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Owning a good set of bongos is essential to being a percussionist. Bongos produce a distinct high-pitched sound that lends very well to certain songs, bringing liveliness and excitement.
Drummers can also benefit from having bongos. You can use them when a drum kit isn’t available or add them to your drum kit setup to get unique sounds.
Bongos always come in pairs, and they’re connected by a center block. The larger bongo is called the hembra, while the smaller one is called the macho.
While most bongos have similar tones, there are slight differences according to how they’re built, the types of skins they have, and the shell material they’re made from.
In this guide, we’ll look at the best bongos for live performance settings. I’ve compared build quality, sound, design, and cost to give you my top recommendations.
In a Rush Round-Up
How I Tested and Selected the Best Bongos
I regularly perform at weddings and parties along with a DJ. Instead of playing a full drum set at these events, I play a set of bongos along with an electronic sampling pad.
While I often travel with my own pair of bongos, there have been plenty of times when we’ve had to hire a set. Through my experience, I’ve been able to test and demo several sets of bongos.
When testing them out, I always look at sound quality first. I want to see the tonal richness, clarity, and dynamic responsiveness that each set of bongos delivers.
Material and construction also played a pivotal role in my assessments. I sought bongos crafted from quality materials for the shells as well as drumheads, ensuring durability and longevity.
Lastly, comfort and playability were also central to my evaluations. I considered the ergonomics of the drum, to ensure they were comfortable on the hands. Tuning stability and ease of tuning adjustments were also factors I assessed in my selection process.
Best Bongos Reviews
The Meinl Headliner Range Bongos are an affordable set offered by Meinl, and despite their budget price tag, they produce very musical and warm sounds.
The hardwood shells are well-constructed, and the heads are made of hand-selected buffalo skin for an authentic feel and playing response.
I own a pair of Meinl Headliner bongos, and these entry-level bongos really do deliver sounds that exceed their price point. They feel great to play and the sounds are musical.
The hardware and innovative rounded rims featured on the Headliner bongos are robust and comfortable to play, even for heavy hitters. The bongos include a tuning wrench to enable you to find your perfect sound.
I find that these bongos really excel when tuned up high, they have a very clean resonant tone and they pronounce rhythms with a delightful melodic note.
These are a very impressive set of bongos that feature a high-quality build construction. Despite the affordable price tag, these are very musical sounding and are suitable for all manners of performances both live and recording!
These are some of the best bongos for beginners and experienced drummers looking to equip themselves with a great sounding and durable set of bongo drums.
- Lively and musical sounds
- Comfortable to play
- Rounded rims for optimal comfort
- Experienced some tuning issues with macho
The Latin Percussion Aspire Jamjuree Bongos, are some of the best bongos on the market right now. These Aspire bongos are constructed with premium jamjuree wood shells that deliver really punchy and bright tones.
Latin Percussion is one of the world-leading drum brands in producing innovative and high-quality percussion. They make fine instruments for some of the most discerning musicians and professionals around the world.
I’ve used these at a couple of gigs and I’m very impressed with the build quality these bongos possess for their lower-intermediate price point.
They exhibited wonderfully resonant tones that make these some of the best bongos for aspiring musicians and beginners alike.
The natural finish of the jamjuree wood looks fantastic with the quality black powder-coated Aspire side plates and rims accompanying these bongos.
The sizes of the macho and hembra bongo drums are 6 ¾ and 8 inches respectively, and they feature natural rawhide heads that deliver a bright, rich sound.
Overall these are definitely some of the best bongo drums because the beautiful jamjuree wood produces a stunning tone that sets these bongos apart from its competitors within the intermediate price bracket.
- Bright, resonant tones
- EZ Curve Rims feel comfortable on your hands
- Great build quality with Jamjuree wood shells
- Very few negatives for this price
Up next in second place for the best bongo drums we have this set of high-end Latin Percussion Matador Siam Oak Bongos, which are perfect for working musicians looking for professional quality sounds at an affordable price.
These are fantastic bongos that offer a superb tonal range and have a particularly fantastic high-end resonant sound. These offer the best live performance sound, in my opinion.
These stunning Latin Percussion bongos feature siam oak shells and these are paired with authentic rawhide heads that produce lively tones from both the 7 ¼ macho and 8 ⅝ hembra drums respectively.
The hardware on these bongos is very durable and robust. The tuning lugs, steel backing plate, and plated cast aluminum bottoms are all solid and high quality.
These Matador bongos produce very lively sounds that add an exciting percussive flavor to lots of musical genres and applications. They sound fantastic on stage when mic’d up and they are very expressive; capturing each rhythm with a musical and articulate tone.
Overall the Matador bongos are a winner in my eyes as some of the best bongos for the money. They not only sound great, but the construction is solid and the design is very attractive.
If you are looking for a professional level set of bongos that would be perfect for performing shows and recording percussive layers, then these are the best bongos for you.
- Highly expressive and musical bongos
- Durable and robust metal hardware
- Professional quality at an affordable price
- Rims can feel slightly harsh on your hands
- Rawhide heads take a while to seat in
The Latin Percussion Matador Wood Bongos are crafted from Siam oak and include 7.25″ and 8.625″ rawhide heads that make these a larger set of bongos that produce a colorful array of sonic textures.
The LP Matador series bongos are for discerning musicians who demand excellent quality. The incredibly resonant siam oak shells produce a fantastic tone with a strong projection for live performances.
When these bongos are tuned correctly they deliver a sound that is warm and resonant. These bongos accurately pick up all the nuances of a percussionist’s playing.
I mostly loved the construction of these bongos when trying them out. They are solidly built and have an impressive weight.
If you’re looking for the best bongos that are great fun to play and won’t break the bank, then these are definitely a great set of Matador sized bongos to consider!
