Author: Ciauro, David
Date published: November 1, 2010
Journal code: MDDR
Tama's 100 percent birch Superstar shell kits are designed for drummers who love the tonal character of high-end birch drums but don't love the increased prices that often accompany straying from standard maple kits. The catch with most mid-level kits, however, is that the pros and cons tend to be about equal, because while these kits do offer professional features and quality wood types, some concessions have to be made to separate them from their pricier high-end counterparts.
The snare, rack tom, and floor tom shells in this Superstar birch kit are 6-ply and 6 mm; the bass drum is 7-ply and 7 mm. All of the drums, with the exception of the kick, are equipped with the same zinc die-cast hoops that appear on Tama's high-end Starclassic models. The kick has wood hoops with a matching finish on the external side only. Tama's high-tension Sound Bridge lugs are made specifically for the Superstar series with a unique low-mass design and a floating lug body that minimizes shell contact and reduces tension on the shell. This is said to increase the drums' resonant qualities. The Star-Cast mounting system is also said to increase resonance, plus it's designed in a way that allows the heads to be changed easily.
The Superstars' birch shells worked in conjunction with the die-cast hoops to provide a really fast, solid attack. The die-cast hoop on the snare also added a nice "pop" to rimshots. When I tuned each piece of the kit to its natural pitch, which I found by tapping on the shell with my fingers, the drums opened up more than with any other tuning I tried, giving off distinct, musical tones with balanced descending intervals as I played down the toms. The attack was quick and the decay short, making the toms great for fast 16th- or 32nd-note roundhouse fills, à la Carter Beauford.
As someone who sits pretty high behind the drums, I was very pleased that the floor tom legs provided the additional height I needed to level the floor toms with the snare. This is an aspect that is so often overlooked, but it's important in drumsets designed to appeal to a wide array of players.
The seven-piece configuration of the Superstar kit-three racks, two floors-just happens to be my favorite setup, despite the fact that, like many other gigging drummers, I've gone to favoring the ease of a four-piece. With this larger rig, I really enjoyed being able to play along properly with some of my favorite recordings featuring big-kit drummers like Brann Dailor, Simon Phillips, Tim Alexander, and Charlie Benante.
As I mentioned, I was pleased when I tuned each drum to its natural pitch. But the kit's tuning spectrum was minimal beyond that. Each drum, especially the smaller rack toms, proved to have one obvious sweet spot. The 12'' rack tom and the floor toms had the ability to stretch higher or lower and still sound decent. But since the 8'' and 10'' had such a narrow tuning range, I found I was stuck using one tuning style for the whole kit if I wanted it to sound balanced in terms of timbre. Don't get me wrong-the drums sounded good when tuned that way, but versatility wasn't their strong point.
The kick drum also sounded best when tuned one particular way. I found a nice low-end punch and a slappy attack when I tuned it just above wrinkling on both heads and added some internal muffling. The kick didn't have the same melodic quality as the toms, but it did remain in line by having a fast attack. Without any internal muffling touching the batter head, pronounced overtones congested the drum's punch, and a tight batter head resulted in a somewhat boxy sound that didn't mesh with the articulate and melodic toms. Again, it's not the most versatile kick drum you'll play. But that low and slappy tuning was a good complement to the quick and snappy tones of the rest of the kit.
The rack tom mounting system proved to be the most distracting component of this set. While it does maximize the drums' resonance, its construction has the mounts facing each other, so the 10'' and 12'' toms can't be positioned less than 2'' apart from each other when mounted on the bass drum.
EITHER PRO OR CON
Depending on your personal style, the following observations of the Superstar birch kit may or may not appeal to you.
The toms' short decay was great for certain styles of music, especially since the drums held a solid tone. But they didn't project very far. The kit wasn't very loud and its projection was linear, which can be seen as good or bad, depending on how and where you'd be playing these drums.
Die-cast hoops were effective on the toms and helped focus the tone, but flanged hoops might let the drums breathe more and might provide a fuller sound.
The snare drum, which also has a 100 percent birch shell, would work well if you like a tight sound that borders on being choked. With both heads fairly tight and the snares at medium tension, the drum had plenty of crack, but the overtones were a bit piercing without any muffling. A thicker or pre-muffled batter head would eliminate some of the more troublesome overtones, but I felt this birch snare didn't have the diverse appeal that a less expensive, more forgiving metal snare could provide at a mid-level price.
High-end birch kits historically perform brilliantly in the studio, with warm tones that are super-focused and crystal clear, and they can also translate that studio sound to a live setting. The focus of birch creates a very balanced kit sound, with every drum speaking at the same level-speaking being the operative word, because birch drums don't shout. There's a built-in reserved sophistication to the sound of birch. Tama's mid-price Superstar birch kit provides similarly focused, warm tones but in a narrower scope, which gives the impression of their being more studio worthy than road ready. But there's also built-in durability, due to the amount of professional-grade features that come standard. The seven-piece Superstar birch shell pack lists for $999.99, and the same setup with an additional hardware pack is $1,199.99.