Borrowing from the blended-shell concept utilized in its flagship PHX and top-shelf Absolute Hybrid Maple lines, Yamaha recently reworked its Live Custom Oak shell to include an inner ply made from a sheet of synthetic phenolic polymer. This new 7-ply hybrid shell is said to have increased dynamic range, attack, and projection. We were sent a five-piece Live Custom Hybrid Oak configuration, in Earth Sunburst finish, featuring 7×10, 8×12, and 15×16 toms, an 18×22 bass drum, and a matching 5.5×14 snare.

The Specs

The original Live Custom series featured thicker 1.2 mm oak plies in the shells (8-ply bass drums and toms and 6-ply snares). Those drums were specifically designed for situations requiring clear, defined tone and powerful low end. Live Custom Hybrid Oak shells feature six plies of the same premium oak and a center ply of phenolic. The phenolic is there to give the drums even greater attack and projection while enhancing the dynamic range. The bearing edges are cut to 45 degrees, with the peak being on the outermost plies of oak.

While the Live Custom featured high-gloss fade lacquers, Live Custom Hybrid Oak drums are finished with a traditional Japanese technique called uzukuri. This highly detailed process begins by sanding out the softer areas in the wood to create lower-laying channels that follow the natural grain pattern. The shell is then coated with a thin layer of black paint before being sanded again to remove the paint from the top surface while leaving the textured black-painted grains beneath. A final clear-coat finish is added to seal the shell and give the drums a rich yet subtle luster. The interior of the shells is also painted black, and the drums are outfitted with black-chrome hoops and hardware to further emphasize the series’ darker aesthetic.

The bass drum claw hooks are die-cast and are precisely manufactured to provide smooth and silent tuning. Each hook is also insulated from the hoop with a plastic insertion plate. Another innovation debuted with the Live Custom Hybrid Oak is a bass enhancement weight system that employs small zinc die-cast weights studded into the interior shell at each lug. This is said to attenuate low-mid frequencies to make for a tighter and more focused sound. (This concept is borrowing from an old studio recording technique where sandbags, mic stand bases, paint cans, or other heavy items were often placed inside the bass drum to achieve a similar result.)

The floor tom leg brackets are designed to clamp onto the legs tightly without damaging them. The snare and toms come with 2.3 mm triple-flange steel DynaHoops. The rack toms come with the updated Y.E.S.S. III suspension mount, which is a low-profile bracket that bolts to the shell at strategic points to minimize dampening for optimal sustain and volume. Consistent with all Yamaha hardware, the hex-rod tom mounting system is one of the  simplest and most effective designs on the market. With the Live Custom Hybrid Oak series, the tom mount connects directly to the bass drum shell. This helps to make the kit easy to set up and transport while not infringing on the sound of the bass drum in any discernible way. The toms came with Remo Emperor Clear batters and Ambassador Clear bottoms. The bass drum had a P3 Clear batter and a P3 Ebony on front with the Yamaha logo and a small off set port. The snare came with a Remo Ambassador Coated batter and Ambassador Snare Hazy bottom, and it has ten single-post Absolute lugs, 2.3 mm DynaHoop steel rims, and a heavy-duty side-action Q-Type strainer that’s super smooth, silent, solid, and stable.

The Sound

I’ve played on original Live Custom oak drumsets many times over the past few years; they seem to be a staple backline setup for many venues and production companies. So I’m very familiar with how those kits sound, which can best be described as direct and upfront. They’re not the most satisfying-sounding drums from the player’s perspective, but they sound incredibly crisp and present out front, even when the band gets really cranking. This new Live Custom Hybrid Oak has a similar no-fuss, direct-to-the-point persona, but I found myself savoring its slightly darker flavor. Each of the drums had a strong, authoritative bite at the onset of each stroke, but there was more depth and punch in the attack, and the tone was slightly darker. The sustain is quite focused and controlled (no muffling was needed at any tuning), which can be attributed to the phenolic core.

Tuning-wise, the snare was most at home at higher tunings, where it had amazing articulation, a crisp and snappy attack, and a dense and full-bodied tone. The overtones were perfectly balanced and controlled, adding just a touch of airiness to each rimshot and accent. You’ll have no trouble getting your backbeats to be heard on this drum, but it’s equally expressive across the entire dynamic range.

The three toms sounded best with a wide pitch spread among them. The 10″ drum excelled at medium and higher tuning, the 12″ sounded most comfortable in the middle register, and the 16″ floor was beastly with barely any tension on the heads. Meanwhile, the bass drum had a strikingly consistent sound regardless of how it was tuned. The attack was super crisp and meaty, the tone was big and full without being boomy, and the decay was quick. Even without any internal muffling, this bass drum was mix-ready. Just put a mic on it, and you’re all set. List prices range from $5,050 to $7,640, depending on the configuration.