I am feeling very blessed and happy to have these drums to play and show you! Here today we have some of the nicest conga drums ever made. I made a simple demo video of myself playing these drums so you can get a feel for the all these different and wonderful drums. Of course they are going to sound different based on who plays them and the types of skins they have as well. All of the skins on these drums have been changed using replacement heads.
I have heard the argument it is not the sword its the swordsman and many of the similar arguments, and I agree that technique plays a substantial role in sound. However, I will also say a fine instrument like any of these in the hands of a capable player is a magical and worthy combination no matter how you look at it. You can’t buy happiness, but any of these will sure get you close! I love all of these drums!
My goal here today is to show you how they sound in the simplest way possible and also to tell you about each of the different drum brands accordingly. I use Chinese ribbon mice to record the drums directly into my Sony camcorder in my studio in Maine.
These drums were all made by single artisans. They were not made at large factories but in small workshops. Drums take a lot of time to build, especially when you are a one man operation.
There is so much that goes into the making of a drum, too much to go into detail here but suffice to say it is a labor of love. Many hours and little pay. Suffice to say, no one (of these artists) is getting rich off of making drums.
I am by no means a drum master, merely a student with enthusiasm who loves to play drums. So this video is my simplistic offering to you. When a true master plays them they will really sing!
I did not meet Tom Flores of Valje but i have spoken extensively with Ralph (his son) who restored my old 1970’s Valje drums at his newer company called Resolution in California. Restoration is a long process and you need some patience if you are going to have drums restored!
I also spoke with Tom Alexander of Volcano before he passed away. His drums are no longer being made although there is talk of a former employee restarting their company. Interestingly enough his website is still up with beautiful and amazing photos of congas made from very exotic looking woods.
I have visited the shop of Peter Musser several times and I can tell you from personal experience his attention to detail is miraculous. He imports French wine barrels, takes them apart and re engineers the wood after it goes through a carefully monitored drying out process. He makes his own hardware as well.
I have been friends with Manito for a few years and also love his work. I have not spoken much with Matthew Smith but his work obviously stands on it’s own and it is the bench mark many consider all drums should be compared to.
The Valje drums in this photo/drumming video were made on the Sunset boulevard shop of Tom Flores, the originator of the Valje brand.
Over the last 3 1/2 years his son, Ralph Flores at his resolution shop in California has restored 5 different Valjes for me. As you can see and hear, they are amazing oak drums that have with stood the test of time.
I would venture to say they are as good as new. I was shocked the first time I received my drum back from Ralph. The work was impeccable! every drum he has restored for me (5 total) has simply been amazing! I don’t know what he does or how he does it but they come back looking and sounding as good or better then new!
Manito Percussion congas are made by Ryan “Manito” Wendel in Georgia from fallen or ecologically sourced trees. He is also involved with trees being replanted as well.
They are solid shell drums which is to say they are all one piece shells, all from the same tree… where as most congas are made from slats of wood glued together. Some of us believe that solid shell drums offer benefits over stave drums but I will let your ears be the judge of that.
The Manito Percussion drums shown here are Maple Ambrosia with natural steer hides and stainless steel hardware. I have had them for about three years and not only are they beautiful but I feel the sound is remarkable as well. The skins are Manitos which he also supplies to anyone who needs replacement skins as well. Manito supplies many of the independent drum makers and any one can also buy almost any type of skin for congas, djembes, bongos and other drums from him.Use code 007 when ordering skins and receive a discount by the way!
The PM Percussion “Tribute” series is made by Peter Musser in his humble workshop in Petaluma California from recycled imported French oak wood barrels following the tradition of the making of conga drums in Cuba. The oak wood is first aged and then reworked and carefully reshaped into conga drums by Peter. Prior to the Tribute series Peter was making drums from Pepperwood. He is now making bongos using this amazing wood as well in a very limited edition.
Peter and Manito are also a drummers which helps greatly in the making of drums and choosing skins. You can talk with them about the sound you want or are looking for and also be part of the process in the making of your own drums. I can not emphasize enough the importance of being able to talk to someone who answers the phone, to ask questions and to be part of the process in the making of your own custom congas!
They both take great pride in their workmanship and stand by their products with excellent warranty protection as well. Please contact them directly for details.
Volcano Percussion are vintage congas no longer being made in Hawaii. These drums were made from local Hawaiin Monkey Pod and Mango wood trees by the late Tom Alexander.
Interestingly you can not export the exotic woods from Hawaii as draw lumber, only as a finished product. The woods used are very , very rare and expensive. I know as i lived in the Hawaii islands for many years and used these woods in projects there.
Some people do not like these drums simply because they think they are furniture quality but I hope you see in the video that that is not the case. They are great sounding drums. The are also light weight and the craftsmanship is excellent.
Matthew Smith “Ritmos” in this video are made from walnut wood in Pennsylvania and are some of the finest drums on the planet. Matthew Smith has come up with a formula for success in the conga drum world and it seems everything he ruches turns to “conga drum gold”! He has the longest wait for the drums in the industry, word has it he has stopped accepting orders for the time being.
I believe all of the drums are equally great and it is really a matter of choice. What do you like? I like different drums for different occasions. There are many factors to take into consideration as well.
There are many other great drums out there from the past, the present and maybe even the future but these are the ones that I have in my possession now for this comparison sound demo. I could not include any of the others this time. Please check out my Youtube channel, michaelpluznick for my videos with Skin On Skin, Junior Tirado, Timbas Ismael, LP’s and other fantastic drums! I have tried to do as many comparison videos as is humanly possible!