Yamaha Absolute Birch Custom Drums

What’s Nouveau?

Travis Barker

Yamaha’s Absolute Custom Series drums are made from maple, birch, or beech and have been designed to allow drummers to mix and match shells to create drum sets featuring the sound characteristics they desire in a matching finish. This is a great idea. Maple is known for its even frequency distribution and long sustain, while birch is known for a good attack with an enhanced low end with shorter sustain and was preferred by recording drummers for years. Beech is sonically in the middle of these two woods. By simply choosing the shell material you want for each drum you can create a unique, customized kit without the delivery time more commonly associated with large mammal gestation.

While these drums have been available for a few years Yamaha has just upgraded the Absolute Custom line offering a plethora of new finishes and has created an entirely new version of the line named the Absolute Nouveau (that’s French for “new”). It’s named after the Nouveau Lug featured on these drums.

Travis Barker

You may be thinking, “New lug? Ho hum.” Wrong! This is a unique and completely revolutionary lug. The idea for this lug came about when Yamaha tried to design a lug that made minimal contact with the shell while also making head changes easier. How’d they do this? Nouveau lugs attach at the shell’s nodal point, which is its point of least vibration. This minimizes the resonance dampening effect of hardware attached to the shell. To make head replacements easier, Yamaha has done something very innovative. Loosening the Nouveau lugs’ tension rods just halfway allows the entire lug to pop off the shell, speeding head changes while minimizing the chances of losing a tuning screw or a washer. This means the rim and lug, screws and washer all remain attached to each other when they’re removed.

Because it’s removable, this reminded me slightly of the lug found on Ayotte drums. However, the Yamaha Nouveau lug makes no direct contact with the drum shell and floats, hanging off its mounting bolt without impeding the shell’s resonance. Brilliant! It’s also much more attractive than the rather pedestrian Ayotte design.

How useful is a removable lug? The new lug design proved its value before I even got the kit home. Yamaha sent a 24" x 18" bass drum in a case, which wouldn’t fit in the back seat of my car. I took the drum out of the case and still no luck. I put the passenger seat all the way back and the drum almost fit through the passenger door. By turning the bass drum tuning bolts three or four times I was able to slip a couple of lugs and claws off the posts that held them and was finally able to squeeze the drum into my car. Once in the car, replacing the lugs to the posts was accomplished just as easily. These drums are also available with the Absolute lugs featured on earlier models of these drums, but thank Zeus this drum didn’t have them.

Up Close

I received a six-piece Birch Absolute Custom kit in a spectacular Blue Sparkle for review. This kit came with suspended Tom Toms in what Yamaha calls “universal sizes” of 10" x 8", 12" x 9", 15" x 14", and 18" x 16", and a 14" x 7" matching wood snare drum with a 24" x 18" bass drum. The bass drum features a 7-ply 7mm thick all-birch shell with no reinforcing rings and matching Blue Sparkle wood bass drum hoops. The snare and toms have 6-ply 6mm thick shells also without reinforcing rings. The Absolute Custom kits have always featured thinner shells than their other drum lines, sacrificing a touch of projection for increased tone and warmth. All of the toms feature Yamaha YESS mounts to increase sustain.

The first thing I noticed was that the finish of the drums was perfectly done and really caught my eye. Yamaha has never been known for an extensive selection of finish choices but I’m glad to report they’ve recently taken great strides to change that reputation. The finishes available include a selection of 33 custom colors and 12 “core” colors. The core colors include Cherry Wood, Sea Blue, Solid Black, Silver Sparkle, Black Sparkle, White Marine Pearl, Vintage Natural, Honey Yellow, White Mica, Red Pearl Natural, and Vintage Black.

The drums now also feature aluminum die-cast hoops on the snare and toms, which are designed to increase sustain while giving more reliable tuning. There are new die-cast claw hooks on the bass drum with protective rubber gaskets to prevent marring the hoops. The bearing edges were smooth and appeared to be cut to a standard 45-degree angle. I like the look of these new removable lugs too. They are very stylish and, as previously mentioned, extremely functional. All vent holes are drilled at the nodal points of the shells as well.

Bass Drum

This is one big bass drum. Think rock! It made me wonder if the bass drums of today are 20" or 22" instead of the 24" or 26" behemoths of John Bonham’s era simply because our cars have shrunk? [Stop theorizing and get back to work! –Ed.] Er, sorry but you do pay me by the word!

