The Ludwig Supraphonic – A Super Snare Beyond Compare!

Hal Blaine on Ludwig drums
The one & only Hal Blaine!! (Photo: Howard Thompson)

Hal Blaine.

If you’re a drummer, chances are you know that name very well. There’s not many people on the planet that have played drums on 150 number one hits… but Hal did!

And the snare drum he used on more of them than any other??

The Ludwig Supraphonic!

Hal was specifically a
model 400 chrome-on-brass snare guy, which had the 5″ depth and was generally tuned pretty low, and with Remo heads.

For more info on just how incredible Hal was, and the absurd amount of artists he played sessions for, check out his history HERE.

And Hal wasn’t the only one! Other legendary beat-makers that took to the Supra like Elvis to rhinestones were:

  • Charlie Watts (Stones)
  • Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix)
  • Dino Danelli (Young Rascals)
  • John Densmore (Doors)

And the list goes on (we’ve left one extraordinary name out that we’ll mention soon enough!).

So what makes this beast so special and desirable all these decades later?? Let’s find out… !

A Construction Glimpse!

To see how a drum LIKE the Supraphonic is made (it’s probable that Ludwig uses an approach just like this), check out this factory tour of a Sonar snare… the end product looking suspiciously like a Supra!

Two Flavors!

As it began back in the 60s, so up to today the famed Supraphonic snare comes in two delicious varieties:

  • The 400 (5 x 14)
  • The 402 (6 1/2 x 14)

Both have the same crisp, lively metallic SMACK that has graced thousands of recordings over the decades.

The 400 is the smaller version, and was Hal Blaine’s weapon of choice. It’s the perfect snare if you’re recording Rock/Pop tunes.

The Supraphonic 400!
The Supraphonic 400!

For the past decades, most of the drum kits in the Ludwig catalogs show a 400 model snare as the accompanying standard. That also shows just how big a craving there is for this tasty tone-tapper.

The 402?? Well, that’s a Supra on steroids. It’s rumored to be what Joshua used to make the walls of Jericho fall. Seismologists also think L.A. studio use of this snare is what keeps triggering earthquakes in the region.

But I digress… πŸ˜‰

The Ludwig 402 snare!!

The overall tone and attack of both models is versatile and dynamic, allowing you to coax delicate ghost notes and whomping in-your-face hits out from this same shiny cylinder of percussive joyriding.

Ludwig still produces both of these today. You’ll find additional options and hardware upgrades here and there, but for the most part its construction has remained pretty much unchanged, which is a testament to its brilliance and flexibility over the changing face of music.

But wait! There’s one name that flung the Supraphonic to the forefront of drumming history probably more than any other. It’s… it’s…

A Match Made in (Stairway to) Heaven!

John hittin’ his Supra! (Photo:
Dina Regine)

John Bonham!!

It’s pretty obvious that the huge, lasting popularity of the 402 snare can mostly be attributed to the influence of this mighty icon of Rock drumming thunder.

He used the 402 extensively with Led Zeppelin. He loved it. It was a large part of his sound.

And when you consider how many divergent styles John played using that snare, it’s proof positive that this one deep beat machine can be anything you want it to be.

Blues, funky Rock, Heavy Rock, Folk Rock… John played it all, and the 402 never sounded out of place in any of those genres. Pretty impressive.

John’s kit in the Hard Rock Cafe, London

I mean, come on… just go listen to some Zeppelin. It’ll speak for itself.

If you don’t have a Led Zeppelin album, and are without a streaming site online, no problem… just turn the radio on. If it’s a classic rock station, I guarantee you’ll hear John and his 402 within minutes!! LoL

Because of Bonham’s preference, legions of rock drummers are still wooed by the “Halls of Valhalla” pounding, demanding presence that this snare provides. If you haven’t tried it, well…

… you simply must! πŸ˜‰


Getting Down To Brass Smacks!

Some don’t know this, but the drum was initially put out with brass being the main metal. That was when they called it the “Super Ludwig”, around 1958.

If you find a vintage Supra from that era, it’ll be hard to tell exactly what kind you have, as the brass drums and the aluminum drums look
almost identical.

But the vast majority of vintage Supras you’ll find these days are made from their “LudAlloy”, which is aluminum mixed with some other metals.

Those “other metals” are a trade secret, but something tells me they’ve changed a bunch of times through the years, and might even be whatever Ludwig had lying around! Lol

If you have an old Supra and suspect that you might indeed have a BRASS model, the only thing you can do is remove a bit of chrome and look at the color underneath. If it’s a dark grey color, then you’ve got what most of us have: Chrome over Aluminum.

