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Djembe Buyer's Guide

How to Buy a Quality Djembe

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Purchasing the right djembe for your individual needs can be a tough decision. That’s why we’ve created our buyer’s guide to help you find your way. Adhere to the following standards as much as possible to make the highest quality purchase (Please keep in mind that these standards apply to wooden djembes, not synthetic):

  • A symmetrical goblet shape is vital to sound quality. This shape can vary in style from rounded and belled to more squat and “squareish,” and these different shell shapes each produce slightly different sounds.
  • The interior of the drum should never be rough or splintered. A traditional grooved spiral pattern and smooth interior surface produce the highest quality sound (see image below).
  • A rounded and waxed bearing edge provides playing comfort and sharper rim tones, and extends the life of the skin. This is very important for your hands and for the life of the skin.
  • A quality djembe should have at least 4mm-5mm rope (5mm on any drum with a playing surface above 11 inches) that is internally braided (double braided) and made of either nylon or polyester to avoid stretching and thus loss of tuning. It should not twist or spiral, and should have extremely low stretch ratings so that the drum maintains tune.
  • The wood density should be medium to heavy in weight for less sound absorption and stronger tones, however the wood should not be too thick, and the thickness should be uniform throughout the shell.
  • The rings should be evenly stacked and fit snugly over the top of the shell (three ring system adds even more tonal complexity by allowing tighter tuning, and eliminates skin slippage).
  • The drum should be free of serious cracks or major exterior repaired cracks. As the shell is essentially the djembe (the other parts can be replaced) this is extremely important. All one-piece shells have a risk of cracking—however those that are dried properly are at a much lower risk. Generally filled-in or repaired knots on the interior surface of the drum are acceptable and will not effect the sound or life of the shell.
  • The goatskin or cowskin (all of the drums we carry are headed with goatskin) should be medium in thickness and free of bug bites or other holes and thin spots. The head mount should sit close to level across the bearing edge of the drum. The skin should exhibit a medium thickness, though skin thickness may also be seen as an individual player’s preference.

Keep in mind that drums that meet at least the minimum of each standard above will sound good, but that drums meeting the highest qualities of each standard will display excellence in sound and overall quality. Due to the hand-made nature of djembe drums no drum will ever be perfect, so be realistic with your standards. Very slight imperfections are simply a characteristic of hand-made products that makes each specimen unique. As with any musical instrument, the number one factor in drum selection is that the drum’s sound meets your personal standard, as well as your budget.

All the drums that we carry at Mother Rhythm Drums meet the minimum (at least) of these standards, and we put them through a rigorous inspection process to ensure this. Any drums that do not meet these standards are culled from our inventory and sold as “#2 blemished drums at our outlet site, www.discountdjembes.com .

A common mistake that many first-time drum buyers make is assuming that the country of origin for a drum is a paramount characteristic of its quality. In fact, there are amazing and poor quality drums of all types and styles that are produced all over the world, thus we suggest sticking to the above standards to ensure to highest quality in your purchase. Also beware that some companies sell drums carved from wood harvested in environmentally sensitive areas (even some high-end djembes are made from illegal wood).

This illegal wood is extremely harmful to the ecosystem it is harvested from, and can pose a high threat to all creatures in the sensitive zones it is harvest from. Many people feel that this potential for detrimental ecological consequences out-weighs any potential benefit ownership of the drum might provide. All the drums sold by Mother Rhythm Drums are from government-certified Lacey Act compliant sustainably harvested wood, and we have the certificates to prove this. We recommend that you never buy from a company that doesn’t. If a drum for sale on the market sounds too cheap, it probably is. 
From the entire staff here at Mother Rhythm Drums, we hope this has been an informative and beneficial article for you, and as always, feel free to contact us if you have any additional questions or concerns. Be well in rhythm…