By Brad Schlueter Published August 2, 2009
It seems like every time I blink Tama has expanded its upper-level Starclassic lines. The company currently offers birch, maple, bubinga, acrylic, and annual limited edition exotic kits, and now it’s introduced a new bubinga/birch hybrid shell kit that offers a high-end sound at a performer-level price. What will they think of next?
Shells. The new bubinga/birch hybrid shell is designed to combine the best sonic attributes of each wood. Birch is a softer wood than maple and tends to have a pronounced attack, with enhanced highs and lows and reduced midrange tones. Birch was more popular than maple just 20 years ago, and, since the ’70s, had been the preferred material for studio recording kits. Compared to maple, it delivered that “studio sound” without requiring much muffling, gating, and EQing.
Bubinga, which is also known as African rosewood, is 50-percent heavier and harder than either maple or birch. While this adds a great deal of strength to the drums, it makes the manufacture of drum shells that much more challenging. What’s more, rather than use bubinga for just an outer veneer, as several other manufacturers do, Tama has become successful over the last few years in using bubinga as the sole shell material in both its bubinga Omni-Tune and Starclassic Bubinga lines.
The Performer B/B shell is the newest addition to the Starclassic line, and features a hybrid fusion of three inner plies of bubinga fused to varying numbers of birch outer plies. The toms have a 7-ply 6mm shell, the snare a 7-ply 7mm shell, and the bass drum an 8-ply 8mm shell.
Out Of The Box. The drums I checked out were a New Fusion 5-piece kit featuring a 22" x 18" bass drum, a 14" x 5.5" snare, 10" x 8" and 12" x 9" mounted toms, and a 14" x 12" floor tom. The kit also came with a full set of Tama’s sturdy hardware. Right off the bat I’ll say I’m not crazy about 12"-deep floor toms, for two reasons: sound and ergonomics. While they may be fashionable, shallower floor toms produce less low end than deeper drums. Unless I’m playing jazz, I want as much low end as I can get from my floor toms. Tama offers square-sized floor toms in deeper dimensions, but they aren’t offered as part of any stock configurations. If you want deeper sizes you’ll have to order your kit a la carte, and no doubt pay more than you want to.
Also, while I don’t like my floor toms positioned extremely high, I do like to tilt them toward me slightly, and with the shallow 12"-deep drum I had to use every millimeter of the furthest leg to get the drum close to the height and angle where I wanted it. My hint to Tama would be to go with a larger floor tom, and if that isn’t the marketing direction they’re angling at, then at least offer longer floor tom legs for such a shallow drum. The kits are also available with or without hardware and come in an “Accel Driver” kit that substitutes a larger 14" x 16" floor tom, or in 4-piece versions that lack a matching snare drum.
(Left) This Starclassic B/B looks yummy in Dark Mocha finish.
Finish. My kit came in one of Tama’s exquisite new B/B finishes – Dark Stardust Fade. This finish begins as a grayish silver sparkle near the batter head and then fades to a solid glossy black at the resonant head. It was perfectly applied and has enough flash to pop under stage lighting. All the drums had a very smooth and even fade, almost as though an artist with a pair of tweezers dropped each sparkle flake in just the right place. It looked great with the chrome hardware, creating a lively yet masculine monochromatic look. Killer.
The interior of the bass drum hoops are finished with a rich brown lacquer that brings out the reddish-brown tones of the bubinga. This was a big draw for several onlookers who offered their opinions. I, however, disagreed. While I may be accused of nitpicking, I don’t think this detail goes very well with this finish. It was like someone wearing brown shoes with a black tuxedo. Finishing the hoop interiors in solid black would result in a more cohesive look. Tama also offers another new lacquer finish called Dark Mocha Fade that the hoops would certainly complement, as well as a selection of six wrapped finishes that no doubt offer one or two more attractive pairings to the brown hoops. I’m thinking of Tesla drummer Troy Lucketta’s B/B kit, which features the striking red Lava Glass Glitter finish.