But if you DO find a brassy tone underneath, congratulations! You just won the Ludwig lottery. The brass Supraphonic is a rare drum of superior tone (most would say, but not all).

If you’re gonna do that scraping investigation though, do yourself a favor and rub the Chrome off UNDER one of the lugs or the strainer. That way no one will see the DESTRUCTIVE, SACRILIGIOUS VANDALISM that you’re forcing onto that sacred drum!! lol

Here’s another less invasive way of differentiating brass from aluminum: if the chrome is flaking off of your drum, it’s almost certain that it’s an aluminum shell. Aluminum and Chrome don’t have a loving relationship together. They tend to want to leave each other.

Like bass players and girlfriends. LOL

Anyway, Ludwig has offered brass shells again here or there, especially in the mid 90s. But, by and large, aluminum is what you’ll find in a Supra. And that’s okay.

Thousands of satisfied radio hits can’t be wrong, right?!

If you reeeeeeeeally want a looooooooot more info on this particular Supra tangent, I guarantee you won’t find anything more in-depth than the following video by Terry Keating.

He’s a madman. lol

What Makes it… a Supra?!

Basically, if you see a Ludwig metal snare and it has a seamless “Ludalloy” shell, with a P-83, P-85 or P-86 throw-off, then it’s a Supraphonic.

It was introduced in 1963, and from the get-go had the same model numbers that we know today:

  • The 400, which was the 5 1/2” x 14″
  • The 402, which was the 6 1/2” x 14″

The Supraphonics from that time came standard with triple-flanged hoops, but if you wanted to, you could have special ordered your Supra with die-cast hoops instead, by simply adding the letter Y to the catalog number (e.g. “402 K Y”).

The standard Supras from that time we’re made of a spun metal “ludalloy’ material, which was simply Ludwig’s name for their specific aluminum alloy.

Although its ingredients are technically a trade secret, it’s whisper behind control room doors that it’s comprised of aluminum mostly, with trace elements of magnesium and zinc thrown in to make it…

… well, you’d think to make it sound better. But one drummer (who’s also a metallurgist) told me that they use the alloy mostly because it’s more flexible and stronger than straight aluminum. And cheaper.

So, the alloy probably affects the sound to a small degree, but the choice to use “ludalloy” for the hoops on Ludwig Drums was more an economic decision than anything else.

Gee… big surprise there! lol

The other thing that truly defines a Supraphonic snare is that they use a one-piece ludalloy strip of metal and put a center bead around it to increase rigidity. In other words, a Supraphonic has not been welded together anywhere.

Look, Ma… no seam!!

As with any material, the sustain and tone is improved when there are no cuts, welds or glued portions. That famed characteristic “crack” of the Supraphonic is, in part, due to its one-piece aluminum construction.

The Metal vs. Throw-off Debate

Okay, now we come to the part of our review where… we just have to chuckle. There are some people that get so worked up about this debate, I just had to laugh reading some of the posts online.

It’s like telling those screaming girls that chased the Beatles that you think Paul’s dead – you’re taking your life in your own hands there, buddy!! Lol

Here’s the crux of the argument:

“Does ‘Supraphonic’ refer to the DRUM? Or to the strainer/throw-off??”

My Supra’s P-85 throw-off.

Based on historical evidence, I side with the DRUM being labeled as “Supraphonic”, and I’ll explain why soon enough. But I see the other side’s point of view, and I don’t think they’re out to lunch either.

Here’s what we know: the Supras originally came with the P-83 strainer with a P-32 butt.

In the late 60s the P-83 was swapped out for the P-85 though, then the latest upgrade, the P-86.

Now, some people state that if a metal Ludwig snare has any of those three strainers, then it’s a Supraphonic.

My hammered Supra P-85.

This is not historically accurate. MOST of Ludwigs early drums used the P-83, with just a few exceptions, so that doesn’t make sense.

Also, the first time a Ludwig drum was labeled a “Supra-Phonic” in their literature was when they switched from “chrome over brass” to “chrome over aluminum”. The throw-off hadn’t changed, so that indicates, according to Ludwig catalogs, that it’s the drum carrying the name, not the strainer.

At least back THEN. Ludwig’s marketing has tended towards referring to the drums as “the 400 or the 402” in recent history, instead of calling the drum itself a “Supraphonic”. That, I think, is the center of all the confusion.

I’ve got a call in to Ludwig. If they call me back with a final word… you’ll be the first to hear!!! πŸ˜‰

My Supra… that IS!!

