Sometimes an instrument just speaks to you. From the second you sit down, playing feels like a conversation with an old friend. Every note is right where you need it, and each sounds better than the last. It feels like you’re getting answers to questions before you knew you wanted them.
It’s a weird sensation. Trying to write about it here feels very dramatic, but I think it’s something most musicians have experienced at least once. It’s that strange jump between a really well made instrument and a “holy shit” instrument, if that makes sense. I’m essentially talking about some weird spiritual connection with an inanimate object, I know, but it’s real.
And I think it can make you play better.
Hear me out. I’m obviously not trying to say that dropping cash on a particular drum set will make you a better player. That kind of coke-fueled marketing died in the 80s. What I am saying, however, is that when you hear that sound – that next level sound – it’s inspiring. You’re willing to take more chances in the name of exploration because you’re so emboldened by the response of the instrument (at least I am). That’s really one of the reasons I started this blog. I genuinely feel that finding the right instrument for your ear can make you a happier, and in turn, better player. Well, maybe not a better player, it can at least bring out the best in your playing.
And that’s exactly how I felt when I sat behind this set of Trilogy series from Sakae.
Sakae Drums Trilogy Series Shell Pack Review
Specs and Features
22×16” virgin bass drum, 10×7” and 12×8” toms, 14×14” and 16×16” floor toms
Super thin 3 ply maple/poplar/maple shells with 4 ply reinforcement rings on toms and 6 ply rings on the bass drum
Silver sealed interiors
Rounded bearing edges
Remo coated Ambassador tom batter-side heads; clear Ambassador resonant-side heads; coated Powerstroke 3 bass drum batter-side head; Smooth White unported bass drum resonant-side head
1.6mm Clarion Halo flanged hoops
6 lug toms, 8 lug floor toms and bass drums
Suspension mounts installed on rack tom resonant side lugs
Large grommet vents
Floor tom leg mounts drilled directly into shell
Durable wrapped finish
Antiqued brass badge
History from Experience
The story of Sakae’s semi-recent emergence into the global drum market has been well documented in a number of other publications, so I’m not going to waste any time on it here. I will say though, that the folks definitely know what they’re doing, and they’ve got a ton of history to back it up.
The company offers a full range of entry-level to high-end product, but their focus seems to be squarely on the good stuff, which is a welcome change from the survival-driven, more-for-less strategy in play from many of the other major manufacturers. Sakae’s engineers and craftspeople have a long history of producing absolutely top notch instruments, and they’re clearly making that the hallmark of their brand. It’s great to see.
The Trilogy series, a sample of which they were nice enough to send over for review, is Sakae’s entry into the hotter than hot throwback market. It seems like half of the touring and local bands I’ve seen perform over the last few years have been supported by the warm sounds of a vintage reproduction kit, so it makes sense that Sakae would roll out the Trilogy line as one of its flagship series from the jump.
But the other reason these 50s and 60s homage kits feel like a natural extension of Sakae’s platform is that the company has been building for decades. They’ve adapted to or helped create most every major drum fad we’ve all drooled over since we were kids, so they’re deeply familiar with what’s made each era of building special. They know what worked, and they’ve figured out how to make it better.
So, let’s talk about how they did it.
The company was nice enough to ship over a 22×16”, 10×7”, 12×8, and 16×16” shell pack with an additional 14×14” floor tom for this review. They were exquisitely packed, and already tuned surprisingly well (excepting the bass drum, which needed to have the heads installed). In fact, you can hear them as they were right out of the box in the very last groove featured in the video above.
Fittings and Finish
The first thing that struck me about the Trilogy drums was their weight. Quite frankly, they are suspiciously light. I’m so accustomed to associating high-end gear with heavy duty stuff that the lack of extra pounds here kind of threw me for a loop. But these are expertly crafted tubs, and the lack of extra weight makes them much easier to pack up and move. Sakae, my back thanks you.
The next thing that jumped out was the wrap quality. All Trilogy series drums feature durable wrapped exteriors in a great selection of classic finish options. Our review kit shipped with gorgeous Green Sparkle garb which had remarkable visual depth (something you don’t always wind with sparkle wraps). It looked perfectly at home next to the slick, vintage-inspired, one-sided lugs.
While the lugs found on most of Sakae’s other lines are built a little heavier than contemporary counterparts (something the company says benefits more efficient transmission of vibration to the shell edge), the Trilogy series lugs are extraordinarily light. This allows the super-thin shells to resonate even more fully. The lugs (which remind me a lot of the old round badge-era Gretsch units), and all of the shell fittings in fact, were machined light but quite strong. All of the very lightly oiled tension rods tuned smoothly and maintained position very well. There was some back-out under heavy play, but no more than I’ve experienced with other high-end drums.
The rods also had slightly taller (than I’m used to) key tops. I really liked this feature because I experienced less key slipping than I normally do while tuning on the fly. Plus, they look great. It’s a very minor touch, but a nice one.
