For 2013, Gon Bops released a new signature series of timbales designed in collaboration with Orestes Vilato, a legendary Cuban timbalero/bongosero. I quite literally received this set of tubs at my door without any warning or explanation. This is a good thing if you’re a reviewer because first impressions for me were truly without any preconceived notions of what to expect.
The first two things I immediately noticed about the Orestes Vilato timbales were the shell material and depth. In designing this instrument, Gon Bops and Vilato abandoned the use of standard timbale shell materials (typically steel, brass, or bronze) and depths (typically 6.5" or more). Instead, Gon Bops crafts the Orestes Vilato timbales from lightweight aluminum shells that are each only 4.5" deep.
But why stop there? This instrument’s weight is further reduced by using only five lugs apiece on both the smaller 14" macho and larger 15" hembra drums. Gon Bops completes the package with a lightweight double-braced stand. One of Vilato’s stated goals with these timbales was to create a lighter instrument for working musicians. In two words: “Mission Accomplished.” On my home scale, the set of timbales on the stand weighed in at only 21 lbs. So you won’t need to destroy your spine to get your salsa groove going.
Aluminum is known as one of the softer metals, so not surprisingly, and wisely, these shells are beaded with a u-shaped indented stripe in the space between the top of the lugs and the batter-head bearing edge. This sort of beading helps to ensure the shells will remain consistently round and rigid over time. From my vantage point, the shells looked and tuned as though they were perfectly round.
The shells’ batter and bottom edges are fully rounded over with a smooth edge. As a result, on the batter side, the round edge seems to warm up the overtones. On the bottom (headless) side, you don’t have to worry about cutting your hands when you grab that edge while setting up or tearing down. And, because the shells are shallow – as Vilato mentions in a promotional video – you can stack them inside each other and fit them in a snare drum case. (I’d say a deeper snare case of about 7" to 8" should do the trick because the lugs stop the shells from going shallower than that when they stack together.)
Despite the unique shell material and depth, the Orestes Vilato Signature timbales retain a few features found on many traditional models. Among other things, the drums each tune from the lug with an included tuning wrench. By way of another example, the two badges (one per shell) face in opposite directions; one badge faces the player, while the other faces the audience. Each badge bears the Gon Bops logo and Orestes Vilato’s signature – both in black script. Incidentally, the badges are attractive and do not distract from the overall look or color scheme of the timbales.
I particularly like the included double-braced stand because it’s simple to use and surprisingly sturdy for its relatively light weight. The stand has an old-school toothed angle adjustment that works easily, allows for subtle angle changes, and holds firm. Each shell mounts onto the same single protruding screw thread, as does the included L-rod that can be used to mount cowbells, etc.
Drums and L-rod are tightened in place via a wing nut and small washer that holds the drums firmly in place. (I didn’t lose the washer, but I imagine I could. If these timbales were mine, I’d buy a few extra washers at the hardware store to have them available when I would inevitably drop the included one on a stage floor at the end of a gig and lose it forever.) Finally, for height adjustments, the stand includes a memory lock that can be tightened by hand with a wing nut. It’s a little thing, but I appreciate that none of the adjustments on the stand require use of a drum key.
Once set up, these timbales have a clean, modern, and professional look. The aesthetic of this instrument has a nice contrast because the aluminum shells are a satin-like matte finish, while the hardware (e.g., lugs, hoops, and badges) gleam with shiny chrome.
Once I started playing, it quickly became apparent to me that this instrument sounds noticeably different from traditional deeper-shell steel, brass, or bronze models. So how does one describe sound – the elusive mystery to every reviewer? To understand the sound of these aluminum timbales, I think it is helpful to first discuss drums that are often made from aluminum: snare drums. Drummers love aluminum-shell snares because aluminum shells speak with a controlled overtone series that sounds naturally EQ’d and has the crack of metal but the warmth of wood.
The Orestes Vilato timbales’ aluminum shells mimic these traits. They have controlled overtones (i.e., a woody sound), yet their rimshots still give a good degree of crack (more of the metal sound). These particular shells seem to belt out the mid to mid-high overtone ranges the best. Higher-pitched and lower-pitched overtones are present but not as strong. Furthermore, these timbales have a slightly thinner sound – perhaps because the shells are aluminum, or perhaps because they’re so shallow.
This is not to say that they aren’t loud. They are. It’s just that their drumhead sound is more focused in the mid-ranges. Moreover, probably due to their shallow depth, these timbales speak quickly and then immediately decay. The aluminum also impacts the sound of cascara patterns played on the shells. The cascara cuts through with nice volume, but it too sounds EQ’d without too many overtones.
Vilato is quoted as saying that he hoped this instrument would have a “classical” timbale sound, as opposed to the louder more raucous sound drum set players get when playing timbales with heavy sticks. These timbales seem to achieve that goal. I should mention here that Gon Bops includes a lightweight set of timbale sticks that, to me, are just the right weight and density to get the best sound from these timbales. I found that, in contrast, larger size drum set sticks like 5Bs somewhat choke the sound on this instrument.
These timbales tune easily and evenly, so I tried tuning them at all tensions: loose, medium, and tight. To my ears, they sound best at a medium tension. When too loose, they lose their projection. When too tight, they still project well, but they resonate less and can sound a bit dead. At medium tension, they have a sweet spot where they resonate with an open sound. Plus, rimshots on both the macho and hembra are pleasing because they sufficiently pierce through while still incorporating the resonant sound of the drumhead.
14"/15" timbale set made with seamed aluminum shells, 5-lug hoops, and hazy/smooth drumheads. Each shell is 4.5" deep. Also included is a sturdy yet lightweight double-braced stand and L-rod mount for a cowbell (and/or other percussion accessories) and a lightweight set of timbale sticks.
If you’re a drum set player looking for the loudest, toughest set of timbales you can bash with your 5B or 2B sticks while gigging with your amplified rock band, these may not be the best for you. On the other hand, that was not Gon Bops’ or Vilato’s goal with these timbales. The actual goals of these timbales’ design seem to be achieved here. That is, the best features of the Orestes Vilato timbales are 1) simple set up and tear down for the working musician, 2) lightweight transport to and from gigs, and 3) a pleasant “classical” timbale sound when played with lighter sticks.