Jan 2018

Building the Mapex “Billy Cobham 20th Anniversary Custom Kit”

Mapex Cobham Ad_sm

In 1991, drummer Billy Cobham became one the newly formed, Mapex Drum Company's best known endorsements and consultants, between his previous deal with Tama Drums, and before he subsequently signed with Yamaha. Cobham was soon seen playing Mapex kits on tour with a variety of live acts: With Peter Gabriel, Terje Rypdal, Wayne Krantz and many others. A 1994 customized, Emerald Green Mapex kit that he once used with Gabriel was recently seen on eBay for a whopping $10,000, and listed a “Certificate of Authenticity” signed by Cobham himself. The CoA listed each drum, and even included a previously sold, nearly identical, Cherry Red Mapex kit that Cobham would also use whenever he needed to leap-frog from venue to venue to save time setting up his monster kit. That maple kit was a bit too pricey for me to say the least, and to be honest, I was never fond of how those vintage Mapex "low mass" drum lug and rod systems really looked. Nevertheless, Mapex had revolutionized the world of drums in the early '90s by coming up with a “low mass, single point” tom lug to minimize the vibrations that typical drum lugs and mounts employed. Mapex would ultimately eliminate the rods and change all of their drums with only the low mass lugs; a trend that even Yamaha, Ayotte and others use to this day.


Mapex "Low Mass" Lug

Cobham played maple drums from Mapex’ “celestial” series; Saturn, Orion, etc. Later, Mapex would add the Mars, Venus, and Voyager series. Cobham’s kit featured 5 power rack toms: 15”, 14”, 13”, 12” and 10”; 3 snare drums: 14” x 10”, 13” x 4”, 14” x 7”; 3 bass drums: 24", 22” and 20”, and two floor toms: 16” and 18”. After years of setting up his rack toms traditionally high to low, Cobham continued to experiment with yet another approach during his tenure with Mapex.


Cobham live with Peter Gabriel in 1994

With Tama, Cobham added multiple snare drums, triple bass drums, octobans, a gong drum and even a modular drum rack system. However it was while drumming with Mapex that Cobham began arranging his toms in what he called his “tonal array”. From his left to his right, Cobham ordered his rack toms in an alternating sizes; 15”, 13”, 14”, 12” and 10”, or 15”, 13”, 14” and 12”. Cobham’s open-handed patterns, and his desire to constantly evolve and grow, also challenged him to avoid the cliched high-to-low drum fills we’d all become accustomed to. Cobham has kept that unique approach to this day, using a 15”, 13”, 14”, 12” and 10” tom set up with a 16” and 18”, and occasionally adding a 12” snare, and 8” tom.


The hybrid Ddrum kit

I’ve already been experimenting with a similar set-up with my hybrid acoustic-electric Ddrums for some time; Re-wrapping them; adding new Evans blue hydraulic and coated heads, and a modular Gibraltar rack system. As you can imagine, breaking that kit down and moving it back and forth could be a challenge, so like Cobham and others, I’d keep the Ddrums at home, and decided to make a Mapex live and studio rig, with all the drum and hardware cases already assembled. The Ddrums looked gorgeous with their custom-made badges, new wraps, heads, and Gibraltar hardware, and since I’ll soon be going out on the road, something needed to be done. So, with my replica Yamaha Billy Cobham Signature Snare drum project awaiting more parts, I turned my attention to my assorted collection of orphaned Mapex drums. Cobbled together from finds on eBay, Craig’s List, Guitar Center and Reverb, my Mapex kit really needed a "MyDentity" makeover. Once again I looked to Cobham for inspiration and after discovering his history with Mapex, I thought about how to re-create his set-up, based on Cobham’s years with Mapex, Yamaha and Tama. Well, if Tama could make an anniversary kit for the great Simon Phillips, I could do the same for the Mapex/Cobham kit. I got my first Mapex drum back in 2011, which coincidently was about twenty years after Cobham and Mapex first got together; With that in mind, the idea of a commemorative, one-of-a-kind “Billy Cobham 20th Anniversary Custom Model” drum set really appealed to me...


