Tama’s Melody Master snare line features a set of signature snare drums representing Mike Portnoy, Dream Theater’s progressive powerhouse drummer. Luckily for Mr. Portnoy, he was granted the honor of having not just one, but two, signature snare drums named after him and built to his personalized specifications.
|Documentation & Support
|OVERALL RATING = 3.3
3.6 stars or better: Outstanding, WIHO Award
3 stars or better: Worth considering
2 stars or better: Suited to specific needs
1 star or less: Not recommended
Directly influenced by the name of his daughter, Melody, both Melody Master snare drums contain beautiful design features, expert construction, and a well-rounded sound in all ranges. Although a slight over-ring persisted through the side snare, both drums provide moments of sonic brilliance in their sound. Either would make a great addition to a high-end drum kit.
Though signature equipment doesn’t suit every player’s tastes, you don’t have to be in search of Mike Portnoy’s progressive drum sound in order to find pleasing characteristics in these impressive drums.
The two Melody Master snare drums reviewed were the standard MP1455 5.5x14” snare as well as the smaller MP125 5x12” side-snare. Both drums arrived in perfect condition and included a specialized (a.k.a beautiful!) drum key.
The MP1455 has quite an amazing appearance! It contains a thick, maple shell with a semi-gloss black covering on both the interior and exterior of the drum. The outside of the drum includes an alluring purple & white Mike Portnoy signature logo superimposed over the Dream Theater Majesty symbol. In addition, stamped and/or branded into the outer finish of the drum is that same Majesty logo (in black) arranged in numerous positions and various sizes all around the shell.
The shell of the MP125 was a hammered flat-black steel (with obvious, visible hammer markings all around the drum). Though not incorporated with the same branded imprints around the shell, the drum still contained the attractive purple & white Portnoy signature logo.
Both drums contained very bright/shiny die-cast chrome hoops on either side, Tama MSL-SCT chrome lugs (eight on the standard snare, six on the side snare). Note: the lugs are offset on the MP125 to fit the smaller size of the drum. The snares feature an MCS100A three-way tension adjustable snare strainer. The strainer contained two separate throw-offs on one single device in order to allow for multiple variations of snare tension(s) as well as to provide an opportunity for “switching” between two separate snare drums (on the same drum).
Last, each drum came equipped with a Remo coated Ambassador (single-ply) top head and a Remo clear Ambassador snare-side head on the bottom.
The drums are built extremely well and standard maintenance (e.g, tuning) was very simple – each drum was very responsive to even just the slightest change. However, the three-way tension strainer caused a bit of confusion. Although very easy to use (the throw-offs themselves were high-quality and behaved normally), the tensioning itself was a bit hard to control at first glance.
Perhaps after a sufficient amount of time using these drums, we would have an easier time finding the optimal balance of tension between the two adjustable tension knobs. But for first time users, the various tension options could cause uncertainty in regards to which tightness is needed at what time. We found it challenging to find a perfect and consistent balance between both sides of the strainer, even if the principle of a three-way strainer is to yield more tension options.
The first drum of the two tested was the standard MP1455. As with previous snare tests, we began testing the drum from the lowest pitch up to a higher pitch. Starting in the lower range, the drum produced a surprisingly full sound (for such a low range). However, similar to many snare drums, the open-low pitch of the drum caused an excess of buzzing from the snares, even after experimenting with the tension adjustments of the specialized snare throw-off.
As we moved up to a mid-range tuning for the drum, it responded very nicely! The drum gave off a well-rounded, full sound with a slight “pop” to it as well. In addition, the overabundance of buzz from the snares seemed to level out.
Lastly, when brought up to a pitch at the higher range of the drum, it produced a terrific combination of a full tone mixed with a bright, strong “pop.” One last note: with the exception of some slight issues in the lower range, the drum had a great control of ring and/or additional noise, producing a clear, fundamental tone through most of its tuning span.
Moving on to the MP125 side-snare, the tuning process was handled in the same fashion as the previous standard snare drum. The lowest range of the drum behaved similarly to the MP1455, producing a great tone (again, a surprisingly full sound!) but containing the same overabundance of buzzy-snare issues and tensioning challenges. Fortunately, the pitch range for any side-snare is more appropriate in the higher range of the drum.
The mid-range of the drum produced a much more pleasing and recognizable “pop” of a side-snare and, again, the buzz of the snares were brought under control. However (most likely due to the finish of the shell), a reasonable amount of “brassy” over-ring was generated from tuning the drum to the middle of its range.
Lastly, moving up to the high register of the drum allowed for the characteristic side-snare “crack” that is consistent with drums this size. The drum emitted a very strong, full and loud “pop” with a good balance of a well-rounded sound mixed together. Unfortunately, though improved from the middle range of the drum, the “brassy” over-ring did not entirely disappear. Though it wasn’t completely obtrusive, it was a characteristic that did stand out through a variety of ranges for this drum.
Many players are drawn to these snare drums because of their namesake, and you may be wondering whether or not these drums will really give you the Portnoy signature sound. While testing and playing these snare drums, they definitely evoked Mike’s particular sound. Especially on more recent recordings (most notably since his drums don’t have many, if any, sampled additions on the tracks), both of these snares have a recognizable tone to what the listener can hear from Mike’s playing. The real beauty to us, and another positive point, is that the drums remain very fitting in various musical situations and will appeal to a range of drummers far beyond the progressive rock/metal focus.
Documentation and Product Support
The two Melody Master snare drums arrived with a small amount of paperwork that unfortunately didn’t specifically pertain to these drums. The documentation included was a brief synopsis of the Tama Starcast Mounting System (mainly relevant to a drum set configuration) and was ironically only printed in Japanese.
Fortunately, a good amount of information on these drums was found on the Internet both on Mike Portnoy’s personal webpage as well on Tama’s website. Given that Tama is a major manufacturer in the drum industry, through minor research effort, information and product support for these specialty snares is readily available.
The Mike Portnoy Melody Master Signature 5x12" steel shell snare (MSRP $459.99) sells for approximately $300. The 5 1/2x14" maple shell snare (MSRP $869.99) sells for $570.
Often times, the prices of signature snares can be a bit costly due to the extra care and additional details put into a personalized design. In the case of the Melody Master series, while somewhat pricey, we think these drums provide a decent value given the high quality construction and pro-level sound.
Tama AM1455BNB 5.5x14” Maple Snare
Pearl MRX 1455S 5.5x 14” Maple Snare
Yamaha SD-4340 4x13” Brass side-snare