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Djembe Buying Guide

When preparing to buy a Djembe, it's important to determine the type of sound you're looking for before you start shopping. After reading our Djembe Buying Guide, you'll be able to make a clear and confident decision about which drum is perfect for you.

Section 1: A Brief Introduction to Djembes

The djembe originated in West Africa, where it was used in ceremonial dances and sometimes even as a means of communicating over long distances. All djembe drums are the same basic shape, and resemble huge goblets, with a relatively slim base widening out to a large drumhead. A typical djembe drum is around 24 inches in height with a drumhead diameter of around 12 to 14 inches across, but these sizes do vary considerably. The drumhead is traditionally tightened with a system of ropes, although modern drums occasionally employ key tuning. The shape and size of the drum is important; the distinctive "goblet" form makes a djembe drum into a large resonating chamber and gives the drum its distinctive deep bass note. Too small and the bass will be too high-pitched, too large and it will be impossible to hear. The sound quality is also affected by the interior of the drum. Traditional djembe drums are not totally smooth on the inside, but have special patterning or indentations carved into the interior, which enhances the tonal quality of the drum.

Materials used to construct a djembe drum

African Djembe drums are traditionally carved from a single piece of solid African hardwood. African mahogany, iroko, and lenge wood are all excellent materials to use in this regard; Siam oak is a common substitute for drums made outside Africa. The hardness of the wood is important; it allows the shell of the djembe drum to be quite thin, which in turn improves the resonance and sound quality of the drum. Djembe drums made from softer woods are generally inferior. Remo DjembeIn addition, modern djembe drums can be made of synthetic materials such as Acousticon, which replicate the strength and timbre of a traditional hardwood djembe drum surprisingly well. The drumskin on a djembe is commonly made of goatskin, though other animal skins are also used; African goatskin is said to provide a distinctive sound. Nowadays, djembe drumheads can also be made from synthetic materials, and these are excellent substitutes.

Which Size is Right for me?

Starting with the smallest size; the 7" Djembe. This drum has a 7" diameter drum head and stands 12" tall. Typically when people talk about a djembe's size, they refer to the drum head diameter, so in this case it is the 7" djembe. The 7" drum is great for small kids up to first grade.

When looking at the smaller drums, you'll see that an adult could indeed play it but there will be some discomfort and limitations in sound. what your after is a drum head size that the hands fit on comfortably.

Moving up in size to the 9" drum, this size is good for kids in first through fourth grade. The 9" drum measures approximately 16" tall. When testing this drum size, remember that what you are looking for is a drum that fits the hand and the ergonomics of your body so this will be a little small for an adult. However this size is used as a traveling drum (or backpacker djembe) for adults that are unable to carry their full size drum to an event.

The next size up is the 10" djembe. This drum is 20" tall. With this size, you'll see that we are approaching the size that would be appropriate for a smaller adult. What your after for it to be really comfortable is for the base of the drum to rest on the ground as you are in a seated position. If you can sit in a chair and have the base of the drum on the floor and then the head is just above your thighs, then this is the right size. In the video, Kenya mentions that he is 5'10" and the drum is too short for him to play comfortably in a seated position. He needs a taller drum.

The 12" djembe is the next size up and this size is the most common for adults. Notice in the video how the base of the drum can rest on the floor and the drum playing surface is just above his thighs. This is what you are after. When you have the right size drum you'll see how you can sit in a very relaxed position, your arm comes to a perfect angle when you put your hand in a playing position on the drum head and the drum head is large enough for you to play full notes using both hands.

For those that are over 6' tall or for players that like a bigger drum for louder sound and deeper bass, you'll want to step up to the 13-14" djembe size. This size drum stands 25-26" tall. You'll see in the video that this size is a bit too large for Kenya at 5'10" because the height inhibits the relaxed playing position for him.

You can use the chart below to review the drum head size and how they correlate to the drum height. Before you buy, we recommend that get a tape measure and sit in a chair. Once you are seated, measure the distance from the floor to about 3 inches above your thighs. Use this measurement to determine the correct drum height for you. Match that height to the drum head using the table below, then start shopping to select the style you like best!

Djembe Height
Head Size
12"
7"
15-16"
8-9"
20"
10"
24"

12"

25-26"
13-14"

Djembe Drum: Wood vs. Synthetic Shell

One of the big differences between wood and synthetic djembe drums is the type of material used. Djembe drum shells are typically made of wood or fiberglass. Fiberglass drum shells are extremely durable and tend to more easily produce drum tones when played. This can make them idea for beginner player whose playing technique is not quite developed - sort of allowing more room to play with tones without completely missing the mark. Many experienced players also report that fiberglass djembes produce a brighter sound and will seek them out when playing in an amplified ensemble where they need to cut through the mix.

On the flip side, traditional wooden shells will have a warmer and typically fuller tone than fiberglass shell djembes. Most professional players will prefer the warmth and fuller sound of a wooden shell djembe as their primary drum. Most of our customers choose a wooden shell djembe as their first drum primarily because of the tradition behind them and the hand-carved craftsmanship that goes into each shell.

African Djembes are Handmade- Indonesian Djembes are made on a Lathe

When shopping for a djembe drum please understand that these musical instruments are hand made and will at times show natural imperfections. Here's a brief note on what not to worry about: Most African djembe drums are hand carved from a single piece of wood (ex: Lenge, Mahogany, Djalla). As such, many djembe drums are not going to be perfectly symmetrical or evenly built. It's just a natural part of the process. After all djembes are made with hand tools from skilled craftsman. In some cases the djembe drum will even be slightly lopsided as it rests on the floor.

If you want symetical patterns and a lack of imperfections, the indonesian drum is for you. These drums are 'goblet drums', copies of African djembes made in Indonesia. The drums are machined on a lathe - they are manufactured drums and therefore do not have the imperfections of African drums. There are many types of 'goblet drums', Doumbek, Darbuka, Zarb, Klong Yaw etc. All of these drums are great drums to play.

Djembe Rope. Why does it matter?

When shopping for a djembe drum it's important to know the type of rope used. Due to the high tension that are put on the ropes it's essential that your djembe drum has good quality rope that is quite thick and also low stretch. Top end djembes are typically strung with 5mm thick ropes for extra durability and performance enhancement. Tribal Dude use high performance, low stretch Alpine rope on all of our custom djembe drums.

 

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