BY AJ DONAHUE | FROM THE SUMMER 2018 ISSUE OF DRUM!
Recently, we’ve seen a pair of home-run reintroductions from the drum set team at Yamaha. First, they kicked off 2016 by resurrecting the much-celebrated Recording Custom series. Then the company rolled into 2017 with a reimagined Tour Custom line, which quickly earned a reputation among retailers as one of the best bang-for-buck kits in the mid-level market.
Interestingly, neither line launched with complementary wood shell snare drums. This isn’t completely out of the ordinary, but it did come as a bit of a surprise to see two of Yamaha’s splashiest drum set series land without matching wood centerpieces.
Well, the heads at Yamaha ushered in 2019 with two new wood snares for each line. We got a chance to check out all four new additions.
Yamaha’s Tour Custom line was designed to offer working—and, well, touring—drummers a reliable and durable drum set with high-end tone and a price that wouldn’t break the bank. The ’80s Tour Customs were built with birch/mahogany shells, but the 2017 incarnation features 6-ply, 5.6mm all-maple shells for a balance of clarity and warmth. These new Tour Custom snare drums are built on the same thin maple shell, with diagonal seam construction for strength.
Yamaha shipped over both the 14″ x 5.5″ and 14″ x 6.5″ snares for this review. They feature 45-degree interior-cut bearing edges with slight outside roundovers, as well as a gently rounded peak for extra contact. Sleek, single-point Absolute lugs, 2.3mm Inverse Dyna Hoops, dual-adjustable P-type strainers, Remo Ambassador heads, and hi-carbon steel snare wires come standard.
Tour Custom drums are only available in five finishes, and the same holds true for the new snares. Our 6.5″ drum came finished in Yamaha’s rich Candy Apple Red Satin, while the 5.5″ drum sported a beautifully subtle Caramel Satin stain. I wouldn’t call either flashy, but both finishes allow just enough grain to show. It’s a classically subdued look. Plus, the finishes both inside and out are immaculate. (The interiors have a very mild sealer.)
Sonically, the drums deliver almost exactly what I expected to hear. Those thin maple shells have the desired balance of musical highs and broad warmth that sounds comfortable in any setting. They’re very crisp, with only a minor dip in response around the edges. Both have 2.7mm-deep snare beds, which add some control and minimizes excess buzz. The 6.5″ has 25-strand snare wires, while the 5.5″ has a 20-strand set.
One thing that stands out: The Tour Custom drums sound more controlled than similarly built maple drums I’ve played. I attribute that to two factors. First, those 45-degree bearing edges add cutting responsiveness, but the edge peak sits fairly close to the outside of the shell. As such, it’s tighter against the drumhead’s collar curves, which cleans up edge tones. Second, Yamaha’s Inverse Dyna Hoops have an interior-facing top flange (unlike standard triple-flange hoops, which have an outward flange). I’m not totally sure, but the hoops feel a little more rigid under tension, and that might contribute to reducing some of the overtone spray I hear when sitting on top of the drum.
Either way, I had an easy time dialing these two drums in. They both seem happiest at medium or higher tensions, where that characteristic maple crack could shine. That’s not to say they can’t go low. They can, but they produce so much midrange sound that they need significant dampening to keep from overwhelming microphones. Aside from that, I hear less of the shells’ best qualities when the tensions drop.
In both drums, but especially in the 6.5″ model, the round-ish midrange and lower notes stay present at every tuning, which I’m sure is bolstered by those thin 5.6mm shells. It’s a very full sound that feels great in just about any setting. This is the classic maple snare drum sound we’ve come to love, in a very efficient package.
I have two tiny nitpicks about the Tour Custom snares. First, the P-type throw. I appreciate the dual wire-tension knobs on either side, but the units feel a little floppy. The metal components are slim and sparely designed. If possible, I would happily sacrifice the dual-adjustment feature to sub in a slightly stouter strainer.
And second, the rods feel very stiff when either adding or relieving tension. That’s great for preventing backout, but it’s kind of a pain when trying to dial in an even tuning.
