges.
If that signature brassy ring is too much for you and you want to rein it in a bit, we found that a small strip of tape at the very outer edge of the head does the trick. At the lower tuning level, we found we could replicate that dry, rounded studio sound with a 1” dampening ring placed on top of the batter head. It didn’t take much for us to get exactly the tone we wanted – it’s no wonder so many drummers and engineers love this drum!
The Ludwig Medium single-ply coated drumhead that shipped with the drum seemed to handle the job reasonably well, providing decent attack without sacrificing too much tone. However, after our initial evaluation we noticed slight pitting with the batter head. We ultimately replaced the Ludwig head with a slightly heavier Evans G1 coated single-ply head to provide a bit more durability without losing any of that beautiful brassy tone.
Even at $499.99 the Black Beauty is a bit pricey, particularly considering the large number of more affordable Black Beauty knock-offs available from other drum builders.
Ludwig Drum Company
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