BY DAVID LIBMAN
Unless you’re a complete gear fanatic, you may not be familiar with the Sakae story. Allow a brief history. Sakae makes drums in Osaka, Japan, and has been in business since 1925. The company built Yamaha’s Japanese-made drums for 40 years, until 2009, when Sakae began marketing drums under its own name at the NAMM show. In the meantime, Yamaha was completing the move of most of its drum manufacturing to its China factory. By late 2013, the two companies completed a friendly parting of the ways.
Now that Sakae is on its own, one might assume the company merely makes Yamaha lookalikes under its own name, but that’s not the case. As of the drafting of this article, Sakae offers six drum lines with various wood-species shell options, including Japanese birch. For this review, Sakae sent its Trilogy Series Rock configuration, which consists of a 24″ x 14″ virgin kick with legs, a 14″ x 6.5″ wood snare, a 13″ x 9″ mounted tom, and 16″ x 16″ and 18″ x 16″ floor toms, which come with three legs apiece. This kit was so large that it actually shipped to my home on a pallet — a first for any kit I’ve reviewed.
For all intents and purposes, the Trilogy Series is decidedly retro with features reminiscent of drums made in the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s, but with some modern upgrades. Trilogy’s “retro” specifications start with shell composition, specifically, a thin 3-ply maple/poplar/maple core with a 4-ply North American maple reinforcement hoop. Furthermore, consistent with some very well known vintage drums, Trilogy shell interiors are coated with a silver sealer, while shell exteriors receive wrap finishes in a variety of color options.
The review kit was finished in Delmar’s Sky Blue Pearl wrap. Why they call this “Sky Blue” is a mystery. It looks grayish/silver to my eyes. With that said, the finish s gorgeous, and Delmar wraps have long been an industry standard due to their high quality and durability. What’s more, if you are going to go for a vintage or retro look, a wrap bolsters the vibe because so many of the older kits were wrapped. In the same old-school spirit, the wood bass drum hoops have an inlaid stripe of the Delmar wrap.
In removing the Trilogy drums from their boxes, the first thing I noticed was their light weight. To give you an idea of just how light these drums are, on my postage scale, the snare weighed in at only 6 pounds, 2.5 ounces. Although the shells are thin, that alone would not make them this light. After some inquiry, I learned that the lugs are die-cast from aluminum, an extremely lightweight alloy, and then chrome plated. The chrome plating, incidentally, is impeccable and smooth as silk.
Other features also seem to help keep weight at a minimum. For example, the metal hoops on the snare and toms are 1.6mm (as opposed to heavier 2.3mm or die-cast options). With other brands, I’ve sometimes had trouble with 1.6mm hoops going out of tune, but not with this kit. The lugs do an excellent job of holding the heads’ tension. Weight is also kept to a minimum by virtue of the tom’s RIMS-style suspension mount, which has just enough metal on its plate to accommodate the tom arm receptacle, but not much more. Finally, each floor tom has three rather thin legs with small circular clamp style receptors. Despite their lack of girth, these legs held the floor toms firmly in place.Some Not-So-Retro Features
With the Trilogy Series, Sakae does a great job of blending the best from the past and present. For example, many vintage drums had flimsy bass drum legs that would penetrate the shell. Consequently, those legs did a poor job of holding the bass drum in place and would sometimes crack the shell. The Trilogy Series bass drum has the same circular clamp receptors that are used for the floor toms. Lightweight, removable legs with memory blocks insert into those receptors without penetrating the shell. Although light and thin, these legs did a fine job of firmly holding the kick drum in place, even under the duress of my double bass pedal assault.
The Trilogy Series throw-off engages the wires with a very simple lever mechanism that adjusts snare wire tension via a traditional notched dial. What differentiates this snare strainer from older ones is that it is incredibly smooth and quiet. To my touch, this strainer’s tolerances had the same smooth feel as the clasp on an expensive Swiss watch.
Few things annoy me more than a gorgeous drum with an ugly badge. Fortunately, the Trilogy Series badge avoids this aesthetic landmine. It is a classy looking engraved weathered bronze adornment shaped like a shield. In vintage fashion, each drum’s air hole sits within the badge. In nonvintage fashion, the air hole is larger than normal with an approximate 5/8″ diameter.