Anytime I want that Bonham ‘shake the foundations’ THWACK for a snare drum sound, I’ve got just the ticket: my 402!

This snare belonged to a dear friend of mine who’s no longer with us. In fact, the whole kit was his and I bought it to keep his memory, and music, alive in my studio.

Check out the full story of that whole kit IN THIS ARTICLE.

He was such a Led Zeppelin fan and, of course… what ELSE would he have for a snare, right?!

So, yea, whenever I get my full Rock swagger on… we break out the big guns. And you always know the real thing when ya hear it. πŸ˜‰

My kit for rockin’ out… complete with the 6.5×14 Supra!

I have a real penchant for Van Halen-type electric guitar riffing, since Eddie was a hero as I started to learn guitar.

Whenever I get in that mood, I have my son get on this rock kit and, while I’m scattering two-hand tapping sound bullets off the walls, he’s just WAILIN’ on that big, beautiful baby known as the 402.

After all… I’ll give ya ONE guess what snare Alex uses! πŸ˜‰

My Supra… that ISN’T!!

In prepping this article for you I did a lot of research on the Supras and their history. One of the things I discovered is…

… one of my two Supraphonics… ISN’T!! LoL

At least not technically speaking, tho’ plenty of drummers online still refer to the one I have as a Supra. Let’s investigate why…

Full Kit with Supraphonic snare
My Pop/Rock Kit with Supraphonic snare!

Above you see the Pearl kit I usually use for Pop/Rock or AOR tunes. My 5×14 Supra is always there, at least near, since it’s a great choice for many of those types of songs.

I mean, Hal Blaine… ’nuff said, right?! πŸ˜‰

My 5×14 Ludwig snare looks just like a Supra, except that it’s hammered, not smooth. Everything about it looks like a Supra to me… and it’s always given me that sound too, so I just never questioned that it might NOT be a Supra.

I bought it used so I didn’t have any sales person to tell me different!

Turns out, my snare is listed in an early 80s Ludwig catalog as the “400 K” model from the “Hammered Chrome series“, not the “Supra-Phonic series”, as they called it back then.

It’s from 1982 or ’83, has a Blue/Olive badge, and bears the Serial Number 3120657.

If you notice in the catalog above, the Supraphonic 5×14 model number is just like my drum: the “400”. It just doesn’t have the “K” after it.

So are the differences pronounced? Do I really have a NON-Supraphonic??

Not really. If we look at the actual differences… I can find only ONE:

  • It’s hammered, not smooth!

So, okay, mine is technically NOT a Supraphonic, but, big whoop – for all intents & purposes, it IS a Supraphonic!

Here’s what IS THE SAME between mine and an early 80s Supra:

Hammered Supra with mic
My Pseudo-Supra, mic’d & ready!
  • The size (14” wide x 5” deep)
  • The strainer (P-85)
  • The hoops (triple-flanged)
  • The snares (20 wire)
  • The lugs (10 Imperials)
  • The metal (Chrome over LudAlloy)
  • The model # (400)

So, there ya go… I was schooled today!! LoL

None the worse for wear though, ‘cuz this snare sounds great for certain songs. Hammering the metal on a drum tends to attenuate its harmonics more, so this snare is actually better for me, since most of what I do is studio session work, not live work. Not having that snare ring a lot is, most of the time, just the ticket!

Anyways… it still gives me “that sound” when I need it, and that’s what’s important, right?

I’ll just call it… “Supra’s Sister” from now on!! LoL

It’s a Hit!!

So… the β€œSupra”. The most recorded snare in history?? Many say so, though there’s no way to prove it unequivocally.

But one thing’s for certain – if you need a snare that is uber-versatile, professional-sounding and has a long, rich history on countless number one hits? Your search has ended. It’s time you got the Supraphonic.

And see what all the fuss is about! πŸ˜‰

Already have a Supra?? Played on one and fallen in love with its power and versatility?? Or just one of the thousands who dream G.A.S.-y dreams of owning your own one day like some of us already do?! Whatever the case, leave us a Comment and let us know.

I’m sure it would bring a smile to Bonham’s face to hear you weep and wail for his favorite! Lol

Now, go… make… sounds!!


Teaj in the storm fields!

2 Replies to “The Ludwig Supraphonic – A Super Snare Beyond Compare!”

  1. You won’t regret getting a Supra, Rob! Use mine for live AND recording all the time. It’s just that good! Thanks for stoppin’ by!!

  2. Great write up.I have too many snares sort of collect them,but I do not own a supraphonic.It IS on my list though.Thanks for all the info!

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