Tama Starworks Drum Set Reviewed!

Tama Starworks Drum Set: Sexy Birch

In 2007 Tama changed the Starclassic Performer shell composition from 100 percent birch to a warmer-sounding blend of birch and bubinga, but found its remaining drum lines lacking any 100 percent birch drum sets. Many speculated that Tama would upgrade its Superstar shells to 100 percent birch. Instead, Tama went one better by introducing a completely new line with this popular shell composition, dubbed Starworks.

Maple is considered by many to be the best shell material for drums sets, since it boasts a nice blend of warmth and sustain. But I suspect much of its reputation has a bit to do with marketing. Don’t get me wrong, maple is great. But 20 years ago, Yamaha’s Recording Custom kits, popularized by a stable of top endorsers like Steve Gadd, made 100 percent birch kits very desirable among professional drummers. Birch may not reach quite as deeply as maple, bubinga, or walnut, but it does offer great attack and controlled decay, so your sound engineer may not have to immediately reach for his noise gate, which is one reason this material has become so popular in recording studios.

Tama’s new Starworks line features 100 percent birch shells, black hardware, newly designed lugs, triple-flanged hoops, four distinct and memorable finishes, and a new suspended tom mount, and it’s priced very similarly to the Superstar line. The shells should seem familiar to anyone who’s played the Starclassic Performer drums; 7-ply 7mm bass drums with 6-ply 6mm shells for toms and snare drums.

The kits come in just two configurations: a traditional two up/one down kit with a 22" x 18" bass drum, 10" and 12" mounted toms, a 16" floor tom, and a 5.5"-deep snare. The kit I received featured a one up/two down modern rock configuration with a 12" rack tom, 14" and 16" floor toms, and a deeper kick (22" x 20") and rock snare (14" x 6.5"). They are available as a shell-pack or with all the hardware. Each configuration is priced the same and will cost a little below or above a grand, depending on whether or not you want the hardware.

The kits come in four wild finishes. Well, three wild ones and a pretty traditional Satin Cherry Burst stain. The wilder finishes are the Yellow Chaos, Silver Black Chaos, and Red Chaos finishes. I received the boldest of the three: the Yellow Chaos finish. (The other two seem downright subdued compared to this one.) All three Chaos finishes have a painted base color with black painted flecks spattered on top of it. I imagine they’re designed to appeal to younger drummers who might play in a glam, emo, or punk bands. The marketing pushes the idea that this is for nonconformist, aggressive styles of music, though I imagine the Silver Black Chaos will the one that attracts metalheads. The Chaos finishes are clearly not for everyone, but they’re well done and will certainly get you noticed.

As mentioned, the lugs, hoops, spurs and brackets, tom mounts, and clamps are all black. If you buy the kit with a full set of hardware, note that the cymbal stands and other hardware are not black, but include selections from Tama’s excellent Roadpro series. The drums sport a new tom suspension mount, which allows the drums to resonate longer. It fits under the hoops like the original R.I.M.S. mount that most current suspension systems are based on. However, this one only spans three lugs, which enables you to position your toms closer together than some other mounting systems.

The black lugs are newly designed and have a star shape stamped into them along with other small details that make me wonder if they were created by the same designers responsible for the Warlord hardware. Both share a similar medieval metal/goth sword-carrying vibe. Both the snare and bass drum have eight lugs per head, which will make head changes go a little quicker.

The bass drum spurs fold against the shell during transport and the tips feature retractable spikes for slippery flooring. The tom mount uses Tama’s Omni-ball design for precise positioning. The hoops have a triple-flange design more like Tama Imperialstar drums than Superstar and Starclassic lines, which feature die-cast hoops. The bass drum claws have no gaskets so you might need to touch up your hoops occasionally with a black marker if you change your heads very often.

The drums come outfitted with single-ply hazy Tama PowerCraft 250 batter heads on the toms and bass drum, with a coated version on the snare.

