BY AJ DONAHUE
Nearly 20 years after Yamaha introduced the world to high-caliber oak drum shells with its Oak Custom line, the company is reinventing that sound with the new Live Custom Hybrid Oak series. By combining Oak with a single thin ply of phenolic resin—a dense, hardened polymer akin to what’s used to make pool balls—Yamaha created a shell that produces new levels of punch and projection.
We were lucky enough to get an extended look at one of the Live Custom Hybrid Oak drum sets. Let’s break it down.
FIT AND FINISH
For this review, the folks at Yamaha shipped over a 22″ x 18″ bass drum, 10″ x 7″ and 12″ x 8″ mounted toms, 14″ x 13″ and 16″ x 15″ floor toms, a 14″ x 5.5″ snare drum, and an extra 20″ x 16″ bass drum. The entire assemblage arrived resplendent in the stunning UZU Ice Sunburst finish. Matched with dark silver hoops and hardware, the whole rig has a truly luxurious look that screams top-of-the-line.
The UZU finishes available in the LCHO line are inspired by “traditional Japanese uzukuri finishing techniques” (per Yamaha’s description). To achieve the heavily figured look, outer plies are first painted black and then heavily sanded, leaving only the deepest gain lines with significant color. Final finish colors—in this case, a beautiful blue to black burst—are applied on top of that treatment, resulting in a striking exterior.
While the looks are impressive, the shells and hardware are the real showstoppers in the Hybrid Oak series. The foundation of the line, and the reason it’s earned the “Hybrid” moniker, is a seven-ply shell with six Oak plies sandwiching a single 1mm ply of hardened phenolic resin. Yamaha has employed this concept of a single, hard core ply between plies of softer tone wood previously in the PHX and Absolute Hybrid Maple lines, but this is the first time the team at Big Y has used phenolic resin as that center ply.
The series also employs Yamaha’s new Bass Drum Frequency Control weight system, which uses small, weighted nodes mounted inside the shell at every lug to help rein in stray kick noise and deliver a deeper, fatter sound. It’s a pretty interesting development that raised a lot of questions that my wife and dogs couldn’t have been less interested in hearing about, but I still found fascinating to ask nonetheless.
As far as build is concerned, the Hybrid Oaks are top-notch. All of the shell hardware operates smoothly and effectively. The shells are in-round, the finish is flawless, and all mounts come with mating memory locks, which is a great touch. The only thing that jumped out is that the bearing edges have a somewhat rough look to their appearance, but they’re smooth to the touch. I think that might just be a symptom of the grain pattern of oak and not a flaw, although it did surprise me during the initial inspection.
Yamaha was the first modern company to produce oak drums on a commercial scale. Originally released in 2002, the early Oak Customs made waves with their combination of potent attack and strong, punching lows. Oak was long avoided by most drum manufacturers because it isn’t particularly easy to bend, but Team Yamaha created a consistent process for turning the tone-rich timber into professional-grade shells.
To address the sound of these new drums, I think we need to start with the impact of the “hybrid” shells. Interestingly, that phenolic ply isn’t used as the inner ply where it would be reflecting the most direct sound; nor is it in line with the bearing edge peak where it would be most engaged with the vibration of the drum heads.
Instead, it sits pretty well squarely in the middle of the shell. Prior to test driving this drum set, I would have been dubious of the idea that a single, fairly thin ply of one material would make such a difference in a seven-ply shell. Apparently, however, it does.
Yamaha ran blind tests with artists and players to determine what kind of shell construction would yield the best results. This was the configuration that reportedly offered the best combination of punch, clarity, and tone. These drums have a legitimately unique sound and response that likely comes from that phenolic resin ply. They’re fast and powerful, but not at the expense of tonal character.
I’ve played a couple of Yamaha’s oak kits in the past with similar head setups, and I think I have a pretty good feel for how they sound. The Hybrid Oaks have a similarly strong mid-range voice compared to their Oak Custom predecessors, but the top-end on these drums just explodes beyond expectations. They respond to center strikes with lightning fast, spanking attack followed by clear, focused notes that project tremendously well. It’s not a loud sound, exactly, but it’s an unobstructed sound that isn’t bothered by additional under or overtones.
In line with oak-y expectations, the toms finish each note with a tail of big, dry lows that add nice depth. The floor toms have plenty of rumbly grumble on the bottom end, but those lows are balanced by surprisingly smooth finishes. Even with matched tuning on both heads and no tone control, both the 14” and 16” floor toms have clean, clear tones that sing large and then settle evenly.
I did have a little trouble dialing in the 14” floor tom alongside the other toms. It seemed to want to sit a bit apart from its siblings, maybe just a hair higher in each tuning range. Even after some head switches, I ran into the same thing—the drum sounded beautiful in all ranges, it just felt like a bit of an outlier tonally when compared to the others. That said, when not tuned in relation to the 16” floor tom, I think it makes a perfect companion to the 10” and 12”—it was really just lining the whole group up together that gave me some very minor trouble.
