Metal players may not be familiar with John Blackwell’s name, but this outstanding drummer and Berklee grad have backed major pop talents ranging from Prince to Justin Timberlake to Patti LaBelle and more. A few years ago, Blackwell teamed up with Tama to create a signature snare drum that met the needs of a successful pop, funk, and R&B drummer, and this partnership resulted in a 6.5”x13” steel snare drum that was the first to bear his name (or at least his “JB” initials).
|Documentation & Support||10%||n/a|
|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
New for 2012 includes two models of the John Blackwell signature series snare drums. One is a slightly updated version of the 6.5”x13” model while the other is a new 5”x14” design. These drums come suited in stunning black-on-black attire and are dressed to impress. The 5”x14” model we reviewed is a more traditional size snare drum that should appeal to drummers looking for more versatility from a bright, cutting, steel snare drum sound.
There are two models of the John Blackwell signature snare drum available today from Tama. The model we reviewed was the JB145N 5”x14” snare. Tama offers another model, the JB1365N 6.5”x13” snare, which is identical in features other than the size.
The 2012 models sport a newly designed signature badge that is much less gaudy than the older model. The previous version of the John Blackwell signature snare had a massive “JB” monogram attached to the shell that looked out of place and detracted from the aesthetics of the drum. The new peace sign logo is smaller and much more subdued, and tasteful.
Another signature flare is a small band of “JB” initials separated by stars that are pressed into the shell that encircles the drum. Although barely noticeable from a distance, it’s a nice, subtle touch that sets this drum apart from all the others.
Besides the new logo, the drum’s features and hardware are similar to the original. The 5”x14” shell is made of 1.2mm steel, falling somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of thickness and weight for steel shelled snare drums.
The shell comes in shiny, black nickel plating which gives it a dark, smoky appearance. The ten hole, triple-flanged steel Mighty hoops, MSL35BN lugs, MUS80ABN snare strainer, and MUS80BBN butt end all share the same black nickel plating and give the drum a stealthy look. Even the tension rods are plated in black nickel!
A unique feature of this snare drum is the presence of three (yes, three) air holes! Each air hole is fitted with a removable rubber plug that is used to prevent air from escaping through the hole. The air hole plug has a chrome cap emblazoned with a star (part of JB’s signature) that is actually turned to tighten the plug into place or loosen it for removal.
The drum came equipped with a Remo coated Ambassador (single-ply) top head and a Remo clear Ambassador snare-side head on the bottom.
The snare strainer and butt-end are high-quality Tama components that are shared with other Starclassic models. Both the strainer and butt end have snare tension adjustment, providing greater snare tension control from both sides of the drum. The strainer had a quiet, smooth, and positive throw-off action that felt solid.
As previously mentioned, the drum shipped with plugs for each of the three air holes. These plugs are placed into the air holes and then tightened in place by turning the chrome cap via a threaded center post. The action of tightening and loosening the cap was a bit cumbersome as the rubber insert had a tendency to spin with the cap. We found it necessary to use both hands to remove the plugs: one hand to hold the rubber insert and the other to tighten the cap. This really isn’t a big deal, though, as we imagine most drummers will experiment with the configuration they like best and then leave them in place.
The snare we received from Tama was tuned perfectly in the middle range so this is where we decided to start our evaluation. We also removed one of the three air hole plugs and kept the other two in place as most snare drums have a single air hole. The drum sounded very comfortable in this middle range tuning and it was very expressive. We found the drum quite responsive at all dynamic levels, and it exhibited an overall bright tone.
Tuning the drum lower in the register was also a pleasant experience. We dropped the top head down to just a few turns past thumb tightening of the tension rods and were treated with a deep, throaty voice. At certain lower tunings, we noticed a more pronounced tremolo-like effect where the snares would sustain and vibrate briefly after each hit. We’re not quite sure what lead to this, although our hunch is that it was a combination of shell vibration, head and snare tension. Either way, we enjoyed the sound of this little phenomenon.
The drum sounded great all the way up into the higher tuning ranges where the drum really came out of its shell (pardon the pun). Crank up the head to the upper range and you will be rewarded with a bright pop that will cut through any mix. This drum’s forte (sorry, last pun, we promise) is when you really lay into it with a rim-shot to get that gunshot effect.
We also experimented with different combinations of air hole plugs. Leave all of them in and the drum will sound choked as the air has nowhere to escape. This is actually an effect that can be felt in the stick response off the head as well. Remove all the plugs and drum opens up and breathes more.
John Blackwell mentions in a Tama promotional video for the drum that he actually prefers to keep all the plugs in, which, he says, “sucks in that sound, it’s that in-and-out thing… straight to the point.” Our opinion, by contrast, is that the drum really comes to life will all the plugs removed, but that is the beauty of this very simple air control system—it is customizable by the drummer to your own personal preference.
Documentation and Product Support
The drum did not come with any documentation. However, there are a few resources online that cover the drums features:
- The product page on the Tama website for the John Blackwell signature snare drums offers specs.
- Tama posted a video with John Blackwell demoing the original 6.5”x13” signature model. Although this is a different sized drum, it still provides some insight into what he looks for in his snare, and the role of the air hole plugs in achieving his signature sound.
The Tama John Blackwell JB145N 5”x14” (MSRP $615.37) can be found with most online retailers for $400. This is on the higher end of the pricing spectrum for steel snares, but we feel the high-quality construction, components, and artistic styling justify the cost and make this drum a good buy.