By Brad Ranola Originally published in DRUM! Issue 97
It’s never been easy to find a decent set of congas or bongos for young players who have smaller hands. At best they usually had to settle on a set of plastic cylinders with paper heads glued to them — until now, that is. In conjunction with Latin pop star Sheila E, Toca has introduced a new line of congas and bongos to their Player’s Series. Aside from being geared toward the beginning adult player, the drums are also practical for serious, young students.
Outfitted with Toca’s EasyPlay hoops (with the exception of the smaller bongo set), these fiberglass drums are built to withstand the perils of student care. They are finished with an Angel Blue gel-coat, a hard, colored resin that is similar to what you would find on the bottom of boats. They are trimmed with black hardware, and are equipped with tucked, natural bison-skin heads, just like the pros use.
Player’s Series congas are offered in two size configurations. The full size comes with a 10" conga and an 11" tumba that stand about 28" tall. The student model comes with 8" and 9" drums that are about 24" high from floor to head. Both sets come complete with a double conga stand.
These drums are built to last. Each lug point is reinforced on the inside by a cast plate mounted by four bolts, while the curved hoops are designed with a lip that reinforces underneath every lug. A support strap made of black rubber and chromed metal rings the belly of the drum, its widest and weakest point. This feature not only provides structural integrity, but also acts as a bumper to guard against those awkward collisions with walls as you schlep the instruments around. At the base of the drum a metal ring attached with four screws protects the mouth of the shell.
The stand has the same sharp look and strength as the drums themselves. A typical four-bolt mounting plate is complemented by wing nuts that are more like those at the top of cymbal stands than your normal hardware store type. The single-braced stand telescopes from about 25" to 40" tall and is accented with the same black trim as the drums, making an overall stunning package.
Out of the box, the drums sounded pretty decent. The heads were thinner than what you would expect to find on most professional drums, but created a nice round sound nonetheless. Slaps were very high pitched and easy to create. Open and muffled tones were round and full. I did find the bass tones to be a bit thin, though that is to be expected from nearly all fiberglass drums, especially those with smaller diameters. Yet the fiberglass certainly contributed to the drum’s great projection, providing more than enough volume to easily help back a good-sized band.
The bongos had similar characteristics, with the same sharp appearance and durable construction. The full-size bongos measured 7" and 9" in diameter from inside hoop to inside hoop, and the student model had diameters of 5" and 6". The full size was available with the EasyPlay hoop, while the student model was equipped with a more traditional Cuban-style hoop, probably due to the small diameter.
The bongo heads were similar to those on the congas, and provided a great sound on the macho (or small drum) of the full-size set. This drum produced pops with the kind of projection that would please any professional player. However, the head on the hembra (or larger drum) seemed to be just a hair too thin to get a traditional sound. It just didn’t have much low end or fullness. Tuned in a less dramatic manner, with the pitches closer together, the sound would work fine for a student or as an addition to a drum kit.
The smaller student-model bongos had a decent sound with very little volume. After tuning them and searching for a sweet spot the tones came out similar to those of the full-size drums, with about half of the dynamic range. They proved to be a nice, fairly inexpensive teaching tool, but not a practical performance set.
I liked the bongo stand. Like the conga hardware, it is accented in black to complement the drums. It comes with a tilting top with a very unique and quick mounting system. Picture a cowbell-mounting rod with a giant U-clamp that wraps around the center block of the bongos. They’re easily removed with one wingnut — very efficient. And like the conga stand, the bongo stand comes with a memory lock for quick setup and height stability.
The most significant field experience I had with the drums was when I set them up in front of a series of classes with students ranging from about eight to 20 years old. The drums were a delight. For the beginners — especially those with little hands — the drums were easy to play and easy to position. Those with some experience found it a treat to play instruments that didn’t look, feel or react like toys. And for myself, it’s good to know there are available instruments that sound good, are functional, durable, and most importantly, affordable for people in an educational or even a semi-professional situation.
My favorite item of the whole bunch was the smaller conga set. The drums proved to be no less than perfect for a student with small hands to learn proper technique. They sound like full-size congas. Unlike similar drums with shortened shells, the proportion of the smaller-size head to that of just a slightly shortened shell creates a sound very close to that of its big brother. For the latest info check Toca's web site.