The Truth Behind Tama's Move to China


Silver Member
Posted on behalf of TAMA's U.S.A. Division Manager, Terry Bissette...

After reading an incredible number of comments (both positive and negative) about the “Tama goes to China” topic, I feel it’s time to set the record straight. We really appreciate all the comments and passion for Tama that is being expressed here and abroad. And we also respect everyone’s opinion about this sensitive and somewhat controversial subject. That being said, if you would please allow me to explain, I would appreciate the opportunity to take you “behind the scenes.” All I ask is that you read this in its entirety so you can fully understand the dynamics and timeline of the situation. Before I start, please understand that everything I say will be based on fact. Nothing more, nothing less. I won’t be mixing in any “political spin” here. What I will tell you is the real deal. Factual information. There is quite a bit of misinformation and/or misunderstandings being posted out there in web-world, hopefully this will set the record straight. Many of you have already posted “the right answers”, and for that I thank you! But still, some things need to be clarified.

So, let’s get into the nitty gritty- One might ask “Why in the world did Tama go to China?”

The simple answer: To cut costs and make high quality drums at more affordable prices. Prices that the average drummer can afford and feel good about their purchase. We wanted to make our high quality drums even more accessible to the drummers of the world by lowering the price points. With this goal in mind, fewer drummers would have to “settle” for a less than adequate instrument, based on price alone.

The more complex answer: We had to go, to stay competitive. When you take a broad look at the global drum market, we’re one of the absolute last brands to make this tough decision. Whether you know it or not, select Ludwig, Gretsch, DDrum, Pacific, Sonor, Premier, Yamaha, Pearl, Mapex, OCDP, and dozens of other brands you know and love have been made in China for the last 7 to 15 years. Not every kit in every series, mind you. But the vast majority of their lineup. A few specific series within the brands listed above are still made in the USA, Taiwan, UK, or Mexico. However, one may be surprised to know, in some cases, multiple brand names are made in the very same OEM factory. (More on that another day. OEM = Original Equipment Manufacturer). The questions to ask yourself: Is there anything wrong with any of those drums? Is their quality level acceptable for the prices paid? If they are so “bad” or “inferior” just because they are made in China, why do they keep selling by the truckloads?

Anyway, we at Tama chose not to go the same route. We wanted to have 100% control, we wanted to make sure that if we put our name on the product, it had to match our standards. We knew for that to happen, we had to build them ourselves. We didn’t want to hand some “hired gun” factory a blueprint and say “Here you go, build them like this, we’ll be back tomorrow with a truck, some Tama badges, and Tama boxes.” So for the most part, the decision was made to take a very bold step. We decided to build our own factory. We started this venture in 2002.

Fact: We own our own factory in Guangzhou China: We built it from the ground up, one brick at a time. We moved a number of our most highly skilled Japanese craftsmen to China to train the local workers how to build drums “The Tama way.” These Japanese craftsmen live in Guangzhou, they do not live in Japan and simply visit once in a while to spot-check. They are an integral part of the daily staff, working “elbow to elbow” alongside the local crew. They adhere to the most stringent quality control standards, the very same ones we use in Japan. You may or may not be surprised to know we operated the factory at our own expense for well over a year making blanks (test shells), before we ever shipped one drum into the market. We wanted to make sure our Chinese production quality level was an exact match to the Japanese factory standards. The same exact standards we built our reputation on.

Fact: Quality is key: The first series we made in China was Superstar. After this series was critically acclaimed and well accepted by the market, we slowly transitioned our Starclassic B/B drums to Chinese production. Originally, all B/B kits were made only in Japan. In the first year of transition, some colors were made only in Japan. Other colors were made only in China. Eventually, the entire B/B product line was shifted to China. The end result was…Uh, well… nobody noticed... Sure, a few folks asked “Why doesn’t my badge say Made In Japan anymore?” The obvious answer- Because it’s not. The big question: “Does it look and sound as good as it should as a Tama product, though it’s now made in China?” Overwhelmingly, the response has been “Yes!” Sales on B/B kits are flying! If the quality wasn’t there, and the price wasn’t right, no one would buy it… Agreed?

Fact: The economy affected us all: Once we felt the quality was 10000% the same as Japan, we decided to slowly move some of the other high-end kits to China. And in some respects, timing couldn’t have been better. Though this planned move had been discussed years before, the world’s economic shift escalated our timeline. Before we knew it, the economy had started to collapse. In some ways, we had to wonder, was this “a sign” to move forward? The end result was, we were able bring Japanese quality level drums into the market for hundreds (or thousands, depending on the size of your kit) of dollars cheaper than they once were. One might ask, is this such a bad thing?

Fact: The Tama Japan factory is not closed: By all means, the Japanese factory is still up and running! We are not closing it down. They continue to make Bubinga Elite, Omni-Tune, select Artist Kits (though many are made in China now), Limited Edition kits, Signature Palette Snare drums, Starphonic Snare drums, Tama original percussion such as Octobans, Timp Toms, Gong Bass, etc. It also remains our world headquarters, and that’s where we come up with new ideas and new product designs.

Fact: Japanese drums can still be ordered: Some of you still want the Japanese drums, made in Japan, with 2009 (and earlier) specs. They are totally available! (see page 6 of current price sheet). If you want an entire kit, or an add-on drum for an older kit, and you want the decal badge and wooden grommets, all you have to do is order it. It should be noted, as with all of our top tier drums, we make each and every drum to order. One shell at a time, by hand, piece by piece. Of course, this approach adds quite a bit of lead time to the delivery date, but most people think it’s worth the wait. We do not make “cookie cutter, stamp them out, stack them on a shelf” drums. Each one is hand made with TLC.

Fact: We make all add-on drums conform to the original spec: If you are adding a drum to a kit that was originally made in Japan, the add-on drum will also be made in Japan. If you are adding a drum to a kit that was originally made in China, the add-on drum will also be made in China. This will guarantee a perfect match, as we stock different parts and fittings in the two different factories.

Thanks for hearing me out! Best regards, Terry Bissette

There is no truth in business, only spin and stock values