page is for those with questions about care and tuning
of the bongos. Send YOUR question to email@example.com
our funniest one yet:
Hello. My dog licks the skins on my bongo drums. Should
I be concerned? I think that maybe she is waiting for
me to go fishing and leave the drums behind at the campsite,
but I'm not sure since she hasn't yet learned English.
Any tips would be appreciated!
Dear Rich: this means your dog has natural talent. Seek
a bongo teacher for her immediately. LOL..
Q: How do I put a new head, a new skin on my conga or bongo
A: Click here for instructions.
Q: Tell me about tuning.
A: Tune your (natural skin) bongos up before playing
them, and down again when you're finished. If you don't, the
weather may change quickly, and cause the heads to contract
and split. Many of us have learned this the hard way. It's usually
the macho head rather than the hembra. When tightening your
heads, go about a quarter turn at a time, moving around the
lugs clockwise to tighten, and counter-clockwise to loosen after
playing. Keep a close eye on evenness, especially at the
beginning, watching to ensure that the lugs are evenly
tightened. If you turn the drum upright and place it on a very
flat surface, you will be able to tell if one or more lugs are
uneven. Tighten the drum up gradually, but rather than listening
for a particular pitch, go for a feel. Use your ears; listen
carefully and critically. The macho (male, or smaller)
head will start to have a "pop" to it at one point,
it sings, the tone seems to emerge effortlessly with a touch.
(Note: Use caution if you're not sure.
We won't replace the head for you if you miss the spot and tighten
it until it breaks. ) The hembra is approximately a forth
below the macho, perhaps not quite as tight. Long ago, before
metal tuning lugs, when the heads were tacked on, the drums
were played looser, but nowadays, as a solo instrument in a
big amplified band, the pitch is much higher to increase projection
Q: Should I put anything on the heads?
Only if the heads feel really dry. Here's what you do: Put
a bit (about a quarter sized portion) of almond oil or any good
lotion with lanolin in the palm of your hand, then rub your
hands together, and rub the lotion or oil into the drum heads.
You can do this as often as the heads feel dry, to keep the
leather supple, and not brittle
Q: I have those little bongos with the tacked on heads.
How do I tune them?
A: Good question. The original bongo drums were like
this. You can put them in front of an oven or an open fire,
taking care not to put them so close that they burn. Players
of old also used that canned heat or other heat source, or put
the drums in the sun when possible. If you should want the drums
tuned a little lower, wet your hands, and rub the moisture gently
into the heads until you reach the desired looseness. These
tuning techniques will also work with most other fixed tension
(real skin) drums, such as tamborines, tars, etc.
Q: Are plastic heads any good?
A: It's a trade off, really. They don't have quite the
richness and wamth of a real skin head, but they do require
less maintenance, and are playable in all sorts of weather.
Even some pros like Karl and Raul of Santana use REMO heads
because of the extra projection and durability. The plastic
heads have a high pitched overtone, which bothers some folks,
but is not noticable in an amplified situation. It is
nice to have a drum that's impervious to the weather, but it's
also nice to have the richness and warmth of a real skin head.
Q: What about using X-ray film for the macho head?
I've heard they all do it in Cuba.
A: We have heard about it, but haven't tried
it. A kind visitor from Cologne, Germany writes: "It works
very well and saves lot of money, no need to change the pitch
high as possible is the best). As with the natural skins, two
persons are the best to get them on. Then slowly tune up in
small steps around, and listen to the sounds from the head.
When I experimented with it, I found out, that a small spot
from double gaffer-tape (about 2.5 cm) stuck in the middle from
the underside, makes the sound a little shorter (dry) and remains
of a very strong high pitched skin."