Ask the Expert: advice on buying a djembe

Ask the Expert: advice on buying a djembe

Barry from Ireland emailed asking for advice on buying a djembe:

“I am considering buying a djembe from the Tycoon / Dancing Drum collaboration Signature Series. There are two that were recommended :

Tycoon ‘Dancing Drum’ Signature Series 13” Goatskin Djembe

Tycoon ‘Dancing Drum’ Pro-Series 12” Calfskin Djembe

Which do you think would produce the deepest warmest bass tone and solid not too tinny sounding high notes?

I’ve read that goatskin produces very nice tones but can be tough to play on the hands.

Also not sure whether 12” or 13” size would be best.

I will be using this for Christian worship music plus a bit of Irish trad….”


Mark Jones, presenter of our Hand2Hand DVDs replies:

The short answer is that it depends on what sound you are after. There are 6 things to consider:

  1. Is this a stand alone drum or will you be playing it in conjunction with other drums? Tone/pitch are then important. I.e. the tones need to sit comfortably with the tone from other drums. Although you can tighten the skins this can be a lengthy process so if they are natural rather than synthetic, which you can tune a lot easier, you really need to be able to play and hear your drum.
  2. I wouldn’t just buy online if you are spending a lot of money. You need to see what you’re buying.
  3. In terms of size of drum head/ typically the larger the head the bigger bass notes you will get and conversely, the smaller the head the higher the natural pitch. I have 12″, 13″ and 14″ djembes and will play different ones for different contexts. My personal preference would be to select a 13″ which still gives you a nice bass tone but also enables you to get a high tone and nice slap.
  4. In terms of skin type I have both cow and goat. The cow has a good warmth to the tone and the goat has an amazing high slap that cuts through so if it is being used as the master drum it’s perfect. It does depend though on how thick the skin has been cut and how high the drum has been tuned.
  5. You should also consider the weight of the wood. More dense woods and wall thickness give a deeper, richer sound.
  6. It’s worth getting a double strung djembe rather than single roping if you can afford it. If you are planning to have your djembe re-roped with a new head I would recommend Rich Rhythms. They are excellent and my last Djembe sounds twice as good as it ever has. They source the skin types and send you photo updates as your Djembe is being rebuilt. Check them out.

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Articles on percussion that you might find useful:

Ask the Expert: Learning Cajon Drum

Ask the Expert: How to play the egg shaker

Percussion in worship: The egg shaker- part 1 and part 2

Top ten Do’s and Don’ts- Percussionists

Top 5 djembe drumming techniques you need to master