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Sakae Trilogy Kit Review

Sakae Trilogy Drum Kit Review

In case you had not heard a rather large piece of news from drumming world, this story starts with talk of Yamaha drums. Yamaha, one of the largest drum (and indeed most instruments) manufacturers has long had close ties with Sakae drums, a Japanese family business who, since 1925, have been a manufacturer in Osaka, Japan. They have for some 50 years (starting 1965) been responsible for the building of the higher end Yamaha kits, including the classic 9000/Recording Custom, Maple Custom and just about all top end Yamaha kits. This is perhaps a little know fact, and indeed Sakae only started to offer their own branded kits in 2008.

Now, Yamaha are about as big as it gets for musical instrument and professional audio product manufacture, with factories spanning the globe. Sakae, by contrast, list a total of just 45 employees. So, early in 2013 the announcement that Yamaha and Sakae were to go their separate ways something of a surprise.

Clearly Sakae know a thing or two about making drum kits - they produced the high annual quantity of professional kits that made Yamaha drums world famous. So, as this is the case, then Sakae could be set to make quite an impact, based on their many years experience of making some of the finest and most recognisable drum kits in the world.

Armed with this knowledge I was very pleased to be offered for review the latest model from Sakae manufacturing, the Trilogy drum kit with matching snare drum. But it seems that my many years experience and love of Yamaha drums were to be put aside for this kit which was rather different to what I was expecting.

The review kit

Sakae traditions

Sakae (Japanese for Prosperity) have produced a very traditional and retro drum kit in the Trilogy model. This was not a kit with design features such as quick release lugs, YESS tom mounts, bizarre wood mixtures or unusual hoops. This was like a drum kit from the 1960s. In fact, it was very like one particular drum kit range from the ‘60s – see if you can spot who without me spelling it out!

This was the setup in a rather fetching and traditional looking black and white Mint Oyster Pearl wrap finish:

Undrilled 22x16” bass drum with Remo PS3 coated batter and smooth single ply logo head.
12x8” tom with RIMS style mount and hex rod bracket  (I used a snare stand), with coated Ambassador on top and clear on bottom.
16x16” floor tom, with coated Ambassador on top and clear on bottom.
14 x 5.5” matching snare drum –  8 lugs,  with coated Ambassador on top and hazy snare side.

The shells, as the name Trilogy suggests, are a three ply maple/poplar/maple wood combination with four ply maple reinforcing hoops top and bottom. The bearing edges were pretty round with just a hint of a peak (Sakae quote this as a 60 degree edge) and the inner shell surface was finished with a silver coloured paint (hint no. 1). The tom and bass drum aluminium lugs were quite large, tapering, single-ended affairs, each with two well spaced securing bolts and a very light gauge sheet plastic gasket separating lug from shell. The tom had six lugs (I almost expected five lugs – hint no 2). At this point I was reminded of Yamaha as the securing lug screws inside the shell were very similar to Yamaha kits (gold colour, cross head screws with hex heads with ‘built-in’ washer and spring washer). I then delved further and dismantling a lug and I found it to be a simple but solid cast design with a Yamaha-esque rod receiver nut and a basic retainer – no springs or unnecessary extras. 

The single large, pressed metal air hole on each shell was incorporated as part of the shield shaped Sakae badge (not unlike the design of the 9000 RC kits) and the tom and snare hoops were of standard pressed triple flange steel. Bass drum spurs were angled rods held by the same floor tom leg blocks and the whole kit was topped off with Remo heads each sporting a large Sakae logo. All very ''old school''.

Sakae Trilogy snare drum

The 14x5.5” matching snare drum notably had only eight lugs (rather than ten), another more vintage feature that seems to be creeping back into quite a few contemporary snare drum designs. The double ended Union ‘tube’ lugs were chunky but with smooth curving lines between the large rounded lug towers at each end. These then allowed for a swivel nut for each tension rod unlike more traditional tube lugs which mostly offer only a fixed position thread for rod alignment.

The snare strainer mechanism was housed in a large, chromed rounded dome and offered a very slick and positive action for the wires which were crisp and true, and  featured the Sakae logo on the end plates. Topped off with coated ambassador batter and hazy amb heads the overall look with the shield badge/air hole and vintage finish was rather classy, and you might be forgiven for mistaking this as a genuine older snare drum.

Sakae Sounds

Along with a quick bash in a demo room, I took the kit on a couple of club gigs doing Motown, disco and soul, plus a theatre with a rather good sound engineer (thanks Mark!) who arranged for some multitrack recordings of a live set or two for reference. Initially I was uncertain as to where this kit would take me. The tuning seemed good in the cold light of day but I had to adapt my ears to this kit due to the low tuning and not so modern sound. This was not a bad thing, more like a little learning curve that demanded of me a bit more attention than I might expect with a modern kit. The snare drum (as I was recommended to try) sounded great tuned really low and flabby, much like the sounds of yore. I had comments from the band that the kit sounded ‘compressed’ like the classic 1960’s drum sounds – ideal for the Motown and Soul stuff.

As a stand-alone drum the snare was very traditional, as per my initial impressions. There was quite a bit of shell tone ring which was tamed a little at higher tunings but overall this sounded better lower down. The addition of a little Moongel dampening helped here. It had a thick woody tone with some interesting overtones that did not overpower the main sound. Even at the lower tunings it offered quite considerable cut at live gigs. Before I knew the shell construction (maple/poplar/maple) I thought it sounded a little like a mixed blend of woods. Not in a bad way, but it was clearly not a solid single piece shell or thick one wood design. As a part of the whole kit this sat very well in terms of tone, projection and, of course, looks.

Sakae impressions

I started out expecting a Yamaha-like drum kit in this Sakae. But this was not the case. There were some small features that maybe came from the Yamaha side (lug screws, hex tom arms) but probably I was just looking too hard to draw parallels between the two. But this was a different creature, more simplified, perhaps more quietly confident in the basics that really matter. The Trilogy kit can certainly be said to be harking back to a time of more basic drum kit design and yet Sakae clearly know how to make a (modern) drum kit. The bits that really matter – the shells, the edges, the thought processes –  all go together to make a kit that really knows how to do its job.

Pricing will be around £3000 Sterling for these four shells so it is a kit in the upper reaches of costs. But the heritage and history behind Sakae will likely justify this to discerning players. A lot of modern custom drum companies rely on their customers wanting something a little out of the ordinary. With Sakae you get this plus the added history and expertise they can offer from their Yamaha heritage. I think we can expect only good things from them in the future, and I do wish them well going it alone in what is (let’s face it) a difficult time for drum kit manufacturers.

See the Sakae website at www.sakaedrums.com and http://www.sakaedrums.com/en/products/trilogy.php

Chris Dennis
May 2013

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