Tama Mike Portnoy Melody Master
Review by: Eric Sands
|Features Usability Sound Documentation & Product Support Price
Contact Info Overall Rating—Product Summary
The newest snare in his collection offers more than just a cosmetic upgrade: this was a suitable time to introduce something new to the mix, and Tama sent us a new, fourteen inch steel shell snare, while updating the cosmetics on the other snares in Portnoy’s signature collection.
As with the former models we enjoyed, the new Melody Master displays high-quality craftsmanship, intricate design, and well-balanced tones sure to be of interest to any accomplished rock drummer.
Tama’s line of Mike Portnoy Melody Master signature snare drums has been around for a number of years, and the previous Dream Theater logo-emblazoned models were reviewed favorably by MusicPlayers.com back in 2007 (see review here). The new Tama MP1455ST 5.5”x14” hammered steel snare shares many of the same features as the previous MP125 5”x12” model, and it’s equally impressive.
Besides the introduction of a more traditionally sized 5.5”x14” steel snare drum, the only other difference with the updated models is a new badge. Given Mike Portnoy’s departure from Dream Theater it’s not surprising Tama would release updated versions of Mike’s signature line with a new logo that did not incorporate the bands iconic wordmark and “Majesty” symbol. The new logo is an ingeniously designed purple ambigram that spells “Mike Portnoy” which is readable both right-side-up as well as up-side-down.
For those of you who are new to the Mike Portnoy Melody Masters line of steel snare drums, let’s review some of their key features: The MP1455ST has a 1mm hammered steel drum shell that is coated in a matte black finish, which invokes a sense of chaos in a world of perfectly smooth drum shells. Another unique aspect of the drum construction is the Tama MSL-SCT chrome lugs, which are slightly offset to accommodate the shorter depth of the drum shell. The high quality, die-cast, eight-hole chrome hoops do not have a top flange, but instead incorporate a slightly thicker ring on the inside of the hoop.
The drum has a specially designed throw-off, an idea that Mike developed with Tama. The MCS100A three-way tension adjustable snare strainer and MCS70B butt-end allows drummers to set their strainer to three positions (off, loose, and tight) instead of the traditional two. Another subtle design touch is the matching, purple nylon strap used to attach the 20-strand MS20SN14S snappy to the strainer hardware.
Our drum came equipped with a Remo coated Ambassador (single-ply) top head and a Remo clear Ambassador snare-side head on the bottom.
We haven’t changed our opinion surrounding the usability challenges of the three-way strainer system. Although the components themselves are solidly built and function correctly, we found the setting of the strainers to be cumbersome and a bit unintuitive. It would be helpful for Tama to provide supplementary documentation with guidelines for how to set the strainer tension properly since this is a unique design. It took a bit of experimentation to set the strainer tensions correctly to accomplish the desired three-position effect. However, once the strainers have been set, we found the throw-off action to be smooth and easy to operate, even while performing live.
Out of the box, the snare shipped tuned in a comfortable mid-range with the snare strainer set abnormally tight. For the purposes of evaluating the tonal characteristics of the shell we set the snares to a medium tension with just a slight buzz and enough play so as not to choke the sound.
Starting here in the mid-range tuning, the drum packed plenty of punch without many of the overtones experienced in our previous review of the 5”x12” model. There was a feint, brassy, over-ring presence that you would expect with a steel shell, but it was controlled and didn’t detract from the overall sound.
Dropping the top head tuning down to the lower register required us to reign in the snares as they became buzzy (which was easily taken care of with a couple twists of the strainers, plural). With two throw-offs to contend with, we found it necessary to adjust both in tandem in order to achieve the desired snare tension.
At the lower tuning the drum was fat with a warm, chunky punch and a very musical sound. Cranking the top head up to a higher tuning also required some snare adjustments, but the tonal quality in this register was just as controlled as the lower levels. The over-ring was balanced and the drum was very responsive to even the most delicate sticking. Rim-shots were powerful and punctuated when both throw-offs were in the Up position and the snares set to their tightest setting.
We found this snare drum to be very playable within a wide range of tunings. Its dry, controlled tone was consistent and shared characteristics with both metal and wood snare drums.
Don’t let the warmer tone of the hammered steel shell fool you, though. We took this snare out on the road for a gig and it had no problem cutting through a live performance. We felt the drum thrived in the mid-range tuning with one of the throw-offs down in the loose setting, which allowed more slap of the snares.
If you are looking to emulate Mike Portnoy’s sound, this drum will definitely not disappoint. It captures the essence of the original 5”x12” Melody Master sound that Portnoy played in the past, but in a more versatile 5.5”x14” size that provides greater tuning options.
Documentation and Product Support
The drum did not come with any documentation, but we did find a number of resources online that discuss the drum’s features. Check out the product page on the Tama website for the Mike Portnoy Melody Master signature snare at this link.
The Tama MP1455ST 5.5”x14” hammered steel snare (MSRP $769.22) sells for around $500. This is on the higher end of the price range for steel snares, but in line with most signature models given the upgraded components and special signature details.
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