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Djembefola - Djembe Forum •softening skins
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softening skins

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2018 9:25 am
by korman
Yesterday I tried to make a kensedeni using a plastic pipe and a bongo skin, but the hide is too stiff (or too thick?). I get acceptable tone when striking with finger, however, with a stick there's an unpleasant click upon impact which completely destroys the tone. Probably I should get a thinner hide, but maybe there is a way to soften the cowhide I've already put on?

Re: softening skins

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2018 3:47 pm
by Dugafola
best bet is to play it. or put something like shea butter on it and play it. or just take it off and start over with a better skin.

Re: softening skins

Posted: Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:21 pm
by boromir76
Like Dugafola said, the skin has to be played and it will soften up because of that gradually. I had similar issue when puting new thick cow skins on dunduns. Thick skin is quite hard and has a somewhat plastic like surface and sound, when being hit with stick on the beginning. This clicky sound will disapear 100% with enough playing.

Re: softening skins

Posted: Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:26 pm
by Dugafola
there's a misconception that thick cow skins are great for dununba drums. the goal is to produce sound. those super thick skins just do not vibrate enough to produce a nice deep loud sound....unless it's been really played in....years. a nice medium thick cow skin consistent side to side is the best bet for dununba IMO. you can go heavier on sangban and kenkeni....that's a great sound.

Re: softening skins

Posted: Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:40 pm
by boromir76
Dugafola wrote:
Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:26 pm
there's a misconception that thick cow skins are great for dununba drums. the goal is to produce sound. those super thick skins just do not vibrate enough to produce a nice deep loud sound....unless it's been really played in....years. a nice medium thick cow skin consistent side to side is the best bet for dununba IMO. you can go heavier on sangban and kenkeni....that's a great sound.
It depends on what you consider as super thick cow skins...but yes, thick skins sound probably better on sangban and kenkeni, than on dununba... I would not go as far to say that they sound bad on dununba, but they are somewhat more demanding to play, especially when playing traditionally: need more punching force to sound enough loud.

Re: softening skins

Posted: Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:47 pm
by Dugafola
oh yea much more energy and force required. forgot to mention that.

Re: softening skins

Posted: Mon Aug 19, 2019 11:18 am
by korman
[update] OK, so the problem is the clacky sound that new dundun skins have on stick impact.
Over these months I've done some experimentation, but still haven't found a magic solution.
- tried to tan the hide with oak bark. overnight did not work, two days did not work, either. maybe the solution wasn't strong enough (but I did not have more bark). the brown color of the skin looks nice, though
- tried the battery acid method (google it). overnight soak did not change the sound appreciably, and I did not want to leave it longer in the sulphuric acid solution
- tried several coats of neatsfoot oil. did not do a damn thing
:D

Now recently one experienced drummer told me that in Guinea they sometimes apply karite butter to the skin and wring it with hands many times to soften the skin. His dunun prepared with this method sound wonderful. Gotta try this. [/end update]

Re: softening skins

Posted: Sat Jan 04, 2020 10:48 am
by boromir76
Maybe it just haven't been played enough... It could take up to a few months to soften very thick skin... This also depends very much on how frequently is being played and how hard.

Re: softening skins

Posted: Mon Jan 06, 2020 3:06 pm
by korman
boromir76 wrote:
Sat Jan 04, 2020 10:48 am
Maybe it just haven't been played enough... It could take up to a few months to soften very thick skin... This also depends very much on how frequently is being played and how hard.
Yeah, but I was hoping there is some technological shortcut around that. There must be, all that is needed just soften the skin a bit. Unfortunately in the last few months I haven't done any further research, that particular kensedeni just sits there , unused. I made another one from recycled djembe cowskin head, that one sounds much better.

Re: softening skins

Posted: Mon Jan 13, 2020 8:41 am
by boromir76
I doubt there is an efficient chemical shortcut solution for achieving something that is done in a 100% physical way. Good luck with the chemical aproach research! The best solution for this problem would be probably something that mimics the "natural" way of the softening the skin: a mechanical drum beater, that would punch the skin on slightly different areas of the cetre of the skin for hours. :-)

Re: softening skins

Posted: Fri Feb 07, 2020 4:06 am
by batadunbata
(accidentally clicked reply, not edit, oops, and the delete button doesn't appear in the drop down for this post for some reason)

Re: softening skins

Posted: Fri Feb 07, 2020 4:08 am
by batadunbata
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Re: softening skins

Posted: Fri Feb 07, 2020 4:08 am
by batadunbata
So first of all, before I share my ideas for softening the skin, in my experience you have to pad the stick if you want to hit a tight unpadded skin without any noticeable sharp attack sound. (The easiest way to pad a stick I've found is to wrap the end in a bunch of rubber bands. I make sure they're pulled really tight by flipping and re-looping them over the end, so I don't make the sound too mushy. )

On to softening the skin:

1, Leather softeners/conditioners. I did research on this, and I can't remember my results at the moment (I was trying to make some hiking boots supple again) but I believe the least toxic and most effective thing is some kind of mineral based treatment. It's a bit of a reasearch job, as there's some not so good techniques. I rejected neatsfoot oil, can't remember why.

2. Sand it thinner. (Preferably with a power-tool, but if the playing surface is small enough it shouldn't be too much elbowgrease)

3.Soak it with saponified salts. Basically a simple fabric softener, which you can either make or buy in it's crude form, and mix with water. I'd remove any residual oil first though with soap, orange oil and water.

4. Glycerin. I say this because glycerin is a plasticizer, used to soften protein-based glues, so it might soften the collagen in the skin. I don't know, but if it doesn't work you can wash it out, since it's water soluble. I would basically soak it in water and glycerin overnight, and then give it a dunk in fresh water to rinse out excess glycerin (which would be sticky otherwise).
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