This past September, Yamaha Drums celebrated its fiftieth year with a daylong event at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California. The day included presentations that reflected back on the company’s most significant innovations over the years, such as its debut D20 drumset, the Hexrack hardware system, ball-style tom mounts, the locking hi-hat clutch, the YESS (Yamaha Enhanced Sustain System) suspension mount, and the Air-Seal drum-shell construction system that utilizes staggered diagonal seams.

Three world-class Yamaha artists performed at the event: Larnell Lewis (Snarky Puppy), Dave Weckl (Chick Corea, Mike Stern), and Tommy Aldridge (Whitesnake). Yamaha Drums executives in attendance included product developer Shigehiro “Ziggy” Okamoto, artist relations manager Shinnosuke “Danny” Natsume, manager of development Shin Irisa, senior vice president Tom Sumner, chief marketing director Roger Eaton, and marketing manager Steve Fisher.

Dave Weckl

The day’s performances were held in the Musicians Institute theater, and the school opened various classrooms in which attendees could demo Yamaha’s PHX and Tour Custom acoustic kits and its hybrid electronic/acoustic setups. Yamaha endorsers, including the drummers Jimmy Keegan (Spock’s Beard) and Keith McJimson (Ariana Grande), along with Yamaha assistant marketing manager Joel Tetzlaff, senior designer Daryl Anderson, product specialist Jim Haler, and Pro Music Division district manager Neil Patton, were there to answer gear questions.

Larnell Lewis

Larnell Lewis, a Yamaha artist since 2004, performed first. The drummer played the company’s new Tour Custom kit with Absolute Hybrid Maple and Recording Custom steel snares. Next Dave Weckl took the stage, saying before his set, “All of my favorite artists seemed to be playing these drums. My journey started with some custom-made drums that I’d made smaller and deeper—the toms were square sizes. That Recording Custom set was the one I played at the [1989] Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concert and on some of my early videos.”

Tommy Aldridge

Tommy Aldridge, a Yamaha artist since 1980, closed out the performances. “The impact [Yamaha] has had on my career has been truly life changing,” he said from the stage. “They really make a drummer’s drum.” Aldridge pulled out all of his signature licks, stick twirls, and powerful grooves during his set. He and Weckl both played on PHX series kits, which represent Yamaha’s top-of-the-line option, with 11-ply hybrid jatoba/kapur/maple shells.

From left: Yamaha artist relations manager Greg Crane, artists Bill Gibson and Rick Marotta, marketing manager Steve Fisher, and assistant marketing manager Joel Tetzlaff after Gibson and Marotta received appreciation awards

Yamaha also honored two longtime artists, studio legend Rick Marotta and Huey Lewis and the News’s Bill Gibson, with special appreciation awards. During the presentation, Marotta said, “I’ve been a [Yamaha] artist since the mid-’70s. Steve Gadd went over to [the company’s headquarters in] Japan for the first time two or three weeks before me. When he came back, he called me up and said, ‘We’re both Yamaha artists now. I gave them your specs, and when you go over, your drums will be ready.’ I literally got off the plane, was taken into a room, and there was a whole set of drums for me to take back to the States. I think it was the original Recording Custom.”

Steve Fisher spoke last at the day’s event. “I’m very honored to be the steward of Yamaha drums as we reach our fiftieth year of making high-quality, handcrafted instruments,” he said. “But without our artists, Yamaha Drums would not be what we are today—period.”