I recently picked up a set of Tama’s new Cocktail Jam drums. After playing it for several weeks, including taking it out on a handful of live gigs, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and impressions about this fun little kit.
Tama markets the Cocktail Jam kit as “Ideal for hip-hop, jazz, intimate acoustic settings, or tight rehearsal rooms.” The idea dates back to the cocktail kits of the 40’s and 50’s, which were used in situations where full-size drums weren’t practical. While having a smaller footprint, they still allowed for the dynamics and playability of a traditional trap kit – without being miked. We’ll decide later whether this also holds true for the Cocktail Jam kit.
About the Tama Cocktail Jam kit:
For starters, I chose the “Indigo Sparkle” wrap finish. It’s a high quality wrap, and really pretty.
The kit ships as a 4-piece, in one configuration, in the following sizes:
5” x 12” mounted snare (6 ply)
5” x 10” rack tom (6 ply)
5.5” x 14” floor tom (6 ply)
6” x 16” bass drum (7 ply)
All shells are 100% birch, the same you’ll find across Tama’s Silverstar lineup.
Included with the kit are two (2) Tama multi-clamps for mounting the snare drum and rack tom, an inverted Iron Cobra kick drum pedal, a soft-sided carrying case for the drums, and a hardware bag. For those of you familiar with Yamaha drums, the included multi-clamps are reminiscent of Yamaha’s YESS mounting system.
Immediately, I loved the fact that the entire drum kit can be packed up in two bags (minus the throne). Upon unpacking the drums, I was very surprised by how light they were – to the point that I almost felt like I was holding a toy. My first thought was, “There isn’t much drum kit here. How good could these possibly be?”
On closer inspection, I found the shells, though lightweight, to be of a VERY high quality. They are truly beautiful.
All of the drums (with the exception of the snare) are single-headed, which allows them to be packed within one another. Batter-side bearing edges are cut at 45-degrees, while the resonant-side edges are sanded flat. The shells take advantage of the new Star-Mount system, which is used on other kits in the Silverstar lineup. This gives them a more open, resonant tone.
Tama is well known for their quality hardware – it’s what they built their reputation on in the 70’s and 80’s. There is no exception with this kit. While the included triple-flanged hoops are not especially heavy duty, they are well made, as are the lugs. Four adjustable spurs nicely support the kick drum. Two of the spurs also act as a mount for the kick pedal.
What really stands out is the way in which the kit is actually assembled. The entire mounting system revolves around 3 heavyweight metal posts, which are attached to the inverted kick drum. The other shells are mounted off of these posts using the multi-clamps. It’s a rock-solid solution, and flat out genius – far superior to any other cocktail setup I’ve ever seen.
Also included is an Iron Cobra chain-driven kick drum pedal. Anyone familiar with Iron Cobra knows that these pedals are about as rock-solid as they come – and this pedal is no exception. The pedal ships in an inverted position; it’s ready to play right out of the box.
Tuning the kit:
With the exception of the kick drum, I immediately decided the stock heads weren’t getting the job done for me. These are single-headed drums, but they have a surprising amount of punch and sustain, which I felt needed some control. I popped on some Remo Coated Ambassadors and was instantly happier. I auditioned a clear Remo Powerstroke 4 on the kick, but found myself going back to the stock head. It’s a very heavy coated Tama head; it just had the right feel and tone that I was looking for.
Because you’re only dealing with one head per drum, tuning is a breeze. Smaller diameter drums also allow you to get a lower tuning, without sacrificing tone. I found I could tune them down low, and still have a strong attack with the right amount of “thud” without the drums ringing on for days.
Aside from some Moon Gel pads, these drums don’t need a ton of muffling. By nature, these drums aren’t going to resonate like a traditional drum, so I’m looking to keep as much tone as possible intact.
Playing the kit:
The Cocktail Jam kit is a lot of fun to play; I found myself really inspired while sitting in front of this funky little contraption. They also look cool as hell from the audience’s perspective.
The toms are punchy with a solid “thud” and warm, controlled sustain. The snare cracks like it’s supposed to, and has a surprisingly broad tuning range, sounding especially great at a medium-high tension.
The kick, on the other hand, needs some help – which is to be expected for its size.
It will never have the growl of my 20” x 16” Yamaha Stage Custom, which is my favorite kick drum of all time. With a little bit of creative muffling, and after tuning it as low as possible, I had something I could work with.
The key is to incorporate the tuning of the floor tom with the kick. The two work together to bring out the low end you’d be missing otherwise. The tradeoff is, in order for this to work properly, the floor tom stays in a relatively fixed position. It can only be adjusted vertically.
On the gig:
I’ve taken these drums out with two different bands so far: one being a 5-piece straight-ahead pop/rock group; and the other being a trio, which plays tunes across a large number of genres.
Generally speaking, bringing the Cocktail Jam kit on the gig cut my setup/tear down times in half. I went from being the last guy in the band to be set up, to being the first one. That’s saying a lot!
In both scenarios, I found there was no way I could get away with NOT miking the drums – particularly the kick. It can’t compete with amplified instruments otherwise. I really relied on the PA to bring out the presence of the drums over the rest of the band. For me, an e902 on the kick and a small-diaphragm condenser mic overhead got the job done just fine.
Don’t expect the Cocktail Jam kit to be a total replacement for your standard drum set. While it’s a great choice for smaller venues, or if you’re just in the mood for something different, you’ll need mike the kit and run it through a PA system that can do it justice.
Be prepared for people to ask you A LOT of questions about the kit. It’s definitely an attention stealer. You’d be surprised at how many musicians, especially drummers, have never even heard of a cocktail kit before!
Many of the promotional videos I’ve seen of this kit mention that it can be played either sitting or standing. I’m here to tell you that, at a modest 6’1”, there’s no way I’d want to play this kit standing up. The hardware doesn’t allow it to be raised to a comfortable height that won’t totally destroy your back in the process. For me, this wasn’t a deal-breaker, but for those who are looking for the upright option, you might be disappointed.
Would I recommend it?
I’ve received a ton of compliments on this kit, both by guys in the band as well as by audience members. I personally enjoy playing it, and I’ve been in legitimate scenarios where I don’t think I could have done the gig without it
It’s a great little kit to have ready to go on the fly for a pick-up gig. It also makes a GREAT practice kit that you can stash in just about any room of your house or apartment.
Will it replace your current drum kit? Probably not. Is it meant to? No. Think of it as another unique voice to add to your arsenal; if you’re open to the idea, you’ll find many great uses for this kit. Enjoy!