Sakae Drums Almighty Birch
By Dendy Jarrett |
Sakae Drums Almighty Birch
A drum set worthy of the name ...
by Dendy Jarrett
If you’re a drummer, you’d need to have your head in the sand if you haven’t seen the massive amount of exposure these new Sakae Drums have been receiving—but are they really so new?
Let’s explore this relative newcomer's past. Sakae was founded as a percussion instrument maker in Osaka, Japan in 1925. Given that heritage, they’d developed a unique way of producing drums that in 1967 captured the attention of a very large, and developing musical instrument company. They entered into a proprietary original equipment manufacturing (OEM) agreement and from 1967 through just a few years ago, Sakae Drums Company manufactured the high-end drums for this other company.
When this manufacturer ended the relationship with Sakae, third-generation owner Eizo Nakata was committed to continuing the legacy that was started by his grandfather, and decided to build the Sakae brand independently. According to Mr. Nakata, “The world doesn’t need another drum company, but the world does need to hold on to the Sakae sound that has been so instrumental in the music we have heard for the past 40 plus years.”
One of Sakae's past manufacturing strengths was the genuine Japanese Birch drum sets they produced, so when they launched the Sakae brand, re-introducing the birch drums was paramount.
Birch is something new for me, as I tend to play maple kits, or kits that industry insiders call “maple sandwiches” (which may be maple-gum-maple or maple-mahogany-maple).
Historically in the drum community, maple drums were the “live” drums you played out for live gigs , and birch were the “studio” choice.
Birch tends to have a more controlled sound with plenty of projection. The high end is defined without as much overtone, and there is typically less low end “boom.” But in recent years, this segmented use of maple versus birch drums has seen the walls come down and people are using whatever suits their taste (whether live or in the studio).
The specific kit that under review is the AB28MKF/AB32T in the Raider finish.
|ABF2218M||22X18 Birch Kick|
|ABF1614||16X14 Birch Floor Tom|
|ABT1309||13X9 Birch Tom|
|ABT1208||12X8 Birch Tom|
2-piece Tom Holder
The birch shells feature a staggered Japanese Birch ply construction. This staggered seam construction increases the shell's strength. This helps keep the shell completely round, and renders the seam lines virtually invisible on the shell's interior. The Almighty Birch shells are stained a wine color on the interior.
- Bass Drum Shells are 8-ply
- Floor Toms Shells are 7-ply
- Mounted Tom Shells are 6-ply
The finish is a stunning black sparkle to silver sparkle fade called Raider. I’m a huge fan of black and silver sparkle because they go with so many color schemes that you might face on stage (lighting, wardrobe, etc.), so this finish—whose quality is top drawer—is a bonus. I could find no finish flaws anywhere on the set.
Almighty Birch is available in 33 color choices, so your challenge will be selecting the right one for you.
Years ago when Sakae Drums started making drums for this other large manufacturer, they modeled the look after the lines of Slingerland Drums, the largest US manufacturer at the time. Slingerland followed soft curves and edges designed purposely to play off of a woman's sexy curves. (Hey, I’m just keeping it real.)
Sakae retained those lines on their drums, and I have to say it works for them both visually and functionally. All the lines on the drums are soft and flowing. Nothing is out of place, or looks like it was an “off the shelf” solution. The lugs are a teardrop shape and hug the shell well.
(I’ll cover the stand-alone hardware – sold separately - in another Expert Review.)
Sakae's mounted toms, floor toms and bass drums come equipped with their Transmit Lug. This lug, according to Sakae, is a heavier lug designed to transmit maximum vibration to the bearing (or sound) edge of the drum.
Two tom mounts are included with the kit. These were the Wrist Lock version that features a one-screw-adjustment. This makes tom adjustment fast and easy.
Sakae rims come in two varieties, the Mighty Halo which features an inward curved edge (remember the old Slingerland “stick-saver” hoops?) and the Righty Halo, which features an outward flanged (triple-flanged style) rim. The kit I reviewed featured the Righty Halo hoops, but I have to admit, I think the kit would have looked fantastic with the Mighty Halo version and I’d liked to have been able to try them.
Sakae drums come equipped with their proprietary Cradle Mounting System. It seems everyone has their own version of these floating isolation mounts these days, and Sakae is no different. Their Cradle Mount is on the bottom lugs so the drums suspend “upward” (so to speak) and are somewhat adjustable. The floor toms feature the same type of rail mount for the floor tom leg mounts.
Sakae features a slightly larger then normal air vent on their drums that help with air movement. This allows a rich, low fundamental tone…especially in the larger toms and bass drum.
If I had one constructive suggestion, it would be about the badges. I am not a fan of the tom and bass drum badges. The badge was a distraction from all the stunning features on, and the appearance of, these drums. However, the badge on the snare drum is elegant, round, and features the “S” sun crest in the round. I would have much preferred to see this same badge on the toms and bass drum; I think it would be much more visually appealing.
The drums come equipped with Sakae-branded, U.S. produced Remo Clear Emperor on top and clear Ambassadors on the bottom. These are solid, all-purpose drum heads that work well in most situations. I prefer the Emperor 2-ply head as a personal taste so these worked great for me. The Kick Drum head is a Clear Power Stroke 3 on the batter and an Ebony Power Stroke 3 on the front.
I was supplied with two different snare drums for this review. One was a 5.5”X14” steel shell and the other was a 6.5”X14” beech shell in a matching finish. Both snares were amazing, but…they are sold separately and will be covered in their own upcoming expert review.
As mentioned earlier, I typically play maple drums so this was a walk on the wild side for me, and let me say—this wasn’t a walk, but a full-blown run.
These drums sound fantastic and were a great surprise. They tuned up easily and I noticed no pitch drop once the heads seated. They sounded warm and bright at the same time. I realize this statement is an oxymoron, but it's true: The attack is bright and pure, with a pleasing, warm roll-off. They don’t have unwanted overtones, and I didn’t feel the need to use a gel pad or other tone-taming device. As mentioned above, I preferred a two-ply head, so the supplied heads did not disappoint.
The bass drum is a grizzly bear. It commands your attention and could easily take your head off. Had I been in the market to buy a new drum set, I would have sought the assistance of an internal bass drum pillow system that supplied a little control over the boom; but again, it was powerful as supplied.
If you visit the Sakae website, you'll see an impressive (and growing) list of artists who are now playing their drums. In a world of growing alternative wood choices, it's gratifying to see a mainstay like birch perform so well. Sakae has lived up to the heritage they provided for over 40 years with this birch product, and it's great they brought it back. I found these birch drums worthy of their name.
To buy Sakae Drums:
Fork's Drum Closet (Nashville, TN)
Memphis Drum Shop (Memphis, TN)
Drum Center of Porstmouth (Portsmouth, ME)
B Street Music (San Mateo, CA)
Chuck Levins Music (Weaton, MD)
Vic's Drum Shop (Chicago, IL)
Rupp's Drums (Denver CO)
To locate more Sakae Dealers
Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.