Tama’s original run of Superstar drums have an excellent reputation among collectors, and are favored for their full, focused, and punchy tone. The first-run Supes were available from approximately 1976-1986, and mostly featured 6-ply, 9mm thick all-Birch shells without reinforcement rings (although earlier models were built with a 4-ply, 6mm thick all-birch shells with reinforcement rings). They sounded huge, and they’re often considered the line that really cemented Tama’s name as a legitimate producer of top-flight drums.
The company revived the line again in 2015 as the Superstar Classic, and while the shells are much different, these drums do seem to share the sonic soul of their predecessors.
Tama was nice enough to send over a 5-piece shell pack for review, and I found them to be an outrageous value considering the price. Let’s dig in.
Dimensions: 10×8” and 12×9” rack toms, 16×14” floor tom, 22×18” bass drum, 14×6.5” snare drum
Shells: 100% Maple; Toms and snare drums – 6-ply, 5mm; Bass drums – 8-ply, 7mm
Hoops: 1.6mm triple-flanged steel
Heads: Tama Power Craft II – Clear 1-ply batters and resonants on toms, coated 1-ply batter and clear resonant on snare drum, clear 1-ply batter and vintage coated resonant (both with internal edge muffling rings) on bass drum
Finish: Midnight Gold Sparkle wrap
Extras: Star-Mount suspension mounts, Starclassic bearing edges, included double tom holder, low-mass lugs, low-mass die-cast bass drum claws, folding retractable spurs with graduated positioning markers
Unlike the celebrated Superstars of yore, the 2015 reprisals feature 100% maple shells with complete maple plies rather than interior and outer plies with compressed chip cores. Now, that sub-$700 price tag on a five piece all-maple kit might seem a little dubious, but brains at Tama made a few very sensible concessions to make this kind of setup available at such an affordable number. We’ll circle back to that in a second, but let’s start with first impressions.
The first thing that struck me about the Superstar Classics was the condition of each shell’s interior. Most budget-friendly kits seem to skimp on the innards which is kind of a bummer because that’s where all the sound waves bounce around. I’ve seen unfinished patches, frayed hole edges, stripped lug screws, and plenty of other nagging interior issues, but that wasn’t the case with these drums. Every shell had a silky smooth inside with what felt like a light penetrating sealer – no heavy gloss. The shells still felt somewhat woody, and I’m sure that contributed to their warmth.
The next thing I keyed in on was the edges. Tama’s spec list refers to them as Starclassic bearing edges which I found surprising for a couple of reasons. One: that’s a fancy little upgrade. And two: the edges have a much wider cut than I would have assumed was used on the Starclassic series.
I’ve always associated the Starclassic sound with clean, popping tones and potent attack. But the edges I saw here had a shallower outer cut, and they just weren’t as sharp at the apex as I would have assumed. This is all to say that it’s just a more generous edge than I was anticipating. But again, I’m sure that edge had a great deal to do with how fat these drums were. Alright, I’m scooping the sound analysis. Enough of that.
There were a couple of dark spots in the wood, but they were very few and far between. They didn’t feel any softer to the finger than the rest of the shell either. At this price, there needs to be some concession to savings. But that said, if those dark spots influenced the sound in any way, I couldn’t hear it. Otherwise, every seam was clean and staggered, and I found no issues with ply gaps or roundness on any shell.
After all that close inspection, I finally took a few moments to scope out the finish. Good grief these drums are pretty. The kit Tama shipped over wore a Midnight Gold Sparkle wrap with chrome hardware. The maple bass drum hoops were wrapped on the exterior, but had a glossy, natural maple finish on the inside that really popped.
The wrap itself was a total knockout. The gold in the sparkle is quite dark, so much so that it can kind of disappear in certain lights. Different shades of brown, gold, blue, and black (I know there aren’t shades of black, but just roll with me) poke out under different lighting, and the result is gorgeous. Seriously, this is a great looking kit. And, these shell packs are available in beautiful lacquer finishes as well for only a few dollars more. YOU KIDS TODAY HAVE NO IDEA.
Assembling the Superstar Classics was a total breeze. The tension rods felt a little skimpy, but the threading was even and clean, and they had no problems fitting into receiving nuts. If I were going to use this kit as a touring rig, I’d likely replace all of the rods just to be extra safe. The nuts had just a little bit of grease which helped make tuning even easier. This is such a nice thing and it blows my mind when companies don’t do it.
The included Star-Mount suspension brackets for each rack tom were a real joy. Flatted edges on the arms offered a little extra room when positioning toms in tight quarters. The steel units again felt a little thin, but throughout the review period, they were strong and showed no signs of bending or sagging.
