Advice and questions on making and fixing instruments
#38790
Hi everyone.

This is my first post – and a bit of a megapost – so please bear with me. For Christmas, my Mrs. bought me a little Djembe – 8”- from a specialist percussion shop.
I really enjoy playing the little thing. I’m a guitarist/bassist/synth guy, and I have always thought I might be a frustrated drummer (I’m always tapping, finger drumming, and use a lot of polyrhythms and polymeters in my music).

Anyhow, about 7 weeks after I got the (cheap, softwood) drum, I found a full blown hardwood Djembe shell on my street – 12 ¾” head. The skin was torn, and the rope worse for wear.
Needless to say, I grabbed it and began nourishing it with some sanding and beeswax. Here’s the story, and I’d like to get your thoughts on what I do next with the final steps. The info on this forum has been INVALUABLE in helping me along. You guys are awesome!

The first step required me to round-off the top. As it stood, the rim was very flat, and according to photos I’d seen on interwebz, it had to have a nice taper. I used a spokeshave to get a nice gradual curve in there. Then I sanded the whole thing with 400 to 800 grit, and waxed it. For the bearing edge, I went down to 1500 and then put extra wax on there to aid the movement in the tuning process. I also glued some cracks with wood glue. Then I bought a bunch of 5mm polyester yachting rope, and used one of my African wax print cloth re-wrap the rings (using the diagonal of the cloth). Then I got the loops in – I could only manage 26 – I would have like 28 or even 30, but from research on this forum I gather it’s not a big deal.

Then the scary part: soaking the goatskin hide. I left it about 4 hours, gave it good twist massage for 15mins, and tried stringing it up to get the tension out. Placing it on the drum was harder than I thought and I eventually abandoned the rope-pull so I could position it better. I think I got it on OK in the end, but wasn’t quite sure how to place it on before the wet pull (guidance on here says the rope ring just below the bearing edge?). Schools of thought differ on the wet pull – so I went ‘fairly tight’, i.e. 3 or 4 rounds of pulling so that if I pressed in the middle, I got about 5-7mm play. I cut the excess skin and chose not to braid-wrap the little excess. I’m hoping it will tidy itself in the longer term.

So, while I wait the next few days for the dry pull, here are my questions!
I’ve (day after) now got about 2-3mm play in the centre of the drum. How tight should I go on the dry pull? All the way so that 1.I get basically no movement at all? 1mm of movement? Is this too much for the first dry pull?

2. When do I start adding the diamonds? After the first dry pull gets me about 1mm play? Or should I wait a few weeks and do another dry pull?

3. I don’t think the rope ring is low enough. Will it stretch further over time? It varies, but its about 8-12mm at this point. It’s not perfectly even – but I don’t think there is much I can do about that now unfortunately. For a first go, I think it’s OK though?

4. How do people deal with the little excess skin sticking up? I dare not try lower it too much in case of slippage.

5. Anyone have a sense on what type of wood it is? It has this zigzag zebra striping in it – a bit like Wenge?

6. Do you guys tie-off the vertical pull and lead it to the diamonds, or have the vertical rope weave directly to the diamonds without being tied-off?

7. What grit sandpaper should I use on the skin – 400 to 800 then stop? Should it feel super smooth? Like 1200, or does that affect sound adversely?

very curious to hear your thoughts, and looking forward to further discussions!
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#38796
Hey DG,

Welcome aboard. Wow! You like to make an entrance. And Wow! Are you really that lucky or does it rain djembes where you're from?

It might have helped if you'd posted pics of what you address, but let's see here.

How tight should I go on the dry pull? All the way so that 1.I get basically no movement at all? 1mm of movement? Is this too much for the first dry pull?


Go tight as h*** and then some. That's how tight a djembe has to be pulled to sound right. Pull until you get clear, well defined tones and slaps accompanied by a bass like the voice of GOD. If your vision can tell you if a djembe is tuned, then look for almost no give at all. About like a glass table top. ;)

Use your ears man! Your verticals should be tuned to E#. :roll:

2. When do I start adding the diamonds? After the first dry pull gets me about 1mm play? Or should I wait a few weeks and do another dry pull?

If for some reason you can't tune the drum by simply pulling the verticles and must add diamonds, I recommend breaking in the drum first. This will get the tension evenly distributed before you add the diamonds. How long you wait depends on how much you play the drum.

3. I don’t think the rope ring is low enough. Will it stretch further over time? It varies, but its about 8-12mm at this point. It’s not perfectly even – but I don’t think there is much I can do about that now unfortunately. For a first go, I think it’s OK though?

My guess is you crown will drop at least an inch and a half with the dry pull (I'm assuming you're using a pull bar or at least a sturdy stick for leverage). Pictures would help.

4. How do people deal with the little excess skin sticking up? I dare not try lower it too much in case of slippage.


Skin shrinks as it dries, including the foreskin. It's also going to drop with the crown. Pictures would help.

5. Anyone have a sense on what type of wood it is? It has this zigzag zebra striping in it – a bit like Wenge?

If I MUST guess, I'll go with dimba from Senegal.

