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Finding Replacement Heads for Your Congas and Bongos

August 23rd, 2017 by Kyle Giauque


Have you ever had a problem that you thought was going to be a breeze to fix, only to find out that it was way harder than you ever could have imagined? That's what shopping for a conga or bongo head is like. But don't worry - I wrote this guide to help you get the perfect Latin drum head for your drum!

Unfortunately, there's no generic sizing for Conga or Bongo drums. A head that fits one 11” drum, for example, will not necessarily work with another 11” drum. This is obviously a lot different than trying to find a head for your snare drum. If you walked into our shop and needed a 14” head for your snare drum, any 14” head that we carry would fit just fine.

Luckily, manufacturers mass produce these drums now, which has created some consistency when it comes to their dimensions and replacement parts. It's still tough to find a head with the right fit, but it's possible, and this article will help you do it.

Two Steps For Success

In most scenarios, there are only two steps needed to find the correct heads for your drums. Step 1 is figuring out what kind of drum you have, and Step 2 is measuring your drum in case you don't already know your drum's size. I’ll break these steps down here.

Step 1: What Kind of Drum Do You Have?

Usually, if you know the brand, series, and size of your drum, you're already way ahead of the game, and it makes finding the right replacement head much simpler. If you need help finding your drum's series, it will usually be on a badge on the side of the drum somewhere, but if it's not, feel free to get in touch so we can help you figure out what kind of drum you have.

Once you know the brand, series, and size, you can head over to our conga & bongo drum head reference chart. Just scroll to the correct chart, find your series on the left side, find your drum's size on the top, and any of the heads in that row and column will fit your drum.

Once you know the brand, series, and size, you can head over to our conga & bongo drum head reference chart. Just scroll to the correct chart, find your series on the left side, find your drum's size on the top, and any of the heads in that row and column will fit your drum.

Step 2: How Big is Your Drum?

You'll want to measure the flat, circular area.


If you don't know what size your drum is, but you've figured out the brand and series of your drum, you’ll want to measure the head you’re replacing to help find out. This measurement may or may not be exact, but it will help you get in the ballpark of what size you need.

When you measure a conga or bongo, the actual playing surface is the part of the head you’ll want to measure. A common problem is accidentally measuring the overall diameter of the head, and not the playing surface.

Once you have that measurement, take a look at our conga & bongo drum head reference chart again to find out what sizes of drum exist in your series. Whatever sizes that have compatible heads listed are sizes that exist. The existing size that is nearest the measurement you took is the size of your drum.

Once you have that measurement, take a look at our conga & bongo drum head reference chart again to find out what sizes of drum exist in your series. Whatever sizes that have compatible heads listed are sizes that exist. The existing size that is nearest the measurement you took is the size of your drum.

Measuring the Bearing Edge

If you don't have your drum's old head for some reason, measuring the bearing edge is the only way you'll be able to figure out your drum's size. The bearing edge is the part of the shell where the head makes contact with the drum. You don't need to do this if you were able to complete step 1 or step 2.

Measure from the center of the curved edge to the center of the edge on the opposite side.


The diameter of the bearing edge is likely very near to the size of your drum. Once you have this measurement, look at our conga & bongo drum head reference chart again. Whatever sizes have compatible heads listed for your drum's series are the sizes that exist, so the size that's the closest to this measurement is the size of your drum.

The diameter of the bearing edge is likely very near to the size of your drum. Once you have this measurement, look at our conga & bongo drum head reference chart again. Whatever sizes have compatible heads listed for your drum's series are the sizes that exist, so the size that's the closest to this measurement is the size of your drum.

Now that you know how to find a head that fits, I'm going to try to give you some more info to pick the head that will sound and feel the way you want it to.


Head Types


Natural Skin vs. Synthetic

The one on the left is vegan, but the one on the right is made of rawhide.


There are generally two material types used for these kinds of heads: Natural Skin and Synthetic (Plastic). Neither is necessarily better than the other, although people certainly have their preferences, but they do almost always result in noticably different tone qualities.

Natural Skin

Natural skin heads have a warmer and more natural tone. These can be made out of cow skin, buffalo skin, or other kinds of animal skin, and they can be tanned into rawhide or made to be a softer, more natural stretched skin. They will also stretch or shrink as a result of changes in the weather due to the natural material.


Synthetic

Synthetic heads are generally much brighter, and they tend to project more. They are much less likely to shrink, stretch, or change pitch due to weather changes.

Tucked vs. Crimped

The head on the left is tucked around a hoop, while the visible metal rim on the right means it's been crimped.


There are two styles of Conga and Bongo heads: tucked and crimped. Although they both serve the same purpose, there are some important differences between the two. You'll find tucked heads used with both rawhide and synthetic materials, and crimped heads are only found with synthetic materials.

Tucked

Tucked heads have a more focused tone with few overtones. They offer a little more wiggle room when being mounted onto a drum due to their extended outer lip, and are typically found on drums that use traditional style hoops.


Crimped

Crimped heads, by comparison, are similar in construction to a standard drum head. These heads can be very durable and allow for higher tuning, and they usually produce a more open tone with more overtones. They provide a snugger fit than a tucked head, and are usually found on more modern hoop designs (I.E. Comfort Cuve, EasyPlay, etc.).

To Custom Fit Your Own Head...

Did someone order a circle of cow skin?


Rawhide heads can also come as a flat, unmounted skin and be tucked by the player to fit their exact drum. This can help you get exactly the sound you want, but it can also help if your drum is completely custom-made and not from a manufacturer.

This is a three-step process that requires:

  1. Soaking the unmounted hide
  2. Tucking and molding the skin
  3. Letting it dry to be used on your drum

You’ll want to keep the original metal ring from your old head to use it to mount the new, flat skin. It can be a bit of a process, but there are quite a few helpful “how-to” videos floating around online that may be able to help you out.

And remember, if you're not sure what to do to get your drum sounding the way you want it to, you can always send us an email or give us a call!


I hope this article has taught you something about picking replacement heads for your congas and bongos. Don't be afraid to post any questions you may have, and be sure to let us know what you think of the article! Also, if you have an interesting story about changing heads, we’d love to hear it.




Kyle started working here in 2009. He's a Cavaliers quadline alumnus and graduated with a Percussion Performance degree from OU. Nowadays, he gigs around Dallas as a drummer, vocalist, and guitarist.





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