To the Beat of Their Own Drum: Yamaha Celebrates a Half-Century of Pioneering Drumkits

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Anniversary
• Created: July 10, 2017

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50 years ago, the Yamaha Corporation began manufacturing acoustic drums and quickly became a major player in the category.

With a broad line of products serving the needs of beginners, “semi-pros,” and professionals, Yamaha connects with end-users of all types. Notable artists who’ve embraced the brand include Larry Mullen, Jr., Matt Cameron, Dave Weckl, and Phil Ehart, among many others.

We recently connected with Steven Fisher, marketing manager for Yamaha Drums, to talk about the brand’s history, significant introductions over the past half-century, and plans for the future.

Can you talk about what prompted Yamaha to enter the drum market in 1967? Was there a particular event or artist that served as a catalyst, or was it just a general awareness of the opportunities available?

Steven Fisher: One impetus for Yamaha going into the acoustic drum market (and the guitar and bass market around that same time, for that matter) was the great number of combo instruments Japan was importing during the 1960s. Yamaha wanted to compete for that combo-instrument business, armed with our knowledge of wood-processing technology as applied to the crafting of fine musical instruments, like acoustic pianos.

There have been plenty of significant and innovative Yamaha kits and technological breakthroughs relating to drums throughout the past half-century. If you had to narrow it down to just a few, what would you consider to have been the most important and influential product introductions for the company in those first 50 years?

The Yamaha D20 and D30 models, with their innovative staggered diagonal seams and air seal system for making consistently round drum shells – a technique still in use today. Yamaha System Hardware with interchangeable pieces, using standardized 22.2mm pipes, innovative hideaway boom stand, and the hexrod and ball clamp tom mounting system. The Yamaha YD9000, which would later become the Recording Custom kit, the most recorded drum set in history. The Yamaha Enhanced Sustain System (YESS) nodal mount, offering open, organic shell resonance. The Yamaha PHX series, with its innovative Hook Lug design and hybrid shell construction.

Plenty of well-respected “big names” in drums choose – and have chosen – Yamaha. Can you talk about how important endorsement deals and artist relations have been to the evolution of the Yamaha brand?

The involvement of the drummers in the Yamaha Artist roster has served time and again as a vital contribution to R&D, generating awareness, and other purposes. The same goes for hardware development as well as drums. Meanwhile, just as we depend on our artists, our artists can depend on us. They know that they can go anywhere in the world and get support from Yamaha. No other company does what we do for artists.

It’s a mutually beneficial partnership, the dynamics of which undoubtedly have helped get us where we are today. To name just one example: one of our flagship products, the newest version of the Recording Custom drum set, is the result of a collaboration with a longtime Yamaha Artist, Steve Gadd; the elements of that process with Steve stretch all the way back to the late 1970s. That series not only put Yamaha on the map for drums, but also elevated Yamaha brand awareness to everyone across the musical-instrument spectrum.

If anything, the drum market is more crowded than ever, with new, boutique, and specialty brands popping up seemingly all the time. How does Yamaha position itself to remain a go-to brand for today’s drummers?

Professionals depend on us for our consistent sound and level of quality, not for our gimmicks. They know what they are getting: a versatile, reliable and expressive instrument to create and deliver their musical message, no matter what stage or studio they play on. Boutique companies might have clever angles to their products with colors, et cetera. Our priority is the sound of the instrument.

We also know that hardware is crucial to the drum set, in both structure and sound. We excel at turning out reliable, quality hardware because we make the most of a separate set of engineering and manufacturing skills; skills that most boutique companies don’t emphasize as we do.

We are thorough and exacting enough to maintain complete quality control over our manufacturing with our high-end kits, including wood selections, finishes, plating and durability tests, etc. We’ve spent a quarter-century on keeping our practices “green,” starting with the establishment of our Global Environment Department in 1992 and leading to successful efforts to replenish forests, conserve water, reduce atmospheric emissions, and restrict our chemical footprint. This company-wide sense of responsibility is one of the reasons I’m so proud to work at Yamaha: we do it because it’s right, not because it’s popular.

Finally, we have the best customer support in the business. We’ve been making great drums and hardware for 50 years, and will continue to do so for 50 more. We will always be here when a customer needs us; not many companies in the entire music-products industry can say that.

Some drum suppliers are associated with specific genres. You have makers who craft what are generally considered “jazz drums” or “metal drum kits” et cetera, but Yamaha is embraced by players across virtually all styles.

How does Yamaha go about targeting and appealing to such a wide variety of players?

What we target is the sound, rather than the player. We do that by stressing quality, consistency, and creating an expressive instrument. We have players in the Yamaha Artist roster such as Steve Gadd and Dave Weckl, who play every style imaginable. We also have David Garabaldi from Tower of Power, Paul Bostaph of Slayer, Larry Mullen Jr. of U2, country music recording great Paul Leim, jazz legend Terry Lyne Carrington and everyone in between, each with a Yamaha drum kit to suit their sound. We have more Artists in our roster than we have kits; in fact, a lot of them play the same series of kits despite varying genres, which speaks volumes about Yamaha drums as diverse and expressive instruments. These artists could decide to play any drums they wish; they choose Yamaha, and for good reason: Yamaha fits. As an added benefit, the musical diversity of our Artists also fuels and informs our R&D when we create new instruments that appeal to a wide variety of musical tastes and styles.

Can you talk about Yamaha’s relationship with U.S. dealers? What’s the distribution model? How does an interested MI retailer go about becoming a Yamaha dealer?

We obviously have a variety of dealers and different distribution channels. Overall, we want Yamaha dealers that deliver the best customer experience with our products. To that end, we have recently created “Yamaha Experience Centers,” which we are rolling out in cooperation with our key dealers, where customers can get a full and unique Yamaha product experience.

We also have our “Absolute Drum Shops,” our specialty drum shops in the U.S. They carry and offer the full line of Yamaha acoustic and electronic drum products and offer the same one-of-a-kind customer experience when purchasing Yamaha drums.

There are the limited-edition Absolute Maple sets, but are there any other specific product introductions, events, or promotions planned in 2017 to mark the anniversary?

We’re initiating yearlong celebration activities. These include 50th Anniversary social posts and videos of legacy kits and artists, 50th Anniversary clinics around the U.S. with top artists, and a big 50th Anniversary event in Los Angeles this Fall. The event will feature top artist performances, plus presentations on topics such as creating hybrid kits, a “behind-the-scenes” look at how Yamaha makes drums and hardware by our designers and engineers, and other informative drum-related topics. Guests will also have the opportunity to see legacy kits like the first 1967 D20 kit, play all the series of Yamaha acoustic and DTX drums including exclusive kits like the 50th anniversary kit and PHX kits, and be treated to some sneak previews of future products.

What are your observations about the current state of the U.S. drum market and what are your expectations for the coming months?

The acoustic and electronic drum markets in general have been relatively flat this past year, but we see a lot of growth opportunities at Yamaha. We are not just focused on increasing our current business; with our broad and deep resources in acoustic and electronic drums, hardware, DSP technology, and sound reinforcement, we are uniquely positioned to present drummers with the products that will inspire them for new musical applications.

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