Does The Artist Help Design The Signature Kit? A Lars Ulrich Story


Ever wonder how involved an artist gets in the making of a signature instrument or accessory? A lot? A little?

The answer is: It varies. Some artists endorse lots of products because they like them, and may have very little input into product design. And they may not need to. If an artist likes and endorses your cymbal bag there may be very little reason to redesign it. Ditto for microphones and snare stands.

But drums and cymbals lend themselves to highly individual design, both in sound and appearance. When I saw Tama announce a special edition Lars Ulrich Worldwired Starclassic kit, in honor of the Metallica tour of the same name, I thought I’d find out how this product came to be, and to what degree Lars had a hand in it.

First, I called John Palmer, who is a Sales Strategist at Tama. John loves this kit, as he should. It is a limited edition product that may fly off the shelves. The MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) is $6,150, but the actual selling price appears to be around $3,999, which is reasonable for a drum set with Tama’s pro-level features.

John obviously had a hand in how this kit got to market but for prototyping details he suggested I talk to Aaron Vishria, the Artist Relations Manager for Tama who works in Sun Valley, California. He collaborated with Lars on the design. So I got Aaron on the phone.  It turns out he has been through a few of these special kit designs with the great metaller.

“The whole thing with Lars is that he gets an idea about a kit and a color that he wants to use on tour,” Aaron says. “He really digs in to what he wants that to look like. If you look back at Metallica tours Lars used orange sparkle for Death Magnetic [2008-2010]. Before that he had green sparkle kits [St. Anger-era tours, early 2000s] and before that silver kits.”

Aaron continued: “He talked about building a purple kit for this tour. There was a bit of skepticism around the office at first. But he suggested a darker kind of purple with black in it. So we looked at Pantone color samples and Lars picked out some shades that he liked from that. I turned that over to the guys in Japan. What they do is mix those colors and then turn them into sparkle color samples. It’s a pretty involved process. We paint the samples on a quarter-shell so he can see it on the actual maple. It’s not a full drum at that point.”

Aaron shipped the samples off to Lars. He says the entire affair took a couple of months of back and forth with the prototypes before settling on a color Lars liked.

Keep in mind that at this point, it is just Lars’ kit. There was no Starclassic model for sale planned. That came later. When the Starclassic Worldwired tour kit for sale was proposed, Lars came up with the name for the color: Deeper Purple, an obvious nod to Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice, one of his key influences. The kit is a Starclassic Maple, and is built with the same eight-ply 7mm bass shells and six-ply, 5mm maple rack and floor toms as Lars’ tour version. It features chrome hardware and the same sizes Lars uses on tour: 16″ x 22″ bass drum (x2), 8″ x 10″ tom, 10″ x 12″ tom, 14″ x 16″ floor tom, 16″ x 16″ floor tom, and all Tama hardware.

As for the snare, it’s not part of the basic Worldwired kit for sale but Tama has made a limited edition of Lars’ signature snare as well. It features a black-on-black finish combining a matte black shell with gloss black-plated hardware and a specially designed Remo Black Suede drumhead with a black Metallica logo. That’s darkness to the fourth power if you’re counting. Aaron says there was also a lot of back and forth on the snare, too, with several gloss and matte variations tried out. He made a personal trip to Metallica HQ to help nail those details down and then Lars signed 125 of these puppies for sale.

To his credit, Lars sweats the details of his tour kits and the signature model that bears his name. I asked John to what degree artists might also get involved in marketing namesake products. “They are not usually directly involved. Lars will do photo shoots with the kit and participate in things like that. But the magnetic pull of him being on tour playing that kit every day? That is [marketing] magic.”

Win A Maxonix Stick Ark

That’s Behind The Scenes for this week. Comment below with your behind-the-scenes suggestions and questions. The best question or request this month wins a Maxonix Stick Ark (pictured). It mounts on your bass drum and keeps your sticks close.