Best Bongo Drums

Updated October 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

17 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
240 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best bongo drums

Last Updated October 2019

Drums are the building blocks of the musical world. They lay the rhythmic foundation for the other instruments, and that makes drums a crucial element of any band. But for all their energy and percussive power, there are certainly drawbacks. Drum kits are big, heavy, and difficult to transport, but they’re not your only option. Bongo drums are smaller and more portable, and they have a unique tone and charm of their own.

Bongos are usually packaged in two-drum units, with different sizes to vary the pitch. The smaller drum is called the macho (male), while the larger drum is called the hembra (female). Each open-ended drum consists of a wood or resin shell, natural animal-hide head, and steel hardware to connect the pieces. Popularized in Cuba, bongos add distinctive rhythmic patterns to Latin American music and offer a stellar platform for solo mixed percussion and percussion ensemble works.

Bongo drums are great for expert percussionists looking to add a new element to their sound, but they’re also a fantastic way to introduce rhythm to young children. If you’d like to learn more, read on. If you’re ready to buy, check out some of our favorite bongo drums.

Bongo drums can be mounted on a stand or held with shoulder straps, but they’re light enough that you can comfortably hold or rest them on your legs. Traditionally, the smaller drum goes on the left.

Key considerations

Size

The size and weight of your instrument affect how well you can handle it. While bongo drums are relatively petite compared to other types of drums, bongos should feel comfortable resting on your legs.

Diameter: Common bongo drumhead sizes are between five and eight inches. There is usually one inch difference in the diameter of the two drums that make up a set.

Weight: As far as weight goes, beginner, toy, and kid’s models can weigh as little as 1.5 pounds, but bongos made of strong metal and dense wood can weigh up to 8.0 pounds.

EXPERT TIP

Bongo drums can be played with sticks or mallets, but playing them with the hands is significantly more common. Even light fingertip strikes can produce enough sound to work, and you can tailor the tone by striking the heads in different places with varying amounts of force.


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Materials

Shells: The bongo drum shells are typically crafted from some type of wood. Some manufacturers prefer hickory or birch, but you’ll find Siam oak (not really oak but Hevea brasiliensis, or Pará rubber tree) on higher-end models, used for its increased density, durability, and fullness of sound. You can find acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) resin and metal bongo drums, but they’re less common.

Heads: Tradition dictates that bongo drums should be made of natural materials, and that’s why the classic bongo drumhead is made of animal hide, such as buffalo. This is still the preferred material for its historical accuracy and richness of tone, but there are synthetic alternatives that offer impressive results. 

DID YOU KNOW?

The heads of bongo drums can change color over time, but don’t worry; as long as they don’t lose their rigidity and rebound (their ability to produce noise), it’s completely normal.

Bongo drum features

Tuning hardware: Many bongo drums arrive as-is, and don’t offer any way to tune them. Some do, though, and this comes in handy if the drumhead stretches over time or you want to switch up the sound profile. To do this you need a tuning wrench, which connects to various lugs or screws to tighten or loosen the head.

Carrying case: Bongo drum shells are relatively durable, but they can scratch if mishandled. Worse, the drumsheads can be punctured relatively easily, which makes a carrying case a great investment. These not only make your instrument easier to carry but also protect it from the damage that inevitably occurs when musicians go on the road. Hard, soft, and padded cases are available, but cheaper bongo drums usually don’t include one.

Straps: Shoulder or waist straps almost never come with bongo drums, but they can be a useful accessory you can buy separately. If you want to play bongos on the move at a festival, parade, or other event, a device that helps you hold the drums is worth its weight in gold. These straps generally cost between $20 and $40.

Bongo drum prices

Most bongo drums cost between $25 and $65, but like any instrument, there are outliers, such as rare, custom-made, or heritage drums. While you can find bongos that costs hundreds of dollars, most fit within the following categories.

Inexpensive: For about $25, you can find a bongo drum set with thin animal skin or synthetic heads, wood or resin shells, and metal hardware. These options are generally going to sound thinner and quieter than more expensive variants, and they are geared toward new players and kids. However, in the right hands, they can be capable of producing loud sounds for ensemble performances.

Mid-range: Double the price to $50 and you’ll be rewarded with a significant increase in quality. The animal-hide heads and wooden shells are more durable and project richer sounds. You can tune bongos at this price, and tools are included. Carrying cases are common at this price as well.

Expensive: Spend $65 and up and you can expect premium materials like Siam oak, high-end animal hide, and powder-coated metal hardware. These durable bongos include a padded case and other features.

EXPERT TIP

Bongo drums provide a safe, simple way to introduce young children to rhythm and music as their coordination develops. Bongo drums are generally rated for ages two and up, but always consider ear protection if your child has sensitive ears.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Open tone: To produce the open tone on bongo drums, strike the edge of the drum with the thick part of your palm, just below where the fingers connect. Let your fingers bounce off the head for a clear tone.
  • Slap tone: This is generated by slightly cupping your fingers as you hit the head, then relaxing them. This makes a louder, popping accent note that stands apart from the rest with a higher pitch and adds variation and color to your piece.
  • Heel-tip: This movement is achieved by striking the edge of the drum with the heel of your palm, then slapping the middle with your fingers in a one-two motion. Keep your hand straight when using this technique, and use your wrist to gain elevation.
  • Muted tone: This involves striking the drum’s edge as in the open tone, but here you allow your fingers to rest on the head afterward. Relax your hands to create a softer noise.

Other products we considered

The development of bongo drums can be traced back to the 1800s, so it’s no surprise there are countless options for those looking for a set of their own. That makes it hard to narrow our list down to just five, so we’d like to share a couple others that stuck out in terms of quality and value. The Aileen Bongo Drum Set features two drums measuring 6.5 and 7.5 inches in diameter, with natural buffalo skin heads and shells made from durable ABS resin to create a rich, bold sound. Another standout is the Hip Bongo Drums Bongo Set. An exceptional value, the 6.0- and 7.0-inch hickory shells are available in cherry, black, and brown finishes. The set also includes a soft carrying case and tools for tuning.

People often confuse congas and bongos. While they come from the same percussion family, they have distinct differences. Notably, congas are significantly larger, measuring between two and three feet tall.

FAQ

Q. What is the best way to tune bongo drums? What equipment do I need?A. Tuning bongo drums is a relatively simple process. You need a tuning wrench or ratchet, but one often comes with the set. The goal is to make sure the head stretches smoothly and uniformly, and you do this by gradually tightening lugs or screws around the head. Turn them in equal amounts until the desired tone is achieved, remembering that the smaller drum (macho) should have a higher pitch than the larger drum (hembra). A good rule of thumb is the two drums should be an octave apart, which you can test with a tuner.

Q. How do I properly clean and store bongo drums?
A.
The most fragile parts of the bongo drums are the heads, because they’re commonly made from natural animal skin. Keep them out of direct sunlight to prevent degradation, and apply drum oil occasionally to keep them from drying out. Otherwise, your hands (and the air) will absorb all of the drumheads’ moisture, which could lead to flaking or cracking. Also, consider using a humidifier to preserve the wood parts of your drum.

Q. Can I replace bongo drumheads if they break?
A.
You can obtain replacements from the manufacturer or possibly from a music shop, but the head would need to be professionally stretched, treated, and tuned several times. Given the relatively low cost of these products, it might be cheaper and less complicated to buy a new bongo drum set. That said, it never hurts to check your product’s warranty for a drumhead replacement guarantee.

The team that worked on this review
  • Andrew
    Andrew
    Writer
  • Austin
    Austin
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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