New Percussion For 2010

Better known for drum kits than percussion, Cadeson had a multifunction percussion rack that holds up to 12 items. The Taiwanese drum maker also unveiled a cymbal tree, an unusual hand-cymbal holder, and the Poly Block mounted woodblock set ($599.95).

It’s a conga! It’s a cajon! It’s the new Conga Cajon from Fat Congas

Big news at Fat Congas, where Traditional Fats, the company’s first new conga line since 1992, took its bow. Featuring six J-hooks instead of the standard five, bull-hide heads, and three even sizes. The blonde look of Finnish birch, a company signature, is applied across Fat Congas’ 2010 items, including Snare Cajon, the Lunchbox (a lap-friendly version of its Slaptop quinto), Angel Wing Cajon, and most radical of all, the Conga-Cajons, a cajon series played like congas and available in quinto, segundo, tumba, and super tumba sizes ($330–$350).

A wall of djembes greeted NAMM goers at the Freedom Drums booth

Freedom Drums was the show’s newbie hand-drum purveyor. The Austin, Texas–based djembe specialist’s fantastically appointed Pro series djembe line has models with names like Conquering Lion, Mahogany Sunrise, and Ebony Weave. Freedom’s djembes are all one-piece eco-friendly mahogany shells and carry goatskin heads harvested from near the animal’s spine for optimum thickness.

Gon Bops, now owned and distributed by Sabian but still based in former parent DW’s Oxnard, California facility, unveiled its gorgeous Marimbula. With dark antique stain and globe feet, it would look at home in the drawing room of an hidalgo’s Havana estate ($543). There were also Ultralight claves made of textured metal, a tambourine with quick-release mount, and a rawhide shekere. Gon Bops’ classic Mariano line of congas got an update with a stronger top ring, beefier side plates, and better washers. The hardware on Mariano bongos was scaled down to better show off the finishes.

LP honors Carlos Santana’s legacy

The custom artwork on LP’s Aspire Santana Abraxas Angel congas was stunning ($599). So were the myriad cajons, including the signature line from Kevin Ricard, who was wailing on it as we entered the LP booth. Made in Spain by master cajon builder Mario Cortes, Ricard’s cajon gets its thick whomp from the hexagonal port in the back, which can be adjusted to change pitch and character ($489). The Multi-Stem Gajate Bracket appealed to the drum nerd in us. Simply lift and rotate a rack holding up to three instruments for multiple clave sounds. We also dug the 8" Micro snare, Jim Greiner’s Shekere, the one-handed triangle with built-in beater from Broadway percussionist Doug Hinrichs, and the clave-plus-tambourine sound combined in a single instrument known as the Percusso tambourine; the One Handed Triangle and Percussion tambourine; new pandeiro and surdos in Brazilian percussion; Salsa Big Band timbale cowbell; and proving that big isn’t always better, the 11"-tall Santana Mini congas in either black or white finish.

Meinl gives DRUM!’s veteran lesson columnist, Taku Hirano, his own congas

The Meinl booth was jammed with hand drums in daring new finishes. In the Marathon series, Taku Hirano’s Mitsudomoe congas — emblazoned with an ancient Shinto symbol and glossy black finish — had serious “wow” factor. So did Marcie Chapman’s Love, Peace & Unity congas, bearing poker-themed art and vermillion-like color. The precision-obsessed German company showed a humorous side in the Headliner series congas in Kilt finish, plus a variety of subtle and eye-popping new looks across the Free Ride and Woodcraft series of congas and bongos. There are also cool new beige and brown finishes in the aluminum dumbek and a brand-new Professional dumbek at 19" tall. Another pleasant surprise was Dragonforce basher Dave Mackintosh’s 8" Attack timbales in profound 9" and 11" depths — think of these black-nickel cans as throatier octabans. Speaking of unusual timbales, the Taku Hirano–designed Hand-Bale features a partially rim-less hoop so you can play it with your hands. Meinl also finessed existing items such as its pedal-operated cabasa and Pick-Up cajon, now rocking a Shadow brand pick-up. Don’t forget two new lines of cowbell, Headliner chimes and stand, rainstick, and didgeridoo, new jingles across the frame drum line, several shakers, improved Trejon, and two new kalimbas: Wah-Wah and Pickup.

Peace went all out for the kids with its multitiered percussion rack stocking mini cymbals, xylophone, wood agogo bells, mini-timbales, and more ($964).

