Updated on December 15, 2016
Updated on December 15, 2016
RPT Percussions offers quality hand drums, custom carved handmade African djembe and talking drums. You can find Latin drums like congas and percussion to buy as well as Indian bongos, and native American frame drums. Check out the links to other music and percussion sites. A growing phenomenon is the frequency of drum circle events. We recognize the power and freedom in such events. The research behind drum/music and drum samples therapy can be found here. We have a page devoted entirely to quotes related to drumming.
Just as we have discussed earlier there are many materials used in drum making. The shell is the frame of the drum on which the head is mounted and from which much of the tonal quality is derived. Traditionally, drum bodies were fashioned from wood and plant material (trees, bamboo, gourds, calabash, and coconut shells), also stoneware and metal.
To use the example of the djembe again, the traditional way of making one is to carve it out of one piece of sold wood. The big disadvantage of this method is the tendency towards cracking. More recently drum makers have used choice pieces of wood glued together and milled down to the right shape. This way of making a shell is much the same as how a wooden barrel is made from staves. These shells have a tendency to be strong and sound great.
Laminating thin veneers of wood together into a hoop is another way shells have been made. This veneer approach works well for the drum set type of drums, bodhrans or for Native American Frame Drums. “Most drums are made of multiple layers–or plies–of wood. Thin shells (typically with four plies) are quite popular, as they resonate easily and generate a very rich and deep “woody” tone; these drums are preferred for recording and for a close-mic’ed situation. Medium-thick shells (typically six ply) are stiffer and have less vibration but great projection. Thick shells (eight plies or more) don’t have as much ring but have really great projection and a higher pitch” (Miller, p. 24). Drums can be made of metal, to get a bright ringing sound, but wood gives a warm rich tone that most drummers like. This construction method has the advantage of being more environmentally friendly due to the fact that entire trees do not need to be cut down.
Fiberglass, plastic, acrylic, carbon fiber, and compressed epoxy materials are some newer materials that have opened up options in the world of drum shells. Designing the shape of these synthetic shells is somewhat more flexible in that it is not limited to the ways wood can be used (similar to metal). Also fiberglass, for example, has the added advantage of being brighter and louder sounding than wood.
Ceramic (Udu or Darbuka) drums have unique sound but for obvious reasons are very fragile.
Depending on the kind of wood used the tone of the drum’s overall sound varies greatly. Beech, birch, maple, mahogany, gum all include types of wood used in drum making. Maple is a favorite wood of many drummers as it produces a fairly even and rich sound across the entire frequency spectrum. Birch drums have a slightly stronger high-frequency response while maintaining a good low end punch and are preferred by many studio drummers. Mahogany produces a warm sound with decent bottom end punch but with less high end. You can hear some great examples of this in these percussion samples.
Fiberglass brings the advantage of stability. Fiberglass does not crack, check, get infested with insects, or rot. It is very light weight and durable. Unlike a solid piece of wood that would be used to carve a djembe, fiber drums can be that much more mobile. Fiberglass shells that are extremely durable as well as offering new varieties of finishes not available to wood hand drums. Another advantage of fiber is that it can be offered at prices typically lower than good quality wood djembes. Bright high tones and deep full bass tones come through clearly with a fiberglass drum. Powerful yet warm, huge ‘crack’ with sensitive response–like the best of steel and wood combined.
In general, the more a drum vibrates or resonates, the fuller the sound. Anything that keeps drum samples from vibrating (such as more plies in the shell) works to deaden the drum’s natural sound.
Large manufacturing companies like Pearl, Premier, Yamaha produce drums and percussion instruments, but little in the way of hand percussion. Toca, Remo, and Latin Percussion (LP) are the bigger experts on the market. There are other companies that use some of the sound construction techniques and materials, but with much less overhead, and therefore the offer of producing the same product (or better), but even cheaper.
The deepness of the bass tone is proportional to the diameter and height of the shell, so keep this in mind when choosing a hand drum. In general the larger the drum, the lower the tone. A 12 to 14 inch diameter djembe is considered large. A smaller size may come as small as 7 inches. Though some of these are well made and cost effective, they are more suitable for children. People with large hands will have difficulty with anything smaller than about 8 inches in diameter.
“In Brazil, for instance, some drummers spend their entire live playing just the pandeiro, and they never run out of rhythms and techniques to explore” (P. 225, Strong)
“The djembe . . . is a goblet-shaped African drum that is the staple of every drum circle. With its unabashedly tribal look, loud and expressive sound, and ease of playing, the djembe has become one of the most popular drums around”