Tama Drums: The History Behind Iron Cobra, Starclassic, and S.L.P.


Tama had never manufactured a drum set until a surprise order for jazz kits came from Hong Kong in 1955. Instantly, their interest was piqued. 

With the 1960s bringing rock ‘n’ roll, the beginnings of Tama, which was then known as ‘TAMA Seisakusho’, began making electric guitars and amplifiers (I know… ew). But in 1966, they came to their senses and went headfirst into drum manufacturing with the brand Star Drums, studying American-made drums to find out how to produce drums of equal and better standards. 

Guitars are still manufactured, now under the brand Ibanez, but I think we can leave them be for now because, you know, guitars and all…  

In 1974, a few years after economic instability due to then-President Nixon’s end to the gold standard, Japan’s quantity-reliant exports had to change course to quality. From this, TAMA’s manufacturing philosophy was born. And along with it, high-quality drums and hardware that we still love today.  

This has led to them being associated with some notable drummers, past and present: Neil Peart, who used a custom Superstar kit in 1982 (pictured below) for the Rush album Grace Under Pressure in 1983, Lars Ulrich (obviously, since the 1980s), and Stewart Copeland (it’s criminal not to know his band and distinct drum sound). 

Tama Neil Peart Signature Kit 

Setting the foundations

With the boom of rock ‘n’ roll and the increase in kids learning musical instruments, Tama implemented a ‘hardware first’ policy that took advantage of the slow-to-change classic American brands. This allowed Tama to create super sturdy hardware that could keep up with the heavier styles of music.  

First came the “Nylon Bushing Pipe Tightening System” to protect the interiors of cymbal pipes against scratches and tighten the entire bracket through one, easy-to-use functionality. Tama, for this generation, is still synonymous with heavier styles of music thanks to such a solid manufacturing breakthrough.  

Known as one of the most respected brands in drumming, this reputation has been religiously worked towards. For example, their innovative ‘1978 Parts Catalogue’ showed a detailed breakdown of parts involved in their pedals and stands – a hugely welcomed move that only bolstered their status with suppliers and distributors. 

Inevitably for a new company, complaints came through about some hardware from customers and suppliers. Showing their dedication to quality, Tama staff travelled through the US and Europe to address the issues in person, whilst the manufacturing in Japan was concurrently improved. This swift action made Tama the still-recognised, well-respected name for reliability.  

Keeping up this ethos, each of their products is manufactured with a philosophy behind them. Whether it’s the ‘reduction of energy loss’ of the Iron Cobra, a more detailed delve into drums for the S.L.P. line, or the stand-out resonance of the Starclassic line – a thoughtful approach is at the heart of Tama.  

To prove this, let’s discover a bit about Tama and their standout products. 

Production with philosophy

Iron Cobra

Philosophy – ‘Reduction of Energy Loss’ 

Iron Cobra drum pedalsIntroduced in ‘94, Iron Cobra pedals have been one of the leaders in solid, reliable, and powerful rhythms. 

Known for their durability, you’re bound to enjoy using one of these pedals thanks to their smooth action and powerful transfer of energy to your bass drum. But this hasn’t been an easy road… 

A kick pedal moves the beater, delivering your strike to the bass drum. Sound simple? Of course. But Tama knew what it could be.

With a guiding philosophy of ‘reduction of energy loss’, the Iron Cobra was built differently from the ground up.  

A legal dispute with a competitor brought into question their use of a ball bearing (the part which connects the pedalboard to the footplate) infringing on a patent. Although the jury sided with Tama and no further action was taken, this close call led to the Iron Cobra we know today. 

To improve their design, they reached out to the Oiles® Corporation to use their ‘Oiles® Bearing’.

Playing the same role but with a major functionality upgrade, the Oiles® removed friction, eliminated side-to-side motion, and had superior durability. With seamless integration, the Iron Cobra still uses these bearings today for a truly powerful product. 

Also, the marketing campaign was wild at the time. The name Cobra? With a cobra on a drum product?! Unseen! 

