Inside Yamaha’s Factory: How The Drums Are Made

Inside Yamaha's Production Facility: The Song Remains The Same

The Yamaha name is known the world over for products as diverse as DVD players, snowmobiles, and of course, drums. As the world's largest musical instrument producer (and the musical equipment industry's largest firm) Yamaha is among the leaders in pianos, keyboards, violin family instruments, guitars, drums, brass and woodwind instruments. In addition, they make products for commercial audio, live sound, acoustic treatment and other segments. And, in each market in which they operate the company makes professional-quality products while also serving student and education markets. What's most impressive is that the company's approach to manufacturing is highly integrated. Many Yamaha instruments are completely built from the ground up within Yamaha factories.

Two years ago an almost 50-year relationship with Sakae, the company that was building Yamaha's high-end drums, ended. That set the internet abuzz with questions about the future of Yamaha drums. After all, some important legendary models, such as Yamaha Recording Custom, were being discontinued. But such concerns were silly. Though Sakae built the drums, throughout the history of the partnership with Sakae key proprietary concepts, designs, models, finishes, and hardware, along with many processes and patents, came from Yamaha. When Sakae and Yamaha parted ways, Yamaha was ready to introduce new models, and to transfer production to its facility in Xiaoshan, China, where it previously made marching percussion. (Sakae has gone on to produce its own high-end drums.)

To accommodate its current lines, including Live Custom and the Absolute series, Yamaha expanded its production in Xiaoshan. This is a big facility, covering 13.8 acres. (When I asked how many employees work there, I was told that is an industrial secret.)Though hardware production is outsourced, all aspects of manufacturing from building shells to final products happens right in this factory.

The company says they took great care to remain true to Yamaha tradition during the transition, while introducing new models, and more efficient production processes, such as laser-cutting some bearing edges. All of Yamaha's original processes for making drum shells, such as diagonal, staggered seams, 45-degree bearing edges, UV drying, special lacquer finishing techniques, and the Air Seal system, are in place at the new facility. According to the company, "We have not changed our dedication to designing great drums and producing them with consistent adherence to quality sound and aesthetics regardless of where they are made. The company President is fond of conferring the 'Made in Yamaha' label on all of its products, since "quality control and oversight knows no borders.""

The factory, located in Xiaoshan, was built for Yamaha wind instrument and drum production. It is an environmentally friendly, clean, modern facility.

The staggered seams Yamaha is known for allow the technicians to adjust shell plies for proper tension. It allows them to build thinner shells.

The Yamaha Air Seal system is one in which an air bag is placed inside the shell and inflated at high-pressure to put even pressure on the shell’s inner surface to create perfectly round shells with uniform thickness.

Applying lacquer. All drum makers face a basic dilemma in trying to reconcile a beautiful finish with great sound. The more lacquer you apply, the better the finish. But thicker lacquer restricts shell vibration. Yamaha's answer to this problem is repeatedly lacquering and then sanding by machine and hand to reduce the thickness of the film. The company takes justifiable pride in the finished product.

Applying paint. All of the company's finishes are coatings, not wraps.

Buffing shells.

Finished shells after drilling. Vent holes obviously play an important role in performance. Yamaha optimizes vent hole positions depending on the air volume capacity of each shell.

Assembling the drums.

The final product.