A classic bebop-style setup with modern-leaning tone and appointments.

I recently got to test drive the newest addition to Tama’s Sound Lab Project (S.L.P.) line of drumsets: the New-Vintage Hickory. The three-piece shell pack comprises fairly thin hickory shells in standard bop sizes. There’s a 6-ply, 5 mm 8×12 rack tom, a 6-ply, 5 mm 14×14 floor tom, and an 8-ply, 7 mm 14×18 bass drum. Also available separately is a 6-ply, 6mm 5×14 snare.

The drums sport a light, natural stain to show off the striking hickory wood grain. Dark-lacquered bass drum hoops with vintage white marine pearl inlays provide a nice additional visual accent. The toms and snare ship with Evans G1 Coated batters. The toms have G1 Clear bottoms, and the snare has a 300 series resonant. The bass drum has an EQ4 Clear batter and an off-white logo front.

The Hardware

The lugs are a short, sturdy tube design that paired well with the 2.3 mm Mighty Hoops. These hoops are heavier than standard triple-flanged models but offer a more open sound than thick, zinc die-casts. As a result, the Mighty Hoops reduce some of the high overtones without stifling the pitch and tuning range of the drum, which proved to be important with these hickory shells.

The rack tom connects directly to the bass drum with a ball-and-socket mount, which has an extra port for a cymbal arm. The rack tom uses what Tama calls the Direct Flexi-Mount, which is a flexible hinge attached to a plate on the shell. When I first set up the rack tom, I was concerned the drum might bounce around too much. But the movement was minimal, and the mount didn’t seem to muffle the resonance in any noticeable way. The Direct Flexi-Mount is an unobtrusive answer to bulkier suspension systems.

The bass drum spurs are heavy-duty and functional. They feature retractable spikes and strong drum-key height adjustment screws, meaning the drum is going to stay put as long as you’re set up on a stable, carpeted surface.

The snare has a simple but functional throw-off with an adjustable butt plate that works smoothly and complements the overall look. The hardware on the entire kit embodies the New-Vintage aesthetic, as all of the components look modern but have clear references to vintage designs.

The Sound

As we explored the various sounds available with the S.L.P. New-Vintage Hickory drumset, we discovered that the tone of the thin hickory shells wasn’t drastically different from that of maple. The drums were similarly warm and tuneful but were also a little punchier. The toms were very articulate at all tunings, and the length of the note was shorter than what you’d get from thicker 8-ply drums.

At low tunings, the hickory toms felt buttery and had all the impact you could want. In the higher range, the drums don’t sing for very long after the attack; therefore you won’t need to muffle them. The controlled decay would be ideal for folks who prefer wide-open sounds. If you’re reaching for ultra-high Max Roach– type tunings, these drums will choke out before you get there. But if you favor low to medium-high tunings and like open sounds, you’ll be able to achieve an excellent mix of articulation and tone without any need for muffling.

The bass drum had a lot of impact and body at all tunings. In the low range, it had a strong slap that could easily work for acoustic rock or lower-volume funk. And in the high range, it can speak tunefully, like a floor tom. I found it easy to dial in a variety of tones on this drum. When tuned medium-low, it provided plenty of volume and didn’t make me regret bringing such a small bass drum to kick a full big band. Tuned high for a jazz trio gig, it was easy to play at a soft volume, and the tone was open without being too ringy. In both of those situations, no muffling was used.

I usually expect matching snare drums to be the weak link of a shell pack, but the S.L.P. New-Hickory 5×14 was a highlight of the kit. Like the bass drum, it was easy to tune to a variety of pitches and seemed to like them all. Despite its thin and shallow shell, this drum produced plenty of volume and attack. It will cut through almost any acoustic or semi-acoustic setting you put it in. Snare sensitivity was excellent from edge to center, and any sympathetic ring generated by the rack tom could be easily mitigated with small tuning adjustments. This snare was also fairly easy to detune for a fat sound. And at high tunings, rimshots crack and every ghost note speaks clearly.

These S.L.P. New-Vintage drums proved to be excellent for many gigging situations. The sizes are compact yet versatile, making the kit easy to transport while also being able to cover a lot of musical territory beyond traditional jazz. The hickory shells provide a stunning visual, and the sound can be summed up in one word: impact. They had all the tone and warmth of maple drums but with a little extra punch and shorter decay. The price point lies in a happy medium that reflects the quality of the instrument but also won’t make you too nervous about throwing them in the trunk of your car multiple times a week. The three-piece shell pack sells for about $1,500, the matching snare for $350.