Speaking of minor touches, Sakae ships the Trilogy rack toms with an isolation-style mounting bracket that’s fitted to the resonant-side lugs rather than the batter side. They’re fairly modern looking mounts that did kind of curb that top-to-bottom vintage appeal just a bit. But given the results, I can see why the company included them rather than more traditional drilled brackets or batter-side mounted isolation mounts (the mounts are not permanently affixed to the resonant side of each drum – they can be mounted to the top if you prefer).
First, when compared to standard iso mounts, Sakae’s design is exceptionally secure. No matter how hard I struck each rack tom, I felt no wiggle or shake in the connection. Second, these toms have a sustain that borders on the platonic ideal – but we’ll get back to that. I might have preferred drilled mounts to really maintain the vintage aesthetic, but it’s too hard to argue with what I’m hearing here. They’re great mounts.
I will say that the iso mounts do utilize a hexagonal mounting bar that penetrates the bracket (like Yamaha’s). Normally, this wouldn’t bother me, but the arm can move far enough past the interior threshold of the mounting bracket that it can touch the shell. I think they can literally go right up to the wrap, but no farther. I’m sure the design team at Sakae made sure that it was impossible to damage the actual drum with the mounting arm, but the fact that they can even connect at all bugged me out a little bit. That said, after multiple setups, I didn’t see or feel any evidence of damage.
Those mounting arms are part of the mounting L-joint arms included with each rack tom. The hex arm fits to a toothless slotted tilter that offers what looks like about 100 degrees of vertical range. The arm can also rotate within that range to adjust angle, and all of that is managed with one top-mounted wing bolt. It’s a fantastic, incredibly secure design that allows for a ton of positioning flexibility with very little adjustment hassle.
Lateral positioning is adjusted by rotating the lower tube portion of the arm in the receiving bracket of a stand. Each arm ships with a memory lock for the tube portion, so making those lateral adjustments means dealing with a wing bolt and a separate key bolt for the lock, but the added security is well worth the very minor hassle of that first set-up. Plus, that tube section has a plastic cap on the bottom which really cleans up the look, and likely minimizes some vibration.
The floor toms and bass drum share the same single-adjustment bracket for legs and spurs, respectively. It’s a simple, familiar design with a floating top clip, and smooth action all around. The floor tom legs are thin but sturdy, and the solid rubber feet don’t seem to minimize much resonance at all.
The bass drum’s folding spurs look a little skimpy, but never gave me any problems when it came to keep the drum in place. They fit very well alongside the rest of the kit’s historically reverent look, but truth be told, I’ve never really been a fan of this kind of spur because I feel like I can never get the extension on each side entirely equal. That’s hardly a problem, but it nags at me a bit. I wish there was some kind of incremented marker cut into the leg to give you an idea of when they’re at wholly equal angles. Thankfully, they come with memory locks, so once you get them close enough that you feel comfortable, you can set it and forget it.
All of the toms shipped with Sakae’s 1.6mm Clarion Halo hoops which have a traditional triple flange and a very slight outer lip up top. In addition to shaving a few pounds of the kit as a whole, I think they also really allow these shells to move freely under the head. Even at higher tunings, there just didn’t seem to be a lot of stiffness to the feel of each head. I’d never experienced anything like that, and I’d like to think it’s at least in part due to the hoop choice.
Trilogy kits also ship with high-gloss-finished maple hoops with a wide wrapped inlay to match the kit. Simply put, they’re beautiful. The bass drum hoops on this review kit were the slightest, slightest bit out of round. But after some further investigation, I realized that it was due to a shipping issue rather than a construction one. The only reason I bring it up here is that, one: I’ve spoken to several owners of Trilogy kits who reported absolutely no problems with hoop shape. And two: it didn’t seem to affect sound or tunability at all. As soon as I started dialing in the tension, the hoops fell snugly into place and tuned about as easily as any bass drum I’ve dealt with.
Interestingly, the diminutive bass drum claws had no rubber gasket underneath to protect the hoops, but I didn’t see any evidence of damage or hear any rattle while playing.
The hoops also ship with a very substantial pedal guard on one side. It’s a thick piece of foam rubber that felt a lot more effective than the conventional woven patch. It was a little difficult to get a pedal clamp over it the first time, but after the foam settled a bit, there were no issues.
Finally each of the drums had a wider than average grommetted vent sheathed by a beautiful antiqued brass badge. At just a bit larger than a half inch, the slightly exaggerated vents seemed to dry the drums out the tiniest little bit. I think that really makes a big difference here because these ultra-thin shells can really sing, but scooting that tiny bit of extra air out reins them in perfectly.
Likely the most direct homage to the drums of yesteryear is the series’ three-ply, maple/poplar/maple shell configuration found on all shells, including bass drums (something of a rarity). That layup is the foundation of some of the most celebrated drums in history, but it creates an extremely thin shell (less than 5mm as far as I can tell). Thin shells can offer increased resonance when built out correctly, but they can also be weak enough to lose shape over time. That’s why most of those traditional tubs, along with the Trilogies, include reinforcement rings on both top and bottom.
The reinforcement rings – four-ply on toms, and six-ply on the bass drum – eat up a little bit of the interior real estate, and fatten up the bearing edges a hair. However, the ring plies are so thin that they don’t feel like the rings on some of my old vintage bangers. The edges have a rounded cut that creates a little extra contact with heads to better manage errant highs, but the edges are hardly bulky. They’re still narrow enough to allow plenty of lively response.
