Grammy-winning percussionist Luis Conte has put his years of experience and insight into the design of these MIPA-award-winning signature congas and bongos. Conte and Meinl have gathered the best components of old-school Cuban drums and coupled them with some hip modern innovations. These instruments offer top-notch craftsmanship and an incredible sound. And besides being great drums, they’re also cost-effective. So you get value, great sound quality, and attractiveness – what more do you need?
All Luis Conte congas are constructed from two-ply rubber wood and are fitted with Meinl TTR (Traditional Tuning Rims). These rims are specifically designed to sit in tight and close to the shell to help with more consistent tuning. The patented Conga Saver rubber lug covers protect the drum shells when you’re playing. The hard rubber lug protectors are fresh, fitting directly over the tuning rod bracket to protect the drums when they bump into each other. A nice advantage is that tuning is still accessible even with the lug covers on.
The Luis Conte drums come with Meinl True Skin buffalo heads. The set I reviewed had nicely matched skins allowing for balanced tuning and pleasant melodies. Meinl puts a hip spin on traditional style. The dark powder-coated black rims nicely contrast with the light natural matte-blonde shells and chrome tuning rods. The congas shine beautifully under the lights. A rubber foot around the bottom of each shell helps prevent possible damage when cranking out the beats on a hard playing surface. I liked the fact that it kept the drums in their respective playing positions. They didn’t move around even when I struck them with full intensity. Don’t try to remove the foot though. The bottom of the shell is tapered and unfinished beneath it, so it’s there to stay.
The 11" quinto performs with real confidence. Slaps are sharp and full of tonality as they cut through any ensemble with ease. Open tones are warm and carry a good sustain. With the fat body—style shell and rubber foot it’s a lot easier to keep the drum in place as you play. As a solo drum, the quinto projects well and puts out a lot of power. I did, however, find it a bit difficult to crank the drum up into the higher register.
Strong and full of fight, the 11.75" conga really drives the bus in this group. Fat tonality supports staccato slaps that ring beautifully and produces open tones that hum for days. I like the strong bottom-end tone that really drew out my inner tribal soul. At 11.75" in diameter, this conga will make even those players with larger hands feel comfortable laying down the groove. Playing with traditional-style hoops has always been my preference, and the TTR rims on this conga allowed me to feel in my element while pulling out some tight beats.
The 12.5" tumba sits confidently in the bass chair. We’re talking big sustain and powerful tonality here. I really enjoyed playing this tumba as a solo drum. It projects wonderfully and has a tremendous lower range timbre. As part of a trio, the tumba nicely rounds out the conga trio.
The new Luis Conte series bongos are an equally sweet deal. Outfitted with the black powder-coated TTR rims and True Skin heads, these firecrackers seriously rock. The bongos use a traditional solid woodblock to connect both shells, which prevents interruption to the sound flow. The drums have great projection and cut effortlessly in any ensemble. The smaller (macho) drum really pops with sharp high tones, while the bigger (hembra) drum complements with wonderful ringing open tones. Slaps are powerful and sound awesome on both drums. The signature bongos are a welcome accompaniment to the congas.
The Gig Test
Taking the drums for a test drive was a blast. Performing in an amazingly acoustic-friendly synagogue allowed the drums to really shine. The room fed back tons of natural reverb and the drums rang out with great sustain on their own – no amplification necessary. Within a small ensemble, the congas blended well and their voice was never lost. For this gig I used a generic bongo mount so I could play the Luis Conte bongos alongside the congas. Since I was sitting down, the bongo stand worked great.
During a rhythm section jam, the bongos really rounded out the percussion flavor. At one point I was playing a cool ostinato pattern between the tumba and the bongos, adding to the syncopation of the drummer’s beat. The tumba rang out strongly and the bongos popped with sharp tones that accentuated the groove.
Quinto: 11" x 30"
Conga: 11.75" x 30"
Tumba: 12.5" x 30"
Bongos: 6.75"-diameter macho and 8"-diameter hembra
Shells Two-ply rubber wood
Finish Clear natural matte lacquer
Features True Skin Buffalo Heads; 8mm strong tuning lugs; 4mm TTR (Traditional Tuning Rims); black powder-coated hardware
Extras Meinl Conga Saver (lug covers); Meinl Soundpads; Accessory pouch; L-shaped tuning key; Tune-Up Oil
The lowdown on the Luis Conte Artist series congas is simply this: they look and sound great. Their old-school design with contemporary innovations creates a unique impression. The rubber foot is cool and has no negative effect on the drums’ sound. Being able to tune the congas with the Conga Saver lug covers is a big plus. I found that the congas sing best when tuned to the upper-middle range of the drum, where the big fat tones hang out. Value-wise there is no set of signature drums out there that give you the same superior quality craftsmanship and sound for the money. Well done, Meinl.