Drum Head Information

There are many options for goat skins for your djembe. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to which goat skin to use. The skin that produces the sound you are looking for is the right skin. This article will discuss the characteristics of the generally available goat skins to help guide you in your purchase.

Goat skins from Africa generally come from Ghana, Guinea, Mali or the Ivory Coast. It is also quite common to get skins from Indonesia or Pakistan. Adding to the varying options are factors such as the goat gender, shaved or hairy, thickness, scarring and chemical treatment.

Goat Skin Options

Guinea Goat Skins are strong and usually thin. Thin heads produce a nice high pitch for a great slap tone. They tend to lack the lower notes or frequencies. These skins are well suited for ashiko drums where you want a good “crack” when playing off the rim of the drum.

African skins are more work to replace but give you much more variety

African goat skins are more work to replace but give you much more variety.

Many djembe players also like these heads because they can be tuned very tightly for a higher pitched drum. Higher pitched drums will cut through and stand out in a large drum circles.

Ivory Coast goat skins tend to be more flexible and easier on your hands. This flexibility also results in a slightly more muted sound, or less ring. They usually produce a lower tone because they tend to be thicker than other goat skins from Africa. If you like lower tones, less sharpness and not so much after ring, this would be a good head for you.

Mali and Ghana goats skins are very much like skins from the Ivory Coast in terms of overall characteristics.

Machine cut and shaved - Usually much thinner

Pakistan skins are usually machine cut and shaved - They are much thinner than the African goat skins.

Pakistan goat skins are very different from African skins.
They are chemically treated and highly processed. The one advantage to this is they are very easy to work with because they become very pliable when soaked for fitting. They are also much more uniform in thickness which helps produce a better sound. One thing that is very noticeable is they do not have a gamey or animal smell. Skins from Africa tend to smell, especially male skins. Pakistan goat skins can be obtained in a variety of thicknesses from paper thin to extra heavy. These skins are usually white and cleaner looking.

Other Factors to Consider…

Imperfections in the skin may not affect the sound or durability of the head. However, they can introduce an eventual failure point. Imperfections include bug bites, scrapes from shaving and whip marks. It is a good idea to stay away from these imperfections. When buying a drum head on-line, make sure they have a good return or exchange policy.

Goat Gender – Male goat skins tend to have a thicker spine resulting in less consistency in thickness across the entire head. Female spine thickness is more consistent with the remainder of the head and thus more preferred.

Shaved heads are common because they produce a more open round tone. Hairy heads are great for Djun Djuns (double headed African Drums) where you need extra durability and tone control when striking the drum with a stick.

Purchasing a goat skin for your djembe may appear to be a complicated process. But the bottom line is, unless you are a professional player searching for a specific feel and sound, your selection is not that critical. Select a head based on color and thickness. Choose a thin head for high bright sound and thicker head for a lower, darker tone.

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