The toms had a bright, cutting sound that I liked. Each tom offered ample attack, clearly defined pitches, and a pure tone. There was enough sustain to suit any style of music. Frankly, I thought the toms sounded great, just like the original Starclassic Performer toms. While maple may sustain longer, sound men often have to remove excessive hang time out of your toms anyway, so anything beyond the duration these offer isn’t useful.

The slightly larger drum sizes my kit came with allowed for deep tunings, but the sound was never muddy, always producing a high-quality tone. However, since these drums are marketed toward more aggressive drummers and louder styles of music, I’d suggest that Tama consider equipping the drums with two-ply heads more suitable to the heavy hitters. The additional low-end fullness and durability two-ply heads offer would appeal to that market more. The single-ply heads supplied with the kit sounded great, but younger drummers with less tuning skills often find two-ply heads easier to tune and a bit more forgiving of uneven tensioning. They often prefer the sound, too, since they sound closer to the toms they hear on recordings.

The bass drum comes outfitted with a black logo head featuring a bold graphic of a star with the Starworks and Tama’s brand name emblazoned on it. The bass drum heads each feature an internal muffling ring around the circumference of each head. The logo head is not ported. The sound offered was a powerful and deep thud without excessive boom, just as I’d expect from a 22" x 20" drum. A drum that deep may not be compact-car or small-stage friendly, so the other configuration may work better for some.

The snare was another winner. As mentioned, it has eight lugs per head and a simple yet high-quality Tama throw-off that seemed sturdy and should be reliable for years to come. I was easily able to fine-tune the snare tension with the wires engaged since the nut turned smoothly and was rubber coated for better grip.

I usually like the sound of birch snares since they tend to be brighter and crisper than maple drums. It seems that maple is great for old-school vintage tones but birch is closer to the sonic line that separates the tonal differences between wood and metal snares. I think birch snares are often better for aggressive styles of music as well. This drum was a good example of this. It was surprisingly crisp and sensitive considering its 6.5" depth. When I cranked the wires tightly, it could articulate something like a marching snare can, which is great for drummers who have fast hands.

The new Starworks line is priced very similarly to Tama’s revamped Superstar line, which suggests the two are meant to compete with each other. Currently, the Superstar offers additional configurations, finishes and die-cast hoops, which are upgrades from the Starworks line. But I wonder why Tama wouldn’t offer a cheaper blended shell with these wild finishes and charge even less, while saving the more traditional Superstar finishes for these 100 percent birch shells and attaching a higher price tag? These finishes will no doubt appeal more to younger drummers who might not care as much about shell composition or triple-flanged hoops as they do appearances. Maybe I’m just jealous, because as it stands, there’s a whole lot of kit quietly hiding out under that loud finish. I hope the kids appreciate what they’re getting as much as us old timers would.

Tama’s new Starworks line offers a great sound and quality materials at a reasonable price. It’s good to see Tama offering a 100 percent birch set again, and if the finishes appeal to you, this kit is win-win all the way.

SHELLS 100-percent premium birch drum shells with 7-ply 7mm bass drum shells and 6-ply 6mm tom and snare shells.
CONFIGURATION A. (Reviewed) 12" x 9" tom, 14" x 12" and 16" x 14" floor toms, 22" x 20" bass drum, and a 14" x 6.5" matching wood snare drum.
B. 10" x 8" and 12" x 9" toms, 16" x 14" floor tom, 22" x 18" bass drum, and a 14" x 5.5" matching wood snare drum.
FINISH Yellow Chaos (Reviewed), Silver Black Chaos, Red Chaos, and Satin Cherry Burst
FEATURES New suspended tom mount; new lug design; Omni-ball tom holder: black shell hardware and tom mounts; unique finishes; graphic bass drum head.
LIST PRICE Shell pack $1,462.99, with hardware $1,868.99.
CONTACT Tama Drums, tama.com, 800-669-4226

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