Drum review part I: “The Yamaha Club Custom drumset is vastly superior to the vintage drumsets it resembles—in terms of tone, feel, weight, build, and cosmetics,” T Bruce Wittet

The Yamaha Club Custom speaks in a bold voice that stands out—in a noisy drum shop and on stage. The Club Custom delivers startling tone and is pro in every respect—without the Phoenix price tag.

Yamaha Club Customs: reviewed and played by Bruce Wittet

Yours truly, Irene's pub, during a heat wave, working & reviewing Yamaha Club Custom drums

Jeez. I get it. Heat wave. Extremely busy: gig to gig. But I never figured on looking so glazed as above. Ralph Angelillo, director, Montreal Drum Fest, shot this. Apparently it’s up on facebook. More on Ralph in Part II of this review of the Yamaha Club Custom drumset.
Yamaha Club Custom 16" floor tom, 15" deep

Yamaha 16x15 floor tom, closer look at that Black Swirl vibey finish

I am not yanking your chain. I don’t get points on sale nor do I get to keep review gear. In fact, the Club Custom review kit went to my fave retail outlet and can be purchased as we speak at: Dave’s Drum Shop in Ottawa. Not to worry about mail orders. Owner Dave Dudley and sidekick Matt Ouimet are so reliable I’d trust them with my first born. Okay, maybe not Matt….

First an update on me, reviews, and Modern Drummer

I miss that Club Custom kit; I didn’t want to send it back.I know, you’ve heard me utter similar sentiments in pages of Modern Drummer, the magazine I grew up with. I never fibbed a word in MD nor will I on this website.

Before we begin part I of the Yamaha Club Custom 24” kick review I want to get you up to date. I’ve been quiet here, incredibly busy elsewhere. Gigging everywhere, and with the Club Customs, which is a good thing. Who wants to read a review written from an armchair? A word to the wise in the current heat wave: drink lots of water, lots of G2, and even Fresca, so says Dr Moss.

Coming soon in MD, you will see my review of the Sonor Jojo Mayer Perfect Balance Bass Drum Pedal, then various new Paiste cymbals: Formula 602s (Paper Thin and Thin), Giant Beat Thins, plus a 22” Twenty Masters Ndugu Crisp Ride.

The Sonor Jojo review pedal (for MD) docked to the 24" Club Custom bass drum

Am I lucky or what? The pedal has yet to hit these shores and I get to review one and gig it extensively? Very nice. And I get to gig (not keep, however) a collection of extra-thin, silky smooth cymbals for a couple of months. You touch them…and they touch you. You’ll have to watch for those reviews in Modern Drummer. Obviously I can’t let the cat out of the bag here. Okay, so one last wee tease:

The Sonor Jojo Mayer Perfect Balance bass drum pedal does what the literature claims. I thought I’d seen smooth action in the past. I wasn’t ready for the magnificent retro-meets-future design that’s taken Jojo years to come up with. And the Paistes—well, as recently as last night they’ve been at my side in my ancient leather cymbal bag (purchased at Drummers World, Times Square, sadly no longer with us). I’ve used them at upscale dates: twice at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, at Café Paradiso (the only serious jazz house in Ottawa, Canada), and last night at a restaurant/club in a place called Moose Creek. This hamlet is a good 2 hours drive from anywhere urban but worth it. Recently Hagi was telling me about his environmental preservation efforts and the return of fireflies. Well, they were out in force across the sky last night for the drive home. Mind you there are lights out there in the pitch black that get you wondering….At any rate, you turn on your brights. One of those might wander across the road. Or some snapping turtle or any number of vermin that don’t come out in waking hours. Hit a deer or worse and your automobile is a write off.

Review drum kit, Yamaha Club Custom, load-in: George Stryker gig

Part I: Examination of the Yamaha Club Custom in forensic detail

Part II comes tomorrow. It is a more detailed, and (even more) candid, assessment of these drums. Ralph Angelillo, director of the Montreal Drum Fest, makes an appearance. (He doesn’t know this so keep it quiet). Oh, why wait, let’s guest him right now:

Ralph Angelillo touring 1965

Ralph, full of zeal, 1965 gig with Megatones

I chose to review, and Yamaha Canada kindly shipped, a kit with a regal 24” bass drum. Two more inches and I’d wager John Bonham might fancy it. Definitely Cozy Powell would have, if I may be permitted to speak for the late drum hero I interviewed prior to his auto crash.

Thanks to Yamaha Canada marketing head, Sean Browne, for the review kit. Thing about Sean is that he’s hip and he can always answer gear-nerd questions off the hip. And he’s blunt and honest.

