How do I choose a good hand drum?
What should I look for when I am ready to purchase a drum?
- Find one that YOU like!
- Check the skin for tears. Look under the ropes around the rings!
- Feel the rim where the skin touches the drum. It should be smooth and well rounded.
- Check the rings that hold the skin on. They should be equal in size and stacked precisely on top of each other. Also they should be nearly snug to the drum shell, meaning that there should be only about the width of a pencil between the drum body and the rings.
- Check the drum shell for cracks.
- Look inside of the bottom of the drum. Is it smooth or rough? Both are acceptable but smooth and well finished will usually be a better quality (and a bit more money).
- While you’re at the bottom of the drum stick your arm in there and feel around where the bowl of the drum is connected to the base to be sure it feels solid. (Hint, You should be able to put your hand through the smallest part of that area. This is what determines your bass tones. I personally use my fist as a guide because I like a deep rich bass).
- Also hold the drum up to a strong light and look at the head through the bottom. See any holes or scratches or weak spots?
- Refer to #1.
Look for drums laced with good quality alpine climbing rope and not just heavy string.
If you’re looking at synthetic drums, generally they are all pretty good but you may end up with some overtones that you can’t do anything about.
The advantages are that there weatherproof, light, sturdy and easy to tune. By all means check them out and if you’re happy, your drum will be happy too.
Does it matter where the drum is made?
Some of the best instruments in the world are no longer made in their country of origin. However, there are differences that are worth mentioning that the buyer should know.
Drums from Africa, especially Mali, can be heavier.
Lighter drums are just easier to handle.
Drums from Indonesia and Ghana tend to be lighter.
Drums from Indonesia are generally less expensive because there is less manual labor involved in making them. This appeals to some drummers because you can get a fair sounding drum for less money than a drum from Africa.
If you want an authentic Djembe, then purchase from the country of origin. Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Gambia, West Africa.
Many other countries produce quality goblet or djembe-style drums, although technically, they are not Djembe.
Are wooden Drums better than pvc, plastic or fiberglass drums?
I prefer drums constructed of wood. A drum built from wood is more authentic, produces a richer more rounded or colorful sound.
Drums made of pvc, plastic or fiberglass will often have a thin, tinny or ringy sound but they tend to be more durable because they also usually have plastic heads.
PVC drums can also be very light, which has its advantages.
Different woods produce different sounds.
It’s hard to know what type of wood you are going to prefer. This really just requires you to play a lot of drums.
Some woods from Africa are very hard and subsequently very heavy. This does not mean they will sound better.
Lighter drums are easier to handle and thus you are less likely to damage them.
Mahogany makes a very fine wood for drums.
Mahogany is a relatively stable wood, does not weigh a lot and is dense enough to produce a nice open sound. This is why many drum set manufacturers build drum shells with Mahogany.
Mahogany is also often plantation grown which is an important environmental aspect.
What should you listen for?
Listen for open, deep bass tones and a nice sharp crack when slapped.
Look for a drum that’s easy for you to play. You should not have to use a full force blow to extract a nice tone.
The drum should sound good or respond at all volume levels.
The tone should have a nice sustain without strange overtones or pitch shifts/bends. If you do encounter these symptoms, they can sometimes be corrected with tuning. They can also be the result of a poor quality head or an uneven bearing edge.
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