As one would expect to see on many vintage drums, the Trilogy Series features coated white batter heads. Despite the fact they’re coated, the snare and tom batter side heads are slightly thicker 12mil Ambassador X models, as opposed to traditional thinner 10mil Ambassador heads. And like most modern drums, the resonant side heads are clear.
Retro bass drums often had single-ply coated heads on each side, which could often end up sounding unruly or rumbly. To fix this, drummers would muffle bass drums with felt strips, blankets, or both.
In recent decades, drumhead manufacturers have developed bass drumheads that include internal muffling. In a nod to that advancement, the Trilogy kick uses a Remo coated P3 batter head. Unfortunately, the front resonant head is still a thinner unmuffled smooth white Ambassador.
Although I prefer the look of the smooth white finish to a black drumhead (or even a coated white model), the thinner Ambassador still rumbled slightly more than I would like. If I owned these drums, I would remedy this issue with a felt strip on the front side head or replace the stock head with a smooth white P3.
OLD SCHOOL FEEL & SOUND
Maybe it’s that I’m getting older and have been playing drums for almost 38 years, but something about this kit put me at ease and just made me smile. These days, it’s nice to play drums that don’t make me work too hard. The feel of the Trilogy kit reminded me of the smooth sailing drive of a big Cadillac.
For example, the bounce-back response of the snare, toms, and bass drum felt especially forgiving and elastic. Perhaps this is attributable to the thin shells, lighter weight hoops, larger air holes, or even the aluminum hardware. At some point, it doesn’t really matter what makes the difference; it’s just nice that the difference exists, because this kit was so comfortable to play.
A great feel typically goes hand-in-hand with a great sound, and the Trilogy Series exemplifies that principle. Each drum in the review kit had an incredibly warm sound that emphasized the drum’s fundamental pitch without annoying overtones.
Crisp, yet breathy, strokes emanated from the snare drum supported by a bed of woody undertones. Plus, the fact that this snare has only eight (not ten) lugs gave it an open, unchoked sound.
The 13″ rack tom, when tuned to a medium tension, produced a focused, pure tone that didn’t cause unwanted sympathetic snare vibration. With the Rock configuration, you have your choice of placing the tom on a specially designed Sakae snare style floor stand or mounting it from a cymbal stand via a ball-adjusting/hex rod tom arm. While the snare style floor stand may look more retro, I chose to mount the tom from a cymbal stand so I could position it directly above the bass drum. Unlike most drum manufacturers, Sakae places its tom suspension mount below the bottom lugs — not above the top lugs.
The problem with placing a RIMS-style mount above the top lugs is that the mount can sometimes rattle against the top batter-side hoop when you hit the drum. This pressure against the top hoop can cause the batter head to go out of tune more quickly. I prefer Sakae’s approach of placing the mount below the bottom lugs; it’s actually something I’ve done for years with RIMS mounts. Because there’s no pressure against either head from the mount, this 13″ tom stayed in tune quite well.
The 16″ floor tom produced a lush, pure low tone with plenty of stick articulation. As for the 18″ floor tom, I have minimal prior experience with this size, so it was a revelation. When tuned at a medium (nonslack) tension, its 18″ diameter allowed it to project a very low fundamental pitch — with “project” being the operative word. To tune a smaller floor tom to such a low fundamental pitch, one would have to make the head incredibly loose. Loose tension usually means lame projection. Conversely, the 18″ floor tom has a powerful low punch while retaining impressive projection.
Despite my minor peeve regarding the smooth white Ambassador front head, the 24″ x 14″ bass drum played like a dream. At medium or even slightly tighter tensions, this kick produced a lovely, punchy low-pitched thud with plenty of resonance. Because this kick is so lightweight, it’s not a back breaker when taking it to a gig.
Aside from their individual characteristics, these drums blended with each other in a cohesive way that made the entire configuration one beautifully unified instrument. To my ears, with this kit, you would always want to use the included snare drum because it fits so well sonically with the toms and bass drum. Finally, this kit was studio ready. Aside from its lovely tones, nothing rattled or buzzed — ever.
Retro seems to be the rage lately. Some drummers are willing to shell out big bucks for older kits that may have issues with warped shells, bad edges, antiquated hardware, less than pristine finishes, and so on. With a $3,549 MAP price, the Trilogy Series Rock set is expensive, but I believe it’s worth every penny. It’s truly fantastic.