The mounts received rods between the lug and counterhoop as most suspension systems do, and functioned very well. The toms had some freedom of movement (read: wiggle), but it was never disruptive during play. The only problem I encountered with them was that the mount on the 12” tom seemed to let out a little friction-induced honk every once in a while. I think that was just the rubber gaskets sliding up and down the rods though, so I imagine that wouldn’t last very long. Eventually the new rubber sheen of the gasket would just wear off, solving the problem.
May favorite part about the Star-Mount system though was the rotating bracket (see photo). Each bracket had a cutout with a rotating interior that allowed a little less than 90 degrees of additional positioning flexibility. That was such a nice touch here, and I bet it’s even more valuable on the seven piece configuration which ships with three rack toms.
The kit also ships with a bass drum-mounted double tom holder that utilizes swiveling Omnisphere joints. It’s a heavy little gadget, but it was effective, strong, and versatile. Included memory locks mate cleanly with the Star-Mount brackets. Given the flexibility of the Omnipheres and the Star-Mount system, I had no problem putting these toms exactly where I wanted them.
The lugs were lightweight but felt sturdy and presented no problems throughout the testing period. The die-cast bass drum claws were small but plenty powerful. Tama’s literature says their size allows for more resonance and less obstruction of tone. That seems hard to quantify, but they worked well, looked great, and had rubber liners to keep those hoop edges clean.
All of the counterhoops on the kit were 1.6mm steel. I think that’s a number that might scare some people away, but to me, they were the perfect hoops for this drum set (we’ll talk about why in the sound section). As far as construction is concerned, I encountered no issues with roundness or bending. Similarly, the floor tom legs were a little skinny, but held position well and provided no problems.
The bass drum spurs on the Superstar Classic kit were fantastic. The folding units had a large receiving bracket with a solid retractable spike. The bracket had graduated marks (see photo) along the inside for consistent and evening positioning. Such a savvy little upgrade. Elsewhere, the feet were firm and threaded with a separate, large plastic locking nut that was very easy on fingers.
Finally, the snare drum components were all simple and effectively designed. Twenty strand steel wires were versatile and crisp. The throw was a little bit stiff, but otherwise problem-free.
Huge! They sounded huge. I was absolutely expecting a clean, modern maple sound, but what I got from the new Superstar Classics was lush warmth and loads of woody, rich tone. They tuned beautifully, and really sounded like a family throughout the range. The stock Power Craft II heads were remarkably potent, offering plenty of range without much wonkiness at all. High tunings yielded a full, sweet punch that didn’t ring for too long. I actually had to really crank them before they started choking in any noticeable way. Even tuning the toms a step above wrinkled brought out booming lows that were surprisingly clean.
These drums really found their home just a hair above mid-range tunings though. Those Starclassic edges tamped down unwanted highs and warmed up the already fat tones, while the thinness of 1.6mm steel hoops allowed for lots of open sustain. Low notes remained present, but an extra turn of the key brought out some extra attack and maple-y sweetness that I really loved. I also think the shallower 14” depth of the 16” floor tom helped reign in the shell so it hardly ever felt out of control. This would be an excellent recording kit.
And the bass drum absolutely blew me away. I had assumed that using only eight lugs on each side was a cost-saving measure, but it turned out to be perfect for this drum. With no internal muffling other than the thin Mylar edge rings inside each head, the kick was gig-ready – and I mean that. I brought this kit to an indie rock show where both I and the drummer for a touring band used it. Discussing the set after show, we were both very happy with how it performed, but most impressed by the un-ported, un-muffled, stock-headed bass drum. The thing was just a cannon. Huge bottom end with a tremendous punch up top. Even the engineer went out of his way to mention how great the set sounded.
The only part of the Superstar Classic drum set I was ultimately a little let down by was the snare. It was a nice enough drum, but I felt that it sounded at most tunings – especially for a 6.5” deep shell. Now, this is just a 6-ply maple shell, so I think it could easily be beefed up with the right heads. However, I only used this drum with the stock skins to really see what I could get out of it. I think the batter head in particular was just a little too lifeless to really do this drum justice. Were I to buy this kit, the first thing I would do is replace that batter with something a little more substantial, maybe even something with a reverse dot to really build in the beef.
I will say that the drum sounded best tuned fairly high. The extra depth added some meat to the tone, and those 1.6mm hoops really helped it open up and sing. I had a lot of fun with the Superstar Classic snare in that range.
This kit retails for less than $700.00. That is bananas. The new Superstar Classics are wonderful drums that would make an incredible second or even third kit for any player. They’re fat, full, and versatile, and had a surprisingly vintage-y tone that really rode the line between 70s soft and contemporary crisp. There are, as mentioned, concessions made in the name of affordability. But, there aren’t short cuts on this kit – there are thoroughly considered trimmings. You won’t find cheap shit here. This is a remarkable set of drums regardless of price point.