Tama Superstar 9040
Peter Randall bashes a Tama Superstar into shape.
Tama Seisaku-Syo Inc was founded in 1962 at Owari Asahi City near Nagoya in Japan, and they have been making drums since 1965. They used to make Star drums but stopped manufacturing them in 1974 when the Tama range had been developed. Initially one of the first companies to develop a successful heavy-duty boom stand, Tama Seisaku-Syo Inc redesigned parts during 1973 and 1974 upon the original concept that drumming is based on beating on the wood. The firm, therefore, sought natural sounds, test manufacturing all kinds of shells of glass fibre, metal, special wood, and other material. They rented stages and had dozens of these experimental models tested by professional musicians, repeated test productions and finally came to the conclusion that wood was the best material for drum shells. They now produce over 2,000 sets a month at home and abroad, and the drums are marketed in Great Britain by Summerfield Brothers in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.
The kit reviewed is a five drum outfit plus stands, comprising a 22in x 14in bass drum, 12in x 8in and 13in x 9in hanging toms, and a 16in x 16in floor tom tom. The outfit includes the new Spartan stands and the 14in x 5in King Beat snare drum and King Beat bass drum pedal. At first sight the kit looks very strongly-built and is aesthetically pleasing, and the actual drums and fittings are almost identical to the Tama Imperial Star range (except, of course, for the shells, which are 5-ply rock maple with 3-ply glue rings). The bass drum has ten rods and claws on each side with the Rogers-style nut boxes which are slightly bigger on the bass drum than the tom toms, and a standard design rod and claw mechanism with the T-shaped tympani-type tuning handle which enables easy tuning on both heads. The spurs are the disappearing type with large wing nuts to lock the spur rod in position, and they have a retractable rubber tip which, when screwed anti-clockwise, reveals a very effective spike. The rubber stop can be locked in position with a small circular locking nut and the spurs are angled slightly outwards towards the front of the drum for maximum grip.
The tom tom holder looks very substantial and proved itself to be immovable when tightened up, only vibrating slightly under vigorous playing. It is similar in design to the Premier double tom tom holder, except for the circular stem which locates into a pressed steel block on the bass drum. At the top of the tube is a T-shaped casting with two screw-locked ratchet tilters which hold two knurled L-shaped rods. These in turn locate into two blocks on each tom tom which are held by substantial wing nuts. By loosening the wing nuts the tom toms can be moved inwards or outwards, up or down, and, of course, by adjusting the ratchet tilter they can be moved in or out from each other. There is also a locking clamp on the centre post which can be adjusted with a standard square type drum key. My only real criticism of this holder was that the toms could not be positioned very close together without being too close or too far away for a comfortable playing position.
The hoops on the bass drum are of the same natural wood as the rest of the kit and look better than steel hoops with this type of finish, though obviously care must be taken against marking the hoops with bass drum pedals, cow bell clamps or anything else you might clamp on to the hoops. I would suggest a small piece of gaffer tape about three layers thick on the appropriate places, and making sure that all the rods and claws fit comfortably.
The 12in x 8in and 13in x 9in hanging, and 16in x 16in floor tom toms are the average run-of-the-mill sizes, but bigger sizes in all the drums are available if required. All the drums have what look like Remo Ambassadors with the Tama insignia stamped on them, top and bottom. (Incidentally, a lot of drum manufacturers buy heads from Remo and have their own name stamped on, so if a salesman tells you a head is a Remo Ambassador and it has got Rogers, Pearl, Tama or Sonor stamped on it, he is probably correct.) My initial reaction to these drums was that they were well-designed and durable; this conclusion was substantiated in playing and handling. All the tom toms have a damper tone control which can be adjusted to any degree of pressure and turned on or off instantly by means of a double-winged screw on all top heads. The floor tom tom legs were held by a block type mounting bracket with an eye-bolt assembly common to a few other popular drum manufacturers. The top of the legs are knurled for extra grip and there is the same adjustable spike or rubber tip as the spurs. The base of the leg is angled outwards about six inches from the floor for extra spread.
The King Beat snare drum has a seamless metal shell, die-cast hoops and a parallel action snare mechanism. The drum actually feels very heavy but this bears little relevance to the sound. It has a twenty-strand snare fitted and the same heads and dampers as the rest of the kit with separate snare tensions and head pressure adjustments. The snare lever has a nice feel about it, positive but easy, made from die-cast metal which will respond very quickly if the snare is required off or on; say, for instance, in a drum solo.
When tensioned up the drum responded well, but a little ring was evident. So I tried the damper applied to the top head but this did not seem to eliminate the ring. I then tried putting some masking tape around the outer edges and this seemed to rectify the situation, but I feel this should not be necessary. When the damper was applied it gave the drum a dull sound which may be suitable for the studio but is not very good live.
