CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: The ideal conga - a dream in progress - best conga ranking

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

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The ideal conga - a dream in progress - best conga ranking

I think im in love with the search, I'm not sure what i will do, if i am able to assemble my ideal instruments.

I have found the ideal set for my Latin Jazz gigs - the Mahogany El Chino's. They are so comfortable and somewhat effortless to play, and very nice sounding at low volume.

Ive played just about every drum on the market, short of Moperc, Timba Ismials, Sonoc, Vergara and a few obscure others.

Id actually like to list the congas ive played, for my own entertainment, and to stave off Alzheimer's... Please forgive the repeated use of Congas, but it helps in the search engine rankings...

Lp Classic Congas
Lp Player series Congas
Lp Aspire Congas
Lp Caliente Congas
Lp Accents Congas
Lp Matador Congas
Lp 30th anniversary model Congas
Lp Candido Congas
Lp Potato Congas
Lp Giovanni Hidalgo Congas
Lp Valje Congas - Oak, Beech and Cherry
Cp Congas - early models
Cp Congas - later models
Meinl Floatune Congas - fiber
Meinl Congas - rubberwood
Toca Congas - Oak
Afro Congas
Junior Tirado Congas - Mahogany
Jay Bereck, Skin on skin congas, Cherry, Oak and Ash
JCR Congas - Oak
Isla Congas - Canoe ( Poplar, i believe ) Cherry
Matt Smith Congas, Ritmo Congas -Oak, African Mahogany, Honduran Mahogany
El Chino Congas - Mahogany
La Playa Congas - Mahogany/Fir
Valje Congas - La, Sf, ashiko's, bata of oak; very early mahogany 5 banded quinto
Gon Bops Congas - 50's Mahogany first 1000 series (32"ers with # stamp on the crown)
Gon Bops Congas - Mahogany and Oak, all basic series of all ages
Gon Bops Congas - California series Oak prototypes.
Gon Bops Congas - California series Oak
Sol Congas - Oak and Mahogany, various series.
Timba Congas - Oak
Mombizas Congas - solid shell
Motherland Congas - solid shell
WestCoast percussion
Fuji Congas
Slingerland Congas
Royce Congas
Ecotone Congas
King Congas
Bauer Lite Congas - Ash
Bauer Congas - Cedar
Raul Congas - Cedar
Candido Requena Congas
Del Cielo Congas
Volcano Congas - Mango
Vergara Conga
Candido Requena Conga

... I'm sure i forgot a few, but other than some rare pieces from Cuba and Mexico, thats about it.

pic is of James' old cuban Candido Requena

Point being, there were a few drums that really did it for me. Sos Cherry, Bauer Cedar, my favorite unknown Mexican Mahogany drums (pic), Matt Smith's African Mahogany, Sol oak, Valje, Gon Bops early Oak, Isla Canoe, Junior Mahogany.

Sound is subjective.. the ideal tone is in he ear of the beholder. And there are several different uses, and different sounds i want out of a set of drums.

For me, having specific sets for Rumba, Salsa, and Latin Jazz work is ideal. It might be helpful for some to know my favorite drums, and how they stack up to all the high end drums on the market.

One can always rebuild a drum, or fix a crack, so to me, the sound is what is most important. Quality of construction is important only to the point that it enables the drum to sound as good as it can for as long as it can.

Im not talking about furniture here, so if you're a fan of the most beautiful drums on the market, Volcano percussion, for example, and like to pay a million to have your drums to look like a million bucks, this is not the post to be reading. I'll leave that post up to collectors who like to look at their "congas"/conversation pieces - they can hold a beauty contest on their blogs if they like. This blog is about instruments. (yea, it's my pet peeve - i dont like the inflation in conga prices, in the middle of a recession hitting musicians disproportionately hard - the collectors need for pretty furniture drives the price up for actual players, the rich always have money... please guys, go back to collecting fine watches ;)

I only listed drums one can find, either new, or used. And this is only my opinion, and is based solely on my direct experience.

Ranked according to sound for Salsa:

Matt Smith, Sos, Junior, Isla, Timba, Valje, Sol, Bauer, Gon Bops.

Sound rank for Rumba:

Isla, Gon Bops, Bauer, Valje, Sol, Matt Smith, SOS, Junior

Sound rank for latin Jazz:

Junior, Isla, Bauer, Valje, Sos, Matt Smith

Ranked according to quality of construction and durability:

Matt Smith, Sos, Valje, Sol, Junior, Bauer, Isla, Gon bops, Timba

JCR needs an honorable mention as one of the best on the market, but their hardwood drums are super heavy, and need heavy skins to manage the ring. They are great sounding drums with the right skins. They are built like tanks and will last for several generations to come. The hardware is fantastic.

I you are looking for one set of all purpose congas, i would recommend the following congas with the best value:

at $1000+ each, i can't recommend anyone

at $750+ Matt Smith

at $450+ Isla Percussion

at $300+ Gon Bops - used market

at $200+ Lp Matador's - used market

at $100+ Cp older traditional models, Toca traditionals - used market

Some of my favorite less expensive drums:

Lp Matador congas
Toca traditional oak
Meinl Rubberwood, traditional rims
older CP oak
Lp Classics

Other medium priced recommendations: Lp Giovanni's, Meinl Floatune

Im looking forward to further searching, and a long awaited set of Matt Smith Black Walnut will somehow make its way to me, at some point.