The bass drums are full-time, high-octane beef lords with enormous low-end power.
Speaking of tuning, the toms have great range. The two-ply clear heads keep things under control when tensions are low, while the quick bite of the hardwood and resin hybrid shells delivers a kind of maxed out bop sweetness when the drums are tuned high. I think they’re most at home with just a little bit of extra tension above where I would normally tune drums these sizes, which I really enjoyed as I was able to get more bounce out of each head without sacrificing bottom end.
Another new feature rolling out here is the Bass Drum Frequency Control weight system. The small weights, which weigh 1 lb. in total, are mounted inside of the shell to mirror the size, shape, and placement of each lug. The purpose of the weights is to control shell vibration just enough to eliminate unwanted ping and slap, allowing the punch and low-end to come through with less impediment. Like all of the shells in this series the interior of the bass drum is painted black, making those hard interiors even more reflective. This may explain Yamaha’s interest in building in some additional control to the bass drum.
However, the bass drums already come equipped with heavy mounts for rack toms. I initially found it hard to believe that these small weights inside the shell were able to make a more significant impact on the bass drum’s sound than the added weight of two rack toms and a mounting bracket.
Yamaha requested that I not remove the weights for the purpose of comparison during this review (it’s not something that would normally be done to these drums, so that’s understandable), so I wasn’t able to do a real A/B test. But I can say with absolute certainty that the 20” and 22” bass drums are full-time, high-octane beef lords with enormous low-end power. Those reflective shell interiors still offered up some high-end spank without any additional internal muffling, but the low and low-mid oomf is what jumps out. Were I gigging with either of these drums, I think I’d probably throw a light towel or very small pillow inside just to clean up some of the limited pingy remnant, but they feel very close to stage ready without anything more than the stock heads.
So, even without being able to do a scientific A/B test, I have to imagine Yamaha is on to something here with the internal weights. These sound of these bass drums is undeniable.
They both tune beautifully like the rest of the drums in this series. The 22” gets a little honky under high tension, but I think it’s better equipped to live in the low zone anyway. The 20”, on the other hand, really surprised me with how musical and controlled it is up high. I really enjoyed that.
Finally, the Hybrid Oak snare drum offers yet another surprise in a collection of drums already loaded with unexpected delights. This snare is lively, ultra-crisp, and fat. Again, I think those highly reflective shells build in a lot of smack here, while the resonating phenolic ply adds some healthy breadth to the lower mid-range.
The shells in this series have 45-degree interior edge cuts with tight outside roundover cuts, but the snare drum looks like it might have a very slightly wider countercut that likely creates added control around the edge. The snare drum does well at all tunings, but it seems to thrive under medium or higher tensions. I think it could be used in just about any setting, but it’s so vibrant and chattering that I feel like it would make a great drum for jazz, funk, or any situation where making sure ghost notes are audible is critical.
Yamaha’s new Live Custom Hybrid Oak drums offer a remarkable blend of power and clarity. Though I wasn’t able to truly identify how impactful the phenolic resin plies or bass drum weights were through A/B testing with similar Yamaha drums, it’s abundantly clear that these drums tread in rarified air when it comes to presence and projection. The sounds are explosive and clean, especially with a little bit of extra tension on the heads. I think they’re best suited to high-volume live performances—especially for modern pop and hip-hop performances—but they wouldn’t feel out of line in any setting.
LIVE CUSTOM HYBRID OAK SHELL PACK FEATURES
- 22″ x 18″ bass drum, 10″ x 7″ and 12″ x 8″ mounted toms, 14″ x 13″ and 16″ x 15″ floor toms
- Additional 20″ x 16″ bass drum and 14″ x 5.5″ snare drum
- 7-ply hybrid oak shell (center phenolic ply)
- 3mm tom and snare shells, 8.8mm bass drum shells
- 45-degree bearing edges with a slight outside roundover
- Remo Clear Emperor batters and Clear Ambassador resonant heads on toms
- Remo Clear Powerstroke 3 batter and P3 Ebony resonant heads on bass drums
- Remo Coated Ambassador batter and Clear Snare Side heads on snare drum
- UZU Ice Sunburst finish
- Bass Drum Frequency Control weights
- YESS III tom mounting system
- Dark chrome hardware
- Absolute single-post lug
- 6-lug mounted toms
- 8-lug floor toms
- 10-lug bass drums
- 10-lug snare drums
- 3mm steel DynaHoops
- Die-cast bass drum hooks
- 25-strand snare wires
Yamaha Live Custom Hybrid Oak 5-piece Shell Pack in UZU Ice Sunburst – $3,950
14″ x 5.5″ Snare drum – $580