6. Do you guys tie-off the vertical pull and lead it to the diamonds, or have the vertical rope weave directly to the diamonds without being tied-off?

I tie it off and make a handle. Tie it off.

7. What grit sandpaper should I use on the skin – 400 to 800 then stop? Should it feel super smooth? Like 1200, or does that affect sound adversely?

That's up to you. The hairless skins I buy come with stubble, and I leave them like that. Some people, including myself, like the stubble. Other people have sensitive hands and cannot have stubble. I shave harry skins, but when I've sanded the stubble never went beyond 120. Don't use 50 or lower though. Try 120 -150 and go from there.

EDITS: I rushed a little with this, so came back and added fairly minor but possibly important details.
#38803
Thanks Dr Tom! That is REALLY helpful! I can proceed with confidence now.

I've had to re-head since that post! The skin I put on was way too thin. I had no idea. I now have a medium goatskin - imported from W Africa.

I'm shocked that the dry pull could lower it another 1.5 inches! It's already really quite tight - 2-3mm dip in the middle under medium thumb pressure. The rings are around 10mm from the top before the dry pull.

I think Dimba is a fair call on the wood, but after some additional research I think it's Iroko.

For the excess skin, I cut it and 'stuck' the excess down by wrapping it around the head with some thick cotton string, which i'll remove after it's dried.

One final question: the bottom ring is slightly skew. Would you guys be confident in RELEASING the rope pressure and straightening it after the wet pull but before the dry pull? Is there something to say that it is now 'set' and shouldn't be meddled with?

Thanks !!!
#38804
Hey DrumGoon,

Congrats on diving right in! If you haven't visited the HawkDancing website, I highly recommend it. He details every step of the heading process with excellent photos. It helped me immensely doing my first few heads.

http://www.hawkdancing.com/djembe-drum-heading.html

It address some of your questions like how to tie off the verticals. There are other ways to do it, of course, and a post by Michi on this forum shows a really snazzy way to tie off the verticals with no knots:

viewtopic.php?f=3&t=1383&hilit=invisibl ... f&start=15

How is going with the dry pull?

marshall
#38807
DrumGoon wrote:
Wed Mar 14, 2018 8:52 am
I've had to re-head since that post! The skin I put on was way too thin. I had no idea. I now have a medium goatskin - imported from W Africa.
Just curious, how do you know the skin was too thin? Did it rip? Did you use a Pakistani skin?
DrumGoon wrote:
Wed Mar 14, 2018 8:52 am
I'm shocked that the dry pull could lower it another 1.5 inches! It's already really quite tight - 2-3mm dip in the middle under medium thumb pressure. The rings are around 10mm from the top before the dry pull.
Each skin is unique and will have it's own rate of elasticity. There is variance, but my educated guess is that your wet pull is not as tight as you think. 1.5" is just a number that will hopefully ease your concern.
DrumGoon wrote:
Wed Mar 14, 2018 8:52 am
I think Dimba is a fair call on the wood, but after some additional research I think it's Iroko.
The color and outer carving made me go with dimba even though the inner carving is cleaner than dimba shells I've seen. Does the shell have a ring ledge?
DrumGoon wrote:
Wed Mar 14, 2018 8:52 am
For the excess skin, I cut it and 'stuck' the excess down by wrapping it around the head with some thick cotton string, which i'll remove after it's dried.
Mount the skin to the flesh ring BEFORE the wet pull. A minor detail that goes a long way.
DrumGoon wrote:
Wed Mar 14, 2018 8:52 am
One final question: the bottom ring is slightly skew. Would you guys be confident in RELEASING the rope pressure and straightening it after the wet pull but before the dry pull? Is there something to say that it is now 'set' and shouldn't be meddled with?
Getting everything properly in place is achieved by GRADUALLY increasing the tension with several rounds of pulls. It IS possible to correct angled verticles, rings and other flaws during the dry pull. It's also possible to make everything worse.

You might instead try beginning the dry pull where the ring is lowest. This may or may not help. At the very least, it may or may not prevent things from getting worse.

Hope you let us know your progress.
#38808
hi guys,

Thanks for all this support!

This is the drum with the new thicker skin (see pic). We are before the dry pull. It has been resting for 3 days... gonna give it one or maybe 2 more just to be sure.

The old skin I bought on eBay... it was paper thin compared to this. I've since sanded the top a bit, and scraped hair stubble with a razor blade. It is no longer quite as lovely chocolate brown :( but still looks great.

no ring ledge not he Djembe Drtom.

So you guys reckon I should try to fix the bottom ring skewness going directly to dry pull before releasing? What would you do? Should I start with the dry pull where the bottom ring is lowest? Then move gradually around?

I've also found that working a little bit on opposite side gradually helps. i.e. pull on opposite sides a little - the yachting wrap is quite good at holding if you pull a few verticals. This 'sets the stage' for a full rotation of pulls.
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#38809
It's hard to id the wood with these pictures. Easier if drum is sanded or smoothly carved too.. Even so, I'd have to say it looks like dimba. It doesn't look like Iroko to me, but it could be as many variations can exist in drums from the same specie of wood.