The build quality on each of these shells was absolutely outstanding. All of the shells were perfectly round, I saw no evidence of even minor blowout or correction on drill holes, and the edges were pristine all over. Every joint I could find was immaculate, and the rings were installed flawlessly with no gaps or divots.
My absolute favorite aspect of the Trilogy shells though was the inclusion of silver sealed interiors and paper tags inside. It’s just great to see when the heads come off. I’m not sure if the silver sealer increases the reflectivity of the interior surface more than any other penetrating or top coat, but given the immense warmth and fatness of these drums, I can’t image it adds too much brightness. It certainly makes the rig look cooler with clear heads though. Great touch.
The Ears Have It
I could go on even longer about the incredible attention to detail found on these drums, but at some point, I’d just be overshadowing undoubtedly the best thing about them: the sound. Truthfully, I don’t even really know what to say about the sound without coming off like I’m either insane or being paid to sound insane. I’m certainly not being paid to do any of this, I assure you. No one would pay me to babble like this.
Anyway, the drums sound absolutely awesome. Like, truly awesome, in that they genuinely inspire awe. Guys I play music with who’ve never said anything other than “that’s loud,” about my gear commented on how great the Trilogies sounded. They have the rich, warm robustness you’d expect from a vintage reproduction instrument like this, but with borderline shocking lows and surprisingly lively highs. They have that old sound, almost idyllically so, but they have a very modern projection and spread too. They’re not like, Weckl-modern, but they’re not so soft and doughy (like some 50s and 60s standouts) that they couldn’t hang in a pop or rock setting today either (triple negative, crushed it).
Those thin shells and thin hoops along with the included Remo coated Ambassador batters and clear Ambassador resos really let these drums sing. But the sustain isn’t overwhelming at all. It starts to tail off pretty quickly, which I think is the result of added mass and contact at the bearing edge as well as the wider vents. It seems like a very weird balancing act between the extremely resonant shell design, the minimal muffling of a rounded edge, and the dryness of a larger vent. I’d be willing to bet that these drums took years and years to design. Dialing in the sweet spot in which the Trilogies squarely reside couldn’t have been easy.
Right out of the box, the drums were just immense. The floor toms were thunderous, but nuanced with a softness to their attack that felt microphone ready. The 16” in particular was an absolute monster. The recording above doesn’t do it justice. Forgive me. I just don’t have the right mic setup to capture all those lows.
The 12” tom was about as ideal a 12” rack tom as I’ve ever played. It had a full, beefy note with a good spread and an even decay, but it was balanced by a really surprising pop on top. I never would have expected to hear such a clear and focused note come off a shell like this, but there it was. It really helped contribute to more modern sound I mentioned above.
And, oh man. That 10” tom. Good gravy.
I don’t like 10” toms. I never have. To my ear, they rarely have range and they sound like toys. But the Trilogy 10” was something special. It had that standard boing that drummers either like or don’t like in a 10” tom, but it was supported by an outrageous amount of low end. This is a drum that I would happily use as my only rack tom in a small rig. Just killing.
Admittedly, the bass drum took a little dialing in. It shipped with a Remo coated Powerstroke3 batter and a Smooth White, unported resonant side head. It was a little wobbly at first (largely in part due to that Smooth White, I think), but once I tuned it up just a hair, it settled right into place with monstrous, roiling whump and a long, low decay.
Replacing the resonant head with a coated single-ply alternative and adding a felt strip along one side tightened the drum up tremendously. It sounded totally at home, like a big 24” with some extra low-end sustain due to the 16” depth. Personally, I would have preferred a 14” deep drum (Sakae does offer that size) to better benefit the classic vibe, but the extra two inches did help give the kit some more of that contemporary utility.
I had an opportunity to try a number of different batter-side heads on the bass drum, and each seemed to open up some new character in that fundamental note. Be it a sharper focus with a heavier clear head, or a slightly truncated middle under a vintage-style head with a thicker coating, the drum’s sound proved extremely versatile throughout the testing period.
All of the drums had a fantastic tuning range, each capable of handling crisp, pinging highs without choking, and slapping, puffy lows without much warble. When I brought the toms down to the nadir of their range and added a tiny bit of muffling, they responded with a big, thumping tone that was still dynamic and rich. That was a huge surprise. I just haven’t played a lot of drums that still retain that much character at that tuning. Loads of fun.
That said, the drums felt most at home when tuned to a medium tension with both heads fairly close in note. They sang, but not too long. They popped, but never too harshly. And the thing that really stood out to me was that the four toms created this beautiful, natural melodic curve. It was downright inspiring. The kind of inspiring that made me play differently – play a little bit better maybe because it was just giving my ears the sound they wanted to hear. It’s not the right sound or the best sound. It was just the sound I wanted. And that’s what I meant when I said a good instrument can bring out the best in your playing.
Not sure what else I can say about these drums. I loved them. Sending them back to Sakae was really hard. Go play a set for yourself.