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Tama Artstar

Article from One Two Testing, December 1984

real drums go thinner

FLIPPING nonchalantly through the pages of this magazine, it probably comes as something of novel surprise to discover an item as ancient as the acoustic drum under scrutiny, deluged as the current market is, by a bewildering variety of rhythm machines and electronic kits, all sporting dials, knobs and flashing displays designed to attract the interest and the cash of the would-be rhythm maker.

However the only thing that you can be sure of in the music business is that you never know what's going to happen next. As quickly as the recording industry embraced the new technology, dazzled by visions of perfect time, perfect separation and the chance to create impossible rhythms it has already begun to return to use of the human alternative, tolerating all the consequent problems with punctuality, bad jokes and general slovenly behaviour. Is there something primeval about a person banging a drum which can galvanise the listener in no other way?

Whether or not Tama's new Artstar range will galvanise patrons of the local working men's club into life will depend a great deal on the skill of the said human. But it would seem a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. This is more your Wembley Arena stuff and at £1432 for three toms, one omnilock holder and a bass drum, definitely not for those who've seen the Smiths on the tele and reckon it looks easy.

The AS variation on the theme of shell construction is a resourceful affair in a world in which one drum is much like another, and where innovation is hard to detect and is usually confined to dreaming up ever more unlikely names for the same bits of hardware.

The Tama chaps must have looked far and wide for a wood with interesting visual and tonal qualities as yet unexploited by their competitors. With the South American cordia hardwood that comprises the inner and outer laminates of the AS's six-ply sandwich (the filling being the more conventional birch), they have both. Not content with slimming 3mm from the thickness of most rival shells, they have also coated the inside of the AS with a transparent sealing of mystery consistency. Not many people do that. The only shell I've seen with a smoother inside is the Yamaha 9000 recording series.

Interesting since the AS features one-piece nut boxes for top and bottom heads which Yamaha have been using for years and Premier (bless 'em) for even longer. Then there are the tom tom holders. Tama's 'new' omnilock system is fundamentally the same as the ball and socket design common to all Yamaha drums, even their practice kits. The only difference is that the metal bar protruding from the nylon ball bends away at a right angle. This avoids having to drill a hole in the Tama shell, whereas the Yamaha opts for a straight bar and a consequent small hole.

The quick-release holding mechanism of the omnilock was an element of the French Capelle stands that I commented favourably upon in this magazine at least 18 months ago. This principle has, in turn, been keeping the wheels on racing bikes for years. Drum manufacturers may be craftsmen but no-one could accuse them of being proud.

The peculiarity of good drums is that they tend to shine through inept tuning or an ill-advised choice of heads. As the AS toms (12 by 11, 13 by 12 and 16 by 16) were handed to me from the shelf, each with its regulation Pinstripe batter head and clear Ambassador bottom. I dished out a cursory whack with my borrowed stick and they all sounded, well... good.

At this point we digress into the vague sphere of drum semantics where one man's blip is another man's thud. To register as 'good' in AD's book, certain questions were asked of these drums.

One: was tonal quality pleasing? Answer: Yes. The AS sounds very clear and bright so reducing the shell thickness, opting for the cordia and the mystery seal were worth the effort.

Two: were they resonant? Answer: Yes and with a surprising minimum of buzzes or ugly harmonic overtones. Tama have followed the modern trend of dispensing with internal dampers an action that can only benefit the passage of soundwaves inside the drum. Let's face it, no one ever used them anyway.

Three: did they respond to varied tuning? Answer: remarkably so. Most toms have a natural pitch at which they sound at their best, and quite obviously so. Trying to push the tuning severely up or down can be a frustrating exercise. Whereas the Ludwig 12 and 13 power toms have a pitch interval which is very close and virtually impossible to work around, those of the AS not only showed a marked difference in natural pitch, but could also be interchanged, each adopting the other's pitch with no trouble. Excellent.

Four: were they loud? Answer: definitely. The thin shells couldn't be faulted in this respect and this is of value to all drummers, not just the basher. In fact loud drums encourage a lighter, more subtle and thus more imaginative approach since more sound can be created with less individual effort per stroke. Toms of equal volume to each other and to the rest of the kit make recording an absolute breeze and since the drummer is the least likely band member to enjoy monitoring of any sort at a gig, being able to hear all parts of the kit acoustically in the heat of battle is always reassuring and a guard against hitting too hard. Remember, you can always make loud drums quiet, if required, but achieving the reverse is no joke.

The 22 by 16 bass drum retains a 9mm thickness which adds extra tonal weight and punch to the sound as well as offering more rigid support to any configuration of rack toms, splash cymbals or works of conceptual art that might otherwise bend the shell out of shape. Interesting to note that its spurs are of the same, straight, retractable type that I got with my first Premier Kit more years ago than I'm going to admit to you lot.

Fitted with the same batter and a mirror-finish front head, this drum also responded well to those famous questions. To number one: yes. Even with a borrowed pedal and consequently less wellie (a technical term for foot power) there was both attack and definition at the impact of the felt beater and a rich, booming depth overall. Number two: yes and again a certain clarity of pitch was most noticeable. Resonance will depend largely on your choice of batter head, whether you remove the front head or cut a hole in it (the shape of which can also add differing varieties of hum or boing), and what type of damping you favour (pillow, duffle coat, severed limb etc). Number three: yes. Although modern techniques of miking, eq and triggering can rescue any old sound, this drum should be a pleasure to work with, sounding great across a wide range of tensions from the supertight tang of the bebopper to the slackest thud of the HM exponent. Four: no doubt about it. Any singer reckless enough to stick his nut inside this drum is never going to be the same again.

So the AS scores well on most counts of sound, appearance and structural quality. Flaws? The toms are only available in the x-tra deep sizes (one inch intervals from 8 by 9 to 15 by 14) and there is no 14 by 14 floor tom (only 16, 18 and 20). So if, like me, you sit low and prefer smaller drums you could have problems finding a set up that matches tonally and that can be fixed low enough on the bass drum not to make you uncomfortable. So check this thoroughly if you go to see a kit. However, be prepared for a wait. I saw the only AS kit in the country at present and no further consignment is expected for three months.

Finally, why do all the manufacturers still supply bass drums with two complete heads? So few drummers use uncut front heads and have done so for such a long time now, you would think that in this world of diminishing variety, the likes of Tama would have developed their own, distinctive cut-outs and maybe dropped their prices.

TAMA artstar kit: £1432

Previous Article in this issue

Gordy Redshift

Next article in this issue

FX Round-up / Fuzz Reviews

Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Dec 1984

Gear in this article:

Drums (Acoustic) > Tama > Artstar

Review by Andy Duncan

Previous article in this issue:

> Gordy Redshift

Next article in this issue:

> FX Round-up / Fuzz Reviews

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