Yamaha has always been adventurous with shell materials. In the past it has reintroduced beech and oak to its upmarket kits and used all sorts of woods in its budget kits.
This time we have a real composite job, a cocktail of Philippines mahogany and falkata with a double outer ply of oak or a single outer ply of birch.
This was the first time that oak has been used on a budget kit and the review kit looked decidedly cool with its matt Raven Black oak shells and matching Nouveau lugs.
What is noticeable about the oak finish is that it is not sanded to the glassy sheen that is common on most drums. Instead the broad leafed grain is left textured to the touch. It gives the drums an appealing rugged vibe.
However, if you prefer a more conventional finish then you can opt for one of five birch colours, which are glossy and smooth, and also have an attractive grain. All the shells are eight-ply and are made in Indonesia using Yamaha's patented Air Seal system.
The inner ply is Phillipines mahogany and is laid vertically - unusual for Yamaha, but there is the argument that a vertical ply causes less interference with the sound waves travelling up and down the shell.
It's your choice...
You can choose from four shell configurations, all at the same price. Each kit includes a matching 14"x5½" wood shell snare drum and 700 Series hardware.
There's just one 20" bass drum kit which has 10"x8" and 12"x9" universal mounted toms with a 14"x14" floor tom. The other three kits all have 22"x17" bass drums.
The review kit, for example, had the same 10"x8" and 12"x9" mounted toms but with a 16"x16" floor tom. The remaining two kits have either 10" and 12" mounted toms with a mounted 14" power tom, or 12" and 13" mounted toms with the 16" floor tom.
Aside from the shells, the really big innovation is the Nouveau lug. These are funky little fellas made out of Fibre Reinforced Composite (FRC), an extremely tough glass-fibre material.
Nouveau lugs were first introduced on Yamaha's top line Absolute series, but those were metal castings. By using synthetic lugs on the Stage Custom Yamaha have apparently shaved the price by almost £100.
Nouveau lugs are quite different from standard lugs because you can remove them from the shell. Each lug hooks over a single bolt-post and it's the bolt that's attached to the shell, not the lug itself.
In order to remove a head you just have to slacken each tension rod rather than completely remove it. This loosens the lug on its post so that you can flip it off.
Once all the lugs are loose then the whole assembly (head, rim and lugs with bolts) lifts off. So now you can change a head without having to extract the tension rods completely.
It's quicker than with normal lugs where you have to take every bolt right out. You still have to be careful, though, because a couple of turns too far and the lug itself can drop off its post and you find yourself scratching about trying to find it on the floor. Not recommended on a darkened stage.
As a result, it is advisable to hold on to the lug as you un-tighten it and the moment it comes loose from its post, move on to the next one.
As an added benefit, because the lugs 'float', there is also no need for the usual swivel nut insert. Instead, the tension bolt screws directly into the RFC casing.
This helps to hold the tuning better and it eliminates any likelihood of rattling, although we don't know if incidences of cross threading will increase. It's unlikely, but if it did happen - or if you lose a lug - Yamaha has thoughtfully included a spare with every drum.
It's a subtle thing but we do believe the FRC lugs have improved the Stage Custom's sound. The lugs weigh next to nothing, so the drums are lighter than ever and they seem to have gained a smidgen of extra projection.
While budget shells are not quite so thin (and thus resonant) as top line shells, the featherweight lugs cause minimal impedance and the kit rings out with a gloriously unfettered boom.
All the toms have fabulous attack, plenty of tuning range and bright tone. Another Yamaha idiosyncrasy is the 17" deep bass drum. This is an inch bigger than the old standard of 16" and an inch less then the increasingly common standard of 18".
Whatever the reason, 17" seems plenty deep enough and gives the required dark and rather flat sound if that's what you're after.
The lightweight lugs again reduce the drum's weight, which is always welcome with bass drums, and I found the kick to be really hard hitting and loud. Any drummer moving up to this set from his or her first kit should be overjoyed.
The snare drum has 10 double sets of lugs. Each pair is set on a black gasket with a similar gasket inside for strength and stability.
The snare strainer is a no-frills design, which is perfectly adequate, if not the smoothest lever you'll ever encounter. As is usual with budget kits, the snare drum is the least impressive sounding drum.
Tuning it low simply doesn't work, as the sound just becomes thick and crunchy. But if you wind the batter up to a higher tuning you get a sharp enough response. It's never going to have the finesse and sensitivity of a top quality drum, but it does have the warmth of a wood shell.
The two mounted toms are fitted with Yamaha's familiar YESS resonance isolation system. This is different from other manufacturers' mounts, which tend to follow the RIMS concept of attaching to the tension bolts/rims. The YESS mount is bolted to the actual shell at the nodal point of least shell interference.
This makes it probably the least bulky of all isolation systems and yet it appears to be sufficiently sturdy. W have certainly not heard any complaints there.
The 700 Series stands and pedals package is more than generous. The base tripods are single braced but are easily strong enough to withstand heavy use.
We can't see the need for double braced stands unless you're a heavy touring drummer or you have a massive kit where you need extra reach and therefore enhanced stability. You get not one but two cymbal stands.
Both feature clever 'disappearing' top sections so they will double as straight or boom stands. The bass and hi-hat foot boards are size 11s, perhaps recognising the fact that Western teenagers are getting bigger by the year.
Both pedals have standard chain drives with basic adjustments and again, should provide the user with years of active service.
The hardware is all superb stuff, made in Yamaha's Indonesian motorcycle factory - a facility which you can assume should know a thing or two about chains, rivets and sprockets.
With its matt black oak finish and matching lugs this is a distinctive looking kit and the textured oak finish gives the drums a rustic, ethnic flavour.