BY DAVID LIBMAN
Delivering a deathblow to average, run-of-the-mill drums everywhere, Tama recently unleashed a new series of snares named the Warlord Collection. When I first learned I would be critiquing the Warlords, I feared for my life. Well, not really, but I did think that I should probably look up the word warlord to be absolutely sure what it means. And as it turns out, a warlord is generally understood to be a military commander that uses force to rule a limited area. With that probably in mind, Tama gave each snare its own military-style moniker: (1) the maple Valkyrie, an old Norse name for maidens who sent heroes to be slain in battle; (2) the African bubinga Masai, a name attributed to hunters in Africa; (3) the stainless steel Spartan, a Greek name for persons of great courage and self-discipline; and (4) the bell brass Praetorian, a name for members of the Roman imperial bodyguard. Ultimately, the maple, African bubinga, and steel shell Warlords – each of which list for $899 – invaded my home. For whatever reason, Tama’s $2,599 bell brass Praetorian did not join the fray. Maybe it just didn’t have the guts. More likely, though, Tama realized that if you’re willing and able to spend that much money on a snare, you probably don’t care what I think about it.
Having now met the Warlords on the battlefield (in other words, having now played them), I think that the moniker is quite appropriate. That is to say, these Warlord snares rule the sonic spectrum, but only in limited areas. Enough, however, about the name. My mission with these Warlords is to describe how they look, sound, and feel. Read carefully. Your hearing may depend on it.
IF LOOKS COULD KILL
Tama’s approach to the Warlords’ lugs and badges has, in my opinion, quite possibly commenced a new trend. (Remember, you read that prediction here first.) Up until now, most lugs that I have seen are relatively simple-looking tubes, circles, squares, rectangles, ovals, or some slight variation of those shapes. Similarly, most drum badges are circles, ovals, or rectangles with etched or painted writing. The Warlords’ lugs and badges, on the other hand, feature unique and detailed, Gothic-looking crests adorned with real Swarovski crystals. To accentuate that medieval look, the Warlords’ hardware comes in a special Antique Black matte plating that makes for a similar look to weaponry, pewter chess sets, or those collectible Dungeons And Dragons figurines (yeah, I know you know what I’m talking about). The drums also come outfitted with Tama’s die-cast hoops (top and bottom) and its MUS80 lever-type strainer (the same one that you see on many Starclassic snares). I particularly like the strainer because it’s easy to use and has tension adjustment knobs on both the strainer and butt ends – an excellent feature that allows for much more precise tensioning and positioning of the snare wires.
The Warlords’ shells also look killer. The snares I received came in a sunburst-figured maple shell, a quilted bubinga shell that faded to black in the middle, and a mirror stainless steel shell with a matte inner stripe. One pet peeve: The welded seam on the steel shell lies directly between two lugs and is visibe on the shell’s exterior, which detracts from the otherwise high-quality look of the drum. I would prefer to see Tama either place the seam closer to a lug so that it is less noticeable or sand the seam smoother before finishing the shell.
What you won’t find on the Warlords, though, are any huge logos. This lack of in-your-face branding gives the drums, dare I say, an artistic look that is clean and classy. My wife, though, described the Warlords as “very masculine.” Another friend, who drives a bright red Porsche, called the Warlords “gaudy.” Whatever the case, the drums are anything but subtle, and if you show up with one on a gig, the other musicians will almost certainly take notice (except for maybe a few totally self-absorbed guitar players and singers). Personally, I think the Warlords look stunning, and I appreciate Tama’s willingness to try something new.
EAR DRUM DESTRUCTION
All the Warlords come in one size, 14″ x 6″. In my experience, most standard, professional-quality 14″ x 6″ snares are extremely versatile when compared with other sizes. This is because most 14″ x 6″ snares (to varying degrees) have a relatively wide dynamic range, the potential for a fat backbeat sound, and a forgiving and flexible feel that makes it seem like the drum is breathing. With that said, I do not find that the Warlords offer that kind of versatility in either sound or feel. The Warlords do, however, work particularly well for high-volume playing.
