In the overall scheme of things Yamaha’s 45 year history in the drum market is relatively brief when compared to the origins of the instrument.
However, the impact of Yamaha in the drum market during this time shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s testament to Yamaha’s success and popularity that it is now among the most respected drum makers in the world in the eyes of many of the world’s biggest drummers, sound engineers and producers.
The popularity and reach of Yamaha drums amongst leading players spans all genres – equally at home with rock, pop and jazz players, with a wide tuning ability, tonal quality and versatility.
The firm’s innovative approach to materials and design changed the established model of traditional drum manufacturing. It’s no coincidence that many of Yamaha’s game changing design and development initiatives have been widely copied by other drum makers.
That said, Yamaha has had the advantage of its other business sectors, including its Materials Division, Pianos and Motorbikes.
The drum hardware materials and engineering stared life in the motor cycle manufacturing facility alongside Yamaha motorbikes. And through extensive collaboration with acoustic piano craftsmen, Yamaha was the first to fashion a strong lacquer finish for drums that enhanced the sound over the traditional wrap finishes that were widely used.
At a time when drums were traditionally made with plies of wood glued together and supported by reinforcement rings, Yamaha’s approach to shell design was also radically different. From the very first Yamaha D20 and D22 drum kits in 1967, Yamaha incorporated a method of marrying wooden plies together with staggered diagonal seams to produce a much stronger and rounder shell. The benefits of this ‘air sealed system’ method are widely used now, although nobody cures the shells in the way Yamaha does – using microwaves.
The ‘system drum concept’ was another new idea the firm can lay claim to, allowing hardware to be interchangeable, mixed and combined – a practical and cost saving breakthrough for drummers.
The introduction of the first hide-away boom stand followed, allowing hardware to be packed away efficiently or to change the stand from straight to boom quickly, using the same equipment. This feature became an industry standard as soon as the patent ended.
However, one of the most important hardware inventions was the adjustable ball clamp tom holder and hexagonal tom mount – this design breakthrough made it possible to adjust toms up, down, left or right, forward or backward, with one quick easy action. Using a hard resin ball together with the hexagonal pipe, toms stay in place without any unwanted noises.
Arguably the biggest game changer was the introduction of the YD9000 drum kit – made from North Japanese Hokkaido birch shells. The material was a move away from maple shells, which had been used for many years before, following the trend set by jazz drums.
Through research into Yamaha pianos and wind instruments, it was realised that good quality birch would be an ideal material for drum shells and would suit the modern settings drum kits were being used in, particularly in recording studios.
The birch shells resulted in a tight, well-defined sound that was enthusiastically adopted by many top artists of the day due to them being so well suited to the recording process. The YD9000 (now known as Recording Custom) became the most recorded drum set in history and was the catalyst for Yamaha to experiment with new materials like beech, oak and kapur to create more new sounds.
In 1972, Al Foster became Yamaha’s first international endorsee whilst touring in Japan with Miles Davis. Foster, one of the world’s most respected players, became a lightning rod throughout the global drumming community promoting the fact that Yamaha drums delivered the requirements and demands of leading professionals and more.
Steve Gadd joined in 1976 and was instrumental in helping to develop the YD9000 kit. Ever since then, Yamaha has been working with ground breaking artists to perfect the instrument. Larry Mullen Jnr from U2 and Will Champion from Coldplay chose Yamaha Drums for two of the largest world tours of the last twenty years.
These days the Yamaha range is broad enough to cater for entry-level drummers with the Gigmaker and Stage Custom Birch sets, up to the exclusive PHX range for the professional drummer.
Some 45 years since its entry into the market, Yamaha continues to try and innovate with the instrument and you could argue it has made as much of an impact in the drum market as Fender and Gibson have in guitars.