Friday, March 23, 2012

Tama Starclassic Performer b/b Black Oyster LE Review!

I purchased this kit about a week ago and have spent some quality time getting to know it a bit.  For starters, Tama says this is a limited edition kit, so I suppose this means when the supply runs out, they would no longer be available.  So here’s some fundamentals of what this kit is:  it is a Starclassic Performer, made up of outer birch plies and inner bubinga plies.  The configuration I purchased is the standard 4-shell shell pack consisting of a 16x22 bass drum, 7x10 and 8x12 rack toms, and a 14x16 floor tom.  All the toms have die cast hoops top and bottom.  The finish is actually quite striking.  I was originally debating getting the famous-name black oyster kit, but when I got right down to it, that particular kit and it’s associated black oyster pearl wrap had been around for decades.  I do give an enthusiastic nod to the classics, but this time around, I really wanted a kit that had the best of today’s engineering going for it, hence my look at these Tamas.  The finish on this Tama kit is actually painted and lacquered this way, so it isn’t a wrap.  So I get the classic look without the potential headache of a wrap, and modern-day engineering.  I’ll take it.

Please note that I have also ordered a matching 5.5x14 snare drum, but that is not available for review since I won’t be receiving mine until late May/early June.  As of this writing, nobody has them in stock.  For now, I’ve been using my Tama 5x14 Stewart Copeland signature snare drum exclusively (chrome-over-brass, heavy – definitely no slouch in the ‘good snare drum’ market) so I’ll survive without the matching black oyster snare for now.

Everything that we’ve come to expect from Starclassic drums are certainly standard on these Starclassics.  You get the upscale rack tom isolation mounts that you see on the upscale Starclassic drums (on this kit, your only option is chrome hardware – you have a choice of other hardware finishes when you step up the line in the Starclassic chain).  The bass drum claws have rubber inserts where the claw meets the bass drum hoop, and also a rubber band on the tension rod itself that keeps the rod with the bass drum claw – I thought this was a very nice touch and am surprised other manufacturers don’t do this.

The bass drum has a tom mount for the double tom holder, but it is the newer Tama sliding tom mount.  The pipe does not extend through the shell, but sits in the base plate mount on the bass drum.  At its lowest position, I still managed to get the rack toms where I wanted, and I’m pretty short, so Tama gets an ‘A’ on this one.  Standard Starclassic spurs on the bass drum work as well as anybody else’s top of the line spurs, so you can rest assured that the bass drum won’t go sliding away from you!

A nice touch when I was unpacking the bass drum was that Tama put a rubber bumper on the edge of the shell to keep it from getting damaged in transport.  Apparently, they put the front head and front hoop in another box, and put the bass drum (with the batter head installed, but no front) in its own box.  I commend them for protecting the bearing edge of the exposed portion of the shell.  Upon initial inspection, every drum I checked out was pretty flawless.

The kit comes outfitted with clear Evans G2’s on the top (an Evans EQ4 for the bass drum), and these generic Tama Powercraft 250 resonant heads.  The front head on the bass drum is a yellowish Fiberskin head with Tama logo, along with the Starclassic label at the bottom.  It’s always a good thing to purchase upper-end gear in this case because you don’t have to replace the heads.   These Tamas came with good heads and it was relatively easy to get them to sound really good. 

That said though, I wasn’t happy with the Powercraft 250 resonant heads they put on the bottoms of the toms.  I had some clear Evans G1’s lying around and when I put those on, the toms suddenly sounded like what I was used to.  I think the Powercraft 250 heads are too thin and flimsy.  If you decide to get one of these fine kits, budget for some new bottom heads on the toms, you’ll be glad you did.  Whenever I tell people to get any kit, depending on what it is, sometimes I flat-out tell them to get an entire new set of heads, so your budget kit is no longer a budget kit if you have to fork out another $200 on good heads!  At least with these Starclassics, you only have to replace the bottom tom heads!