To put it bluntly, the Warlords are loud. Really loud. Like a gunshot, or an explosion, or a siren, or maybe all those things at once. Everyone in my family – my wife and my two sons – plays drums. When I played these drums at home, they all commented (well, screamed actually) that these were the loudest snares they have heard. I also unleashed the Warlords at a session with a high-volume funk trio (drums, electric bass, and synthesizer), and with even the lightest of strokes and minimal physical effort, I was able to play a backbeat that cut right through the din of my bandmates’ amplifiers.
Most of the Warlords’ high-decibel output comes from their tremendous projection in the mid and high frequencies. The Warlords also speak with ample overtones, many of which are almost harsh sounding. When playing the drums, I had the sensation that Tama had taken a 13″ x 3″ piccolo snare and magically enlarged it to 14″ x 6″. In particular, the Warlords have the same harder feel and piercing crack that I’ve often found in piccolo snares, only with a lower pitch and bigger sound.
It took me a few days to figure out the reason for the Warlords’ unusual volume and overtone projection, but I think it stems from the way the shells are made. Take the wood Warlord shells, for example. At 15 plies and 13mm, the maple Warlord is 8mm thicker than Tama’s standard 5mm Starclassic maple snare. Similarly, the 12-ply, 10mm African bubinga Warlord is also much thicker than Tama’s standard Starclassic bubinga model. The net result of that extra wood is that at softer volumes, most of the Warlords’ sound comes from the heads, not the shells, which are simply too thick to resonate at that lower volume. When hit harder, wood Warlords produce a full-sounding crack that could shatter glass. Yet because the shells do not have as much give as thinner drums, the sound is not as warm, breathy, or fat as many other wood 14″ x 6″ snares.
Coming back to that piccolo snare analogy, a 13″ x 3″ piccolo typically has less shell to vibrate, which makes for a stiffer-feeling drum and a harsher, more cutting sound. As a result, the distinctions in sound and feel between piccolo snare drums with different shell materials are not usually as extreme as those distinctions would be with larger snare drums. Similarly, with the Warlords I did not find as many sonic distinctions between the maple and bubinga models as I have noticed between, for example, Tama’s 14″ x 6″ thinner-shelled Starclassic maple and bubinga snares. Yes, the maple model offers a slightly brighter and warmer sound than the bubinga model. Yes, the bubinga Warlord has a darker and seemingly more focused sound than its maple comrade. But truthfully, to my ears, the two wood Warlords sound very similar to one another.
The Warlord steel snare, with its relatively thin 1mm shell, might have sounded completely different than the thick-shelled wood models. But Tama does something to the steel drum that gives it the same sort of sound and feel as the wood Warlords. Tama takes the edges of the steel Warlord, bends those edges completely over into the shell, and then welds those edges to the inner wall, thus forming top and bottom edges with their own welded air chambers. Tama calls these welded-steel edges Resonant Sound Edges, but unlike the wood Warlords’ 45-degree bearing edges, the Resonant Sound Edges are cut at a wider 65 degrees. Those wide chambers seem to give the steel shell an inflexible quality that is, to be honest, anything but resonant. Rather, the steel drum produces the same highly focused mid and high frequencies as the wood Warlords, but with even brighter overtones, more liveliness, and ultimately (though I didn’t think it possible) more volume.
The Warlords impress me most with their aggressive, artistic, and Gothic look – a truly refreshing aesthetic approach. Sonically, the Warlords lack versatility, but they’re the perfect choice if you like or need to play extremely loud music. The Warlords produce incredible volume with little or no physical effort – essentially, goodbye carpal tunnel syndrome, hello hearing loss. The $899 list price on the three snares I received is comparable to many other professional – though much less distinguished – snare drums currently on the market. Plus, the Warlords come with a free hard-shell case, which means you can take the money you save and use it to buy several pairs of earplugs.
Tama Warlord Collection Snares
Valkyrie 14″ x 6″ Maple $899
Masai 14″ x 6″ African Bubinga $899
Spartan 14″ x 6″ Stainless Steel $899
Praetorian 14″ x 6″ Bell Brass $2,599
Evans G1 heads, die-cast hoops, Snappy snare wires, matte-plated hardware, hard-shell case.