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Selecting Replacement Bongo Heads

by Kurt Rassmussen

It's largely a matter of personal choice when deciding on what type of heads to use on your bongo. The choices are pretty straight forward; hand tucked rawhide flat skins, pre-fitted mountable rawhide or pre-fitted mountable synthetic. You can also mix and match, and we'll discuss that later.

When selecting a rawhide skin for tucking, hold a skin to the light and inspect for uniform thickness and quality.

Flat Skins

When choosing a flat head it is very important to pick (or buy) one with the right thickness. To judge the thickness of a skin look at its edge. Usually, the macho skin (small head) will be thinner than the hembra (large head).  After examining for thickness, hold the skin up to a light.  You want there to be, for the most part, a uniformity of light showing through the skin. Holding the skin up to a light also gives you an opportunity to inspect the skin for blemishes. 

Pre-fitted Rawhide & Synthetic Skins

If you are not able to select your own skin, or you'd simply rather one that you are guaranteed is expertly tucked, then LP may have the solution.  LP has simplified the problem of selecting and tucking heads by having their experts hand pick skins & tucking them so they'll perfecting fit your LP drum. LP offers natural and synthetic pre-fitted heads.

Many players prefer to use pre-fitted heads for some obvious reasons. First, you do not have to spend your time tucking the head and second, replacing the heads is immediate because you don't need to wait for the heads to dry. Even if you prefer tucking your own heads, it is a good idea to carry pre-fitted skins just in case a skin breaks at the inopportune moment.

Synthetic heads have become more popular.  Many players are opting for synthetic heads. Synthetic heads are smooth to the touch & generally have a little less warmth than rawhide heads.  Synthetic heads are very useful for players who live in humid or changing climate.  Unlike rawhide heads, weather has little effect on synthetic ones.   Although you can leave the synthetic heads tuned, it is advisable to de-tune after playing so to reduce the stress that is put on the drum shell and tuning lugs.

With natural skins, extreme weather situations can effect the sound of the bongo and also make tuning difficult. Temperature effects the head & hence, pitch.  The hotter the temperature the tighter the head becomes & hence, higher the pitch. The cooler the temperature the looser the head becomes & hence, lower the pitch. As you can imagine, these type of weather conditions can make tuning very tedious!  Yet rawhide heads yield the warmest tones & a pleasurable textural feel.

Some players may combine synthetic & rawhide heads, using, for instance, a synthetic head on the macho (male) drum (small drum) and a natural head on the hembra (female). I have also seen the opposite.  Have fun experimenting - search for that sound, or sounds, which most speaks to you.



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