Information about drum construction.

Drums can be made of many different materials. All the materials have different sound characteristics.  I think the craftsmanship of the drum has as much to do with the sound quality as the type of wood.

The Authentic Djembe

This drum originated in West Africa and almost all djembes are constructed using the same basic goblet shape. The goblet shape is great for producing thunderous bass tones as well as crisp high pitches.

The most common drum size is about 22-24 inches tall with a head diameter of 11 – 14 inches across. The drum head, usually calf or goat skin, is traditionally fastened with ropes and steel rings. Ropes are tightened to raise the pitch of the drum. The ropes used to tune a drum is usually stretch resistant braided nylon (mountain climbing rope). An alternative method to tuning is to use metal rings with metal lugs or bolts; these most often have a synthetic skin. This type of drum head tension system is tuned using a wrench.

Generally speaking, the larger the drum head, the lower the drum tone. The tuning also determines what pitches your drum will produce. The height of the drum generally has a lesser impact on the sound. However, to maintain proper proportions, larger head sizes require taller drums. You won’t often find a 20 inch tall drum with a 14 inch head.

Materials Used to Build a Drum

Drums such as the djembe from Africa are traditionally carved from a single piece of wood. Types of common wood are African mahogany, iroko, masona and lenge. Drums from Indonesia are usually carved from mahogany.

Some manufacturers are now constructing from plastics such as PVC and carbon fibers. These drums can sound OK and tend to be very light weight. Plastic or composite drums tend to be brighter in sound but also lack the tonal warmth of wood. These are great for backpacking, parades and durability in inclement weather.

Some drums are completely hand carved and others are turned on a lathe. Both practices are acceptable. I say this because a hand carved drum produced by someone who does not know what they are doing will produce nothing more than a log with a goat skin on one end. These are sometimes referred to as tourist drums. They make nice decoration or end tables but you seldom get any acceptable sound from them. Yes there are always exceptions.

The drum head is usually made of shaved goat skin. See the article on Drum Heads for more information on the characteristics of different types of goat skins.

There are synthetic or plastic heads available. These heads are much more stable or unaffected by changes in humidity. These heads also tend to be sharper or brighter sounding. They also tend to lack to the warmth of a natural goat skin.

Drums can be made of many different materials. All the materials have different sound characteristic. We think the craftsmanship of the drum has more to do with the sound quality than the type of wood.

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