BY BRAD SCHLUETER
When Tama changed the Starclassic Performer shell composition from 100 percent birch to a blend of birch and bubinga, many wondered if it would upgrade its Superstar line shells to 100 percent birch from the original birch and basswood combination. Mystery solved: Tama did just that, upgrading the Superstars to 100 percent birch, offering a better shell to complement all the other nice hardware accoutrements that the Superstar line is known for.
SHELLS AND CONFIGURATIONS
Twenty-five years ago, birch was among the most desired woods for drums, and was often preferred for recording. In many ways, it still is. Though birch may not have quite as much warmth or reach quite as deeply into the low-end register as maple, bubinga, or walnut, it does offer great attack, a tight low end, and a controlled decay, which is one reason this material is so popular in recording studios.
The shells should seem familiar to those who’ve played Tama’s Starclassic Performer drums: 7-ply 7mm bass drums with 6-ply 6mm shells for toms and snare drums. The Superstar line comes in three configurations: one that consists of 10″ and 12″ mounted toms, a 14″ x 14″ floor tom, 14″ x 5.5″ snare, and a 20″ x 18″ bass drum. Another (the review kit) that substitutes a larger 22″ x 18″ bass drum and a 16″ x 16″ floor tom. And then there’s also a 7-piece primo kit that has both floor tom sizes, the 22″ bass drum and an 8″ x 7″ mounted tom.
Lots of add-on sizes are available for drummers who like to surround themselves with tubs. For example, you can get up to a 24″ bass drum and an 18″ floor tom for heavier styles of music.
My review kit came with the HR5W Superstar hardware kit with the HS70WN snare stand, HC72WN straight cymbal stand, HC73BWN boom cymbal stand, HH75WN hi-hat stand, and the HP300 Iron Cobra Junior bass drum pedal. The hardware uses Tama’s smooth Quick-set tilters. This is all good, solid hardware that worked flawlessly during the review.
All the drums have Tama’s Sound Bridge high-tension lugs, that is, they have a piece that spans the shell from lug to lug giving the drums a different look than Tama’s more expensive lines. This bridge doesn’t touch the shell so it won’t dampen shell resonance. Both the snare and bass drum have eight lugs per head, which will make head changes go a little quicker.
The drums all have die-cast hoops, which is a significant upgrade at this price since they’re considerably more expensive than more common triple-flanged hoops, and they also look great. That being said, while die-cast hoops are typically considered an upgrade from triple-flanged hoops, I usually prefer triple-flanged. This is because toms seem to tune more easily with triple-flanged hoops since they’re not as rigid as their die-cast brethren. With die-cast hoops, it seems that adjusting one screw affects its neighbor more than with triple-flanged. However, I often prefer die-cast hoops on snare drums since they provide such loud rim-clicks and are more durable in the long run.
The snare drum uses eight lugs per head and has a high-quality Tama throw-off and a die-cast butt plate that are clearly built to last.
The mounted toms use the black Star-Cast mounting system that Tama used on its high-end drums up until a few years ago, when it switched to a more streamlined design. This suspends the drum from the black, angled frame and allows the toms to ring unhindered by shell-dampening mounting hardware. The tom mount uses Tama’s Omni-ball design for quick and precise positioning.
The die-cast bass drum claws have thick gaskets and those thoughtful tiny rubber O-rings that keep the claw from separating from the tension screws so your head changes should go more smoothly. The bass drum has a tom mount attached to the shell and its spurs fold against the shell during transport. The spurs’ tips feature retractable spikes for slippery flooring.
The drums have single-ply hazy Tama PowerCraft 250 batter heads on the toms and bass drum with a coated version on the snare. The bass drum heads each feature an internal muffling ring around the circumference of each head. The black logo head was not ported.
The kits come in 15 different finishes that include gloss and satin lacquers and two different types of wraps: Duracover and Unicover. These range from subdued finishes like the classy Gray Pewter, to more flamboyant finishes like Turquoise Haze or Mirror Chrome. My review kit came in the perfectly applied, extremely striking, and aptly named Mirror Chrome.
Visually, this finish is a knockout, with the chrome Duracover wrap framed by chrome hardware. I’d expect it to be very impressive under stage lights as well. Just imagine them with Remo’s chrome Starfire heads! As gorgeous as it is, it’s also unfortunately a magnet for fingerprints. Cases are a must and you should consider keeping some cotton gloves handy when setting them up and tearing them down. I got in the habit of handling them by the Star-Cast mounts and hoops to avoid touching the shells, and I still left evidence behind.
The bass drum sounded great: deep, fat, and punchy. It had everything I want from a rock bass drum. The factory heads sounded great on this drum. These premuffled heads worked as they’re designed, and you won’t need to port the head to dry up excess overtones. It’d be nice if the head came with an impact patch, though, for additional durability for the heavy hitters among us.
The snare was another winner. This drum had great rim-click and rimshots, no doubt in large part due to the die-cast hoops. 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. This was handy for adjustments between songs since I sometimes loosen the wires a bit on slow tunes and tighten them for busier ones. I usually like the sound of birch snares since they tend to be brighter and crisper than maple drums. It seems that maple is ideal for old-school vintage tones but birch lies midway between wood and metal snares in tone. I think birch snares are often better for aggressive styles of music than maple because they can cut through loud amps yet still have a round tone. This drum represented each of those advantages beautifully.
Even with die-cast hoops the toms tuned up pretty quickly, though I did have to go back and forth between lugs fine-tuning each one a little more than I like. The toms were bright with lots of attack. Each tom had clearly defined pitches and an open tone. The floor tom had lots of clarity in the low end without any discernible muddiness. I found the mounted toms preferred middle-to-lower tunings because they started to choke if tuned up high with the factory heads.
I’d suggest Tama consider equipping the drums with two-ply heads to add some additional low-end fullness to their sound. The single-ply heads supplied with the kit sounded fine, 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. Two-ply heads and birch shells are a proven combination and are perfectly suited to the rock drummers who’d buy this kit.
Tama’s newly upgraded Superstar line offers 100 percent birch shells, die-cast hoops, solid sound, and lots of finishes and add-on drums to choose from, all at a reasonable price. It’s great to see Tama offering an all-birch set again, and with all the thoughtful high-end hardware upgrades, you get a thoroughly professional kit at a surprisingly low price.
SHELLS 100 percent birch drum shells with 7-ply 7mm bass drum shells and 6-ply 6mm tom and snare shells.
FEATURES Star-Cast suspended tom mount; Quick-set tilters; Hyper-Drive configurations available; Sound Bridge lug design; Omni-ball tom tilters; die-cast hoops and hardware; and a wide selection of finishes.
LIST PRICE $1,666 (with hardware), $1,333 (shell pack only).
CONFIGURATION SX52K kit (reviewed): 10″ x 8″, 12″ x 9″ mounted toms and a 16″ x 16″ floor tom, a 22″ x 18″ bass drum, and a 14″ x 5.5″ matching wood snare drum.
FINISH Mirror Chrome (reviewed); 14 other finishes are available