From The June 2017 Issue Of DRUM! Magazine | By Brad Schlueter
How many brand new Tama drum sets have arrived at my front door over these many years, waiting to be put through their paces? It’s hard to say at this point, but I’ve seen enough of them to know that Tama updates its drum lines so frequently it’s hard to keep up.
But not impossible. As a reviewer for Drum, I long for the chance to test-drive the company’s latest designs every now and then. Last year, I was very impressed with Tama’s limited edition Lacebark Pine B/B jazz kit, and this year I got the opportunity to test a kit from the Starclassic Bubinga line designed with rock players in mind.
I received a 5-piece shell pack, which included a 22″ x 18″ bass drum, 10″ x 8″ and 12″ x 9″ mounted toms, and 14″ x 12″ and 16″ x 14″ floor toms. The line also includes 3- and 4-piece sets.
Four matching snares are available as add-ons, including a 13″ x 6″ model and three different depths of 14″ drums. Buyers may also choose from a vast selection of more than 30 drums to either expand a basic configuration or create one from the bottom up. Add-on toms range from 8″ mounted toms to 18″ floor toms, and bass drums span 18″ to 24″ in diameter. Depths range from Tama’s shallow Hyper-Drive drums to deeper models.
Starclassic Bubinga Exotix kits come with either quilted bubinga or tigerwood external plies, each with a choice of two different finishes, while regular Starclassic Bubinga offers 13 lacquer finishes. Nearly any drummer can find some combination among these possibilities that catches the eye.
Our kit features the Exotix Crimson Tigerwood Fade finish. Tigerwood’s unusual grain pattern creates nearly parallel stripes. From these, other grain strands branch outward, like the limbs of a tree. Tama runs the grain vertically and applies a subtle reddish stain near the top of the shell, which fades into the wood’s naturally rich brown color. To be honest, the tigerwood pattern didn’t immediately win me over, but I gradually came to appreciate its unique character. The high gloss finish is flawlessly done and perfectly smooth, indicating it had received lots of hand sanding.
Starclassic Exotix Bubinga kits are available with chrome, black nickel, or smoked black nickel hardware. Ours has the smoked black nickel option, which has a grayish pewter color. I would have preferred either of the other two hardware choices with this brownish wood finish.
Our bass drum hoops match the kit, with one bearing a natural color and the other showing the red stain. Most will put the red hoop on the red end of the bass drum, but there’s no reason you can’t do the opposite for a bit of contrast. Instead of a badge screwed to the shell, the attractive Starclassic logo decal is sealed under lacquer.
Shell design varies slightly between the lacquer and exotic lacquer kits. All shells are 9-ply, but lacquer kits are 100 percent bubinga, and exotic kits have one exterior cosmetic ply of either quilted bubinga or tigerwood.
All toms are 6mm, and bass drums are 7mm. By comparison, Tama’s maple Starclassic toms are 5mm. These drums have no reinforcing rings, and include a Starclassic paper label inside each shell, which has a rich brown interior. Though these shells are relatively thin, their denser bubinga construction makes them heavier than those on a comparable maple kit.
Some of the ultra-high-end features from Tama’s Star series have gradually made their way into the Starclassic line over time. And today’s Starclassic drums offer even more goodies than those from just a few years ago.
One example is the Quick-Lock tom bracket found on the Star-Cast mounting system (and also used as floor tom leg brackets). The bracket consists of two parts: a lever flips to release the top half of the bracket attached to the drum, while the bottom half remains on the tom arm (or floor tom leg), functioning like a larger and cleverer version of a memory lock. This system makes it quicker to set up and tear down, and because the bottom (memory lock) half can be quickly repositioned via the large thumbnut, it’s far more convenient than loosening and moving a standard memory lock. The bracket also has a rubber insert that isolates each drum’s vibration from hardware and allows a slight amount of flex, further beefing up tom sustain.