- High quality construction
- Fantastic value for money
- Colourful array of sonic textures
- Rawhide heads take a while to seat in
- Larger sizes are not as compact to carry
These Meinl Percussion Journey Series Bongos are the ultimate choice for beginners looking for a durable and musical sounding set of bongos.
I’ve played some of these bongos in several music shops, and I’m always impressed by the quality despite their budget price point. They provide a great starting point for learning all the techniques.
This is Meinl’s affordable offering to the bongo market, and they did not cut any corners with their build quality or components.
The bongo drums are 6.55″ and 7.5″ inches respectively and they are equipped with natural rawhide heads for an authentic tone. They are comfortable to play and feel great to hold.
The hand-selected buffalo skins produce a musical tone that will sound great at any gig or recording session. They will allow you to infuse funky flavors and exotic percussive rhythms, adding liveliness and energy!
The ABS plastic construction is durable and I found these bongos to be easy to tune. The macho and hembra sound excellent together.
If you are looking for the best bongos that are suitable for a wide range of performances, this is a quality set of affordable bongo drums.
- Excellent value for money
- Comfortable rounded rims to play on
- Natural buffalo drum heads
- ABS plastic instead of wood shells
- Lacks some build quality compared to premium bongos
Bongo Buyer's Guide
Bongos are a type of Afro-Cuban percussion instrument that is used in a wide variety of musical genres including salsa, merengue, reggaeton, and Latin jazz.
Bongos are excellent percussion instruments for beginners. They are relatively easy to play and they are not particularly expensive. Plus, they’re a lot of fun!
Percussionists will typically use them to play fast subdivisions, meaning their hands will be fairly busy. These faster patterns are where most of the well-known bongo energy comes from.
However, you can also use bongos to play slow and laid-back rhythms. They’re surprisingly versatile for such a small instrument.
You predominantly play the bongos with your fingers, and the two main sounds come from striking the edge and the center of each drum.
Benefits of Bongos
- They are great for beginners: Bongos are an excellent way to get into percussion because they are relatively easy to play and don’t require a lot of experience.
- Perfect for drum circles: Bongos are compact, easy to play, and add a lot of flavor and energy. They are also portable and can be taken with you wherever you go!
- Bongos can be used for various genres: They are commonly used in salsa, merengue, reggaeton, and Latin jazz. But they can add a unique flavor to any type of music, especially dance music such as house and disco.
- Ideal for small spaces: Bongos are a great option if you live in an apartment or dorm room because they don’t take up a lot of space.
- They are a lot of fun to play: Bongos also provide a great outlet for creativity and expression and make you feel happy!
What Features to Look for in Bongos
Most bongos are made from Siam Oak. It’s a rubber wood that is fairly inexpensive to use, allowing more bongos to be produced.
While it’s an economic shell material, bongos with these shells are still perfectly usable in all settings. They’ll sound great if they’re tuned well.
Budget bongos generally have plastic shells. Their tones aren’t as rich, and they’re not as durable. However, they’re excellent options for beginners. You won’t get as much dynamic variation with these as you will with more expensive bongos.
Higher-priced bongos are made from different types of hardwood. These are rarer and often more durable. They also offer a wider range of tones and dynamics.
If you’re a professional or a beginner, I’d suggest getting bongos made from Siam Oak as you’ll most likely be happy with their sounds, and you won’t need to spend too much on them.
More experienced players with higher budgets may benefit from the richer shell types like North American White Ash.
Buying a set of bongos that can be tuned is vital. The beauty of drums is that you can alter their sounds to fit your needs.
When tuning bongos, you’ll want to sounds that bring out an attacking sound plus some warmth. If the skins on the bongos have uneven tensions, the sounds aren’t going to be as great as they could be.
The best bongos have solid tension rods. Each drum only has four rods, and you’ll need to tighten those very tightly to get the classic bongo sound.
Cheaper bongos won’t maintain their tuning as long as higher-priced bongos will.
Bongos will have either natural or synthetic skins on them. Natural rawhide skins are typically found on the best sets of bongos. They offer more depth in tone.
Natural skins will be any type of animal skin and will bring out warm, punchy tones from the bongos.
Just note that they expand and contract as the weather changes.
Synthetic skins are a lot brighter. They’re also not as affected by weather as natural skins. Most inexpensive bongos have synthetic skins.
Note that you can change the skins of your bongos if you want to, so it’s not the end of the world if you don’t like how the skins sound after you buy a pair.
If you’re looking for a decent set of bongos, I suggest looking for ones from popular and trusted percussion brands that the professionals use.
Meinl Percussion, Latin Percussion, Toca, and Pearl are all brands that percussionists commonly love. It’ll be hard to go wrong with a pair of bongos from any of those.
While buying a set of bongos from a trusted brand will be more expensive than an unknown pair, they will sound much better and last much longer.
How Do You Maintain Bongos?
Bongos tend to stay in good condition for many years, but a good way to maintain their quality is by keeping the skins moist. Applying oil to the skins occasionally will preserve their lifespan.
You should also keep the bongos in tune to maintain their sound quality. Ensure that all the tension rods have even tensions. Also, don’t store your bongos in extreme temperatures, as this will affect their tuning.
Lastly, regularly taking the hoops off the bongos will allow you to see if they’ve bent or rusted.
Is it Easy to Learn to Play Bongos?
Bongos are one of the easiest instruments to start playing as you only need to use your fingers to play rhythms. You can start with a few basic patterns and then build on your skills from there.
They have a sound that works well in most styles of music, so you can practice playing along with songs once you have those rhythms mastered.
There are several advanced techniques and patterns that take a bit longer to learn, so you’ll need to have a good grasp on the fundamentals before trying those out.