The vintage Mapex and the "20th Anniversary" badges

My Ddrum kit also took some customizing and assembly, due to some of the sizes needed, so I was no stranger to what lay ahead. For the badges, I looked at the Mapex kits Cobham used; They had the classic Mapex 2” x 2”, black and gold, vented badges, seen on most of the surviving photos of those kits from that era, with the exception of his custom “U.S. Maple” kit he used with Peter Gabriel. That brass badge was 3” x 1.5”, however my Mapex kit wasn’t all maple and I didn’t find that badge all that attractive. Based on the aforementioned black and gold badge, and the Saturn and Mars badges, I decided to use that design, without the vent, featuring Cobham’s Yamaha Signature and the Mapex “Handcrafted in the U.S.A.” slogan. After a little bit of Photoshop, an order was placed to the folks at PlaqueMaker, and the new badge would be made. Next, it was time to assemble the rest of the drums I needed for the project.


Cobham live in Cannes, France 1989 

Since I decided that I would configure the Mapex kit just like Cobham’s modern drum set-up, I needed to do a little more research. To do that, I found his old profile on a Yamaha website, as well as his new one on the current Tama website. I also found Cobham’s equipment riders for his 2008 Spectrum 40 band, his European live bands, and his solo performances. While my replica Yamaha Cobham Signature snare being built, I seemed to recall that Cobham didn’t always use it live; (He doesn’t use it with Tama), and in researching his riders, I noticed that he always requested the now classic Yamaha 14” x 6.5”, SD-4106 brass snare. Well, those snares are are discontinued and hard to find, plus, this needed to be a Mapex. Now, which brass Mapex snare did Cobham use back in the day? Turns out he used an assortment of them, and in a wide variety of sizes. Mapex made a monstrous, 14” x 8” “Brass Master” snare that Cobham used quite a bit, before moving to smaller sizes. An 8” snare is too much for me, so I needed to find a brass snare comparable to the Yamaha. 


14" x 6.5" Mapex BR4665 with custom badge

Turns out there was; The Mapex BR4665. After a bit of a search, I finally found a brass 14” x 6.5” snare with matching low mass lugs. The only other drum I needed was the ever challenging 15” x 12” tom. Most drum companies offer your basic kit sizes; 22, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16 inch, shells. You’ll get the little 8”, and the big 18”, but the 15” is the exception. No worries; tons of folks make these out of the Keller maple, so I had one made. I managed to buy a bunch of low mass lugs on eBay, and got more wraps from Jammin’ Sam in Arizona. I'd already stripped a 12" x5” Pearl Firecracker snare of its hardware to make a new 12" x 5.5", and a Mapex MPX 14” x 5.5” snare, I decided to give them a chrome facelift from Sam too. Cobham once said that a great player can make almost any drum sound good, but it helps to add the best drum heads you can. I added the same heads Cobham uses; Evans G2, Hazy Snare Side 200, etc. With the drums assembled, I started thinking about the mounts. The Mapex L-Mounts were okay, but they weren’t suspension mounts. I’d had RIMS and Gibraltar systems before, and I happened to have one of Gibraltar's new Universal mounts, so I thought I'd give it a try. Unfortunately, the Mapex tom mount brackets didn't work with Gibraltar's system or any of the other suspension plates! The top plate holes didn't line up with Mapex's triangular configuration. It seemed I had only a few choices: Either get a new suspension system and mounts, or return to the original mounts and give up the whole idea of a suspension system. Actually, there was another alternative...


Mapex Maple 15" x 12" with Yamaha YESS Mount

While sifting through my containers of drum parts, I came across a Yamaha tom bracket and on a whim, I matched up to the holes on the Mapex shell. Surprisingly, they lined up perfectly! Now in recent years, Yamaha had incorporated their hexagonal toms brackets to their unique suspension system; "YESS". These new Yamaha mounts attached to the shell in only two places, with a stand-off on each bolt; Less intrusion on the shell and for much better resonance. These were also the same mounts used by Cobham on all of the Yamaha kits he played during his tenure with them. I'd managed to track down a bunch of Yamaha's "RK-TT" retrofit kits, so I was able to convert my old Yamaha brackets to YESS mounts; For now, the problem was solved. They weren't Mapex, but they definitely work. Well, if they were good enough Cobham...

Next, I delicately removed all of the various Mapex badges from the drums and cleaned away the residue to make way for the new, custom badges; Silver badge for the chrome snare, and gold for the brass snare and the rest of the drums. It was time to affix the new badges, new Evans drumheads, and  Yamaha TH904A tom mounts for the cymbal stands. The vintage Mapex "Billy Cobham 20th Anniversary Custom Kit" was now complete!

Mapex Kit-ES2

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...:)