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General acceptance of synthetic djembes? - Page 2 - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

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By Jeepz
Heh, this'll come as no surprise to any of you, but I didn't like the Meinl's at all. Sure, they're wood, their goatskin heads, they're rope tuned - but they still sounded synthetic to me. I knew right away when I tried one that it wasn't what I was looking for. From the reading I've been doing I believe the difference is that the heads are bleached to get the hair off, and that the chemical process of the heads is doing something to the quality of the sound. That's my guess anyway. Needless to say it wasn't what I was looking for, even for the right price.

So, I went back to the first music store, the place I got my Remo, and returned it and got this:

It was another $135 over what I paid for the Remo and a bag, but it sounds great, or at least what I expect one to sound like. It's a 12" from Kangaba, is made of Gueni wood, has a shaved goatskin head, and the rope appears quality and I like the color. The rope, wood and carving is understated, which I appreciate. I was able to get some nice sounds out of it, even with my newbie technique. As a buddy of mine (and e2c, you said something similar too) said, a quality authentic drum will give me a sound that I'll appreciate, that'll make me want to play it and keep practicing, and will be more forgiving while I learn, making it more enjoyable to keep learning. Having had my new drum for a day, I couldn't agree more.

So I am now the very very happy and proud owner of an authentic djembe and will be doing what I can to learn to play it. I'm a tad worried about maintenance and upkeep, and what happens the first time I need to replace my drum head, but I'll cross that bridge when I need to; though a 'general ownership manual' website would be nice :D In the mean time I'll just keep playing and learning what I can and mooching ideas and info off you lot here.

Thanks for all the info and support and direction. I think I landed solid with both feet and I'm ready to start playing!
By bubudi
awesome, jeepz. congratulations on finding a drum you liked. the kangaba drums aren't half bad for the price and should serve you well, at least for the next few years. when you need to rehead you will really need to be shown one-on-one to learn it. a video can help, such as the one sold by www.goatskins.com, but is a poor substitute for a teacher showing you hands-on.
By Jeepz
Thanks, bubudi. I know it's not a top of the line, but it's a great start for me. At least I'll have the sounds I want and expect to hear while I'm learning to play. And maybe, just maybe, the drum head will last for the next couple years and I won't have to worry about it for a while. Being in St. Louis, I have NO idea where to find anyone that can personally teach me how to rehead the drum, so I'll either need to travel to learn from someone, send it off somewhere(?), or simply do my best to teach myself trial and error *shrug* we'll see!

Say, any recommendations on general care and maintenance? I've heard things like use shea butter on the drum head, tighten the drum when it's hot/humid, de-tune it before the weather dries up or cools off so as not to overstretch the skin. Anything else? Do I ever need to do anything to the wood?
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By e2c
Shea butter *on* the skin will alter the sound appreciably - so no, you don't want (or need) to do that. (But using shea butter on your skin is fine - works nicely as a moisturizer during our winter months.)

I'm sure others will pitch in to give you advice - and I'm equally sure that you will be able to find repair people in the St. Louis area. If you plug phrases like "african drum dance st. louis" into Google, I think you might be surprised at what comes up. Also, I'm sure that Michael Taylor will have some suggestions for you.

For now, just enjoy your drum! You're off to a very good start, I think.

Re. sound quality, it also has a *lot* to do with the way the interior has been carved and finished. Your drum was made from a solid chunk of wood. (As I mentioned earlier, you might want to take a look at the videos of the carving and finishing process via African Rhythm Traders' site.)
User avatar
By e2c
Or maybe not - there's a lot of misinformation out there. (And a lot of people do things to treat conga heads, so maybe you've heard about that?)

Not to worry! I think everyone has questions - and sometimes, "odd" ideas - when taking up a new hobby, or a new instrument. I know that I sure have (both). :D
I live in the Pacific North West. I do love the sound of a well made goat skin head, wood shell Djembe. I also am also a sucker for nice wood drum shell. But these drums fall out of tune when they get the least bit damp. The heads break. They are difficult to tune. They are difficult to replace the heads. Where I live a "traditional" drum with a skin head is just not practical. At one time I had three of these kinds of drums all with busted heads sitting in my garage.
My current favorate drum is a LP 720 12 1/2 inch that has been retrofitted with a Remo snythetic head (LP961). This gives me a beautiful stave wood drum with a mosture proof synthetic head, and great hardware. Ok, this is not a traditional wood djembe. I know that. But where I live a well made Kangaba or Drumskull djembe with natural head would not be practical.
In our local drum circle I see more Toca PVC shell snythetic head 12 inch djembes than anything else. I also keep one of these Toca's around for playing on the beach. But if your looking for a recomendation for a great synthetic head Djembe, consider spending about $100 more than you would for the Toca Freestyle II and find a Remo Modo. The quality difference is substantial.
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By the kid
Oh yea that was a trick question! lol

From my point of view i don't see any thing appealing from a synthetic skin or drum, I never heard or played one that i liked.

When i look at guitars I like electrics, spanish and i can do martin style too lol. They all have something to offer to a player. Different dynamics and playing styles, sounds etc.

The problem for me with synthetic drum is they are a poor copy of a djembe. They have not created something new with new materials. The design stage was simply how can we make a certain shape cheaply. The shape is never eloquent and the sound is lacking.

Basically i was asking what you see as being good about the synthetic skins or drums in a sound wise and playability aspect rather than saying it's easier to tune waterproof etc. Like it is possible to keep a high class instrument clean and dry and keep it for years in perfect condition in any climate. Am i wrong about that?

A djembe is not exactly a delicate instrument though really, and i can bang on goat and wood facing the wild west atlantic storms and have done with out too much bother over the years. I've had djembes in the rain with beer spilt on them etc. Sometimes i simply dried it or tuned it down and that was fine. Yes i broke skins but that is not gonna tempt me to play some inferior sounding and feeling skin or shell.

If these new materials sounded better I'd be open to the possibility of playing them but.
User avatar
By korman
I also live in a place that's cool and damp for many days per year. I too was tempted to buy a synthetic djembe, but the sound never appealed to me.
Later I realized that thicker skins are less affected by weather, and so is good marine grade polyester rope. Besides, during winter most playing is inside anyways. So in those few spring or autumn evenings when I do play outside I just accept the fact that drum sounds a bit lower. Maybe pull a few diamonds, later release them. It's just not worth shelling out bucks for a Remo - here in Europe it costs just as much as good quality west african djembe (three hundred and something euros).
the kid wrote:
Sun Mar 24, 2019 9:42 pm
Would you say synthetic djembes are good?
As main instrument for playing west african rhythms: no. As a side instrument for playing various genres and styles: maybe.

They simply can not match the range and rich sound that is achieved with ones made in traditional way and from traditional materials, at least skin and wood. They are more practical, robust and easy to tune, but hey, this is not camping equipment we are talking about. It is all about the sound at the end of the day.
I'm working on this at the moment - a plant-based skin that sounds better than plastic but doesn't loosen when the weather gets humid. Good results so far, will post when I have more progress.

I've also got ideas for waterproofing skins, which should sound and perform better than beeswax or shea butter. I'll post a new topic for that now, so people can find it as a resource for experiments etc. I'll post it under tuning and care.
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