Hardware And Other Niceties. Those of you who don’t spend five days a week in a drum shop may not be up-to-date with the other high-end, ingenious, and thoughtful features of Tama’s Starclassic drums. Let me bring you up to speed.
Tama uses die-cast zinc hoops for their drums, which are more expensive than stamped-steel hoops, and I think they look nicer too. This style of hoop tends to add a touch of attack to toms and makes for loud, clear, and easy-to-find rim-clicks on snare drums. The mounted toms use Tama’s redesigned Star-Cast mounting system that hangs the drums from the rims, maximizing resonance while keeping a low profile to allow the drums to be positioned as close to each other as possible, unlike some older designs. Since their redesign a couple of years ago, these mounts are now made of aluminum to save weight and enhance the tom resonance even more. They come finished to match the color of the shell hardware and look great.
Like on other Starclassic Performer kits, the B/B uses a bass drum tom mount, which I prefer to the inconvenience and balancing act required when hanging my toms from cymbal stands. Tama has incorporated an ingenious low-mass sliding tom holder to its system that allows you to adjust the proximity of the toms by up to 2", which is a great feature for both drummers of different stature and those who mount really large (or really small) toms on their bass drum.
The kit also features die-cast lugs and bass drum hoop claws that are better than their stamped-steel counterparts. The hoops also have a rubber liner to protect and maintain the hoop’s finish from the marring that occurs with unlined claws. Tama’s bass drum spurs have memory features to make for quick setups.
Tama very thoughtfully includes a little rubber o-ring on each bass drum lug screw so the claws don’t separate from the tension screws. The rubber feet on the floor tom legs have a small air chamber that aids the toms’ sustain. Here’s something small that I liked: Tama has also redesigned its Performer badges. While the old badges were certainly no eyesore, the new ones are much more appealing and befit drums of this caliber.
The drums come with first-rate Evans clear G2 heads on top and G1s underneath, a clear EQ4 bass drum batter, and a coated G1 for the snare batter with a Resonant 300 underneath.
Sound. The bottom line is sound. Do these new drums sound any different than other Performer series drums? Yes. The shop I teach at, the Drum Pad of Palatine, Illinois, kindly supplied me with this review kit. A benefit of appraising the kit in the shop’s showroom was that there were another 75 kits set up nearby, including several other Starclassic kits, which allowed for direct comparison.
I saw what I thought was a comparably sized birch Performer EFX (wrapped finish) kit just behind the kit I was checking out and tuned the toms and kick to the same pitches. Initially, they sounded pretty similar. Each kit sounded very good and offered clear tones from the toms and a meaty bass drum sound. However, after a couple of minutes, the differences became more obvious. The B/B kit had the high-end attack of the other kit but had a fuller low end. The bass drum had more low-end impact while still delivering solid attack. One of the other people in the shop stood 15' back while I was hitting each kit and made a gesture with his hands when I played the B/B kit that either meant “bigger” or “ballsier.” I heard the difference from where I was sitting as well.
Then came my surprise. The comparison kit turned out not to be a birch EFX set, but a maple EFX kit. I liked the sound of both kits, and I’d describe the maple as more open and clearer in the mids, while the B/B kit was just plain deeper sounding. I grabbed a couple of birch Performer toms from another kit and quickly determined the B/B still had a low-end advantage. The sound quality, quite frankly, knocked me out.
The snare had lots of body and fullness and sounded like a wood drum. Though just 5.5" deep, it could be tuned to sound similar to a lot of 6.5"-deep snares I’ve played. Tuned higher, it had enough brightness on top but had a solid midrange that provided some punch to the drum regardless of the tuning. The drum was on the dry side and wouldn’t require extra muffling. As I expected, I had an easy time getting a stellar rim-click from the snare due to the die-cast hoops.
Verdict. Tama’s bubinga/birch Performer has a big, fat sound, a great finish, and numerous thoughtful design features, including a full complement of Tama’s sturdy hardware. Recommending this kit is a complete no-brainer. This is a high-end kit at a midrange price that will almost certainly not disappoint.