Gon Bops: Mariano Series Congas & Bongos
I really did consider titling this review “Me Want,” but I was pretty sure that wouldn’t pass the editor’s desk [Don’t tempt us. —Ed.]. But keep that in mind; these drums are very special, and if you need to summarize this information later for a friend, remember — “me want.”
Gon Bops. I remember hearing the name used by percussionists over the years, spoken in hushed and reverential tones, but I never had the chance to play Gon Bops hand drums until the Mariano series congas and bongos arrived on my doorstep. “Now we’ll see what all the big hullabaloo is about,” I said. I had no idea. But before telling you more about Gon Bops’ special new line of congas and bongos, perhaps a little history is in order (cue spotlight and music, please).
Gon Bops began in California as a garage workshop experiment in drum building by Mariano Bobadilla and Tom Flores, way back in the early 1950s. And while Gon Bops drums would eventually become some of the most sought-after by all the high-profile players on the West Coast, the slow pace of those early days forced Bobadilla and Flores to part ways. Bobadilla went on to found Gon Bops, one of the oldest and most respected modern manufacturers of Latin percussion instruments in the world, while Flores created a company called Valje, also a well-known and world-renowned name in conga building. Due to changes in the marketplace and the economy, Gon Bops was forced to close its doors in 1998 after an incredible four-plus-decade run. An investor bought the company, but couldn’t make it work, and after a couple of years sold off the pieces.
In 2001, Don Lombardi of Drum Workshop bought the Gon Bops name, but the name only. Nothing physical of the company was left, having been sold to someone else. Lombardi rectified this by purchasing Sol Percussion, and its president and drum builder, Akbar Moghaddam. By 2005, Gon Bops was back in the percussion business. This “Gon Bops 2.0,” if you will, never lost site of the company’s storied roots and Bobadilla’s vision.
Two years ago, Gon Bops changed hands again, this time to Sabian. And while the backstock, inventory, and paperwork moved to a new headquarters in Massachusetts, the factory remained at DW, in Oxnard, California. Because of that, Gon Bops drums retain a distinctly “California flavor.”
Fast-forward to the present, and the Mariano series. These finely crafted instruments are dedicated to, and based on, designs of the original master himself, Mariano Bobadilla. The care and craftsmanship show, and serve as excellent tribute. There are five drums in the new line: four congas (quinto, conga, tumba, and super tumba), and the bongos. And while the drums have much in common with the original Mariano series, some key improvements were added that make these drums particularly special.