December 2009

Yamaha Absolute Maple Drum Set

Many moons ago, Alan Dawson opened a clinic by asking, “What’s the most important component of a drum set?” As an evolving jazz snob, I shouted out, “Ride cymbal.” (“No.”) Someone of equal confidence offered, “Hi-hat.” (“Nope.”) Another yelled, “Snare drum.” (“Uh-uh.”) Somewhat more timidly, a fourth guessed, “Bass drum.” (“Wrong.”) With the room stunned mute, Mr. Dawson said, “The seat! How are you going to play drum set without a good seat?” Beyond the ice-breaking cleverness of his trick question was a refreshing practicality.

The DS-840 throne supplied with this Yamaha Absolute Maple kit was the softest stool I’ve ever had (wait, maybe I should rephrase that). The seat itself, while more than an inch thinner than most, is the first I’ve seen with the mattress warning, “Under penalty of law this tag is not to be removed,” and a 7-inch circular metal plate receives the base section’s screw rod. Despite its compact fold-up size, the three double-braced legs extend to a 24-inch footprint, making it ideally comfortable and rock-steady.

My review set’s wrap arrived in a loud green finish dubbed “White Grape.” (Caramel Sparkle is pictured here.) All four pieces employed the same small 1 1/2-inch Absolute lugs, each attached to their respective shells with a single bolt. With Yamaha’s usual impressive attention to detail, every lug, holder, clawhook, bass-drum T-rod, soundhole eyelet and nameplate badge is insulated with rubber gaskets, plastic liners or nylon inserts, including the snare strainer and butt-plate. No random, undesirable rattling could possibly emanate from these drums.
The 20-lug, 20-inch x 16-inch bass drum had 10 sound vents, two in every other section, with four normal drum key T-rods (two on the back to facilitate pedal placement and two on the bottom front just for aesthetic balance, I suppose); the remaining 16 are the usual handled T-rods. Drum key-adjustable spurs convert from rubber tips to metal spikes in seconds and the design is exceptionally sturdy. Indeed, my extensive mathematical calculations predict that this drum would require a 24-inch case. The seven-ply shell, while slightly thicker than the rest of the kit’s six-ply shells, still makes for a relatively light drum, especially considering its size and the quality of its hardware.

Upon substituting a harder beater for the generic felt one provided, the sound was immediately more focused and easily capable of cutting through raucous Jersey bar patrons enjoying the ends of Phillies games. On a concert before an attentive audience, my minor concerns with sustain were nothing that a moleskin pad at the impact point didn’t fix. The FP-7210A single-chain drive pedal is the Gretsch Floating Action/Camco/DW design that has proven dependable for decades.

As the sole drum equipped with a coated batter head, the 14-inch x 6-inch, 20-lug, single-venthole snare drum sounded great straight out of the box, singing cleanly and clearly with crisp snare response across the diameter of the head at any volume. An accompanying SS-740A single-braced snare drum stand used a classic threaded basket-arm adjustment.

Their triple-tom holder is convenient for varied setup possibilities, which is why the 12-inch x 8-inch, 12-lug tom sported two nameplate badges, to be seen whether mounted to the left or right. There is even a protective pad on the tom behind the Yamaha Enhanced Sustain System’s receptacle, plus vibration-reducing, sound-isolating plugs on the ends of both the main tube into the bass drum and Yamaha’s elegant ball-clamp tilter section. The 16-lug, 14-inch x 13-inch floor tom, with its six airvents and low-mass leg brackets, conveniently featured tom legs with a twist-adjustable choice between rubber tips or metal spikes. Both of these toms sounded more like jazz drums with coated batter heads, but that’s purely subjective. In fact, this set responded no matter the style: On an open mic night, extremes ranged from light folkie tapping to an assault by a linebacker-built neo-punker who kicked the living stink out of the bass drum, and the set responded equally well to both.
Yamaha’s innovative, standard-setting, single-braced, CS-755 straight/boom cymbal-stand design remains unchanged except for a modification to the lower ratchet section, which is now additionally hinged, with the adjustment wingbolts opposite one another instead of the earlier 90-degree angle placement. What is the significance of this? I don’t know.

The HS-740A is a no-frills, single-braced, three-leg pedale de Charleston (French term for hi-hat), although it does include a rotating spring tension knob. For increased tension, slide the toothed cup up to the desired location on the handy reference scale, rotating it to the left to lock it into place. To reduce tension, rotate the cup to the right and slide down into position.

Utilizing Yamaha’s Air-Seal process, by which the plies are positioned with staggered diagonal seams and sealed together with evenly distributed air pressure, the Absolute Maple line produces an exceptionally warm tone quality. State-of-the-art design and manufacturing meets traditional values in this high-end series, and after a trend toward overly complicated hardware by certain manufacturers, it’s a pleasure to see position clamps on the hi-hat, cymbal tilter straight/boom arms and tom holders called “position clamps” rather than “memory-lock systems.” These drums offer an overall return-to-basics sensibility and a refreshing practicality.

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