Club Custom 24” kick: power from down under

The 24” at the center of the Club Custom review kit furnishes a surprisingly generous package of attack and swell. The beater snap is followed closely by a tremendous blossoming of low-end. This is no poetry. You feel it and it translates to the audience.

review, yamaha club custom drum kit

Did the review kit, Yamaha Club Customs, smoke too much?

The Club bass drum frequencies are all useable. By this I mean that there’s nothing weirdo to damp out. With the supplied Remo Powerstroke heads front and back (no hole in the front) I didn’t feel compelled to employ additional muffling: the internal rings on the circumference of the heads do the job just fine.

You will see a photo of me at a live gig and I’ve shredded the New York Times front section and dumped it into the bass drum. When close-miking I do that just in case; but I could have gotten away without the cat litter-box approach.

When I say that the overtones are useable, I contrast the 24” Club Custom with my benchmark 1970s 24” Camco (Chanute/Kustom era) bass drum, which features an extremely delicate, thin maple shell with glue rings, and delivers low-end that’ll cross over into a subwoofer without batting an eye.

Using that magnificent kick as point of comparison, I found the Yamaha Club 24” richer in the mids and lower-mids. The Camco sometimes gets lost in the mix. That’s the problem with sub lows. Nice in exclusion but they don’t travel well. You strike quarter notes on the Club 24” bass drum during a ballad and they extend a little and you get the feeling that your quarter-note is enough. It fills the sort of space we hear in “No Quarter”. Seriously. Remember that Bonham kept his kick cranked up tight and what we call his “huge kick sound” is the result of him dumping those sub-lows in favors of stronger mid frequencies. The music, they used to say, is in the mids.

With a hard DW plastic beater, the attack sat nicely in various band mixes and settings. I found that the plastic sides of the DW, and of Pearl bass drum beaters (which weigh identically) didn’t click loudly and excite bizarre overtones: it punched. If it were a ride cymbal, it’d be a ping that didn’t get lost in the wash.

I enjoyed that I could really loosen-off batter and audience-side heads (no hole/port) and obtain the deep Camco vibe with a little extra in tow. And the Yamaha Club bass drum is as light as the feather light old Camco (and 3-ply you-know-whats). The lower and middle mid-frequency presence may be attributable to the rounded bearing edges. They’re not round like a marble but they’re substantially more smoothed-over than my Birch Absolutes. Or perhaps the relative density of the shell material combined with the “unfinished” nature of the Club interior promotes the bombast. Whatever, it proved to me that I don’t need to go to thick shell walls to obtain a thick, deep tone. Nice to know a replacement (-plus!) is there if my old Camco collapses (fully 6 large holes had been drilled in the top of the shell when I acquired the drum).

What’s with “kapur”?

I’m sure that the ubiquitous Asian kapur has a lot to do with the unique tone of the Club Custom toms and kit (remembering I did not review a snare drum).

To my knowledge, the Club Custom is the only drum on the market comprised entirely of this wood. The Pearl Session Studio Classic includes several plies of kapurmixed in with birch; and there may be others scattered around. I’d be hard pressed, however, to compare the 100% kapur Yamaha Club to anything else out there. With the Clubs you get six plies of the stuff. On the Janka Hardness Scale it registers above maple. As for aesthetics, it’s many points below. It’s not pretty wood in terms color–it’s yellowy/rusty hue, depending–or grain. But it harbors unique and vivid tonal possibilities that commend it for drum making. As for pretty, you’ll see what I mean when you look through the vent hole (drum nerd, are you?) or through the clear bottom head. What’s the word? Unexciting. That’s why Yamaha has painted them up a treat.

Back to point, always a problem with me, I’ve traveled in Asia. Let’s take Jakarta for example, no jokes please, and outside the downtown area everybody lives outdoors. There are miles and miles and miles of hovels constructed from found objects. Those people are outside 24/7, meeting, greeting, BBQing, and wouldn’t dream of entering a kitchen even if they were graced with one. When outside the temperature is sitting at 114-degrees, imagine the inferno indoors under a corrugated metal roof. So if they’re fortunate and own furniture, odds are it’s made from kapur. It’s modestly priced, rugged, and is the maple of that part of the world (I oversimplify, of course).

Availability is the reason so many North American drums are/were made of maple. Where I live in Canada, you throw a stone and you’re bound to hit maple. And, jeez, look at Maine. You cross the border and in the first forest you see, there’s more trees than the combined population of Maine and New Hampshire. Honest. Plentiful, reasonably priced. That’s why maple is/was one of the prime constituents of drum shells. Poplar, too. A little softer but still a hard wood and even cheaper. Fortunately, for manufacturers and for drummers, maple, poplar (to name but 2 common American species) and kapur get the luck of the draw. They both make for great sounding drums! Pine…that’d be interesting.