Cobra advertising

Shop now | Tama Iron Cobra kick drum pedals


Philosophy – ‘Resonance’ 

Tama starclassic drum kit

Another product released in ’94 (was something in the water?) was the renowned and deeply loved Starclassic drum kit.

Completely handcrafted until 2009, it’s one of Tama’s most popular and influential drum kits and has been their flagship product for nearly 25 years.  

Originally intended to be an all-around reasonably priced kit, the Starclassic showcased a few adjustments that pushed it into a more-than-average drum kit.

Wooden hoops, a buffed lacquer finish, and carefully crafted shells meant the kit was fit for the gigging player looking for a new sound and look. 

Tama '80s advertising Guided by a philosophy of ‘resonance’, the maple and birch shells were made as thin as possible thanks to staggered seams and cross-laminated plies. These shells sing.

The glam metal scene of the ‘80s and big, vibrant kits were quickly going out of fashion.

Now tone was king, and Tama knew exactly what they were after. They were right on cue. Plus, you can now get walnut blends for more rumble and low-end thickness. 

Of course, the Starclassic wouldn’t be complete without bubinga.

Introduced to the market by Tama in 2006, bubinga is a high-density wood that produces a deep, fat low-end sound with dark tones. In keeping with Starclassic form, the bubinga shells were crafted even thinner to make sure that full resonance was achieved. No mean feat!

Just over a decade after the first Starclassic, the Starclassic Bubinga has carved its own world in the drum market and has been played by incredible drummers such as Matt Gartska. 

Shop now | Tama Starclassic drum kits


Philosophy – ‘Targeted Design’

Tama S.L.P. drum kit Sound. Lab. Project. What a name, right?! A release of snare drums started this line, with Tama’s dedicated team of R&D engineers fine-tuning each aspect of the drum to make something wholly Tama. 

The aim of the S.L.P. series is to move away from the usual changes of snare drum design – which are usually just shell material and size – and head into the world of hardware, hoops, snare wires, finishes, and lug designs.

Plus, when coming up with the range, Tama wanted each product name to be a true representation of their craftsmanship.

Everything is designed from the ground up on these drums.  

Released in 2013, the S.L.P. series took a good amount of time to put together. But since its release, it has represented Tama’s ability to create and innovate.

Just look at the lugs on the Tama SLP 14” x 6.5” Dynamic Kapur Snare Drum or the finish and hardware of the Tama SLP 14 x 6” G-Kapuroof! 

The S.L.P. line now consists of drum kits too. Taking the philosophy implemented through their snare designs, Tama have created full kits that embody this very approach, using woods like spruce, hickory, and kapur for gorgeous, musically rich drum kits.

Check out the bass drum spurs on the S.L.P. Fat Spruce 20” 3pc Shell Pack for some classic design. 

If there’s a competition for a product that showcases Tama’s craftsmanship the most, I’m putting Sound Lab Project drums in the hat 100%!  

Tama SLP Fat Spruce Spurs 

Shop now | Tama S.L.P. Drum Kits 

Final thoughts

I hope after this, you can’t help but admire Tama’s innovation, dedication, and quality throughout their lines. Even though we’ve only gone through three series of their catalogue, you can be assured that each has a philosophy behind it that drives design, manufacturing, and finishing decisions from the get-go.  

From the miserable beginnings of guitar manufacturing to seeing the true light of drums and making them their own, Tama have set themselves apart through perseverance and originality. They listen to the market and the players to see what people are after from their instrument. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, you can’t go wrong with a Tama, whichever the series. 

If this has piqued your interest in Tama, check out their products and see what makes each kit so special. 


Content Writer - Drums

With almost 6 years of drum related experience - professional playing from bars to festivals and recording - Myles' passion for the drums started with the famed Cadbury's gorilla advert. Hearing that dunun, dunun, dunun, dunun, dun-dun has since guided him through higher education, music school and Bachelor's and Masters degrees, focusing on creating and capturing a great drum sound. He is most likely to be found in a YouTube hole or gigging with his function band Citrus Funk.



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