Pearl’s high-class Elite series conga

Too bad the E-Pro Live hogged the attention at the Pearl booth because the percussion section was bursting with juicy stuff like the Boom Box cajon. As its name suggests, this cajon captures and projects the low ends same as acrylic shells. We liked the kid-sized bright yellow FunBox cajon too. The Elite series congas from Pearl’s Primero Pro line, with their solid oak (in Cherry Eucalyptus finish) or fiberglass (in Burgundy Marble) shells, unfussy hardware, and brass Contour Crowns, had attack for days. And in the spirit of Carnival, a timbao, caixa, and a rocar that breaks off in two. And don’t forget about the new rattler, castanets, and symphonic tambourine in the Concert Percussion line. Pearl’s Jesus Diaz Radial Edge cajon should go a long way toward making players comfortable. This fixed-snare cajon came in sweet-looking Artisan Rosewood. The company also combined a mechanical tuning system with traditional look and feel of a rope-tuned djembe with the EZ-Tune djembe, while salsero to the stars Marc Quiñones got a set of signature timbales in polished steel shells with inverse beads and a massive ol’ timbal bell to mount on top of them.

Rope tuning can be time-consuming, so Remo’s lightweight Advent and Apex djembes — outfitted with key-tuned lugs — are ruthlessly efficient alternatives. The company’s Global frame drum and tambourine (GFT) series is a smorgasbord of tars, dafs, riqs, and frame drums from every corner of the world in SkynDeep heands and Acousticon shells. The snakeskin–headed antique-finish capoeira pandeiro? Coolest frame drum at the show.

Pete Englehart once again proves that there is only one Crasher

Over at Pete Englehart — wedged into the Istanbul Mehmet booth — the Peace Bell and redesigned Crasher worked their sundry charms.

We can state with confidence that there was only one booth like Rhythms’

Rhythms, a Northern California specialty drum maker focusing on culturally correct and “lost” instruments from Africa, brought an innovative spirit with the Marimbata, a large cajon-style drum with an innovative twist: a clear head covering a large side port for a bata-like sound and Northern Ghana–style thumb keys on the adjoining face.

Rhythm Tech offered a simple but fun twist with the Stickball, a spherical shaker sliding right onto your stick. Same deal for the Stick-Jingler, combining tambourine jingle and drum stick so you don’t have to. Oh, and happy birthday to Rich and company.

Rock Creek Steel Drums out of Maryland was the sole exhibitor repping Jamaica with steel-tongue drums, a species of steel drum smaller in diameter but with thicker metal than traditional steel drums. Its larger 15-note model is patterned on the surface to a chromatic cycle of fifths ($195). A nine-note steel-tongue drum plays in the keys of C and F major ($145). Nice, maahn.

There were chimes from Sabian available in a delicate-sounding aluminum or more resounding bronze. Each set includes 24 chimes that produce a clean shimmer perfect for all types of music.

The German engineers at Sonor significantly tweaked the Premium cajon line. With a birch body and beech front plate available in Gold Madrone, Blanched Roots, or Rosewood, the Premium’s new snare strainer mechanism on the side (featuring a slotted-track throw-off and snare sound controlled with a twist-knob) allows for on-the-fly adjustments. Sonor’s 5-piece set of Temple Blocks constructed of unvarnished ash spoke with a satisfying pok. The percussion tray, designed to fit on the chimes, made you wonder why somebody didn’t do this before.

Taye had Wood Timbales with DynaSkin heads that easily mount onto your drum kit. Available in 12 finishes and sold either as a set or individually.

The mosaic in Toca’s Fifth Anniversary Freestyle djembe was a thing to behold

Sound, sensibility, and aesthetics blended seamlessly in all of Toca’s new hand drums: The Freestyle 5th Anniversary djembe’s glass-tile mosaic finish and synthetic head crimped with an extended hoop were an uncanny meld of ancient and cutting-edge. Toca’s Lightweight series consists of a dumbek/djembe hybrid available in Rasta or Earth finishes. The Player’s series cajon looked great in all-natural finish. Toca’s Klong Yao drum significantly modernizes the traditional Thai drum while the silvery finish on Jamal Mohammed’s signature fiberglass dumbek was reminiscent of an ancient coin. And the company’s popular Synergy congas and bongos are now available in amber. Loved the 3/2 Clave Block in bright yellow, castanet on a handle, Jingle-Shake, and other toys.

Buy the Bi-Angle from Treeworks

Three-sided triangles, who needs ’em? Treeworks’ Bi-Angle was a hip, minimalist alternative to the perc-table staple. The Nashville-based company also rolled out the Radiant 3-Tone Chime, a new tabletop chime with wire stand, and 10- and 20-bar cluster chimes.

Tycoon’s new 29 series acrylic cajon clearly stands out from the pack

It was a box-a-rama at Tycoon with the Supremo series cajon, Round-Back cajons in five choices of wood, and a transparent 29 series acrylic cajon with Makah burl front plate. The Concerto Spectrum series congas and bongos were a knock out. The Signature Grand series djembe shows off the ash shell’s grain while the Traditional series African djembes boast unique shell carvings. Loved the mini Taiko too.

In its lone percussive offering, Istanbul-based Turkish dazzled the ears with its finger cymbals, thick as 15th century doubloons.