This 24" x 18" bass drum was equipped with larger, newly designed telescoping spurs with drumkey-operated retractable spikes. A tom mounting pipe clamp was installed on the top of the drum. Each head has ten tension lugs for precise tuning and five vent holes to make the drum more responsive. All the Nouveau lugs feature nylon inserts to help maintain your tuning while making any adjustments silky smooth.

There was a small rubber hoop guard on the bass drum hoop to protect it from damage caused by your pedal. The drum came fitted with a Remo Powerstroke 3 batter head and an Ebony Powerstroke 3 logo head that was not ported. The drum had a huge, loud, and deep sound. Surprisingly, I didn’t think it was overly boomy, though some drummers may want to either port the head or add muffling to it. I have to say its hugeness quickly grew on me. It’s perfect for loud arena rock though it’s size obviously limits its versatility. The drum begged me to play Zeppelin grooves when I sat behind it.

Snare

The 14" x 7" birch snare reviewed with this kit has ten lugs per head for accurate tuning and 45-degree bearing edges for sensitivity. The snare strainer is a side throw-off model. It worked quietly and well holding the 20-strand wires without slipping. The 7" depth of this snare fit well with the sizes of the drums on this kit. One nice thing about deep snare drums is that you can hit them hard and they won’t hurt your hands.

I’m a fan of birch snares. This drum has a nice woody sound and a wide tuning range. When I pulled it out of the box it was tuned pretty low yet sounded very good. After cranking it I fell in love with it. The aluminum die-cast hoop gave a strong rim click. I didn’t use any muffling on the drum and it didn’t ring excessively. Yamaha thoughtfully provided a muffling ring for drummers whose tastes in snare sounds run a bit drier than mine does. This drum is killer.

Toms

My two rack toms came with the YESS tom mounting system and YESS floor tom leg brackets for the floor toms. None of the toms had reinforcing rings. The two rack toms had six lugs per head and the two floor toms had eight lugs per head. All had clear single-ply Remo Ambassador heads top and bottom. I haven’t used an 18" floor tom in a long time but I loved that drum. It had a deep focused pitch with adequate yet not excessive sustain. In fact, all of the toms were like that. They had a nice full and focused sound. Each tom had a distinct pitch and they blended perfectly with each other. The sound of the drums with these single-ply heads was excellent.

Hardware

This kit was sent as a shell pack so I couldn’t review any of their stands or pedals. Yamaha did include two CL945A tom arms and a TH945A triple tom holder to mount the toms on the bass drum, and also included their new and unique DSM100 throne.

The DSM100 throne is different from any throne I’ve seen before. It has a rectangular bench-style seat measuring approximately 13" x 19". Instead of the usual vinyl or cloth over a foam rubber cushion on a metal base plate, this seat has a rigid frame with a couple of layers of a rubber mesh fabric stretched across it that you sit on. It reminds me of Herman Miller’s Aeron chair. This allows the seat to be made much thinner than other seats. You can actually see through the mesh fabric. I imagine that drummers who perspire greatly will love the increased airflow allowed to reach their nether regions. The seat provides firm support and is very well made. The base is double braced and its height ranges from 17" to 24".

The Verdict

I’ve failed in my job as a reviewer. I haven’t found anything about these drums I didn’t like. From the multitude of new beautiful finishes, the innovative removable lug and aluminum die-cast hoops to the big wonderful sound of these birch shells, Yamaha has made significant improvements to an already excellent drum line.

Specs

Line: Absolute Birch Custom Series Drum with the Nouveau lug.
Shells: All drums feature 100-percent birch 6-ply (snare and toms) and 7-ply (bass drum) shells.
Sizes: 10" x 8", 12" x 9", 15" x 14", and 18" x 16" toms, a 14" x 7" snare drum, and a 24" x 18" bass drum with TH945A tom holder and two CL945A tom clamps and the new DSM100 Throne.
List Price: $4,790 for all drums with tom hardware. $360 for the DSM100 throne.
Finishes: Reviewed in Blue Sparkle. A total of 45 different finishes are available.
Heads: All heads made for Yamaha by Remo. Clear single-ply Ambassadors top and bottom of all toms, Powerstroke 3 bass batter head and Ebony Powerstroke 3 solid logo head, Coated Ambassador snare batter and clear snare side head.