CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: April 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How to skin a conga drum, by Tony Norris

A few people asked how to skin up a conga, so from now on, Ill send them here... so, welcome, you lover of the congas you. Welcome to a tutorial on how to skin a conga...

pic before and after the skin job....

Firstly, buy a top quality skin from me... then

Put a piece of tape on the crown where the handle, or bracket for the stand is, so you can mount it in the same place, in case your lugs are not evenly placed around the drum (ie, custom made)

Take the original skin off, and soak both the original and the new skin in a tub of water, completely submerged, overnight.

In the morning.. when you are ready to skin the drum, set out your tools, and get your workspace set up, with all the needed hardware on hand. Once the skin is out of the water, time is of the essence, as the more it dries, the harder it is to cut - leading to mistakes.

Tools needed - as many hand clamps as lugs, box cutter with new blade, vice grips or pliers, lug socket wrench, strong scissors, and a rubber mallet.

Firstly, prep the rim of the conga shell with some hard soap, or, in this case, a candle so the skin does not stick to the rim as it dries.

Take the old skin out of the water, and take out the metal hoop.

Make sure the drum, the crown, and the metal hoop are round.. measure with a tape.

If not, correct them - wood dowel inside the drum to fix a slightly out of round shell - keep it in place till the skin dries completely - Crown and metal hoop, bend them back to round, if need be.

Then, put the metal hoop inside the crown and see how it best lines up - the same overlap outside the crown, not in and outside the crown, so all parts of the metal hoop will not slip under the crown when tightened. find the best fit, mark the metal hoop with a pen where the tape is on the crown.

Then, put the soaked skin, smooth side up, on the drum, careful to center it.

Put the metal hoop on the skin, being careful to center it with even distance from the shell all around, and with the tape over the right area (over the handle or stand bracket, witchever you choose to mark the crown).

Then fold the skin over the metal hoop, being careful to keep the metal ring unmoved from its center spot on the drum.

Clamp the hand clamps over the folded skin over the metal hoop... one between each set of lugs.

Then, put the crown on, making sure the marking tape is over the handle or stand bracket.

Make sure all the skin is up and under the crown, and all the side plates line up with where the lugs catch the crown.

then, with your belly on one side of the crown, lean on the opposite side with both hands, getting the first lug in the side plate so you can get a couple of turns on the nut on the lug. You may need to do this without the washers, if you need the extra 1/8" to get the nut on.

Also, you may need to take the hand clamps off, if they are preventing you from getting the lugs on.

I like to use the clamps that are thin, for just this reason (big one pictured).

After you get the first lug on, with belly still holding the other side down, put both hands on the 'belly' side, making sure the crown stays over tucked skin as you take your belly off of the crown.

Now, pull, or push down on the crown opposite the first attached lug, and get a second, and third lug on.

The rest of the lugs should not be as difficult to get on.. so once you get all the lugs hooked up with a couple of turns of the nuts, make sure the crown is centered over the drum and the crown is in the right spot over the sideplates - correct with rubber mallet.

At this point, the we need to pull on the extra hide to make sure the metal ring seats, and locks the skin on the crown. So, pull on it with vise grips, or pliers, careful not to mark the part of the skin you are going to keep on the drum.

Squeeze the metal hoop to the crown as you pull the skin, make sure it seats, and get all the wrinkles out of the skin.

Then, tighten the lugs till the top of the crown is just under the rim of the drum - make sure the crown is level to the top of the drum, and is level in how it is tightened down... pull the extra skin down to make sure the crown is even all around the drum.

At this point, the skin should make a very deep and wet tone when lightly struck, then you know its seated and is locking the skin between the metal ring and the crown.

Depending on how you like it, the crown should be just under the top of the drum, at this point.

If you are sure it is seated, then you are ready to cut it.

Take a pair of very strong scissors and snip one fold of the extra skin, to get your razzor blade in to cut the rest of the extra skin off.

Once you cut a hole in it to get the blade in, let the blade rest on the crown, angled away from the drum so as not to cut the good part of the skin in this process.

Pull the extra skin away from the drum as you cut it with a very sharp and new razor blade being really careful not to cut the skin you want to keep on the drum. One slip can ruin a skin, and you will have to start over with a new skin if you slip, even if it is only slightly nicked, as they will split open over time. So, take your time with this final process.

So, almost done...

Dry the drum upside down, tightening the lug nuts by hand periodically. After the cut edge of the skin is dry and stiff, tighten the lug nuts a turn or two each. At this point you should hear a tone when tapping the skin, but be easy on it, it still can get marred. This method will prevent the skin from 'sagging' just inside of the rim as it dries. It will also prevent the white ring near the crown seen in this skinning. The wax you used to prep the crown comes in handy at this point, by letting the skin move over the rim as it dries.

Be careful to let the skin completely dry before tuning it up to a typical pitch. It may take a week in the winter.

Check out the lack of waste on this job!!! with a bit of trimming, i have some lashing i can use later.

fyi, this was an 18" skin put easily on a 11.25' conga.

Elapsed time: 15 minutes.

Well ,well, well.... that wasnt bad... now was it??? ;)


Monday, April 28, 2008

Old Kundu drum from New Guinea - how odd!

get this...

My neighbor, had this in his storage.. his aunt was a missionary in New Guinea, back before they Joined Papua to form Papua New Guinea. She brought this back to the states in 1964. who knows how old it was then... but looks much older than that.

What a strange drum... very well made... seemingly out of Mahogany.

