Who makes the best top quality high end professional Bongos? In my opinion it is almost
always the smaller companies where there is one person in charge, personal attention to detail is foremost and the goal of the artist is more about making a solid great sounding instrument then being a mass marketed production line product manufactured in Thailand.
All the drums at the top of the list are going to take you a while to get. You have to order these drums and then you have to wait. It is the nature of the beast. You may have a shorter wait with some companies then others with Gon Bops being a possible exception.
Right off the bat I will mention I am not a big fiberglass fan so they are not included in this
article here. If you are looking for fiberglass all the major players like LP, Meinl, Pearl and Tycoon have them. I almost never play them so I do not have info on them.
I do understand their importance in the marketplace and that they work perfectly for certain applications or situations where a louder sound is needed.
So more power to you if this is your thing but that is not what this article is about.
Furthermore, I am not including Timbas, Timba Ismael, Vergara, Requena, Juniro Tirado, JCR bongos and other classic and vintage bongo drums in this article as well as they are no longer
for sale new, are not on the market nor can you find them used very often. And if you do they are exceptionaly high priced.
Please note that these are my personal choices that I am expressing. Your opinion or someone else’s may differ and I respect everyone’s opinion so please don’t get your panties all bunched up in a knot if I have a different opinion then you!
These are my choices and my favorites, that’s all. I apologize in advance if I left of or forgot your favorite drum.
1.TIE: Matthew Smith ‘Ritmo’/Manito Percussion
No surprises here for the number one spot in my personal choices. A tie between Matthew
Smith and (relatively) newcomer Ryan Manito Wendell.
If you do not mind waiting for a year, or two..or more the Matthew Smith ‘Ritmo’ are probably the nicest sounding bongos out there for stave drums.
Staves mean that there are pieces of wood cut out and glued together. Just like most conga drums.
Matthew’s attention to detail is amazing and for many the sound, look and feel is worth the exceptionally long wait and suffering (if you are an impatient person like myself). His drums are usually flawless.
I own 3 of his congas and they are with out a doubt as good as or better then any of my other drums except for the Manito. He really has his system down pat. To many he is “the one”, the best, the Conga drum saviour. But you are going to have to wait.
I have never seen any of these bongo drums used on the market place. The congas do come up once in a while , however. If you see them used, buy them! I love these drums.
It is universally agreed that solid shell drums are a better choice for bongos if you can get them.
The shells resonate as one unified piece. JCR had them for a while and there are at least 2 companies in Columbia and the Dominican rrepublic makeing them. But good luck getting drums from other countries.
The only two companies I know of currently making one piece solid shell bongos that you can actually order in America and buy with out hassle are Manito percussion and Spirit In The Wood.
And the Manitos are tied with M.S, for first place . Simply put they are fantastic drums. I love
the hardware, which is like old school Fat congas. The drums simply feel and sound right. It is like the classic solid shell one piece vintage bongos everyone is trying to get but these are new, look better and sound superb.
I also own a set of Manito walnut wood bongos. His fit and finish is superb. He is also a great drummer so he knows how to make a product that sounds right and he can adjust or make drums custom to your specifications as well. He uses a variety of woods and all of them are from sustainable wood resources. He recently had some congas for sale that were made from a tree hit by lightening.
The other really important thing, and this was a huge deciding factor for me is that Manito answers the phone, e-mail and really works with the customer to give you what you want.
Contact Manito: info@manitopercussion 706-614-4563
2. Skin On Skin
Jay Berek has been at it a long time and his bonogs like his conga drums are a fine example of
highly refined craftsmanship and great sound.
These drums are very well put together. Jay has maintained a certain Cuban modern look through the years and I personally love the style of all his drums he makes. They are tried and true.
Skin On Skin were one of the first non cuban cuban artisan drums out there. I had a set of Jay’s congas from 1985. There are only a 2 or three wood choices and 2 hardware styles chrome or black as Jay keeps things simple and to the point.
There is a wait to get them, allegedly 6 months and a waiting list but unlike Matthew Smith you can actually talk to Jay on the phone.
His assitant does most of the work now that Jay is getting up there in years but it is still one of the finest products out there none the less.
Maestro Jay Bereck – Skin on skin drums
1618 State Highway 41
Afton, NY 13730
Phone: (607) 639-2417
3. Spirit In The Wood
Conrad Kubiak of Spirit In The Wood drum company uses a different approach to mounting the two drum chambers together with out the use of screws and bolts.
It is a floating type of mount on the bottom of the drums. It is very similar to the Meinl suspension system.
The bottom rims are attached to each other through a welded metal extension. So the mounting block in the middle of the 2 chambers is only for show, whereas the mounting block on traditional bongos actually holds the drums together.
So there is no penetration through the drum shells which by the way, are solid shell . I own a pair of these in figured ash and they are a superb sounding drum and definately worth checking out if you can get used to something different. I also have 5 of the matching solid shell congas that go with these bongos.
4. Moperc Percussion
Made in Canada by Michel. Michel is another guy who DOES answer the phone and is available to help you out even though he is incredibly busy. At least that is my personal experience.
He’ll work with you. He makes a solid stave contruction product perfect for performers or traditionalists a like.
Very well built and built to last. Everything he makes is very strong. Definitely not “light weight” in any way shape or form.
His product range falls somewhere in between the small artisan and the larger companies prices and production techniques.
