The origin of the Conga is much the same as the Bongos. They are often played together and complement each other well. The Conga, like the Bongos, is an Afro-Cuban hand drum descending from Africa. Unlike the Bongos, the Conga is free standing and can be played sitting down or standing with the use of stands.
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At this point you may be thinking ‘how am I supposed to know which hand-drum to play?’ A very common question and it is very subjective and depends on what you are looking for. If you want to pick up your drum and pack it away in your bag so that you can bust it out wherever you go then you should look at the Bongos as the Congas are usually a lot larger.
The congas are free standing and more comparable to Djembe in size and tone. Before deciding which one is for you may want to listen to music with each in – for congas we suggest Santana, and djembe – Mamady Keita. It may be that you are more attracted to a particular sound and style. In general though the Djembe is the loudest with the deepest bass and so more suitable for large outdoor playing. The congas have a quieter and sweeter sound and are great fun to play with a group – whether latin jazz, funk, or soul. Here is a video showing these two hand drums side by side.
They are much louder and deeper than the bongos and you would eventually want to play on 3 of them as discussed below. So whilst they may not seem like the most accessible of the hand drums, if you’re the person with congas you will be highly in demand when a street festival is about to kick off. If you ever decide to play acoustic drums, whilst it will be vastly different, you will have at least some experience in drumming.
Congas come in 3 sizes measured by diameter. More regular players would have the set of 3, but we would recommend that you start off with one as a beginner and then get the others as you progress.
The 3 sizes are the Quinto, the smallest and highest pitch. The Segundo, the mid-sized and the best conga for new players due to its versatility and finally the Tumba, the largest and lowest-pitched.
If you are only getting one then you should choose the Segundo as it is the most balanced which is what you would look for as a beginner.
If you are on a budget and don’t want to fork over too much at the moment then a fiberglass conga is the way forward as it is much cheaper than wood. You won’t be able to play a gig with it, but it is more than adequate to start on. Wood, such as oak or ash, will produce a richer, cleaner sound. On the other hand, the fiberglass models will also have a synthetic skin, which is more durable and resilient to temperature shifts, even if they suffer a little bit in depth of sound.
So let’s get this party started with our list of the best congas to buy for the new players. These will mostly be wooden and whilst you can get fiberglass we would recommend wood for obvious reasons. Nothing can emulate the warm, bright sound of wood. You can either buy congas in pairs or just buy one conga. Ultimately you will need to play at least 2 congas but as a beginner one is ok, especially as the cost of a pair and a stand start to escalate things. A pair of congas and a stand is not cheap, even with the entry-level models, but that is the price to pay for such a unique instrument.
|Model||Name/ Rating||Summary||Check Price|
LP LPA LP LPA646 Aspire Congas 646 Aspire Congas
Score: (4.60 / 5)
|Immaculate craftsmanship and complex tones. Most competent pair for serious starters|
| Toca Synergy Congas|
Score: (4.70 / 5)
|Well-crafted and great sound. More affordable entry-level pair|
LP Aspire Wood Conga
Score: (4.60 / 5)
|Beautifully constructed and wonderful sound. Single conga for those who don’t want to commit to a pair|
Lp Lpm198 Mini
Score: (4.55 / 5)
|Mini-conga. Space efficient and a great way to play around. Affordable, portable and good sound|
|Shell and head:|
In at our top set is a magnificent pair of congas by the maker’s LP (Latin Percussion) who are famous for anything related to hand percussion. These wonderful drums look and sound the part. Compact yet sturdy, these 10″ and 11″ oak congas with chrome hardware and double stand are pure quality. Their deep unblemished woodgrain finish is nothing short of breathtaking. These natural-looking beauties will definitely turn heads.
More than capable of handling a wide range, whether high or low you will get a tone with loads of depth and wonderful response. The heads can change in extreme temperatures and humidity, they are easy to tune and play like they will endure a lifetime of hand-slapping and mallet banging. The same goes for the hardware stand which is robust and unwavering in its support of the drums. All of which is great for a beginner and even though there are a bit pricier than our next kit they are worth every cent (and more). If you are serious about playing the congas then this pair will not only help you progress, but they will last you a lifetime and more importantly, you can play them anywhere without feeling ‘underdressed’.
|Shell and head:|
We appreciate that not everyone looking to get into the congas wants to fork over up to $400 for what could end up being a short-lived hobby which is why this more affordable set by Toca can be perfect for a beginner. For under $250 you will get the set with a stand and for $20 more you can get a matching pair of bongos.
These 2-ply maple shells with rawhide rims and black coated hardware may represent the low-end of the price spectrum but they aren’t cheap rubbish. With a choice of 4 finishes, you should be able to find one that suits you. They are pretty stylish, even if they don’t look as professional as our number one spot. The 2-ply shell is a sturdy construction as is the hardware. The head feels good as does the ring, whilst the maple produces a bright warm sound that really carries and projects well. This is the perfect budget option for a beginner wanting a full set with stands and the matching bongos are a nice extra if you opt for them.
|Shell and head:|
Finishing off our top 3 is a single conga, no pair, no stand, just the one conga, but it is an immaculately crafted conga by the wonderful LP again. With a sublime natural finish, this 28″ tall kiln-dried, environmentally friendly, Siam oak drum is a thing of beauty. Comfortable to play with a dynamic head this is as always LP at their finest. If you are looking for only 1 conga to test the waters and don’t need a pair, but you still want something quality then this is it. At under $150 this represents top-end performance at a reasonable price.
|Shell and head:|
This mini conga is a perfectly crafted drum to get you accustomed to conga playing. It is a miniature replica of the full-size drum above, but despite its incredibly smaller stature (11” by 5”) it sounds wonderful. It’s small but still built to the high standards of any LP drum and so is definitely not a toy, even though you can play around with it in your lap. It is easy to carry around with you and perfect for say, practicing on the beach. You will not get the feel, response and depth of sound as you will for the full-size model so if you are really serious about progressing your conga playing we would recommend going for the 1st on our list, but if you are looking for a conga that you can walk around with under one arm, then for under $50 you get a great little conga that produces a fantastically melodious tone.
If you have decided to go with the Congas then you may want to check out this video on tuning and maintenance.
Also if you are not using a stand then be aware if playing on a carpeted surface, especially a fluffy carpet, as a lot of the sound will be lost to it.
Just be aware that whilst you may want to start out on a cheaper model, the sound quality will be much worse than a high quality set so don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t sound like the professionals. Starting off though we always recommend starting cheaper and working your way up.
If you are set on a higher-end drum but don’t have the budget, you should check out some second-hand ones as they could be perfect for what you want. If you do go for a used one that’s on sale, be sure to check out when the head was last changed as you don’t want an old head that is going to rip in a week. Check for cracks, rust and general wear and tear. Take a wrench to check the lugs/bolts tighten/loosen and aren’t stuck.
If you are serious about playing then you should buy it brand new, as a beginner you may not know what to look for in a 2nd hand one and it could cause you quite a few headaches and end up costing you more. Also, make sure you buy a travel bag to protect it. When buying the gig bag you need to check that it is the right size for your conga. If you buy a more expensive conga model then we would recommend a more expensive padded gig bag to protect it