If you are on a shoestring budget and need the best possible conga drum for the lowest amount of money you are best off buying a used conga drum. If you know what to look for there are some great deals to be found.
You can often by two high quality conga drums on the used market place for the same amount or less then buying a new low model conga drum from a large manufacturer.
All it takes is some knowledge and time searching and of course the willingness to negotiate a fair price for both seller and buyer.
You can always check prices from the “sold” section on eBay to see what drums actually sold for. You can also try the conga forums as another source of info.
A drum is only worth what you are willing to pay for it. There is no “blue book” like with cars.
The best place to start looking for a used drum is on your local Craigs List. You can also find decent deals on eBay from time to time but the problem is you have to factor in shipping and shipping can be quite expensive for congas.
Shipping starts at $60 and can go up to $150 per drum in the USA, more then we are talking about even spending on a drum here!
Garage sales or flea markets can also provide some nice drums occasionally. Another choice is pawn shops.
You need to know more then the seller in these type of places however, or you could get ripped off. So please do your homework, ask knowledgable people, do google searches. There is plenty of great info out there. Take your time and be wise.
When looking for a used drum you need to be careful that the drum has not been damaged and repaired improperly.
You need to pick up the drum, turn it upside down and expect inside the drum along the glue lines. Scratches on the outside are a fact of life for older drums.
Cracks deep or even hairline (small) are a different story and restoration can be time consuming and costly so you do want to inspect the drum carefully. If it has been repaired well
the drum should be fine but that is a possible negotiating tool for the buyer.
When buying a used conga drum it is not about how the drum looks as much as how it sounds. Sometimes oxidation or rust occurs on the metal hardware. You need to decide if you can live with this or not. It will not effect the sound, it is a visual thing.
If you are thinking to buy now and replace items or parts later remember that it will cost you, replacement parts on older congas are not cheap.
Especially the metal bands that go around the outside of the conga drums.
They look simple to repair or even to replace but they are not. Many people end up taking them off completely but this will devalue your drum if that matters to you.
Many used drums have had the head or skin replaced. This is a good thing. Check the skin for mold or rot. A new skin is easy to put on if you do not mind a little work but will run you upwards of $50.
A skin, be it a good one or bad one can make a world of difference in the sound of a drum.
Keep this in mind as it is an often overlooked point. A mediocre drum with a great skin can sound fantastic and a good drum with a bad skin (too old, too thick, too thin, ripped, etc) can sound not as good.
If you are a “do it yourself” person here is another option for you. You can find a drum with out a skin and buy a new skin from someone such as Manito percussion, put it on your self and it will make a world of difference. You just need to chooe the right skin of course and factor that into the price.
Another option is to buy a pre mounted head (skin) like the one in the photo above right from someone like Manito Percussion. You simply soak it in a tub for 1 -3 hours and pop it on. You can call Manito to discuss your drum and what would best suit you as well.
When inspecting any used conga drum you also want to check that the top rim is not bent, pulled down more on one side then the other side. INspect every metal piece on the drum carefully.
You need to also check that the tuning lugs, the hooks that pull the rim down to make the drum tighter are all workable.
Also, the threads on the bottom of the lug should not be stripped or damaged.
When you turn the tightening nut it should move easily.
So have a wrench with you and try them all in person and ask about this prior to looking at the drum.
O.K. These are my top picks based on my personal experience. There are too many older drums out there to list so if I did not list yours please do not be insulted, this is just my experience playing drums over the last 35 years. So these are my favorites and you might have some others that I have missed.
I am specifically not listing collectors items or brands such as echo tone, Fats, Skin on Skin, etc., etc., as this article is about affordable used drums for someone on a budget.
However, If you happen to find any of these drums used and at an affordable price, like a nice old Valje then buy it. There are incredible finds out there for knowledgable people but that is another story entirely.
The fact is that the high end drums even on the used market can be cost prohibitive to someone on a budget and we are looking for the top, cheapest drums here.
The best used drums in my opinion are from the major companies such as LP, GonBops, Meinl and Toca to name a few.
Sometimes, if you are lucky you can get 2 nice congas for the price of a new bottom end LP or GonBops model. And if you choose well, the used drum is going to sound better.
