By Gary Gardner
Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s November 2009 Issue
Established in the early ’90s, Toca Percussion has become a major contributor to the Afro Cuban percussion instrument world. Like most percussion companies, Toca’s product line goes beyond just the traditional Latin instruments like congas, bongos, and timbales. With the new double-row jingle Acacia tambourines and Natural shakers (made of repurposed rawhide) Toca has taken the input from its artists and professional players to put together two new products that share innovation, player’s personal requests, and quality craftsmanship.
Believe it or not tambourines and shakers are very personal instruments to most percussionists. Not only is the sound an important consideration, but also the way it feels in the hand. No matter how good it sounds, I’m not going to want to hold it and play it if it’s not a comfortable fit. There are just too many choices out there to compromise on either front.
CHOOSE YOUR JINGLE
The Toca Acacia tambourines are 10" in diameter and come in two jingle configurations. Both configurations have a double row of jingles, but one features all brass jingles and the other features a combination of brass and nickel jingles. Having two choices is a wonderful thing. And because they’re moderately priced it wouldn’t be too hard to carry both in your setup.
The brass jingles sing with a bit of a higher pitch. They ring and cut through any ensemble with nice balance and presence. Playing polyrhythmic patterns with the hand on the wooden frame produces pretty good definition. Personally I find the eight double rows of jingles a little too loose for my taste, but on the whole patterns are well accentuated. The acacia hardwood is nice and light, which helps to reduce fatigue during those long sets. If you’ve ever played any disco tunes you know that’s a nice attribute to have.
The ergonomically shaped inner handle makes a nice home for your fingers. I say “inner handle” because the handle is actually two pieces, one that fits across the outer part of the frame and one on the inside. Toca claims that the handle is made of rubber, but let me tell you it is as hard as any plastic I’ve ever felt. And like plastic, and if your hands get sweaty, you’d better hold on tight. Sometimes I wrap a little cloth tape around the hand area for added grip support.
The doubled-row nickel-and-brass jingle combination is also 10" in diameter and has the same handle attributes as the brass tambourine. To me the addition of the nickel jingles into the mix adds a little mellowing in the timbre of the tambourine. With not so bright a sound, the combination is a nice complement to all musical situations and ensembles. It still cuts nicely and has a strong presence but I believe it blends a little better with the music. Attack is strong when doing patterns on the hand and it also has the same looseness to the jingles. But considering for about $80 you can have both tambourines, you don’t have to sweat the choice too much.
SLIP ME SOME SKIN
In conjunction with percussionist Doug Hinrichs, Toca has created a duo of shakers crafted from plain rawhide. With two lengths to choose from, 4.5" and 6.5", one of these babies is bound to give you what you need. The Natural shakers have a cylindrical shape and simple stitching to close off the ends. They are consistent in their sound and have a very mellow vibe. A unique attribute of these shakers and one that probably accounts for their mellowness is that the filling is comprised of little pieces of hardened rawhide. Yes, the same material that the shakers are made from in this case also provides the fill. It’s a nice touch, and it sounds great.
The 6.5" shaker has a lower, darker pitch. It feels well balanced in the hand and makes a nice smooth sound. This shaker has the ends stitched over the outside and provides another surface to incorporate into your patterns. It’s not a loud shaker, but with a decent microphone or alongside an acoustic ensemble it has no problem being heard.
The 4.5" shaker brings a nice brightness to the pair. It shakes well and the balance is good. This one has just enough grittiness to make it full but still produce nice definition. Unlike the 6.5"shaker, the ends are stitched inversely — basically they’re pushed in instead of laid over the top.
SHAKE ’EM UP
Taking the shakers and tambourines for a spin with a 14-piece band was a blast. During a “Blues Brothers” medley I decided to use the brass-jingle tambourine. Since I knew I would be competing with a full horn section and lots of volume, I wanted to be heard. No problem with the brass. These jingles rang loud and clear, offering distinct syncopation that sounded great within the ensemble. On a slower tune I chose to use the combination brass and nickel. Since I was playing mostly quarter-notes, the mellow sustain of this tambourine proved to be the right choice.
As for the shakers, I had a good time playing both together in one hand. Holding them under a microphone allowed them to be heard over the band. Although they don’t put out a lot of volume, played in the right situations these natural-rawhide instruments perform just fine.
Regarding the acacia tambourines, I feel they are fine instruments that don’t kill you on cost. Their lightweight is nice and the jingles provide more than ample volume. The jingle sound is a little looser than I like, but that has a lot to do with personal preference and the style of music being played. Having the nickel/brass combination is a great idea and offers a more mellow timbre. The Natural shakers are a unique item that carry a soft disposition — but don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re weak. Filled with hardened rawhide these shakers have a pleasant, earthy tonality that really warms up an ensemble. Toca had the right idea selling these shakers as a pair. And at just $35, they won’t take too bad a bite out of your wallet.
CONFIGURATION Shakers: 4.5" and 6.5" shakers sold as a set;
MATERIALS Shakers constructed of natural rawhide with rawhide fill.
10" Acacia Tambourines: acacia hardwood with hard rubber handles.
FEATURES Shakers have stitched ends; filling is small pieces of rawhide.
Acacia Tambourines have ergonomically shaped rubber handle and a double row of jingles.
Shaker Pair: $35
Acacia 10" w/Brass Jingles: $42
Acacia 10" w/Brass/Nickel Jingles: $35