It’s hard to believe three years have passed since the triumphant return of Yamaha’s Recording Custom drums. That was a pretty significant rollout as far as drum-related products are concerned. There were ads everywhere, and Yamaha even had a VR display at their NAMM booth with a video of Steve Gadd (who assisted with the redesign) demoing the kits. Anyway, long walk to say this is an important line of drums for Big Y.
The Recording Customs originally relaunched with a trio of metal snare drums, but again, no matching wood models. That changed this year with the introduction of two new RC snares with those iconic 6-ply, 6mm, all-birch shells at their core. Surprisingly, the new additions are only available in the standard 14″ x 5.5″ and much less common 14″ x 8″ sizes.
Yamaha offers Recording Custom snares in four finishes. Our 5.5″ drum was finished with the deep Real Wood stain, while the 8-inch model sported a gorgeous Surf Green lacquer. Both come equipped with Yamaha’s full-length, high-tension lugs, but the lugs on the 5.5″ model are clearly pulled right over from the metal RC snares because they have the same bead cutout in the center.
Both drums ship with Yamaha’s chrome-plated Q-type throw. The heavy-duty unit has a sleek future-forward design with extra-thick components and clean curves. It operated flawlessly without any rattle or unwanted resistance, and the matching butt-plate is equally generous in size, with a cool Minority Report-ish look.
The build and finish quality on these drums is extraordinary—clearly, a cut above. The finishes are as smooth as glass, the metal components are flawless, the edges are beautiful, the snare beds are even, the walnut-stained interior plies are silky to the touch, and I couldn’t find much more than a 1/32″ variance in shell diameter.
Sonically, the drums are a little different than I initially expected. They share a fairly dry quality that can make them sound thinner in certain rooms, almost like bright-ish mahogany tone. Both respond with high-frequency, forward-ringing attack, notable low-end presence, and a controlled midrange that some might refer to as the “pre-EQ’ed” sound commonly associated with birch. The included 1.6mm triple-flange hoops surely contribute to some of the open character around the edge, while the 30-degree inside-cut bearing edges enhance articulation. Wire response is quick and also a bit dry. The snare beds are the same as those on the Tour Customs, with 25-strand wires.
In the room, the 5.5″ drum sounds like an ideal jazz snare. It’s light and crisp, with a warmed-up rimshot that settles down quickly. It’s sweet and cutting at any tuning. Even super-low tensions stay punchy enough to hang in loud settings, just controlled enough to minimize the need for excessive muffling.
The 14″ x 8″ RC really knocked me out. I didn’t see this coming. To my ear, it plays much more like a 6.5″-deep drum than an 8″. Despite its depth, it’s extremely responsive and cutting. I think the birch really pays off here. Loose tensions on the batter head get a little muddy, but the drum has a nice amount of built-in bottom, so it’s easy to get a tight, fat sound at higher tunings than it would be with a shallower shell. Before this review, I was wondering why Yamaha elected to offer this size instead of a 6.5″, but after playing the drum, it makes a lot more sense for this shell type.
These drums really shine under microphones. Given their name, that should come as no surprise, but I was still a little shocked by what I heard in my first round of demo recordings. Both Recording Custom snares track with clean attack and full body. I think it would be easy to track either one of these snares without much (if any) tone control. Those brighter edge tones don’t seem to poke out as much as they do in person, so the remaining tone is full and clear without a lot of distraction.
It’s good to see Yamaha introduce matching wood snare drums for two of its most popular lines. The Tour Custom snares hit all the essential check boxes I want in maple drums: They’re full, responsive, and rich, and on top of that, they’re a great value. Similarly, the Recording Custom models stand out as top-flight examples of what birch can do in a snare drum shell. They’re quick, controlled, and cutting with a remarkably smooth sound under microphones. It’s easy to get distracted by the myriad fancy and exotic snare drums available today, but playing beautifully built instruments like these is a reminder of why having great maple and birch drums within reach is so important.
14″ X 5.5″ Tour Custom $299.99
14″ x 6.5″ Tour Custom $329.99
14″ x 5.5″ Recording Custom $599.99
14″ x 8″ Recording Custom $649.99