Tama BB156 Bell Brass Snare Drum
Review by: Dominic Guss
|Features Usability Sound Documentation & Product Support Price
Contact Info Overall Rating—Product Summary
A studio favorite back in the era of huge ‘80s drum sounds, Tama’s famous Bell Brass snare drum has been reintroduced for 2016. Ibanez told us that when this snare drum was originally released, “there was nothing like it in the industry, and many drummers, recording engineers, and producers heard the difference.” Given its historical significance, then, it was only fitting that Ibanez would eventually re-issue the snare. Hand-cast and manufactured in Japan, Tama claims to utilize “a process similar to that used in making cymbals” to produce a single-piece, seamless brass shell.
The theoretical advantage in producing single-piece, seamless drum shells is that no stress exists anywhere in the shell as a result of the absence of any bending during manufacturing. Whenever wood, metal, and other materials are bent into shape, the natural tendency is for the material to return to its original, natural state—usually flat like a board. In order to keep this from happening, gluing, welding, and other methods are utilized. However, the internal stress within the shell still exists in most of these designs. In addition, a seamless metal shell produces a continuous vibration uninterrupted by a weld seam. This adds to the overall musicality of this snare drum, and when you play the Bell Brass snare, you will hear a difference.
By utilizing advanced manufacturing methods, Tama has come up with a snare drum that prevails in the most important aspects of snare drum design, including wide-range tuning stability, loudness capability, unique and gorgeous tone, and striking visual beauty. The high price of this exceptional snare drum may be a deal breaker for some, but it’s definitely a quality addition to any serious kit.
The Tama Bell Brass snare reviewed, model BB156, comes in one size: 6.5”x14.” The drum was received in flawless condition and included a uniquely designed, heavy-duty drum key. The key has an integrated spin top, which allows for fast tuning.
The first thing you will notice when lifting this drum out of its box is its weight: At eighteen pounds, this is a very heavy snare drum! Regardless of price, this is not a drum you will likely be hauling back and forth to band rehearsals based on its sheer weight alone.
The next thing you will notice is the snare drum’s beautiful and unique finish. Photos of this snare do not do justice to this drum’s actual appearance in person. Retaining the natural beauty of the snare’s 3mm brass shell, the finish has a soft, brushed, somewhat “wood-like” texture and feel to it that is sublime. The look alone will undoubtedly command attention, and seems to blend nicely with a wide variety of other drum finishes. Tama’s own, recognizable, T-badge serves as a nice final touch.
Tama chose to use the original, chrome, Superstar lugs to contrast the drum’s unique finish, topped off with heavy-duty, die-cast zinc, ten-hole hoops. The snare came appropriately fitted with a Tama-branded, Remo Ambassador coated batter head and clear Ambassador snare head.
A very nice and useful feature found on the Bell Brass snare is the integrated butt plate, which is quickly and easily removed by loosening two standard lug nuts. This makes removal and replacement of snare wires and heads quick and painless. When just replacing the bottom snare head, the snare wire position and tension is unaffected after replacing the butt plate.
Finally, Tama’s own 20-strand, carbon steel, Snappy Snare finishes off the components utilized for the snare drum. It’s no secret that stress imposed on an instrument will affect its tone and resonance. Many modern methods in drum design have attempted to tackle this problem with good success. For example, RIMS-type mounting systems, which remove the bulk of stress on the drum shell by focusing and distributing the stress elsewhere; specifically, around the drum hoops and/or lugs instead. These types of designs allow the drum shell to resonate more freely. Single-piece casting, although expensive—and used here, is an alternate method to achieve similar design goals.
In addition to eliminating internal stress, another advantage of single-piece casting is tighter roundness tolerances afforded by modern casting methods. Tama’s casting process includes carefully pouring their own proprietary, Bell Brass, molten liquid into a specialized shell mold. The mold is then spun to make sure the molten is evenly dispersed. During this process, the molten cools and solidifies. Once cooled, the shell emerges perfectly round. The roundness of a shell impacts tone and tuning ability, and a drum out of round is a recipe for disaster. Thus, it is another valued attribute of the Bell Brass snare that contributes to its enhanced overall tone.
The Bell Brass shell material itself is a specialized form of brass; an alloy of copper and zinc, which is highly sonorous (think deep, full, ringing tone). The relative softness of the Bell Brass material gives this drum a warm tonal character.
The Tama Bell Brass snare is an extremely well-built snare drum with a well-thought-out design. As such, ease of setup, usage, and tunability all rate quite highly in our book. One negative some might consider to be a hindrance would be the snare drum’s relatively heavy weight, which may be a deal breaker for some drummers.
Tuning stability was excellent when tuned to medium pitches and higher. However, we found that when using low tunings and hitting hard, particularly with continuous heavy-hitting rimshots, the tuning would not hold true for very long. To be fair, this is common among many drum designs, however.
Pleasantly, we found that this snare drum’s batter-side hoop was not as much of a stick killer compared to many other die-cast hoops we’ve experienced.
“Thick,” “Throaty,” “Ballsy,” and “Massive” are some of the words that came to mind after only a few hits on this monster. At lower to medium tunings, this is one of the few snares that you can really feel while playing.
Being of brass construction, one might imagine it to have a brighter tone with more ring than a typical, wood-shelled snare drum. However, we found this snare to have a very pleasing ring with just the right amount of sustain, while not being overly bright.
As expected, it is a loud drum, but very sensitive as well. It is not a snare that has to be laid into to get a good sound, and it is quite distinct within a wide range of velocities. The sound doesn’t fall apart when you really lay into it, either, and the drum has a fierce rimshot crack when called for.
The batter side, die-cast hoop helps to provide a high level of focus you would expect in the center of the drum, as well as providing a wide range of tones as you move outward from the center. Overall, we felt this was a great design choice for attaining a good balance of both focus and versatility in tone from this snare drum.
One of the biggest surprises for us was the versatility in tone across varying tuning ranges. This is definitely a chameleon of a snare drum depending on how it is tuned, all of which proved to be useful in differing contexts. Whether it’s that deep ‘70s-type of tuned-down sound, or the much higher-pitched, quick and snappy tone often heard in funk music, this snare covered that and everything in between without a struggle.
We settled on a Tune Bot setting of about 375 for the bottom snare head, and varied the tuning on the top batter side head only, with settings between 200 and 375. Even though we didn’t change the tuning of the bottom head, we were still able to vary the tone of the Bell Brass snare quite dramatically.
All told, the Tama Bell Brass does, in fact, have a sound all its own, and that proved to be a very useful tone indeed.
The Tama Bell Brass snare drum (MSRP $3,076.91) sells for approximately $2,000 at most retailers. Even though this is a relatively pricey snare drum, it may also be looked upon as an investment, as older variants have commanded prices as high as $5,000 or more on the used market in the past while this drum was out of production. One thing is certain, though: If you place this snare drum at the heart of your kit, your primary voice will be a unique one, and quite a nice one at that.
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