Once I got them where I like them, the tones were punchy and resonant.  The bass drum, with nothing in it, and the batter head just above a bit of wrinkling with that fiberskin reso head, sounds amazing.  I’m experimenting getting a good recorded sound with it by mic placement, rather than sticking the mic inside the drum.  It doesn’t ring excessively and produces more thuddy punch that I like.  Although I think a good investment would be another head with a port in it should  I deal with a sound guy who only knows how to get a good sound from inside the drum (and don’t we all deal with sound guys like that?).  With the crack of my Copeland snare, I feel like Steve Jordan (although I can’t play like him).  I am totally in love with these things.

NOTE:  In the photos above, I managed to find a nice Remo Starfire Chrome head for the front.  So I got that and had a Tama logo sticker from years ago and put the two together.  I think the kit looks much better with the chrome front head, or even a regular white one.  When your primary colors are blacks, greys, chromes....yellow just looks well, wrong.  But the bass drum sounds good regardless what front head you decide to keep!

I can tune them high or low and they speak well.  Brushes playing jazz?  No problem.  A tight funk sound like Earth, Wind, and Fire?  You bet.  Zeppelin?  Sure.  Country music?  Blues?  I’m happy to report that this is a kit that doesn’t get in the way of the music you want to make.  If you have a sound in your head, it’ll happily go there and give it to you.  I owned a Starclassic Bubinga Elite kit before this one, and although I loved the tones from those (more expensive) Tamas, I’m really happy with these, too.  The combination of birch and bubinga seems to give me enough of a balance – I get a good attack provided by the birch, and the bubinga gives me enough ‘boing’ for projection.  With the solid bubingas, I think the ‘boing’ was more present, but it was a lovely sound as well.  This particular performer kit, the shells are a little thinner than the solid bubinga kit, this probably lessens the boing a bit and promotes more resonance – not sure, I just know they sound really good.   I remember hearing a Yamaha Oak Custom for the first time, and that being a very hardwood like bubinga, had quite a bit of boing as well, they were very close.

Another added plus for this kit is the striking finish.  Lets face it: it’s a dead-ringer for that very famous Beatles drumset color.  Combine that with drums that can be tuned however you need them to sound, and now you have a kit that will fit any situation too.  You know how some of those new modern kits look so, well, modern?  This one doesn’t, really.  Like I said, you would feel comfortable with this kit on the bandstand at a wedding, or with a jazzy big band doing a jazz concert.  And the modern venues would think you’re one of those soulful, retro drummers we all love (think of someone like Zigaboo Modeliste).  You can’t lose.  Put a logo-less front head on the bass drum and no one would suspect you’re playing a modern-day drumkit.  The badges on the toms aren’t really that large either, and due to the color of the kit, they simply disappear.  So you can be brand-incognito if you so desire.  You can even re-mount the tom mount and turn the logo sides towards you so no labels appear outward at all!   

Other than having different sizes, you could use this kit for a lot of situations and it would fit.  I know several players who own several different kits of different sizes to use depending on what they’re doing.  That’s cool, but I still think in terms of having one kit that can do it all (like Buddy Rich only played one kind of kit, right?) so I’m happy to have less gear on hand and to get every drop out of the one kit.  In fact, between having the Copeland brass snare, and the matching birch-bubinga snare, I might have all the snare areas covered too (metal snare can’t really sound like a wooden one, and vice versa, right?).

I’m sorta proud to be playing Tama, so I’ll probably proclaim my brand loyalty with this kit for a while.  My first pro kit was a Tama Superstar from 1984, and although through the years I’ve played other famous brands, I ended up going back to Tama in the end (well, at this juncture) by playing the bubinga elites and now this performer kit.    Most of my friends who’ve seen the kit were surprised it was a Tama as they were expecting the color to be a Ludwig or an old Gretsch!  So, this color combined with well-engineered hardware is a no-brainer for me.

Of course, if you’re Tony Williams (and play just like him) and must dominate in a fire-engine yellow kit, I’m sure Tama makes something like that too.

Please check out the video of me playing this kit so you can hear for yourself that these drums just sound amazing, and provide quite the bang for your buck.  There’s another company with retro-style painted finishes, and those drums cost about a thousand dollars more and you get less of them!

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