The Star-Cast mounting system has been streamlined over the years, so toms can be placed closer to each other than ever before. It’s also now made of aluminum for lighter weight and better vibration and, unlike some earlier versions, is plated to match your shell hardware and create a more cohesive appearance.
Like all high-end Tama kits, ours came with injection-molded die-cast zinc hoops, which are more dense and consistent in shape than triple-flanged hoops. They’re also more expensive and aesthetically more appealing. Since they’re more rigid than flanged hoops, many drummers find they make tuning easier. Die-cast hoops also tend to enhance the attack transient of a drum sound, fatten snare tones, and create loud rim-clicks and rimshots.
Bass and snare drums are fitted with ten die-cast Starclassic lugs per head and toms have six or eight, depending on the size. These rest on rubber gaskets to isolate them from the shell. Floor tom legs are tipped with Tama’s Air Pocket feet, which include an air chamber to enhance the drum’s sustain.
Tama has some of the nicest bass drum spurs in the business. I like how they’re etched with memory marks so that you can easily match the amount you extend each side. They’re die-cast and include retractable spikes to grip carpet or smooth stage flooring. Bass drum claws are also die-cast, and feature thick durable nylon liners that do a better job of protecting your hoops than many I’ve tested. (Some companies use too little cushioning, so the hoops are likely to eventually become gouged or scratched.) A small rubber ring on the tension screw keeps it and the claw from separating during head changes.
Tama’s Hold Tight washer does a good job of keeping tension rods in place. It’s cup-shaped and has a rubber insert that grips the tension rod passing through the washer, reducing loosening. I didn’t notice any detuning throughout our review, regardless of how loudly I played.
Evans professional heads round out the kit. The toms have clear G2 2-ply batters over clear G1 single-ply heads. The bass drum has an EQ4 clear batter, while the logo head is cream colored. Each bass drumhead has an internal muffling ring.
In short, this kit is slamming! I admit being partial to the sound of bubinga shells. Like walnut, mahogany, and a number of other tone woods, bubinga offers extra low-end fullness.
Toms have a lot of presence with biting attack, ample sustain, and fullness. Pitch intervals are evenly spaced. It’s a joy to play toms that are both sensitive and capable of projecting a lot of volume. They inspired quite a few melodic tom patterns I might not have discovered on another kit.
The Star mounting brackets and air-chambered feet on the floor tom legs contribute to the toms’ long sustain, but also let the drums move a touch more than you might find from more conventional brackets that hold drums more rigidly.
This bass drum pushes a lot of air. It sounds huge and projects extra low-end frequencies that are quite satisfying. I found myself dropping snare notes out of beats in order to feature the bass drum more, and created some new funky grooves in the process. The drum’s internal muffling ring does a good job of controlling resonance, and adds a little extra bottom in the process. I wouldn’t feel a need to port the logo head to dry out the drum — it was pretty much perfect as it was.
Tama’s Starclassic series is a high-end drum line designed for professional drummers, yet it’s priced significantly lower than their premium Star series kits. This is a superb high-end kit with a beautiful and unique finish. You could easily spend more and end up with a less desirable set and thinner drum sound. These drums are worth theirprice, given the wealth of features, huge tone, and flawless attention to detail.
Shells: 9-ply 6mm toms and 7mm bass drum consisting of 8-plies of bubinga with one exterior ply of tigerwood.
Configuration: 22″ x 18″ bass drum, 10″ x 8″ and 12″ x 9″ rack toms, and 14″ x 12″ and 16″ x 14″ floor toms. An optional matching snare is available.
Finish: Exotix Crimson Tigerwood Fade (as reviewed); three other exotic lacquer finishes and 13 lacquer finishes are available. Smoked black nickel hardware (as reviewed), chrome and black nickel shell hardware are offered.
Features: Star-Cast tom mounts; Quick-Lock tom brackets; die-cast rims; matching bass drum hoops; cushioned die-cast bass drum claws; Starclassic lugs; Hold Tight washers; Evans clear G2 tom batters and G1 resonant heads; Clear EQ4 batter and solid logo head.