One of the most legendary instruments in music, the Ludwig Black Beauty is an icon in the drumming world in league with the Les Paul or Klon Centaur. Ceaselessly duplicated since its introduction in 1930s, no drum has ever managed to fully emulate one of the signature sounds of the twentieth century.
Prized for its warm, sensitive, but powerful sound, the fervor surrounding the Black Beauty is rivaled perhaps only by the Slingerland Radio King. Born from the Deluxe snare of the 1920’s, the moniker “Black Beauty” was applied in 1928 and comprised of a two-piece brass shell (as opposed to the single-piece shell of today) coated in black nickel. In renditions starting in the 80s, bronze shell models were found in limited years of production and the Black Beauty in current state can be found in a hammered shell. When you get to the core of this instrument though, the quintessential “Black Beauty” sound is brass. After disappearing from catalogs in the late 30s, Ludwig reintroduced the Black Beauty as a flagship model in 1977 to fanfare that never stopped. From Ringo Starr and Keith Moon to Lars Ulrich and Rick Allen of Def Leppard, the Black Beauty has been the secret weapon of thousands of drum kits through the past four decades.
With a price tag fetching at least $450 and climbing into thousands for well-preserved vintage models, purchasing a Black Beauty is a weighty decision that can leave buyers looking for more affordable imitators. WorldMax, Black Panther, and Pork Pie all make faithful renditions that get within the ballpark, but just like the Babe, no one can ever quite be the Black Beauty. Ludwig begins with a seamless beaded brass shell, plates it in a black nickel coating, and traditionally houses the unit in chrome imperial tube lubs and triple-flanged hoops. The end result is a sleek, timeless instrument superseded in looks only by sound.
What’s so special about the sound of a Black Beauty?
The warm, dark projection of a Black Beauty is one of the most distinctive and most malleable sounds in the snare world. Loved by engineers for the snare’s full, complementary tone at any tuning, a Black Beauty articulates rolls, ghost notes, and solid “thwocks” with every nuance soaked up by mics. The marriage of the robust brass shell with the umbrous tonality of the black nickel results in one of the most satisfying snare hits ever. From a purr to a roar, the Black Beauty responds in stride with every hit.
It seems like this is primarily a rock snare.
Not at all. The dry, sensitive crack of a Black Beauty is loved just as much by the jazz crowd as the rock. Rim knocks provide a lively chop perfect for not only jazz, but latin or fusion as well. The sensitivity of this snare is really at the core of its universality. While rock drummers flock to the Black Beauty for the sheer power it’s capable of projecting, every genre pines for the clarity and articulation this Ludwig drum is legendary for at any volume of play.
What are some of those other models you mentioned earlier?
There were a few scant years in Ludwig’s history when Black Beauty was made with a bronze shell. This occurred when ownership of Ludwig changed hands for a few years as a cost-saving measure. Brass and bronze are similar materials, and while bronze can be perceived as darker, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Current reissues feature brass in addition to bronze along with the option for hammered shells.
What about the ones with the engravings?
Engraved snares were a status symbol in the 20s and 30s, and the practice has found something of a renaissance today. Commonly featuring floral or military engravings, the vintage models struck an austere chord with the glean of the black nickel complemented by intertwining veins of brass. Well-preserved models can fetch thousands of dollars, but it’s not unreasonable to find a model for restoration at around a grand. For the player looking for a modern engraved snare, Ludwig released an engraved Centennial version and has a few engraved reissues floating around from the past few years.
Model: 6.5x14" LB417 Black Beauty Brass Snare Drum w/ Imperial Lugs
Finish: Black Nickel Over Brass
Made In: United States