A guide to buying a djembe for the first time. Problems and pitfalls.
A choice of the right djembe drum for you depends on your lifestyle and personal preferences. The most common and easiest way to buy a djembe, is to come directly to the store with broad assortment of instruments and feel the drum resonating with your energy while choosing.
When you buy a djembe for the first time, we advice you to do it in person, in an offline store, as you can explore the drum yourself. But if it is difficult or even impossible, then buy it online through a good seller. Our site www.ethnomagic.com gives you a unique opportunity to listen to the sound of most instruments, and get a professional email advice for your choice. This option is optimal for those who cannot come to buy African drums in Moscow or St. Petersburg on their own.
Of course, all the drums are different and have a lot of features most of which are described in this article. However, the important thing is to see the difference between a high-quality instrument and the souvenir “fake”. Nowadays, you can see too many low-quality drums practically everywhere, which are being made carelessly and in a hurry for tourists who know nothing about this. Drumming on a “tourist’s” djembe is no fun, they sound awful no matter if you know how to play or not. You can even injure your hand when playing on a djembe which was made improperly, so it is especially important to start with a good instrument. Otherwise, your interest in djembe drumming can break together with your hands. We describe a number of factors that affect the overall quality of the instrument, such wood, carving style and technique, the quality of the skin and ropes.
There are several types of wood which are the best for djembe drums. The best instruments are made of different types of hardwood. Lenke, a traditional kind of wood is traditionally used for djembe drums, has excellent acoustic and energy properties.
Soft wood is the worst for manufacturing an African drum. If you hit the nail on the wood and get the deepening, then the tree is too soft and it will bnot be good. Djembe drums made of soft wood will not serve you for long and you can expect cracks and breaks of its body with the lapse of time.
Another thing that you should notice when buying an African djembe drum is the presence of sapwood. What is sapwood? This is the outer part of the tree, which is lighter and softer than the inner core. It is usually seen in the widest part of the drum close to the upper bowl.
When a tree is not yet cut down, the sapwood is still alive, carrying water and nutrients through the barrel, like veins and arteries in a human body, but it comes from the edge of the barrel. When harvesting lumber and wood, sapwood is usually discarded as it contains more water, so these areas can crack during drying and have fungi on them. For example, birch wood consists mostly of sap, and you can imagine how it looks. Many djembe drums have small amounts of sapwood, but it is always better if they are completely made of thick dark heartwood.
There is no uniform shape for all of the djembe drums. There are several different variations of the external and internal shape of the drum. A proper is one of the most important factors that you should pay attention to when buying a djembe, but it is also one of the most difficult parameters for beginners. The foot and the cup should correspond in their size, for example, a diaphragm having 33 cm should belong to the instrument with the height of 60 cm or less. A membrane of 27 cm should comply with a 50 cm height of the drum or less. Do not buy a djembe drum if it has a too narrow bowl on a long foot, or a wide bowl on a short one.
Thickness and wholeness
Explore your African drum for cracks in its body or large stains from the wood putty. Repair signs can be seen, but they should have moderate size. Turn the drum to the light and look at the repaired place. Do you see any light coming through? If yes, do not buy a drum. Several small, slight surface cracks are acceptable. Beware of cracks of more than 3 cm long or going through the whole body. Such cracks will grow in the lapse of time. A large crack or hole in the djembe body will pass the air, and you never get a decent bass sound. And yet, the body of the drum should have the same thickness around the whole perimeter.
Do not play the djembe with sharp edges for a long time as you can seriously damage your hands! Look for a drum with smooth neat edges.
The space along the rim where your hands are in contact with the drum is extremely important to the overall quality of the instrument, as you feel your djembe and interact with it through this space. Drumming edges should be rounded, not too sharp or broad. It is also important that they are flat and smooth. Swipe your finger on the edge of the drum slowly and carefully to feel any irregularities or chipped. They should be avoided.
A sound hole
A sound hole or a throat is the narrowest place in the drum located between the bowl and the foot. It plays an important role in determining the height of the bass drum notes. The wider is the throat, the lower is the bass note. A djembe with a very wide opening will have a very deep bass sound, but with a narrow one you can hardly hear the bass. However, the drummers playing in bands create the bass note by special separate dundun bass drums having separate parties. A normal djembe is a solo instrument having its separate rhythm, which should have a deep and sonorous sound.
Ensure that your drum is round. This may seem obvious from the first sight, but keep in mind that many of the djembe drums become more oval with the lapse of time. This can be usually seen among soft wood instruments. If you can not see if the drum completely round with your naked eye, measure the diameter of the membrane in several locations by a measuring ribbon or a rope. Then, rotate it for 45 degrees and measure again until all diameters around the entire surface are measured.