My top pick for a bang for the buck used conga drum is the LP Classic wood conga drum in Siam Oak. By the way Siam Oak, th emost popuylar wood now used in mass marketed drums is actually a rubber tree.
The LP Classic models are still being made and are sold in the above $400 range new. They can be found for as low as $150 each. Sometimes as low as $100 if you are lucky.
They are and were always consistently made well, last a lifetime and sound great. There were several different models. Some have the comfort curve hardware and some have the traditional top rims as well.
My second pick is the LP Matador in wood or fiberglass. This was a “mid level” model from LP and with the right skin these drums can sound fantastic. A friend of mine put a skin someone
brought him from Cuba on his Matador quinto and the drum sounds as good as anything I have heard. These should run you slightly less then the Classic’s.
You can always tell a Matador product by the side plates, the metal plate bolted on the side of the drum that holds the lugs. The side plates on a Matador always have decorative little horn shapes on the edges (see the photo). No horn shapes means it is not a Matador.
While we are on the subject of LP, there are 2 other LP models worth mentioning. One is the older Patato model. It has a smaller opening on the bottom and is taller (30″)then the 28″ tall “original” model LP fiberglass drums.
If you like the sound of fiberglass drums, which is usually louder then wood but also can be more ringy ( depending on the skin choice) then these are also a great choice if you do not mind the smell of the bfiberglass and also that most drums from this era are going to be scratched up a bit. I have seen several sets of
the original “shorties” for as low as $100 each. The Patatos are a little more.
The Patatos have an interesting position in the used market place as some people consider these collectors items and others do not. That means sometimes they are priced high and sometimes super cheap. You want super cheap.
Please stay away from the Aspire model LP’s and Cosmic Percussion lines if you are buying used. They are just not made as well nor do they sound as good as the models I just mentioned.
My third pick is GonBops Mahogany congas. Great , warm tone and lightweight
Any older Gon Bops wood conga drums are a solid choice. If you happen to find the Oak drums I prefer these to the more common mahogany drums.
The mahogany can still be found commonly on Craigslist. People are starting to call these collectors drums so the prices are going up so expect to pay a minimum of $150 each.
They are prone to cracking over time so please check the outer and inner shells carefully for cracks or repairs. If you happen to find a Gon Bops California model at a low price buy it. They were the top of the line back in the day.
My fourth choice is Toca Custom Deluxe congas. Actually, the newer the better. These drums are made in Thailand (as are almost all new drums from large manufacturers).
They are built like tanks, have very confortable rims (of the cofort curve variety) and sound great.
The skins are the garden variety buffalo hides from Thailand but they can be sanded a little bit with fine sand papper to take out the bumpy texture and then you have a great drum.
They are heavy drums, so keep hat in mind if you will be lugging them around. I do not like the lesser Toca models. ALthough they are less expensive and lighter they simply do not sound as good. The price varies on these used.
Meinl has made some very interesting conga drums in the past.
They had a model with floating hardware or straps that pulled the rim down so that no hardware was drilled into the side of the drum.
Very innovative and it is stillbeing used by Meinl as well as Manito Percussion. It was called the Floatone.
Their “Fibercraft” fiberglass congas are nice and a possibly alternative to LP fiberglass congas I mentioned if you can get a rock bottom price.
My favorite Meinl model is called the “woodcraft” and it is from the mid to late 80’s. The price can be higher then most of the other drums I mentioned here but it just depends on if the seller knows what he has or not.
The Luis Conte model is very nice but not usually found at bargain basement prices.
You are going to see a lot of Tycoon percussion drums on the used market place. I do not recommend any of their models except for their newer top of the line drums only.
I am not a Remo fan. For those of you who have them or like them, my appologies. The Tuff E Nuff Poncho Sanchez models are pretty nice but you are not going to get these for $100 per drum.
You have to be careful of unnamed conga drums and conga drums from Mexico. Also, eBay has a very misleading category called “vintage” congas and the drums in there are usually very cheap and not collectors items.
I hope this article has been helpful and useful to you in your search for a high quality used conga drum. If you are careful, take your time and study a bit prior to buying then it can be an easy and rewarding experience th find , play and own a used conga drum.
If you have any questions on a used drum find please feel free to write me here.