Bongo Drums Buying Guide

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Bongo Drums Buying Guide
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Bongo Drums Buying Guide

When one hears the chaotic beauty of syncopated Latin rhythms, one of the percussive sources is likely to be a set of bongo drums. For relatively small percussion instruments, these hand drums can bellow rich and crisp beats when they are struck properly. Bongo drums seem like relatively simple musical instruments, with skin draped over the top of a wooden or fiberglass shell. However, high-quality bongo drums are constructed precisely, and any imperfections can result in inferior sound. Quality can therefore vary quite a bit from one set of bongos to the next. This bongo drums buying guide describes the elements that go into a high-quality set of bongo drums. It also clearly defines bongo drums, as some confusion about what exactly bongo drums are has arisen with respect to this type of drum’s overwhelming popularity as a set of hand drums. Lastly, this guide presents a few pointers on what to look for in bongo drums when purchasing a set of them. This information should help readers successfully buy bongo drums that they can thump for years to come.

What to Know About Bongo Drums

This section covers a few things to know about bongo drums. It provides a definition for bongo drums, it points out where some drums receive incorrect nomenclature, it recounts a brief history of bongo drums, and it details the construction materials for high-quality bongo drums.

Defining Bongo Drums

Bongo drums are a pair (and sometimes a trio) of small drums that are designed to be played by hand. One drum is slightly larger than the other is, and the two drums are joined together. Other hand drums, such as congas and djembes, are often mischaracterized as bongos. It is important to understand that bongos are a specific variety of drums. The diameters of the drums in a pair of bongos are either eight inches for the larger and seven inches for the smaller, or seven inches for the larger and six inches for the smaller. In Spanish, the larger drum is called the "hembra," meaning female, and the smaller drum is called the "macho," meaning male. Bongos are usually made from wood and with rawhide heads stretched over them, though a variety of different materials can be used to construct them.


Bongos came out of Cuba’s Oriente region, on the eastern portion of the island, in the 19th century. Considered an Afro-Cuban instrument, the drums are believed to have arrived in Cuba from Africa as a result of the slave trade, though no one knows for sure where in Africa the bongos actually originated. Other drums resembling the bongo are still played across the African continent, with ceramic bongos going north to the Middle East and east to Asia and wooden ones crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Cubans applied tuning hardware to the instrument, giving rise to the modern bongo as it is recognized throughout the world today.

Bongos arrived in the Cuban capital of Havana, on the western side of the island, in the early 20th century. Jazz musicians and popular music producers discovered Afro-Caribbean rhythms coming out of the island’s main city soon after that and the bongos quickly rose to world renown as Havana’s rhythms made an impact on popular music and jazz throughout the world.

Bongo Construction

The table below points out the different parts of bongo drums, the role that each part plays in the drums, and the materials from which the parts are generally made.





The drummer strikes the head to generate percussive sound.

Raw animal hide

Bearing Edge

The drum head makes contact with the shell at the bearing edge.

Hardwood or fiberglass


The rim is the upper part of the tuning apparatus.



The shell is the hollow percussive vessel of the bongo.

Hardwood or fiberglass

Center Block

The center block joins together the two (or three) drums in a bongo set.

Hardwood or fiberglass

Tuning Ring

The tuning ring at the bottom allows the drum to be tuned for crisp and full sound.


Lugs or Hooks

The lugs, or hooks, connect the tuning ring on the bottom to the rim on the top.


Siam oak is one of the best woods to use in the construction of bongo drums. It lasts a long time, has a very sleek look, and gives a warm tone to the percussions, especially when it is paired with a head made from white buffalo skin. Steel is the best material for the metal parts of the drum, as aluminum can more easily bend and distort.

Buying Bongo Drums

When buying bongo drums, care should be taken to make sure that the drums are constructed from high-quality materials and that the parts are fitted together the way that they should be. This section provides a few key points to cover in order to ensure the purchase of good bongo drums.


As mentioned previously, steel is the ideal material for the lugs, the tuning ring, and the rim pieces that comprise the hardware. Aluminum can be acceptable, but only if the company using it is a reputable one, such as Latin Percussion, Tycoon Percussion, or Toca, since it is more likely to use higher quality parts in its bongo drums. All of the hardware parts should also fit together well.


