Since 1954, Gon Bops Latin percussion instruments have served as a conduit for all manner of Latin rhythms, often at the hands of some of the world’s leading percussionists, such as Mongo Santamaria, Francisco Aguabella, Armando Peraza, and Poncho Sanchez. With such an impressive artist roster reaching back more than a half a century, it should come as no surprise that the company’s ability to build on tradition with top-quality craftsmanship and innovation remains its strongest selling point for beginners and pros alike. New bongos are one thing, but keeping up with the ever-demanding and ever-changing needs of today’s players, Gon Bops has just unveiled a little extra spice to give your bongo setup a whole new flavor: a bass bongo, fitted with snares. It’s a fresh idea that sits easily in the company of tradition – the exact opposite of gimmick. This is the kind of thing that’s kept the Gon Bops brand viable for so many years and in the hands of true players of every age and experience level.
The California series bongos are made from Appalachian red oak. The drums have a special bearing edge for added clarity and attack. The Cali shells have tuning rods that are spaced wider apart than normal for a more comfortable experience when playing seated. The set I was playing came outfitted with synthetic Remo NuSkyn heads that sounded great. The drums crank up nicely and put out some awesome tones. The 7"-diameter macho drum really pops, and slaps crackle with intensity. The 8.5"-diameter Embra bongo has nice sustain and a rich, warm tonality that complements the Macho. The Contour Crown hoops make slaps and open tones a cinch to play – and utterly painless. No more hand fatigue, and no more compromising sound to avoid it. The contoured hoops also aid in tuning by making it easier to balance the heads. Synthetic heads don’t react to changes in the weather, so once you set ’em they’re good to go for a while.
The California series Bass bongo is a unique and exclusive partner to the bongos from the same series. At 9.75" in diameter, it is considerably larger than the other drums. Also fitted with the Contour Crown hoops and synthetic head, this bongo has a surprise inside. Gon Bops has taken the old-school, knob-operated internal snare drum dampening felt (popular on pre-1970s snare drums) and replaced it with a short snare attachment with which you can tighten or loosen the snares simply by changing the pressure of this attachment against the bottom of the head.
With the snares off you just have a plain Bass bongo. Snares on and the Bass bongo shines, or buzzes, with articulate slaps and humming open tones. Dynamics are easy and the larger playing surface lets you really dig in, similar to a conga.
The bass bongo attaches to the DW 9401 bongo stand via the included DW TB12 tom mount. The problem with mounting the bongo this way is that it doesn’t allow for a lot of maneuvering, and when you play hard the drum tends to slip on the tom mount. A couple of times I had to stop playing to prevent the bass bongo from tilting too far on its side. I’m sure with a bit more refinement this problem can be resolved.
The 9401 bongo stand, which is sold separately, is a hefty piece of hardware designed to hold a set of bongos stable and allow no interruption in sound. Without having to be bolted or clamped, the drums sit securely on rubber “feet.” Putting your California bongos on the stand is as simple as sliding them onto and up against the 90 degree “L” shaped rubber feet. The bass bongo slides onto the tom mount post and, voila! You’re done. Because the drums sit free and unchoked you get the best sound from the shells.
I’ll tell you up front that hauling the California series bongo trio setup around town is, to say the least, a workout. There is relief, though, in knowing once you’re at your gig it’s just a few minutes to set up before you’re on your way to some serious grooves. As far as bongos go, the California series sound great – wonderful projection with awesome tonality. Add the bass bongo and a whole new world of possibility has opened up.
With the addition of the bass bongo I was able to stretch the timbres offered by only a traditional set of bongos into some surprising new territory. The bass bongo really cracks through the ensemble with a voice of its own. I especially liked having the snare sound. It confidently separates the bass bongo from the other drums and allows for greater utilization of dynamics. Really, it just sounds cool. I do wish the trio setup was a little more accommodating for players like me, who want to stand up and play. I did put the top portion of the bongo stand in a regular cymbal stand base, but gravity was not so kind with all that weight of the bass bongo out front – tenuous at best.
California series shells have solid-stave construction made from air-dried quarter-sawn Appalachian red oak.
Macho (7") and Embra (8.5"), with Bass Bongo (9.75") and attached DW TB12 tom mount.
Natural or Mahogany satin oil finishes, Remo NuSkyn heads, Gon Bops Contour Crown hoops.
Model & Price
California Bongos - $880
Bass Bongo - $466.99
Dog Biscuit - $49.99
9401 Bongo Stand - $228.99
Gon Bops California series bongos are top notch. At just under $1,000 these bongos sing a sweet song at a pretty sweet price considering what you get. If you can afford the bling, let it sing. Anyway, the bass bongo is a cool idea that I believe still needs a tad more refinement in its setup. And while the trio was a lot of fun to play, the attachment setup is a little awkward and the stand is really heavy. The bass bongo’s tendency to slip out of position during heavy play could be a problem during a performance. All in all, though, the bass bongo is a great idea that pairs beautifully with the traditional excellence of the California series bongos.