Ludwig Pioneer Snare Drum
Ludwig first made the Pioneer snare from 1939 to 1941. It was re-introduced in 1960. This Ludwig Pioneer snare drum review focuses on the drums produced from 1960 through 1976.
The Pioneer was priced to compete in the beginner/student market. However, the old axiom “they don’t make things like they used to” certainly applies in retrospect to this vintage snare drum. Unlike some entry-level snares made today, the Pioneer was built to last with excellent design and craftsmanship. Its sound ranges from bright and open when tuned high to fat and rich when loosened up. This Ludwig Pioneer snare drum review gives you information to consider before buying one.
Drummers and collectors snap up these drums that cost $40-$50 when new. Current prices are typically in the $250-$400 range for snares in good condition.
The 14” Ludwig Pioneer snare evolved during its production run, but its 6-lug, self-aligning design in 5.5” and 6.5” depths remained consistent. Standard options were nickel over brass vs. chrome hardware and a mahogany or lacquer finish. Pearl finish was an upgrade option. In 1964, Ludwig began coating the interior of Pioneer snare drums with its patented, white Reza Cote that the company said, “provides superior tone and response found in more expensive models.” Originally equipped with a “large Pioneer” throw, by the mid-1960s, the WFL P83 throw off was standard equipment, and the traditional bat-style tone control had been added. In the ‘70s, the snare throw was updated to the P85.
Ludwig Pioneer Snare Drum Likes
The tonal quality is excellent for a drum originally sold as student model. The response is quite bright, a bit brighter than the Ludwig Jazz Festival, for example. You’ll enjoy a sound range from high to low with the Pioneer that is above average for drums in this price range. Many drummers who play this model cite the 6-lug design for the warmth and versatility of the sound.
The fact that there are so many of these drums still available is a testament to how well they were made. And for every one you find for sale, there are many more being held onto by snare drum enthusiasts who wouldn’t think of selling theirs.
Ludwig Pioneer Snare Drum Dislikes
There’s very little criticism of the of this snare as originally designed and manufactured. In fact, it under-promises (“student drum”) and over-delivers (quality build, sound, fit and finish). It can be said that the 6-lug tuning isn’t as precise as is possible with 8-lug or 10-lug models, but that critique applies across manufacturers and models.
The major consideration when buying a Ludwig Pioneer snare are age issues, another across-the-board concern. Even the youngest of these snares have decades of play on them. There might be problems with the integrity of the shell (rare), functionality of the hardware (occasional) and condition of the heads (common if they haven’t been replaced).
You won’t know exactly what you’re dealing with until you’ve got it in hand and you play it. The heads might need replacing, the hardware might need repair, or you might have a vintage drum that is in pristine condition. If buying online, perhaps the seller would shoot video of it being played, like the one below, and show a brief inspection of it. Short of that, get a money-back guarantee to protect you if the drum is not in as-advertised condition.
The Skinny: What are Drummers Saying?
Ludwig Pioneer snare drum reviews generally have only good things to say about this classic. Drums from the ‘60s are preferred, and more prevalent, than those from the 1970s. Here are snippets from Pioneer snare reviews.
- My instructor says this Pioneer has been played heavily and consistently for 50+ years, and it sounds lovely
- Amazing for brush work
- I love the snap…but it would be perfect as an 8 lugger, IMO
- Amazing condition for a snare built in 1962 – not a speck of warp
- They don’t make student-level drums like this one [anymore]
- The tone of these drums is nice and warm
- Classic Ludwig vibe, open and featuring great response
- I switched out the head for a Fiberskyn, and am very happy with the overall sound
- Try the Ludwig medium-coated drumheads on your Pioneer – mine sounds awesome with them
- Some of the paint schemes are a little gaudy, but like hey man, it was the groovy 60s and 70s
Overall—3.5 to 4.5 Stars
Due to the age factor, it’s all about the condition of the Ludwig Pioneer snare drum you’re considering. Most are decent; some are outstanding. Decades after production ceased, those Pioneer snares in good condition have shed the “student model” stigma and have become favorites for many drummers. Overall, we give the Pioneer snare 4 Stars
Patrick Tavarez says
I just got my 1960 Ludwig standard size Pioneer. The throw&butt WFL kinda rusty. However, I had a very nice WFL butt & vintage P83. New heads, took original snares from my late ’70’s Acrolite, (it has Grover cables). Pioneer is singing responding well. In concert band setting, musical theatre next with ’65 Ludwig kit or ’83 Tama Artstars.
