Building the Yamaha Billy Cobham Signature Snare Drum

Well gentle readers, it's been awhile since my last post, but now that 2018 is here, I'm ready to roll! Being an artist, and a man who likes to work with his hands, I’ve managed to build more than a few drum kits from scratch, as well as several snare drums. To date, I’ve restored 2 vintage 14” x 5.5” Gretsch maple snare drums; a 14” x 5” Ddrum birch snare; a Yamaha 14” x 6” Mahogany Rock Tour snare; and a 14” x 5.5” Mapex maple snare drum. Finding parts on ebay, adding new wraps from Jammin’ Sam in Arizona, and new Evans drum heads have breathed new life into these aged beauties.

Being a fan of drummer Billy Cobham, I always dreamt of owning one of his Yamaha Signature snare drums, however they are now discontinued and the $1000 price tag for this collector’s item now seemed a bit much. Having previously built all of these snare drums, I wondered; Could I actually make my own Cobham signature snare from scratch? To quote the Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks, “I think I could…”

Cobham’s Yamaha Signature snare was a 14" x 6", 6 ply maple drum; That’s thinner than most snares and not particularly easy to find, as most Keller VSS shells come in a thicker or thinner ply, like 5, 7, 8, or 9, and smaller or larger depths, like 14” x 5.5”, or 14” x 6.5”. Fortunately both drumMaker and Precision Drum could make them to order.

Cobham’s signature snare drums came in either a Silver Sparkle, or Black wrap, so I decided on the Silver Sparkle version. A quick call to Jammin’ Sam for a 14” x 6” JS Sparkle wrap was in order; With all the tools, clamps, drills, bits, and a template from drumMaker already at my disposal, it was now time for the fun part; identifying and acquiring the authentic parts to this discontinued, classic drum…

In order to faithfully build this snare drum, I needed to gather the rest of the authentic Yamaha parts. They weren’t easy to find, but I patiently combed ebay, Salt City Drums, Drum Factory Direct, Drum Center of Portsmouth, Lone Star Percussion, and Reverb to assemble them all. I already had an old Yamaha tom that I was able to strip twelve Absolute lugs from, so I only needed to get an additional 4 lugs from Salt City Drums. A complete list of all parts I needed to find and gathered are listed here:

14” x 6”, 6 Ply Maple Shell with Snare Bed and Bearing Edges
14” x 6” JS Silver Sparkle Wrap and Chrome Vent
Yamaha XH8 14” 8 Lug, 19 Ply Vintage Wood Hoop Snare Top
Yamaha X8HS 14” 8 Lug, 19 Ply Vintage Wood Hoops Snare Bottom
16 Yamaha U0031051 Lugs
16 Yamaha U0035660 5mm x 14mm Hexagonal Lug Bolts
16 Yamaha 50mm Tension Rods
Gibraltar 14” Extended 20 Strand Snare
2 Yamaha U0200350 Snare Guide Assemblies
Yamaha U0200970 Adjustable Snare Butt
Yamaha U0201211 Snare Throwoff-Strainer
14” Evans G2 Snare Batter Head
14” Evans Snare Side 200 Head
2” x 2” PlaqueMaker Brass Replica Yamaha Badge

I'd already converted my 14" x 6", 8 Ply Yamaha Rock Tour snare to resemble Cobham's black snare, with Gibraltar wood hoops, faux Yamaha taillight lugs from WorldMax, and a basic Yamaha strainer. It sounded good, but it wasn't in the same league as a real Cobham snare; For one thing it was an 8 Ply drum; 6 Ply Mahogany with 2 Ply Ash, and had 10 lugs instead of 8. I had recently recorded a few tunes with it at 25th Street Recording in Oakland, and as nice as it was, I could tell it wasn't a maple snare. I needed a snare that was more versatile; I needed the warmth, the sustain and the depth that could only come with 6 Ply maple using the best Yamaha parts.

So, with all of parts gathered, it’s time to put all the authentic pieces together to create that Yamaha Billy Cobham Signature snare drum sound! It was a little tricky to find a 14" x 6", 6 Ply maple shell; There were tons of 14" x 6"maple shells to be had, 5, 7, 9, etc; but not 6 Ply.  Fortunately for me, Andy Foote of drumMaker was able to help. I placed an order for a Keller VSS shell and I was good to go. When it finally arrived, I got to work on it right away. I laid out all of the lines for the Yamaha Absolute lugs, and drilled the pilot holes the lug nuts. Next, I added the JS Silver Sparkle wrap from Jammin' Sam, and installed the Yamaha lugs. With the holes all drilled, I added the last of the Yamaha hardware; the Yamaha strainer wires, throw-off, adjustable butt and extended roller guides; Perhaps the most challenging part of the entire project. The only thing left was the Yamaha Vintage wooden hoops and the Evans snare heads. After a bit of tuning, the sound of that maple shell began to reveal itself; Crispy, yet warm; bright and woody- Just as Cobham intended. Really looking forward to performing and recording with it, and adding it to the rest of my kit...:)