William and Theobald Ludwig established their brand by making the finest
stringed and percussion instruments during the early 20th Century in America. A particularly famous concert snare called the De Luxe, was unique for its ornately hand-engraved, beaded, black brass shell. This sensational snare was bedecked in a black gunmetal finish, crowned with gold hoops and hardware, and exhibiting its inimitable sustain, power, and response.
The De Luxe was most notably seen onstage in New York’s Aeolian Hall in 1924 at the world premiere of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Conductor and bandleader Paul Whiteman immortalized the words “black beauty” as he spoke of percussionist George Marsh’s perfectly present and distinctly moody black snare drum. The legend of the Black Beauty was born on that day.
The Black Beauty was rereleased in the 1970s by Ludwig, William’s later brand, following a Ludwig-name resurgence thanks to mainline drummers like John Bonham and Ringo Starr. The former 2-piece tack-soldered shell had been upgraded to a seamless 1-piece shell. The new version was machine drawn and spun into a cylinder from a single sheet of brass for greater resonance and articulation.
The previous De Luxe’s single-flanged hoops were also upgraded to stronger triple-flanged hoops. The classic tube lugs were updated to Ludwig- branded Imperial lugs. Buyers at that time could also choose unadorned black shells and Supraphonic P-85 snare mechanisms. These features blasted the Black Beauty beyond the concert percussion world into the arms of rock drummers everywhere.
Iterations during the 80s saw the Black Beauty made from bronze and other
precious metals before a return to form with the original brass shell formulation during the early 1990s.
Here are some of the features that make the Ludwig Black Beauty great
Artisan craftwork — The Ludwig brothers’ De Luxe set a visual standard
with its engraved shell and tube lugs. Today’s Black Beauty continues this tradition with options for antique, modern, and hand-hammered finishes, as well as choices for lugs and snare mechanisms.
Black brass shell — Brass is one of the most musical and sensitive drum
materials on earth. The later Black Beauty’s single-ply, seamless brass
shell exhibited a particularly impressive brilliance, fullness, bloom, and articulation, not to mention a versatile tuning range that refused to
choke or bottom out. Optional hand-hammering in later models (’90s
onward) imparted even deeper, cymbal-like levels of musical complexity.
Iconic Name — Though “Black Beauty” may recall everything from carriage horses to cutaway guitars, its connotation in the drum world is
unmistakable. Interestingly, Ludwig’s isn’t the earliest or only snare to
carry the Black Beauty name — rival drum company Slingerland first
coined the term in an ad for its Artist model. Even so, when it comes to
name recognition, few snares carry the weight of Ludwig’s Black Beauty.
Center-beaded design — According to Ludwig, the iconic center bead
found on its brass and Ludalloy aluminum shells both adds reinforcing
strength and opens up the tone of the drum. In the case of the Black
Beauty, according to Ludwig’s 1980 flyer, it “adds to its full resonance”
and concentrates the “special and rich brass-shell sound.”
Exclusivity — Black Beauties have often been produced in limited
numbers and serialized for identification. This makes them not only
musical masterpieces but collector’s items as well.
Recordability — Recording engineers and live sound professionals have
long heralded the Black Beauty for its mic-ability. This has made it a go-
to option in studios across the world.
Artist roster — Noteworthy users of the Black Beauty today include Bun
E. Carlos (Cheap Trick), Chris Maas (Mumford & Sons), Charlie Hall (The
War on Drugs), and untold others — endorsements that have gone a
long way in making this snare a must-have on many drummers’ lists.