Yamaha literature describes the kapur shell as one promoting a dry tone or timbre. I’d have to agree. There’s nothing particularly “wet” here, which you’ll notice when traveling from drum to drum. The articulation stays on top. You can do doubles even on loosely-tensioned tom heads if your chops are up.

This is significant: Several times when I gigged the Clubs and switched to coated G2 (2-ply heads) batter heads, I did double-takes. Those heads sustained and felt like Ambassadors and, what’s more, spoke quickly like Ambassadors. I usually shy away from Ambassadors (the factory issue choice for Club Customs), instead going to Emperors/G2s or Diplomats?etched J1s, but this is a whole new world. G2s feel and respond like G1s, Ambassadors like Diplomats. Nothing is but what is not. Kapur with rounded bearing edges feeling like old Ludwigs without the ply separations (sorry).

Tuning the Yamaha Clubs

Yamaha Club Custom drums are extraordinarily easy to tune. The heads float on the bearing edges and due to the round-over make for well seated plastic vs wood, compared, say, to my Birch Absolutes or DW bass drum. The tension rods look nothing special but on the review kit were remarkable in their threading as perceived from the drum key, as it were. Smooth, positive, from rod to rod, drum to drum.

Club Customs react well to swapping out various heads. You don’t have to scour the shops for some optimum bass drum head (I scoured my over-stuffed “head closet” and tried several on your behalf). My experiments were all positive except when I went for a 24” coated Ambassador I’d set aside for my 24” Camco. The single-ply batter didn’t sound rock-and-roll to my ears, nor did it sound big band or whatever. But was it fat-arsed or what! Everything equal, in my opinion kapur fosters a bold, billowing tone that is strangely attenuated in the upper end (but not “pre-EQ’d” as lore & literature depict birch).

These drums don’t rely on heads for tone. To reverse Ray Ayotte’s analogy drawn from show bizz, with the Club Custom the head is not the star, front and center. It’s the shell design, the shell material, and so on.

The Yamaha Clubs are suitable for any style from orchestral to punk. In fact, they’d have no trouble with punk, or classic heavy rock, unless somebody stood on the bass drum. I’m not saying it’s not a durable bass drum but, rather, that it’s thin and flexible. Hell, I don’t know: What’s-his-name used to stand on Keith Moon’s Premier bass drum! And if kapur is rugged enough to withstand typhoons (when used in outdoor furniture) I guess it’d hold its own against some skinny guitarist. They’re fairly thin 6-ply shells but they’re not for the faint of heart in terms of outputting high SPLs.

Toms are consistent in tone, top to bottom. When filling around toms, there are no “dead” drums. I usually find 13×9 toms problematic in terms of tone, more so than 12×8, but these were a walk in the park. Again, they’re classic/retro, light as old Ludwig but infinitely more reliable than coveted classic key and blue/olive drums. If you’re an old Ludwig fan and take objection to this, allow me to place these aside transition-badge Ludwigs and WFL drums, which were amazing. But the Clubs surpass the post-Ringo drums, enuff said.

Tuning rods are well-machined, consistent in threading; easy to key-in but not prone to slipping. Lugs and other hardware sensibly chromed, not heaped on.

The galaxy finish Yamaha calls “swirl” causes jaws to drop

It is truly a stunner. It harkens to a finish I can’t seem to locate in my collection of old Ludwig and WFL catalogs. I thought Ludwig once offered a “black galaxy” but maybe I’m dreaming. Even so, there is no question that the classic Ludwig mod-orange finds its mate in the Club Custom Orange Swirl. There are several delightful swirl finishes plus a couple of matte jobs if you like your coffee black.

There’s a nod to Ludwig Standard strata wraps, too. But the Yamahas are lacquered not wrapped. And thus the 3-stage (?) paint job, which involves dragging ropes dipped in contrasting paint, or perhaps metal “claws”, across a gleaming base coat results in delightful 3D effect, unprecedented in the industry. I wanted to query Steve Jordan on this but he didn’t return my email. The lore is that he was sitting in a Tokyo restaurant painted in that manner and implored Eizo Nakata (Sakae Rhythm director & manufacturer of Absolutes & other high end Yamaha kits) to muster this finishing process in service of the new Club Customs.

Dave Mattacks session drummer on Yamaha Club Custom drums

Why is this man, DM, smiling? Because he's delighted with his Club Customs

Pro Coments from DM

Because of those edges, which I’d describe as accurate but neither really rounded or really sharp to a point, these drums are exceptionally warm. Currently, I’ve got them tensioned somewhere between medium-tight and bop-tight, but I can also tune between low and slack for a quasi-Abbey Road sound and the Club Custom drums don’t ‘paper-out’.”

Dave Mattacks (legendary session drummer and producer)


…want the blog review? Turn to part II….tomorrow, guaranteed.