This drum djembe is made on a lathe! This photo shows the right setting of a spiral pattern inside the instrument. If the drum is perfectly smooth and completely flat inside, it is surely machined on a lathe. Although it is normal for the beginners, professional players usually avoid machine-made djembe drums. Why is it so? Traditionally, the inner surface of the African drum is not smooth.
It has some spiral groove as seen in the photo, and this gives the drum its unique voice rich in overtones. The djembe drums machined on a lathe at the plant do not have unique professional carving, so the sound of the instrument will not be individual. To determine if the djembe drum is handmade or not, put your hand inside it and feel the wood relief. Do you feel a spiral pattern or everything is even? Did you feel deep, straight grooves, such as those that can be made with a chainsaw, or maybe some negligent burrs. Avoid such instruments if possible.
The proper drum size depends on the size of your hands and body. If your hands are small or medium-sized (5 “-7″ from the base of the palm to the tip of the middle finger) and you are short, you should look at djembe drums having 11-13 inches in diameter. Drums having smaller diameters cannot produce decent tones and slaps. If you have large hands, you can choose a big instrument up to 14”. If you are a beginner, you probably want to be careful and choose a small drum, which, moreover, would be much better to carry around.
You can probably wish to choose the djembe after admiring its carved decoration. Though drums can be really beautiful, you should remember that sometimes it is only aesthetic which hides the defects in sound and overall quality under the carving. We advice you to look at the beauty criteria as the lease important one. First, look at the basic quality and only then the beauty of the finishing. But of course, if you choose between two drums of similar quality and parameters, the decorations are likely to be the deciding factor for you.
If you decide to buy a djembe drum, you will need to look at the fixation of the skin on its body. A low-quality djembe drum will break faster than you are ready for it, and the sound will not be good as well. For example, the cost of djembe membrane replacement (leather, rope and work) can be quite high, so it’s better to spend a little more time and money in the beginning while choosing the drum made with consciousness and love.
Look at the skin of the instrument to see all the tiniest holes. If the djembe skin looks bleached, then such drums usually do not sound as well as drums having shaved skin and natural color. In the first case, the membrane is probably treated by chemicals or salt, while at the second case they are usually naturally processed using the sun and the skills of the master. When you touch natural skin with your hand, you can hear a warm, natural sound. Rough processing with chemicals or salt will lead to synthetic, plastic or even pan-like drum sound. Put your hand into the center of the drum membrane. Does it bend? If yes, the djembe is probably not tuned properly. But that’s no problem as you can tune your drum yourselves, learning to do that, for example, using the materials from our website. Articles and videos can help you to tune your new friend. Also look at the quality of cut of the skin membrane, if it is even or has jagged edges. It also tells you how good the drum is. Notice all of these factors when buying an African djembe drum.
If these hoops are located at more than 3″ (7.5 cm) below the edge of the drum it is bad for its sound. A distance of 2 cm is what you need. Look at how close are metal hoops are to the edge of the drum. They should be located at 3 cm or less from the drumming edges. If the distance between the drumming edge of the game and a hoop is big, the hoops are made carelessly so they cannot keep the good tension of the skin, and the drum cannot be properly tuned for reaching the proper sound. You may need to get new hoops, resize them or at least wrap them with a cloth to touch the djembe drum firmly. You can make a medium-quality drum a good one using proper configuration or to damage its quality if unable to tune it perfectly.
Finally, check the rope that holds the skin. It should be smooth, stiff and new. If the rope is old, it can break. You should see only several nodes – one for each hoop and one on the vertical rope core. If there are more nodes, it can sign that the rope was torn and then connected again. Take a look at a diamond pattern (horizontal ropes crossing the vertical one) if it looks neat and smooth or sloppy? If you pull the rope over the edge, does stretch? Ideally, your drum rope should not stretch at all. If it is elastic, the drum will not stay tuned for a long time.
Djembe drums from Ethno-Magic – high-quality rope and natural cow skin!
Choose your drum carefully as it can become a trustful life partner, choose it as you choose your husband, wife or a place to live! If you are ready to spend a little more time and money, be picky and pay your attention to every detail, so the life of your drum will last longer, its sound will be better, and the harmony of your interaction will be really deep, giving you strength and happiness for years to come!
Let’s make the drum roll sound!
About our djembe drums: We personally select every djembe drums from the best drum masters in love with their business. All our drums are handmade and made of solid wood. Our jimbays have perfect edges, drawn with natural oil or lacquer for their protection and careful preservation for a long time, the strongest ropes hold tightly only the skin membranes processed by the sun, and our wood masters on the highest quality standards. Buy our Jumbo elephants! ©