It is hard to advise you on whether or not to straighten the bottom ring. Basically you haven't posted a photo where the bottom rings off balance is displayed.

Generally I would try to straighten it up if it was off as it can upset your later dry pull. You can end up moving the top rings too much by forcing the bottom ring into place so it is better to loosen up the ropes and reset the bottom ring and put some cardboard or wood chip to lock the bottom ring in place more and then tune the drum up again.

Go easy with the tuning too. Better to go around a few times rather than go heavy and move the top rings too much.
#38820
Hi everyone,

I'm making good progress with the Djembe.
I have done the done the dry pull OK... using only some drum-sticks and locking pliers. Probably not up to the highest standard, as I have done a full row of locking weave, and am now onto about 5 or 6 diamonds.

I need guidance on when to stop. There is a lot of "stop when it sounds right" advice online that is not helpful. I have been trying to listen to the tunings used on youtube, the distinction between slap and tone, and the 'lack of ring' or overtones which indicates an in-tune Djembe. This is all quite vague, but there is a definite 'ring' after a slap.

What I NOT been able to find is the pitch which folks consider to be high, medium or low. These are just words. Currently, my djembe is pinging a slap around C sharp (was up to D). The skin is very hard to the touch - about 2mm give in the middle on strong pressure.

I do not have access to teachers or advisors. What do you all think? Should I run a few more diamonds and take it D, or E natural?
#38821
Drum sticks are not any good to pull djembe ropes. To say you completed the job with drum sticks suggests you didn't go too tight with the rope. It might be fine, but you may end up not achieving the sound you want and having to put in excessive diamonds to try and reach that sound. As a little time goes by the drum will sound flatter and you need to tune it again. It would be less work to take out diamonds and rework the verts. There are some techniques you need to learn working a dowl or pulling stick too. It's like rowing really. Pulling table or a proper pulling tool is a lot more easy.

Also 2 or more vice grips are needed/helpful to really work it so you never loose any tension. You can work different section either to make sure tension is even and rings are level.

You can carry on and put in diamonds and have the option down the line to take them out again and go and really tighten the verts. Generally you can tighten away until the verts are almost unmovable. It'll still dip and some stage in future and then you can put diamonds in. I've a djembe here thats had a skin on 7-8 years and it has 4 diamonds on it. Still Sounds nice to my ear. I tuned it down a bit to keep it from popping. But generally it only had 10 -12 diamonds and was a sweet little drum.It is 12" head so small enough which helps with the tuning as it's easier to get high tune with less tension. The trick is to trap the tension inside the ropes to ensure constant tension on the skin to keep it sounding right.
#38824
thanks Kid.

I have decided to keep putting in diamonds to stretch the skin, then remove them later and re-pull.

I am currently looking to take it to a local drum shop so that they can advise me on how to tune it.

At the moment it's tuned to about a C sharp and the skin is very tight. It depresses a little if I push in the middle -about 1mm if I press hard. I know folks say 'it depends' - but what can I expect (ballpark figure) to be a high tuning range for a Djembe with width of 12.75 inches, and a medium skin?
#38825
Firstly a congrats on good job for first drum. Looks great. How does it sound to you. I never knew djembes could be characterized by specific notes like c or whatever. Are you gauging the tone, slap or bass. I'd say you mean tone.
Depending on the size of the drum and the amount of tension on the skin, tone frequency varies from 300 Hz to 420 Hz and slap frequency from 700 Hz to 1000 Hz, with audible overtones reaching beyond 4 kHz
Thats from wiki. Does it make sense to you. Can these frequencies be relative to notes i don't know. I didn't think fast percussive sounds are pitched according to notes.

Moving on, What i reckon is the skin does stretch when you put diamonds into it, but when they are released it releases that stretch. There is some elasticity and it bounces back. People do sometimes put diamonds into it and then take it out and re pull. I'd say it does tighten up the ropes/knots and drops the top ring(if pulled sufficiently) and give you bit more rope to play with but ultimately, It's better to get the verts tight initially enough so you never have to go back and re tighten them imo. You just chasing the dragon otherwise. Always wanting a higher sound but the drum not giving it and you just need to tune it more and more.

It is hard to gauge skin tightness due to how much the skin depresses when pressure is applied with the thumbs say. To many parameters to calculate really. I don't think that is how people tune drums. I generally pull the verts till ropes are really tight. I don't really aim for a sound but rather just wait and see what is produced.

You need to post a sound sample if you need advice on tuning a specific drum. I would guess your drum will be not very high due to a weak dry pull., but it could already sound great.

It also comes down to preferences, some like it high and others low.
#38835
thanks guys. I took it to a drum shop for a tune in the end - I could not get the vets tight enough.

The guy that did it rushed it and pulled the ring into a bent shape.... :(

Will do a separate post on that. Anyway, I have a good sense now of how it should sound under high tension. It does sound great!