CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: Gon Bops Congas - restoration and crack repair - like saving rare birds

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pin It


Gon Bops Congas - restoration and crack repair - like saving rare birds

These old Mahogany drums are some of the best sounding, and least stable drums around. And owning an old set, often, is like adopting a special needs kid. It may be the most rewarding experience, it will just take a bit more commitment to make that happen...

The material is hydro-phobic, staying very dry, and the reason it is a really nice ship building wood. So it tends to be less flexible than other woods. The glue Gon Bops used back in the 70's was not the best glue in the world, and has about a 40yr life span.. so the drums often have to be practically rebuilt.

But once together, the drums sound and look like no other. Probably the most popular drum to own and play out of all the hand made drums in history.. perhaps ZamGar from Mexico with the tackheads of the 60's might have sold more drums..but as far as for competent players, Gon Bops have it. That's quite amazing.. go California!

So, this particular restoration came in almost finished, but the process of refinishing with power tools created lots of vibration on the old shells. In the process of removing the stock gel coat, a bit too much material was taken off the shells, making them a bit thin. Funny thing about thin shells, they sound even better to me, but are less stable. The saving grace was the fact they had no internal sidecuts, like many Gon Bops of that era.

After a really nice job refinishing the drums, the shells started to crack, and came in with 7 hairlines that needed attention.

So, the conga came together nicely,and played nice.. but the quinto, after repairing four obvious cracks, showed three more hairline cracks not previously noticeable. And after that fix, another two reared their ugly heads.

I actually like to see them come up.. so we can fix them and get the shell sounding as good a possible.

The prior work, combined with the clamping to fix the first series of splits on the quinto, created quite a 'crack chasing' episode. requiring two additional crack fixing sessions, and 8-9 total cracks fixed on this one drum.

Its quite traumatic to hear about, but these drums do usually stabilize with the weak points being strengthened.

The conga, a nice 11.5", thankfully without sidecuts on the inside, had three hairline cracks that I fixed up, matching up the repairs without having to refinish the drum, which sometimes can be rather challenging.

In this case, I couldnt take any more material off of the shell, so we had no choice but to match the repairs.. It came out really nice in the end, and they are virtually invisible.

The sound of the shell does not lie. You can always tell if you have missed any major cracks, as the shell will not sing. You can tap on the shell with your hand, play the shell on the top, as if it had a skin, and the tone of the shell will tell you how structurally sound the shell is. And these shells sound great.

These drums were retrofitted with almas top and bottom. They were very well made, and very well installed. They will be kept in round, no doubt, but I believe it may prevent the shells from flexing, from morning to night, from winter to summer.. and may cause more problems than they fix.. but we'll see if they stabilize.

As for now, they are solid, without a hint of a hairline, and sound great.

Off they go to a life of house arrest! jaja.. Dont think these drums should be dragged around to the local drum circle.. but that's just me..

It was a fun project for both the owner and myself, and the drums are back to being more beautiful today than gel coated out of the shop.

Next up, a set of 70's one off's from the Gon Bops factory.. they were gel coated AND painted over.. should be an adventure...


  1. Greetings Tony, hope you are doing well.
    Now that's a reat looking set of Bops. It's nice to see that you are continuing to bring life to these wonderful drums. If there is one thing I appreciate is to see a great set of Classic congas restored, brought back to life. Continue to bless us with your wonderful restoration projects Tony. Thanks.

  2. hi,tony
    the other day i traded three lp's for two
    gon bops that i thought were mahogony.
    but when i sanded them down to fix a few
    cracks the drums were not mahogony.
    what other woods did gon bops used back in
    the day?the drums have confort crowns.

  3. Anon,

    The two material Gon Bops used, that I know of, was "Luan"or Philippine mahogany (Shorea palosapis) and a red Oak, most likely California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii).


  4. my gon bops are out of round. how can get them back to being round again?


Thanks for checking in, please feel free to contribute.

Feel free to contact me directly at