There is bit less waiting time for his products then some of the other companies although there is shipping and custom fees from Canada so it can get pricey.
Be sure to figure all that out before ordering or you could get caught with some extra costs.
Resolution are really nice but $500 list price. Manufactured by the son of the famous Valje owner Tom Flores.
These drums look, sound and feel the same as the real thing (i.e. Valje). They start at $500.
If you always wanted a Valje product and missed out on the opportunity here is a chance to get the real deal from someone in Tom Flores blood line.
Order soon there are rumors that the company may not be continuing!
Phone: (661) 251-1403 Fax: (661) 251-1951
6. Gon Bops California Model
Gon Bops California was made by hand in California by master craftsman Akbar up until about 6 months ago when Akbar left Gon Bops.
Some of you will remember Akbar from Valje and then his own company Sol.
The California model conga drum and bongos are the only model Gon Bops makes in the USA, the rest are made in Thailand.
It is still being made in California vs. the rest of the GonBops line which is made in Thailand.
It was a “quiet as it ‘s kept” type of prouct. Excellent sound, shape and feel as Akbar is another true artisan drum maker and master craftsment.
Request a catalog by calling (800) 817-2242
7. Valje by LP
The Valje by LP is a very nice model. The skin is not quite as nice as other drums mentioned here but still a beautiful piece. This drum is officially off the market I just noticed however there
may be some left in stores if you check around. This drum also reminds me alot of the original Valje. It may have been made in Thailand, I am not sure.
You could order it up until recently through LP and except for the skins it is another stong choice for the money if you like the Valje sound.
Customer Service: 877-526-2668
8. Bongo Hr El Piernas
HR Bongos are from Columbia and HR is a very highly rated bongo usually at a good price but you will not find them at stores.
If you can get them to return your calls this is a fine exotic bongo from Columbia. The
distributors are located in N.J.
The reason they are not rated higher on my personal choice list is because their organization is not very together and they are very hard to deal with.
If you do not speak Spanish forget about it. In terms of product delivery time and deadlines they do not have a good reputation so far.
I tried to order products from them several times but to no avail.
My friends have their drums so somehow they are getting them here. People I trust say they are some of the best sounding products out there so they are defiantely worht a shot if you do not mind the headache. There congas are built like tanks and they have several different models of bongos that all look very nice and well worth looking into in my opinion.
Isla is another company that is very hard to get in touch with and may or may not still be in
bussiness. There are countless complaints over problems with these drums as well as customoer relations. So why am I listing them here?
In my opinion they are great drums. Everyone that has them loves them, even the people with the cracked drums. The woods they use from Belize are extremely attractive and exotic. And the drums simply sound great.
I am not sure if they are even still in buissiness. If they are , they would be worth checking out. Their website is still up. The only reason Isla is rated on the bottom of the list is because there are so many complaints about problems with Isla products and customers not being able to get their products or get in touch with Mario, the owner. But they are beautiful sounding and have an amazing look and feel if you can get your hands on a set.
10. LP Giovanni
LP has arounf 44 different models of bongos. I personally like the LP Giovanni bongos in ash
wood. I have a set. They can be bought for around $304 on line new. LP’s products in the bongo lines are great value conscious choices. However, I do not care for the skins or I would actually rate these higher.
I own a set and I put on skins by Manito. The difference is amazing! The brown steer or mule replacement skins Manito offers in pre mounted or as a flat skin sound great on these. It is an added expense so figure that into the cost. They are easy to come by and you can often find them cheap on line so that is a viable alternative . The LP Generation 2 bongos are nice as well, but for me the Giovanni does the trick.
I like to mention some other drums and companies worth checking out.
The Bauer bongos from Brazil are also another strong choice for bongos. Very well made and unique.
Not ground breaking by any means but a solid choice with great sound. I played them in Brazil and really enjoyed them.
I have no idea how or where to get them in the USA though. It would be nice if we had a distributor here for all the wonderful South American brands!
Here is their website in Brazil: http://www.bauerpercussion.com.br/
Meinl has a very nice bongo called the Woodcraft Series wood bongo with “real” cowskins
(instead of the usual standard issue Buffalo hides), which is actually a good deal for $279.
Depending on your tastes you may not have to change the skins. It also uses ash wood instead of the usual Thai “Siam Oak” which is actually rubber tree. I like their hardware and their suspension system as well.
On a budget? if you change the skins there top of the line custom deluxe is a nice solid choice. I have a pair and again the problem is the thin ringy skins. Change them and you have a nice solid working piece.
The top of the line signature series is a nice “made in Thailand” piece if you got an exceptional deal on them. But at list price I would go with LP’s.
LP Matadoors are a solid sounding choice. Especially if you change the skins.
The skins despite being smaller then congas are still quite expensive and could run you anywheer from 25 -40 per skin or more depending on if you get pre mounted heads or not.
I have talked to Akbar the former owner of Sol a few times and he seems to think that there will
be a re release of Sol Percussion products at some time in the near future. The sol were very sweet and well made. I also liked the weight of the Sol bongos as they were quite light.
Two other companies I would like to mention are 3A Percussion in Columbia and Caribbean Rhythms made in the Dominican Republic .
Both of these companies uses the solid one piece shell. 3A has a website but it does not go anywhere. http://by3apercussion.com/
To watch a video of my four personal favorite all time bongos
please click on this brown link: