June 2002

Yamaha Stage Custom Advantage Drums

I must have a personality problem: as Sammy Cahn once wrote, “I Fall in Love Too Easily.”

I’ve reviewed three drum sets for JazzTimes so far and, with only minor reservations, I’ve deeply and sincerely loved them all. But maybe, like the Madeleine/Judy-obsessed Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo, it’s simply that after all these years, I certainly know what I want, and how to manipulate whatever the current situation to impose my preferences (an even creepier character flaw, no?). Substitute some coated heads, tinker with some tension adjustments, fuss with the snare drum a little bit, and yes, oh yes, that’s it, right there, just the way I remember it.

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Yamaha Stage Custom Advantage Drums

And so it was with the Yamaha Stage Custom Advantage series set, consisting of a 14-inch x 5 1/2-inch snare, 20-inch x 16-inch bass and 10-inch x 9-inch, 12-inch x 10-inch and 14-inch x 14-inch toms. I haven’t seen long, slender legs like that on a floor tom since…. Seriously, one of my complaints about the rare recent kits that do include the three-legged floor tom design is that the legs are sometimes not long enough to balance out the height of the snare drum on its stand at its lowest position. This is not the case with Yamaha. These legs are a full 21-inches long, meaning that the floor tom’s playing surface could be up to 32 inches off the stage. (If NBA centers ever think about playing drums, they may want to consider Yamaha.) The leg brackets require a drum key, as do the bass drum spur extensions. Similarly, there are no handles on the bass drum T-rods.

On the superficial, cosmetic side, these Indonesian-manufactured drums are beautiful in a timeless sense. The review set’s shells were a gorgeous natural maple, with a high-gloss lacquer protective finish and almost invisible seams. Sneaking a look at the personally desirable 45-degree bearing edges, I noticed the inside ply had the grain running vertical to the drum, which unexpectedly elicited a deep longing for Kim Novak—er, no, I mean those classic, distinctive Hollywood and Sonor sets from the ’60s and ’70s.

Even with the supplied Taiwanese Remo heads, which are clear Ambassadors with Yamaha’s stamp added, the toms had full, round fundamental tones. The bass drum seemed to be the perfect compromise kick, large enough to provide a dull drum-machinelike thud if required; yet after some tweaking, it was also capable of producing a pleasing melodic pitch that retained unusually pronounced overtones on the bottom end, regardless of how high I cranked the tuning. There was no sound hole in the black-front bass-drum head (with the Yamaha logo lettering in white) and the drum sported thick bass-drum hoops of perfectly matched maple.

Even though I’ve never owned one, I’ve always been an ardent admirer of Yamaha’s convertible straight/boom cymbal stands, one of the most elegantly functional designs in the entire history of drum hardware. Other examples of attention to detail are evident everywhere, as befitting Yamaha’s world-class reputation: the plastic plug in the bottom of the sturdy, dependable, freely adjustable ball and socket-type tom holder; the black-rubber protective molding on the bass-drum hoop where the pedal attaches. With the FP700 bass-drum pedal, again a model of graceful, uncomplicated efficiency, Yamaha has introduced a rubber groove over the cam as a guide for the chain drive as well as replaced the usual metal disc at the top of the spring assembly with one of space-age miracle nylon polymer.

Now, I have no idea what the “Air Seal System” is that Yamaha proudly refers to on the nameplate of the wood-shell snare, but it must do something—and something really important, because for a no-frills, eight-lug snare, this is one fine-sounding drum. In these modern times of mind-numbing, overly hyped vacuity, this snare was like a vision from the past, with a time-proven, problem-free strainer design. Full-bodied and warm, crisp and with great projection, it reminds me of something—my very first drum, a snare drum. I loved that drum. I miss that drum. For hopeful, fleeting seconds I’ve seen my first drum’s reflection in stores’ display windows as I’m passing by, but bleak reality inevitably dissolves the mirage. I’ve even found myself chasing a drum down the street, only to realize when I catch up with it and see it up close that I’ve again been foolishly mistaken. That drum had a black finish, though, and the lugs were shaped a little differently. Yamaha, could you change the color and put other lugs on? I could describe them exactly. I promise this is the thing that will make everything right. Please, would you do it this once—just for me?

Trust me, it’s not creepy at all.

Jim Miller is a Philadelphia-based drummer and runs Dreambox Media records.

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