The company was started in 1925 in Osaka Japan under the name Sakae Rhythm and was originally responsible for making school percussion instruments. They consolidated their knowledge and skill to develop construction techniques unique to Sakae with a focus on quality, using woods sourced from Japan. The big break for the company came in 1967 when major brand Yamaha Drums approached the company to be their exclusive supplier for drum shells. This partnership lasted for over 40 years and produced some of the most well known and sought after drum kits in history.
Of all the models, the Yamaha Recording Custom – constructed from all Japanese Birch and made famous by the likes of Steve Gadd and JR Robinson is the one that stands out the most to me. These drums were used on countless sessions and recordings for so many artists and were renown for their shorter sustain – perfect for the studio. Other models such as the Maple Custom have also been a staple for so many drummers over the years. The list of artist endorsees for Yamaha drums is as long as you can imagine.
So, isn’t Sakae still making shells for Yamaha? Actually no. In very recent years, the decision was made by Yamaha to move their shell production from Japan to a specific Yamaha factory in Xiao Shan, China, and Sakae Drums now had something of a choice to make in light of this change to their operations and which direction they would take for their own drums.
This gradual split from Yamaha, sparked the dilemma: where to from here for the Sakae drum company? Fortunately, Sakae decided to maintain operation under their original name and to subsequently release their own line of drums using the same widely regarded construction techniques they’d always used and keeping manufacturing in Japan, just as it was in the early days. This was for the sake of quality as well as out of respect for tradition.
The company’s president Eizo Nakata inherited Sakae from his father and was faced with the challenge of what to do. His choice to stick to his guns stems from the history and ethos of a company that has always strived for excellence. In his own words, he proudly claims – “My family and I are committed to the traditions of making instruments of the utmost quality and excellence. Corporatism and the desire to become the biggest drum company in the world are NOT our priorities. What IS our priority is making musical instruments that my father, grandfather and the legendary artists I have grown up with, would all be proud of…”
From a drummer’s perspective, given that Sakae have such a real and proven history behind them with the experience and knowledge, there is solid ground to investigate the current offerings from the company as it stands now and stick with them – even if they don’t have a Yamaha badge. At their core, Sakae actually has the desire not to be the biggest drum company in the world, but one that maintains and continues the traditions that so many legendary drummers grew up with. You have to respect them for that. The sound coming from the new lines of drums from Japan speak for themselves too. In particular, two flagship models are worth discussing for their importance to the company and what they can offer drummers of today that are looking for a top end instrument and that familiar sound.
The Sakae Almighty Birch is actually an evolution of the Almighty Maple series and features 8-ply bass drum shells with 7-ply floor toms and 6-ply tom toms. The drums are carefully crafted; plies painstakingly staggered in the mold for a minimal seam. The new Almighty Birch has some distinct and unique features such as the mounting hardware for the toms, which attach to the base of the drums rather than from the top. At first, it looks a bit odd but then appears to make sense and is much less obtrusive than some other designs. You still get 360-degree swivel adjustment too for easy placement as well as a super sturdy hex rod arm to clamp the toms to. The design promotes easier tuning and better isolation through less pressure on the tension rods. Featuring all chrome classic looking lugs and hardware and triple flanged hoops, the Almighty has serious presence and comes in some awesome finishes from sparkles to natural grain stains. It’s a modern flagship that touches on that much sort after studio sound that made the Sakae Rhythm Company famous.
The Trilogy line aims to cater for those drummers looking for a more vintage sound overall – throwing back to the design of drums from the 40s, 50s and 60s. This is evident through the fundamental choice of a 3-ply shell all round for this kit – lighter, open and full. The shells are constructed of 1-ply of poplar, sandwiched between 2-plies of maple. The drums also feature the ultra cool 3.5mm/4mm North American maple reinforcement rings top and bottom inside the shell for aided durability, roundness and a slight dampening for that classic vintage sound. The inside of the drums have a grey-sprayed finish, a much more rounded 60-degree bearing edge for less attack and feature a great vintage badges. There’s less weight in general on the drums and with the added lighter tension rods and lugs, the Trilogy is less heavy to carry but has a warm and true tone. Under mics, both the Almighty Birch and the Trilogy aim to maintain that studio/ recording sound that everyone strives to achieve and they have that almost EQ’d sound live.
Overall, Sakae Drums is striving to get through to everyone that they aren’t a ‘new’ company – far from it. They’ve always been here and now, even though their badges and their designs look different than before, there’s a familiarity to the sound of the drums that players will recognise and love. They just want you to try them.