Bongo Mania!






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   Bongo tuning is largely a matter of personal preference. Some players tune the drums in reference to the 12-tone melodic scale: a fourth, a fifth, or an octave apart.
   The easiest way to approach it, though, is to tune the macho up very high, until even light tapping produces a crisp tone. Then tune the hembra up until it produces a pleasing tone that "sounds right" in combination with the macho.
   The macho will make a scary cracking or popping noise when you tighten it up fairly high, but this is just the sound of the hide under tension re-seating itself across the bearing edge. However if you have tuned very high, and the lugs become difficult to tighten, stop there. Tightening further could tear the head.
   The hembra does not need that much tension, so start with a low pitch and work your way up until it has a low thumpy tone without much sustain.

   Many people recommend tuning drums in a diagonal pattern like this:

tuning pattern

   The idea is that the head will be tensioned more evenly this way than if it is tightened in a circular pattern.

   An important note: always tune the drums down after each time you play! The macho can rip if it is left tuned up in a hot location, especially if it was cold when you tuned it. Also, the heads will stretch out too quickly if you don't detune each time.

   All drums have a "ringing" sound if the head is not tensioned evenly, and some heads require damping to stop the ring. Bongo players in particular hate to hear a ringing sound from their drums, as the classic bongo recordings all have a very dry sound. However some of that dry tone was just a lucky artifact of early recording technology!
   First you should make sure your heads are evenly tensioned. Detune the drums until tapping the heads produces a "bommm" sound with sustain. Tap the head at the four points near each lug. You will notice that it produces a different pitch at each point. Slowly tighten the lug at each point where the pitch is lower until the pitch you hear is the same no matter where you tap the head. Once the pitch is even across all four lugs, then tighten up according to the diagonal pattern, being very careful to tighten the same amount on each lug. This should solve most tone and tuning problems.
   Some heads will still need damping, also known as muffling. Take a 3-inch length of white adhesive bandage tape (from drug stores typically), or adhesive foam weatherstripping, and attach it to the underside of the head. Experiment with taping different spots to see how the sound changes. Eventually you will find a spot that damps the ringing sound. It may take more than one piece of tape.

   If that doesn't work, you may need a new head. Stock heads (the ones that came with the drums) are made by factory workers, not drummers, and they pay more attention to the timeclock than the tone of your bongo heads. You can buy replacement heads at your local music shop, but your best bet is to have someone make a new head for you, or make it yourself.

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