CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: El Chino Congas - Mahogany beauties, rare and tasty

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

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El Chino Congas - Mahogany beauties, rare and tasty

In response to a query for more information regarding the El Chinos congas:

The El Chinos - made by Luis 'el Chino' Martinez, a resident of Hollywood FL, used to live in Miami, of Cuban decent. Im not sure where he was born, but he is in his 80's, from what i understand.

This set has been played by many a heavy, and everyone loves them. Pili Martinez and i sat in on a straight ahead Jazz gig in Napa.. he loves the sound of the set, and how comfortable they are to play.

this is the only other one ive seen, and it was for sale before i picked up this set of two. it didnt sell, but was listed as AfroCuba de Matanzas' quinto. I have yet to show Sandy it, to confirm... one day i will ask him.

Yaya Maldonado, on of the best ears in the bay, loves the sound of them. Im in love with them, obviously.

They are made of the legendary Coaba Mahogany They are woody and fat sounding, like a gon bops Mahogany but more full and round - more mid range, and less papery. Its not 'reflective' at all, like oak or ash, for example. But it has nice projection and medium sustain with absolutely no ring, just nice woody overtones.

The design is awesome. They are set up so elegantly, with two bands, showing off the wood - the bands are from straight stock, so only a middle and bottom band (easy way to it, not to have to manufacture bands, but getting the job done. It has a high belly, like the older Cuban tubs. - I love the sound of this shape. meinl, toca, Sol used this high belly, and they all sound good. I think its an underutilized shape.

The el Chino's have a strong voice, and can be 'nailed' without washing out when you need to be powerful, and they almost play themselves at low volume, without loosing the buttery tone. very crisp and quick slaps, for the 11' size. - set up with medium thick cow hide.

The bearing edge is very very comfortable, the most comfortable design i have only encountered on one other drum: del Cielo. You can play these drums all day. For me, this is a big deal.

They are 29.5", which is an ideal height for me. They are 11 and 12" which is a very nice setup. The quinto/conga has a wide range, and holds nice sustain as a quinto or a segund.

If I could find a 10.25, id be in heaven. finding a matching quinto is the hardest find ive ever had to deal with, in years of searching for rare congas. I've seen about 20 juniors listed in the time ive seen one of these tubs listed on the web. Please do let me know if you find one. I know Im making my search more difficult by telling every one about these tubs... but i hope the Kharma comes back, in the form of a matching quinto!


  1. you wouldn't happen to have El Chino's contact info?

  2. Hey Brother, no, Im sorry, I dont have any info, other than what is listed here. Id love to hear more about this set, or its maker.

  3. Hi Folks ! I have à set of "El Chinos/Miami"vintage congas in perfect sate, one 11", one 12" in black ! Seven Keys for the 12" and 6 upon the 11" one ! If somebody is interstet to buying them just contact me...Only problem,there à actualy in France/Europe ;) ! Contact:

  4. Greetings, I’m leaving this comment incase someone stumbles on this OLD thread. Today is June 11, 2021. I have 5 Chinos here in Colorado. I bought 2 in Puerto Rico in 1978. I just bought 3 more. 9 3/4, 10.5, 11 and two 11.5’s. I’ve spent the last year researching the history and wood used. According to many , including those who new El Chino personally the word is they are made out of Caoba mahogany. But…. My research has brought me to a couple OTHER possibilities ( probabilities). I’ve taken drum to a hardwood specialist and he assured me they are NOT Mahogany. 1- Mahogany does not have knots. 2- it doesn’t have the grayish tint on staves that is a fungus. All mine have both. 3-The grain is different from mahogany. I have 2 different models. 2 have a smaller base giving them a more bulbous look ( see above photos) My other 3 are wider at base giving them a slimmer look but both 11.5’s have same circumference. I believe ( not set in stone) they are Caribbean Pine found in Cuba and other islands. This tho is NOT a hardwood. It is considerably harder than common Pine. The hardwood experts said it looks like Pine but much much harder. Not soft by any means. I also learned Mexico has the biggest variety of Pine in the world. And the southern states have harder Pine called Southern Pine.
    I just thought I’d share and I’ll continue my search for the definitive wood identity of the rare and beloved Afro Sound El Chinos. Tudie


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