  1. Hey I recognize that ancient tub photo, I sent it to you a while back.

    That was an ebay auction a while back. Thought it might be your thing.

  2. Nice to hear from you Bombs.

    Yea, this old quinto went unsold at $20. I still have the link, i bet he still has the drum.


  3. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for the very informative blog. I was surprised you did not mention Timba congas in your review. Is there a particular reason?

    Jazfro, Brisbane (Australia)

  4. Jazfro,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I was sure to forget someone, thanks for pointing that out.

    I will update the post.


  5. Thanks Tony for your research and opinion. I just purchased two nice looking Matadors with stands and Matador Bongo for $400. I can't wait and think I got a good buy!


  6. Sure Mike,

    That is a great deal, they are great drums, actually. You may want to change the skins to something a bit thicker than stock, but some of the old ones have better skins.

    Have fun!


  7. Hi Tony,

    I was wondering if you could give me some advice about a new pair of Matador congas I've bought.

    I'm new to the conga world (more of a djembe player up until now) and am not really sure how to look after or work in new skins.

    When I'm making any kind of muffled or bass tones there seems to be alot of ringing.
    A drum kit player friend suggested that new skins need to be stretched in order to sound good but I don't know if that would apply to congas.

    This blog mentions that newer Matador skins aren't always great sounding and reskinning is recommended but if there's anything else I could try first it would be good to know.

    Thanks for this blog by the way, it's really helpful for someone just getting into playing congas.

  8. Without question, top quality skins are the solution to your ringing issue.

    Mounting your own flat skins is simply a chore you have to do, pre-mouted skins will not solve your ringing issue.

    Feel free to email me at

    thanks for reading,


  9. Hi Tony,

    Great blog, I really enjoy reading it. I was wondering if you've ever taken the time to check out Tycoon percussion. I've had a few seasoned players, like David "La Mole" Ortiz, suggest them to me and I was wondering what you thought of them and how they hold up against other drums?

  10. This certainly is a useful and fascinating blog. I would certainly like to find some great old congas, but as I am doing so over years probably and looking for just the right set, I'd like to be playing some more accessible drums, so I picked right up with your reference to Matador drums.

    LP markets them as its less expensive professional alternative. What am I looking for to pick up a good set? Are there reference numbers, specific years (like a fine wine), or specific wood? I am handy with my hands, and will have no big problem putting on the right heads.

    Another question - what sort of varnish or other finish do you use with restored drums?

    An interested fan of your blog,


  11. Thanks for the kind words about the blog Neurotic2U.

    The older matadors with the traditional rims sound better to me.. that would be mid 80's and earlier, aprox. 400 for a set of two should work.

    I use many types of finishes, depending, but most often I use coats of polyurethane.

  12. Soul Drummer,

    I have not played Tycoon. But I dont hit many music shops. I havent seen anyone playing one here in the bay area. David "La Mole" Ortiz is much better qualified to make a good recommendation without question. If he said they rock, they rock.

    la Mole taught Giovanni, who taught , among many, Ruskin Vaughn and Babatunde Lea, who taught me this brilliant technique.. not like I have it down... ..flat handed slaps and hands almost always in contact with, or close to the drum.. super sick...

    much respect to

  13. Nice list of top congas, but:
    You have forgot Delaporte congas, by the French artisan Michael Delaporte, a legend!

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  15. Apart from the legendary brands you mention in your fantastic blog, I simply find the Delaporte congas magnifique, the deceased maker has been one of the finest conga builders in France and whole Europe for decades and the reputation of these tumbadoras is widespread.
    They are tall drums with 78cm / 31 inches, made of ash and they can boast very nice original skins, mule I believe, but also Irish cow.
    They are still in the making by Michael Dussiaux, tonnelier.

  16. I can only give my opinion on drums I have actually played, and am happy to add to the list, should I play a new set of drums. Since this post, I did play and skin a set of Finnish percussion fiberglass, and they were very nice sounding, a bit too heavy and very hard to skin.

  17. I am looking to buy my first set of congas, and I'm wondering about traditional vs. comfort rims. I've been playing a friend's CP. I'm looking at Meinl Marathons with the comfort rim and Luis Conte's with the traditional style. I've tried the Marathons in the store and noticed your comments above about their wood, but I haven't been able to play a drum with trad rims. Are traditional rims difficult to deal with or bad for your hands? Thanks!

  18. You should check out Moperc Congas. I have played SOS, Matthew Smith Isla, SOl, Valje, Timba, Juniors, most of the top Congas and I think Mopercs are right at the top of the list. In terms of best bang for the buck Meinls are a very good deal.

  19. Tony, I have a set of congas I bought in Pto Rico back in 1979. I pulled the label off them that red "AFRO SOUNDS" I had them on tour (15yrs) and have refinnished them twice.
    The reason for this memo is they look EXACTLY like your pic of your favorite mexican mohogany set. I've searched for years to find the company but they are not the current afro sound company. Any thots?

  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. Vince, sorry, i just deleted your comment by accident.. yes, they look like sonocs, but its really hard to tell without the hardware. You are a brave man to put those shells back together.

  22. HI Tony you mention Meinl Floatunes. Thoughts on these drums as i am thinking of buying. Thanks

  23. I've played some Pearl Elite congas and liked them...also liked LP Patato


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