Best Bongos for Beginners

The bongos are one of the many hand drums originating from Cuba. This may seem a little strange as most people don’t think of Cuba when picturing the bongos! It was, in fact, the Afro-Cuban community from West Africa that gave these instruments a place in modern music. Profane Afro-Cuban music is made up of styles of music such as Rumba and Comparsa (carnival music) which are full of energy and life. This carnival-like feel to the music and the lightweight portable nature of the instruments have rocketed them into the spotlight and has resulted in people across the world enjoying them. This is great as music should be accessible and there to get people on their feet and dancing.

 

Why so popular?

Part of the reason they are in such high demand is that they are amongst the easiest percussive instruments to pick up and so are great for a beginner to start playing and produce a reasonably decent sound, unlike say the marimba or the dhols which can take months, or even years, to sound decent on. This in no way means that once you have picked them up you are an expert, a lot of practice goes into it. They are considered a fun and light-hearted instrument and given their portability you will often see them dotted around wherever the sun is shining or there are people wanting to dance. These days there are also musicians trying to incorporate them into their regular drum kit to bring something different to the table. If you plan on hitting the bongos with drumsticks, be careful of the bearing edges, if they get ruined you will have to have the whole skin re-cut. If you want to try, we would highly recommend getting some timbale sticks or timpani mallets.

 

Bongos vs Congas vs Djembe vs Cajon. What’s the difference?!

There are 4 popular beginner hand drums of African descent. These are the Bongos, Congas, Cajon and Djembe. There is a difference between each of these in that they all lend themselves to different styles of music and so will pop up in different situations, as well as some, such as the bongos, being more portable than say the djembes or the congas. Here we will look at the bongos in more details but if you click the links above you can see a description of each of the drums which will hopefully help you decide which one is for you if you are unsure.

The bongos consist of a pair of open-bottomed drums of different sizes. Typically the drum heads are 6” x 7” and 7” x 8” but you can get larger ones. For the most desired sound, you would want the regular size and not the big ones. Oak would be the most common would you will see, whilst the best bongo heads are made with buffalo skin. The larger female drum is called the hembra in Spanish and the smaller male is the macho (literally male and female when translated). They are incredibly light and portable in comparison to their deeper brother the congas. As a result, they produce a more high pitched sound. You can even buy mini bongos – a pair of which we have included in our top 5. The bigger of the bongo pair would usually be hit with your stronger hand and we have included a video later on in this article to give you some beginner tips to get you going. You should also check out this article on tuning and proper care. These wooden drums are used in merengue, Latin jazz, mambo, reggae, rumba, electronic music, rap, funk, soul, guaracha, timba, and rock and as you can see are incredibly versatile So what are the best bongos to buy as your first set?

 

Top 4 Best Bongo Drums for beginners

As with any other instrument finding the best beginner bongos will be subjective but we have set out our reasoning for each of the lucky pairs that made it on to the list below. They are all in and around $50 (apart from the LPs) as we see this as the perfect price point for a first pair. Anything less and the sound and response will suffer, in fact, they will pretty much be a toy or decorative piece. Anything more we consider unnecessary too. There is not a huge difference between these pairs as you really have to go to the high end to start noticing the sound and quality difference, however these are all solid drums that will get you on your way. Make sure you tune them properly to get the most out of them (LINK down).

ModelName/ RatingSummaryCheck Price

LP Aspire LPA601-AW

Score: (4.80 / 5)

High performing, stylish bongos
AMAZON

Pyle (PBND10)

 

Score: (4.7 / 5) (4.75 / 5)

Good quality, good sound, good price
AMAZON

Toca Synergy Series

 

Score: (4.60 / 5)

Incredible finish. Small and sturdy pairDISCONTINUED

RockJam 100300

 

Score: (4.05 / 5)

Cheap entry-level pair
AMAZON

LP ASPIRE Series Wood Bongos Natural LPA601-AW

Best Bongos for beginners
Shell and head: (4.8 / 5)
Sound
Value:
Value:

What we liked:

  • These bongos are a step up from the others – made by renowned percussion producers, the LPs represent affordable quality bongos and at $75 you are getting high-performing hand-drums at a budget price.
  • They look fantastic with their oak wood shells and black coated hardware.
  • The 6-3/4″ and 8″ drums produce a clean, crisp sound, once tuned.
  • Sturdy and lightweight (in fact the lightest on the list)
  • The little drum (macho) can be tuned to a really high pitch whilst sounding great

What we didn’t like:

  • Nothing (maybe the heads could be changed for a better sound but we are just nitpicking)

Pyle Tunable Bongos – Hand-Crafted 6.5 & 7.5 Inch, (PBND10)

Pyle pbnd10
Shell and head:
Sound:
Value:

What we liked:

  • Well constructed quality Birch Wood shell which gives the pair a warm, bright sound
  • The natural ‘true skin’ animal hide heads and chrome-plated hardware, along with the shells give this pair a competently clear percussive sound and good projection.
  • Easy to tune and doesn’t slip out of tune once set up.
  • The finish looks really jazzy and not like your standard set.