Patrick in San Bernardino, southern California.
Sounds like you’ve done an excellent job in bringing the 1960 Pioneer back to life. My vote goes to the ’65 Ludwig kit – that era of Ludwig defined ‘Vintage’.
Patrick W. says
I recently acquired a 1959 5.5×14 Pioneer Transition Badge in White Marine Pearl. It came with the original snares (12-strand plastic ends) and all nickel-plated original hardware. A P83 “Large Pioneer” strainer (I had to look it up in an old Ludwig catalog) and a WFL butt plate. It looked pretty road worn when it arrived, but after taking it apart and detailing it – it’s looking almost brand new again. The build of this drum is top notch to be 60+ years old. The bearing edges look and feel like they just left the Ludwig factory. The snare beds are cut deep, just like my early 50’s WFL 8-lug 3ply snare. The sound and tone of the drum ranges from low and warm to high and poppy – but retains a hint of low tone probably due the having less lugs and the mahogany plies. The nickel over brass rims allow the rimshots really cut through. This is a great drum and could easily last another 60+ years. I know it was marketed as a ‘student’ model – but I definitely wouldn’t keep it in that corner of the room. Right now it’s sitting in the snare basket being used with my ’68 Ludwig SuperClassics sounding amazing.
Congratulations Patrick! There’s nothing like the rush from a great sounding vintage snare, and combining it with your 68 Superclassics makes for a tidy package.
I’m not surprised you’re able to get such fine tone. I think part of the labelling or categorizing drums as ‘Student’ is largely price-point based.
One of the best sounding snare drums I’ve ever experienced was a Westbury. Definitely a ‘Student’ category. In fact the entire Westbury kit sounded great.
The owner was a guitar player that had a tremendous ear and knack for tuning drums. They were a jamming kit that he had bought (used) and purchased new heads for. Their sole purpose was so his drummer friends would not have to bring any gear.
Glad you found that Pioneer.
Thanks for sharing and Enjoy!
Ian Waggett says
I owned one 4 years ago sold it was a big mistake,just found a really nice replacement beautiful sounding drum .
What did you replace it with? Another Pioneer?
I just picked up a 1964 Pioneer in excellent condition on Craigslist. I knew from the six lug design, the mahogany/poplar/mahogany shell and the round over bearing edge that it wasn’t going to sound like a Black Beauty or a Tama Bell Brass. I replaced the top/bottom heads, used a 12 strand snare wire, tried many tuning variations and it always produced a raspy “cough” (which can be a good thing sometimes). Undaunted, I experimented with using a 42 strand wire. Noticeable improvement! It still has that husky “smokers voice” tone but the 42 strand snare wires added an extra “fizz” that helped tamp down the twangy mid-range that was hard to get rid of.
Thanks for stopping by and telling us about your 42 strand snare wire upgrade! I learn so much from all the community members who are willing to keep trying until they get the sound they’re looking for. Glad you were able to get yourself and your snare talking to one another-LOL!
I acquired my first pioneer SD along with my 3 piece club date outfit…blue silver duco. I always liked the sound of the 6 lug design…I use a Ludwig shallow collar snare side head cranked up and an Evans power center coated reverse dot on top. check out Dave Weckl playing his Pioneer on Bill Connors Step It album from the mid eighties. one of the finest recorded sounds from this little power house
Thanks for your contribution here! Sadly, both Amazon and Apple music have failed me here. I really wanted to hear that snare! Do you still own this snare?
Dave Weckl w/Bill Connors Step It…he’ playing a Pioneer six lug with his Recording Customs of the time.
sorry, I don’t have a recording of my snare drum, but I bought an entire Pioneer student kit about ten years ago and I’ll take some pictures in a few days
That would be great! Thanks!
I just picked up a silver sparkle 1965 Pioneer snare for $200 from Guitar Center (of all places!). In outstanding original condition. I removed all the hardware, cleaned the shell wrap, lightly sanded the bearing edges, reassembled it with a modern P85 strainer & butt plate, put a Evans Fyberskin head on the batter side with 20 strand phosphor bronze wires & it’s a winner! It’s gonna be great for brushwork & recording.
Thanks for sharing your upgrade process with us! Man, you ARE an artisan when it comes to drum creation!