It has, what is said to be an opossum skin, with bird bone tensioners... very bazaar, and kind of chilling to see. I can see some cat with a big bone in his nose, playing the shit out of it in some wild ceremony! after all, these cats were some of the last cannibal tribes in existence.

Creepy.. as this drum looks like it was actually ceremonial, and may have played a part in some of these gruesome rituals.... who knows.

It had some kind of resin tacked to the skin, like fardella to dampen the sound. I am told that the usual skin for these drums is lizard! crazy...

It has a big hand carved bell that is exactly an octave lower than the top.

Its finished with what looks like pitch and ash... very cool...

It has the strangest and most unusual tunning system ive ever seen, with little pebbles tied into the skin with the hand made tensioning rope... very cool.

It's the only system ive ever seen that puts no holes in either the skin, or the shell!!! What a Trip!

I sent off an email to a museum that displays art from this area.. perhaps we'll find out more about it.

Sunny day at Hippy Sams

Relaxing day at Hippy Sams.. drinking cheap Mexican beer out of cans and enjoying the herb garden...

Some of Carlos Aldama's students were there, enjoying the beautiful day.

James, Geordie, Lisa, Richard, Sam, Yaya, Hadley and I. We had fun playing some various forms.. Bembe, Iyesa, Makuta, Conga... with a really nice sounding Columbia with truly tasty singing by Yaya.

Got to play Sams tortured Junior Tirado. It's all hose clamped up, and in sad shape.. still makes a good bajo.


Gary King Sr. crazy repair job!! broken heart djembe

Here is a drum that i gave to Gary, with the idea of repairing the drum as a symbol of his repairing heart, after loosing his son a few months back.

You got to love Gary's smile.. he is one genuine person.... and he is so happy with this so dang ugly repair!!

Man, this one was really bad, and very odd break, in that it was cracked from a violent blow, in several directions and very hard to get clamped in the correct direction.

When using these expanding glues, its so important to make sure they are clamped very tightly, as they will split apart a hairline crack as it dries and cures.

So, we put a metal bar across the top of the drum, wound the rope around the cracked area, and then up and over the bar, to prevent the rope from slipping down the shell as it gets tightened.

This was the first time i did this technique, very fly by the seat of my drawers kind of thing..

Gary was very impressed.. laughing with amazement as i wrapped and bound this challenging drum... he is so funny.. really gets into things, with the amazement of a kid, at times.

This is a quality i always enjoy in people.. when they get such a thrill out of the simple pleasures of life.. laughing and shaking their heads with enjoyable bewilderment! ... fun....

So, we will see if this drum comes together.. its a 50/50 shot at rebuilding this into the amazing drum it was. this is one top end drum, and in the end, it looks like Yagbe will be stringing it up for Gary... very cool.

Yagbe is one of the best at skinning and roping up a drum. You should see his work... incredible.

Im so happy Yagbe has adopted Gary as a student... Im so happy for them both, as Gary is going to be a great student, for sure. He already has decent chops, as he has worked on western rudiments in the past, for some reason... as he was a guitar player.

From what i understand, Gary was quite a player, back in the day. Im sure this will help him in his work with Yagbe..

As we all know, we need all the help we can get when working with Yagbe, as he is such a master.

I asked Yaya if he knew of anyone who was a master in several traditions, as Master Yagbe. Eventhough Yaya knows many a player from east to west, he knows of no one who has mastered as many folkloric traditions as Yagbe. Its like having a triple doctorate.

Anyway, lets see if we can get this drum to sing. I have a feeling it will come together.


New Rumba in the east bay!!! - Sweetie Pies

How cool is this...

Yaya and I met with Olivia of Sweetie Pie's soul food restaurant in Oakland about setting up a regular rumba.

She was so receptive to the idea, to the extent that they are building a small stage and buying a house PA!

They even have Anchor steam on tap, and some of the best soul food around! Yea!!!

This is such a cool thing, to bring the rumba to this area.

After meeting Gary King Sr. i realized i must get involved in the solution to the problems Oakland is facing. I so enjoy the area, and the culture it has so generously shares with me. This is a small way we can give back to the community.

So, Every Second and Fourth Saturday of the month, 3-7pm - Sweetie Pies soul food

53rd and MLK - SPREAD THE WORD!!!

It will be a cast of heavies, as usual...

First rumba is May 10th. See you there!


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Old Fuji - new life as a rumba ax!

Brother Wil Perez gifted me a very nice and somewhat playful old Japanese Fuji (i think) Tumba 12" fiberglass.

It's shape is like a king knockoff, and the thickness is similar in that it's lighter weight than the lp fiber drums with a thinner shell.

I think this had a lot to do with the kings legendary wood like sound.

Nothing about a good sounding drum says it needs to be well built!

There are several features about this drum that i like very much - the crown is actually tapered (see pic) so its more comfortable to play. It makes the skin very hard to cut, however, as it's right up against the skin that cant be cut in the process.

The sideplates are very nice, sold cast pieces just the right distance from the shell - just far enough to fit a box wrench on the lug nut and not too far as to put too much stress on the shell.

Its shape is fantastic, its light as a feather and the bearing edge is not too bad, for a fiber drum.

Anyway, this 12" tumba should be great, and it's just what i need.. a drum i can throw in the back seat and hit the nearest rumba... not have to worry about some passionate Cuban cat banging on it with sticks, ect.

I believe its a Fugi, as my friend Hippy Sam has a similar one he calls a Fuji.

It has diferent hardware, but the skin was sown on on both drums, and the shape is exactly the same.

Thanks Wil, for such a nice gift! So nice of you... really....