What we didn’t like:

  • Nothing really, they are the perfect cheap pair of bongos for a beginner. One thing to note is that the heads don’t look as immaculate as in the picture, but this isn’t a bad thing, as just like with squeaky clean white trainers, looking a bit used adds to the effect.

 

Toca Synergy Series Bongos – Blue

Toca Synergy
Shell and head:
Sound:
Value:
DISCONTINUED

What we liked:

  • They look incredible! Their wrap finish looks pretty stylish. It makes you just want to pick them up and play.
  • Smaller than a standard pair which makes them very portable and easy to store. This also means that they are not as loud as a larger headed pair which is great if you are giving them to a toddler to bash away on or just don’t want to wake up the neighborhood.
  • They are sturdy, sound good and respond well with nice reverb

What we didn’t like:

  • Both a pro and a con – they are smaller than your standard pair which means less projection and less depth to sound.
  • Despite their smaller size, they are the same weight as they Pyle’s (in fact a tiny bit heavier)
  • Not as easy to tune as the Pyle’s

 

RockJam 100300 7″ & 8″ Bongo Drum Set with Padded Bag

Rockjam Bongos
Shell and head:
Sound:
Value:

What we liked:

  • They are the cheapest standard sized pair on our list at under $35
  • Despite their low price they produce a decent sound once tuned and are fairly sturdy.
  • Canvas storage bag included and fits the drums well.

What we didn’t like:

  • Despite a ‘natural’ gloss finish, they look a bit cheap.
  • The sound is a bit soft and hollow.
  • Needs a lot of tuning (see the bottom of this article)

 

Best Bongo Drums for Kids

Just because the music style may take an older ear to appreciate that doesn’t mean the younger generation can’t enjoy these. A great way for a child to develop their rhythmic abilities without having to fork out for a junior drum set. These are a cheap and fun way for a kid to experiment with sound and beat that won’t shake the walls. We would recommend these for any kid up to about aged 7, after that you can get away with buying one of the bongos above.

 

Remo KD-5400-01 Kids Percussion Bongo Drum – Fabric Rain Forest, 5″-6″

Best Bong Drums for Kids

 

What we liked:

  • Looks great with a fun rainforest finish
  • Remo – famous for their drum heads – have made sure that his sounds good and is not just a toy. It is a percussive instrument for kids!
  • Really strong and sturdy construction – these drums can take a beating.

What we didn’t:

  • Nothing! It is a fantastic way for a young child to develop their rhythmic and percussive understanding

 

Check Price

 

Remo RH-5600-00 Rhythm Club Bongo Drum – Rhythm Kids, 5″-6″

 

What we liked:

  • Adorable pair of bongos, with a wonderful finish
  • Synthetic heads are tuned well and stay in tune regardless of how they are played or the temperature.
  • Cheaper than the First Act pair but suitable for wider age range (0-6 years old)
  • Well crafted and nice sounding, these are more than just a toy

What we didn’t:

  • Sounds ok with hands, but better with mallets

 

Check Price

Remo Kids Bongo

 

First Act Discovery FB6125 Kids Bongos

First Act Kids Bongo

 

What we liked:

  • Perfect bongos for toddlers and very young children.
  • It is well constructed wooden drums, not cheap plastic.
  • Tuned and gives a nice clean sound

What we didn’t:

  • Not that loud but seeing as these are for age 0-3 that is actually a blessing in disguise!

 

Check Price

 

Bingo Bongo

Part of the most fun family of drums with a low barrier to entry and a cheaper price, bongos are a great percussion instrument to start a drumming journey. If you are looking for a drum to practice on with the intention of graduating to a full set then we strongly recommend you check out the drum practice pads available first.

Tuning your bongos

So, as with the drums, if you take them out of the box and simply start banging on them and they sound awful. At this point, instead of assuming you have been ripped off and throwing them out the window, try tuning them. Especially with lower end instruments the tuning can make the world of difference. To tune them follow these general instructions:

First, turn the bongos head-side down in your lap and use the included wrench to loosen all the bolts significantly (like you would changing a tire). Loosen them in quarter or half turns per bolt to prevent damage to the heads. Loosen until loose enough to turn by hand. At this point, tighten the bolts back up using your fingers until you can’t turn them by hand anymore. At this point, the drum, if you tap its upside-down head, would make a dull lifeless clunk. Tighten the bolts around each drum one full turn. Remember to move in a circular clockwise pattern around each drum (mainly so you don’t lose your place!). Once you’ve given each bolt a full turn, the tone will begin to sound more like what you’d expect from bongos. From here tune the larger drum slowly using half and quarter turns to get the right sound out of your drum. Remember to turn your drum over and check its tone by striking it after going around all of the bolts on it. If you have a tuner handy, I suggest tuning it somewhere between middle c and the e just above it, but this is entirely up to your tastes. Now tune the smaller drum which will need more tightening to get it to the higher, punchy pitch you want. As before use half and quarter turns, turning the drum over and tapping it regularly to check for tone. For a final fine adjustment, hold the drums right-side-up. Pick a drum and place your thumb lightly in the center of the head. Then, strike the head near the lugs, where the hooks hang down. You should hear a ringing. Repeat all around the head. Tune each lug slightly to match each lug’s ringing overtone. Repeat this process for the second drum and then you are ready to play.