The best bongo drums are constructed from Siam oak, but other hardwoods are fine as well. The most important thing is to make sure that the shells have no cracks or gaps in them. Fiberglass is also a perfectly suitable material for the shell, but softwoods can give poor sound. Buyers should check the categorization of the type of wood that is used in the shell if they are unsure about whether it is hard or soft.


The head is the most difficult part to judge for quality. The sound that one hide produces can differ greatly from the sound that another makes. The only way to know how a particular hide sounds is to play the drum. The surface of the head should be smooth with a slight sheen to it. Off-color hides are also good because it means that they have not been treated with bleach, a process that tends to sap the hide’s strength. The last thing is to make sure that the hide fits tightly and evenly to the bearing edge. There should be no gaps or rumples in it at all.

Where to Buy Bongo Drums

Those who want to shop locally for bongo drums may be able to find them at a nearby musical instrument store. Unless the store specializes in percussion instruments though, it is unlikely that it will carry a large selection of bongo drums. On the other hand, shop employees at musical instrument stores tend to be good sources of advice for the instruments that the shop sells, so customers that need personalized assistance are likely to find it when they shop for bongo drums at a local musical instrument store.

Although it may be hard to find a local retailer that offers a broad selection of bongo drums, there are a handful online that have vast stocks. These online retailers may be located far from most of their customers, but they can still process orders around the clock and send bongo drums to people located across the country, making it as convenient (if not more so) to shop for bongo drums online as it is to buy them in a local store. Online retailers can also answer customers’ questions over the phone, by email, and via instant messenger services to help them decide which bongo drums to purchase.

It is also possible to buy used bongo drums at a substantial discount. These might be listed in classified ads on musical instrument forums and on local classified ads websites, though the selection of bongo drums that is available is inconsistent. This means that buyers who want to purchase used bongo drums via classified ads will likely have to be patient to find ones with which they will be happy. Furthermore, buyers using this channel have to know how to properly evaluate a bongo drum to ensure that they are making a good purchase

How to Buy Bongo Drums on eBay

Those who looking for a large selection of bongo drums from an online source can check eBay. The site has a vast stock of these instruments for sale and it is easy to find high-quality bongo drums there. There are also many sellers that offer free shipping, which is a good way to save money on your purchase.

Finding Bongo Drums on eBay

Go to eBay’s homepage to start your search for bongo drums. Once you have arrived there, enter the term "bongo drums" into the search bar and click Search. This will return all of the items for sale on eBay that are related to that search term. To narrow your search to bongo drums specifically to the types of items that you are seeking, consider using the categorical search filters provided by eBay. This will display the bulk of the bongo drums that are for sale on eBay. It is also possible to search for a particular brand of bongo drums, such as Latin Percussion bongo drums, and then to drill down to get a listing that mainly includes the bongo drums that you want.

Free Shipping

One way to save money on a set of bongo drums is to buy them from a seller that provides free shipping. To find sellers that offer free shipping on bongo drums, first pull up a listing of these drums and then select the Free shipping option from the show only menu. This will filter the list for sellers that are offering free shipping, and you can spend a little bit less by choosing to purchase your bongo drums from one of these sellers.


If they are not the most popular hand drums in the world, bongo drums are certainly among the most popular. They can be high-quality percussion instruments in a simple form, so scrutinizing this simplicity for signs of integrity and fidelity is of the utmost importance to successfully purchasing bongo drums. This bongo drums buying guide has given a few key pointers as to what buyers should look for when they are considering buying a particular set of bongo drums. It has also detailed the parts that go into assembling bongo drums, indicating which materials make for a quality instrument. This guide has also clearly defined bongo drums and has recounted the instrument’s history to avoid any confusion as to what exactly a set of bongo drums is. It can be easy to wind up with inferior bongo drums, or even the wrong type of drums completely, so the information in this guide should help readers to successfully buy high-quality bongo drums. Learning to play bongo drums is another chapter, but one that is much more enjoyable when the learner has crisp and deep-sounding set of bongo drums.

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