The Tama snare which is fitted to the drum is connected by a bolt to the snare mechanism. Only Tama snares will fit this drum, but your local Tama dealer should stock these. Overall, the snare sound was snappy and bright. This model did not have the little screws on the tension rods to hold the head in tune which I have noticed on other Tama snare drums.
The stands supplied with this kit are the new range from Tama called Spartan, seemingly an apt name for them as they look and feel extremely rugged. The main difference from the regular Titan stands that have been selling well for the last year or so is the aluminium cast legs and rubber feet which are reversible to spikes. The people who make Tama drums seem to be very quick to adapt or improve their hardware if any faults are found, providing dealers and drummers have the sense to point out the faults in the first place. Such is the case with the nylon bushes fitted recently to the Titan and Spartan stands which make for smoother folding down and reduce friction and scratching on the stems. The one part of this kit that I thought really stood out was the bass drum pedal (Catalogue No 6755), similar in design to the Premier 252, which incorporates a single compression spring, and a cam that is spring actuated giving a quick and positive stroke with the least pedal pressure. The foot plate is curved, fitting to the natural curvature of the foot, and has a toe stopper which keeps your foot from slipping, and an adjustable heel plate. Nylon bushes make for a noiseless smooth action and the compression spring is contained in a sealed housing. External adjustment is quick and easy with memory-mark references on the spring housing. This is a pedal I can highly recommend to anyone; above all, it is a dream to play.
The design of the snare drum stand legs is the same as the hi-hat and cymbal stands with the now familiar Buck Rogers-style basket mechanism. The unusual part of this stand is the hidden nut and bolt assembly that holds the basket, since most other makes operate on a ratchet mechanism. There is a rubber ring and screw inside the nut and bolt assembly which works very effectively and showed no signs of slipping. On the actual basket claws themselves are three very chunky rubber grips, large wing bolts for tightening up all moving parts and, of course, the nylon bush on the join of the base to the upper assembly.
One criticism I must make (and this also applies to other makes) is that the stand should go down lower, especially if you use a 6½in snare drum. This does bother some drummers who like to have the snare down low, and who usually end up with an inferior quality stand for the sake or this small, but important, detail. The hi-hat stand (Catalogue No 6925) is the same design as the other stands regarding legs, plastic bushing and foot plate. The upper tubes assembly has a locking clamp with the spring mechanism housed in a separate tube running parallel to the lower tube, adjustment being possible by a long knurled bolt. I did not find this very easy to operate, and it hardly made any difference to the tension. This could have been a weak spring or a faulty mechanism, but since I only had one model of this type available for review, I cannot be sure this is a general fault with all Tama hi-hat stands.
The outfit does not include a stool but I thought I would mention two models that are proving to be popular and are, in my opinion, the best stools available today. Tama do a cheaper model, which is very like the Premier stool but not as durable nor as good. The two to look for, however, are the Titan Throne (Catalogue No 6790) at £43.05/$80.00 and the Mercury Throne (Catalogue No 6785) at £29.68. They are highly recommended by many top players, especially for long or rigorous gigs. The Titan has a very soft seat about 3½in thick and is very comfortable, with the top section working on a screw mechanism to lower the stool. The top spins around until it reaches the correct height and locks in position with a large wing bolt. The Mercury is similar in design except the seat is about 1in less in height and not so soft, and the top section tube has a groove running down the side which is lowered by hand and then locked in place by the same type of wing bolt. Both bases are the same, with double strutted legs and a good wide spread with large rubber feet.
Tama have a large range of accessories and useful bits and pieces that make life easier for the working drummer, including a very useful multi-clamp which can be used for an extra cymbal arm or for holding one or more cow bells (and a multitude of other things). The sound of Tama Superstar drums is generally very pleasing - this kit is a slight improvement sound-wise on the Imperial range, due to the rock maple shells that add just a touch more edge to the sound. The bass drum is particularly impressive: big and authoritative-sounding, but a little ringy even with the supplied felt strips fitted. Without the front head this ringiness would almost certainly disappear.
The tom toms needed just a touch of damper on to take away the ring, but with the heads tensioned correctly a good meaty sound can be achieved very easily. The finishes available in this Tama range are described as Platina, Natural Maple and Natural Walnut, all of which look very tasty. My only criticism of the wood finishes is that they do not seem to have a very strong coat of lacquer, which means taking great care against dirt and knocks. Billy Cobham is an endorsee of Tama drums and plays the same drums as reviewed, but obviously has more than five!
In conclusion, I found this kit falls into the same category as the Sonor kit reviewed last month; a fine kit, good stands, not cheap, but something that will obviously last well and always give good service whatever your type of music or requirements.
rrp £668.34/US Tama kits $1280-$1145 from Eiger, Cornwell Heights, Pa.
Peter Randall is an ex-pro drummer now working as a salesman at Henrit's Drumstore in Central London.
Review by Peter Randall
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