by JJ Jones
Odds are if you’ve watched any drummers on Instagram or YouTube in the last year, you’ve seen a Big Fat Snare Drum (BFSD). Winner of a “Company To Watch” award at last year’s NAMM show, BFSD’s seem to be on drum kits everywhere these days. I talked to Kris Mazzarisi, owner and founder, whose booth was packed for the entire duration of the conference at least in part because there were so many phat grooves coming from show-goers playing the drum set adorned with various BFSD models.
Big Fat Snare Drums could be called drum dampeners or mutes, but I’ve also heard them called pads, toppers, and even heads (although, technically they sit on top of a drum head). These drumhead-sized discs, manufactured from what BFSD says is a “custom blend of patented rubber and plastic”, instantly reduce overtones and sustain and lower the pitch of whatever drum they’re placed on. This makes for what’s been described as a “beefy” vintage 70’s drum sound.
Most drummers use some kind of dampening on their drumheads to remove unwanted high frequencies and overtones, whether it’s a Moon Gel, gaffer tape or muffle rings. Imagine if any of these dampening methods covered the entire head of the drum. A BFSD allows you to quickly and easily transform your entire sound without re-tuning or changing drums, just by placing it on your drum head.
Kris sent me home with a BFSD “Original”, a “Steve’s Donut” (original thickness, but with a hole in the middle), a “Green Monster” (super-thick and no hole), plus Steve’s Donuts for all of my toms. He also gave me a tambourine-jingle laden “Snare-Bourine-Donut”, as well as a “Big Fat Octopus” and “Big Fat Neck Tie” (both have tambourine jingles and are made for cymbals).
While the BFSD Original was developed for use on a snare (throw one in your drum case to change your tone on the fly), there are now models with a variety of thicknesses and drum sizes. After experimenting with everything I was sent, my favorites were Donuts on my snare, floor tom and 13” rack tom (putting one on my 12” tom over-dampened and made it too dead). I loved that the hole of the Donut allowed for some of the drumhead to be exposed and heard — so although most of the overtones have been removed there’s still some of the liveliness of a “naked” drumhead too. It also makes for the option of a textured sound with brushes if you’re using a coated drumhead.
These days on my snare, I’ll change out various BFSD models depending on the style and sound I’m going for: the Original for a phat 70’s sound, the Donut for general use in multiple styles, the super-thick Green Monster for a completely dead sound, and the Snare-Bourine-Donut to add some cool higher-frequency jingles. For my hi-hat, I like to lay on a Big Fat Octopus in place of a tambourine (and as an added bonus, it’s WAY smaller and lighter to travel with).
On my floor tom, the BFSD has rocked my world and given me the floor tom sound of MY DREAMS! Growling, deep and punchy — perfect for those cool linear fills that incorporate the kick (since it basically makes your floor tom sound like a slightly higher-pitched bass drum), with none of the boomy, flappy, too-much-sustain floor tom overtones of yore where I’d end up putting three gels on both the top and bottom head. In fact, I love the BFSD on my floor tom so much that I never take it off, and I actually travel with one in my cymbal case to put on any backline kit I might end up playing.
“But can’t I just cut the hoop off an old drumhead and get the same effect, like drummers have been doing for years?”, you ask. Yes and no. That old trick was definitely the original inspiration here, but BFSD’s are much heavier-weighted than most drumheads, they have a rubberized gasket around the edge that helps with balance and stability, there’s a thumbhole for easy removal, and they’re just plain cool-looking (there are even models with artwork, like mandalas and a moonscape).
Check out the many video reviews and demos of BFSD’s on YouTube, and the numerous audio samples on the BFSD website. Try a $38 Combo Pack containing an Original and a Steve’s Donut and put them on your snare and floor tom, respectively. It will transform your drum sound and you may just fall in love with your kit all over again. I did!
JJ Jones is a Berklee trained, internationally-touring drummer and educator. She has played with folk-pop darlings Girlyman, comedian Margaret Cho, Egyptian revolutionary Ramy Essam, and LA’s riot-pop band WASI, among many others. JJ is the founder of EmpowerDrumming.com, the only drum education company in the world exclusively for women.